10-Apr-2023 -- As I was in the area promoting GIS at Lehigh University, Harrisburg Area Community College, and giving the keynote address at the Pennsylvania GIS conference, and as those events were, like the confluence project, focused on geotechnologies, space, and place, a confluence visit seemed like the perfect capstone to such a week. The only day I could do this was on the first day of my trip, one which began on the red-eye, arriving in Philadelphia at 6:00am and then to State College, home of Penn State University, by 9:00am. I attended some wonderful sessions at the Pennsylvania GIS conference, networked with colleagues, ascertained where my keynote address would take place, and then taught a 2-hour online workshop for Caltech University. Once all that was done, it was just after midafternoon. This was the time when I could make a dash for the confluence.
This was the closest confluence to State College that I had not visited. I had most of the others in central Pennsylvania visited over the past 20 years. Earlier in my map research, I had discarded the notion of parking along I-80 and scaling whatever fence might be off to the north for several reasons: Safety, and the steep slope to the north off the highway being the primary reasons. Thus I approached the point from the north and northeast. I arrived in the vicinity by exiting the I-80 highway at Snow Shoe, which is a great place name, and driving west to near where a ATV/cross-country ski trail crosses State Highway 144. I had a bit of a challenge determining which small road to take--Bumbarger Road, the ATV trail, or a lane. Finally I determined that the lane was the right one to take. A short distance to the southwest, the lane ended in a truly massive gravel parking lot. Did this many trees need to be cleared? Was the lot ever full of cars for ATVers and skiers? I did not know, but there was only 1 truck with a camper trailer and myself there on the afternoon of my visit. Hoping my car would be OK leaving it there, and wary of a dog barking insistently in the distance, I took off at a fast walk south on the trail, just after 5:00pm local time.
I had thought I could make it a bit closer in a vehicle to this point, but resigned myself to a long walk. I had been up all night on the airplane flight to Pennsylvania and was a bit weary: I needed to wake up at 5:00am to make it to Lehigh University the following day. I checked my fitness app Runkeeper: I had only walked 1/2 mile in 10 minutes. Would I have enough energy or daylight left to do the whole trek? I debated turning around and driving to this point, but then decided to forge on. Fortunately it was one of the warmest days thus far in 2023, with a temperature nearly 70 F here in late afternoon. I could not walk as fast as I would have liked owing to the sharp cobbles and stones in the trail; I was wary of twisting an ankle having already stumbled within the first five minutes of the hike.
After 20 minutes, I came to the point where a regular roadway ended at the ATV trail. Again I debated--should I walk back, retrieve the vehicle, and drive to this point? In the end I decided that leaving the vehicle where it was would make for a safer place, even though the walk would be longer. After another 10 minutes, I came to a place where the trail was chiseled into hard Pennsylvania stone, and I knew I was on an old railroad grade. When a short time later the trail was high above the surrounding terrain on fill dirt, that confirmed my suspicions. It was at this time when an ATV carrying two young men passed me heading north. The trail then wound upward and to the southwest, down the embankment where I-80, above me, was clearly audible. There were some places on the trail free of stones which allowed me to increase to about a 3.8 mph pace. After another area chiseled into the rock, I passed a beautiful waterfall signed as Laurel Falls.
The sun was sinking straight ahead of me but I forged on:
I crossed 78 West and continued another few football fields to the west in distance to where I could see a small set of tracks on the satellite image that gave me hope that ahead was a flatter access point to the river. I was correct--a faint trail led off to the north and then northeast from a few vehicles of the past, though I did not know how they could have driven here given the marshy soil in this low part of the terrain and near the river. I walked on the tire ruts toward the river, through some thorns, and arrived on the riverbank a short time later. I was very fortunate: The confluence point lay less than 1 foot from the river that ran from west to east at this point, but the ground was firm enough for footing (though I did use caution). I was able to, since in April the trees had not leafed out yet, zero out the unit in 10 minutes. I had arrived here after about a 85-minute hike.
The confluence therefore lies on the south bank of the river, on flat but hummocky and thorny ground. It was early spring, early evening, temperature about 68 F under sunny skies and light winds. I saw no animals besides a few squirrels, no birds, and no people. No dwellings can be seen from the site and indeed none for the past hour on the trail. I wondered how the site must have looked a century or more before. The only difference 100 years ago may be the presence of the railroad and the lack of I-80. The site lies in a valley with the longest view down the valley to the east; to the south lay the embankment to the highway, and to the north lay one of Pennsylvania's long and beautiful ridges. It was rather difficult to believe that this point had not been visited in 14 years, and then only once before that time.
I had stood on 41 North many times before, from Wyoming on the west to New Jersey on the east, but had only stood on 78 West a few times before, from New York on the north to North Carolina on the south. I had stood on several of the confluence points near here, such as the one due east of here, at 41/77, and those 3 degrees north of here, at 43/78 and one degree south of here at 40/78. I was reluctant to depart this lovely spot but with the sun setting, I knew I needed to. I had been on site for 15 minutes. I took photographs and have posted my video here.
I knew I could not take my usual desired loop and make it back before sundown, though the maps had shown me that the ATV trail wound to the west and was technically possible. Unfortunately I didn't have a mountain bike with me. Thus I strode back the way I had come in, and the same two people passed me on their ATV at almost the same spot, this time heading south as I was heading north. I walked through the two canyon cuts and arrived at the parking lot before a beautiful sunset with a total hike time of just under 3 hours. The same dog was barking. I fortunately had a cup of water waiting for me in the vehicle. This was indeed a great and beautiful capstone for my geotechnology-themed visit to Pennsylvania. Get out there and explore the Earth!