A few weekends ago, wow, almost a month ago, my brother Ryan and I both had the itch to get out of town for the day. After a few minutes of discussion and maps getting swiped, it was brought to my attention that Ryan had never been to State College. For those that don’t know, and I applaud you for your ignorance in this instance, State College is the home to the Nittany Lions of Pennsylvania State University, affectionately known as Penn State or PSU. I will skip over the scandals, if you’re curious just search “Penn State Scandal“, and get right down to the geography. State College is located about 1.5 hours north of Harrisburg smack dab in the middle of Pennsylvania.
But before we headed into State College, we made the slight trek to Black Moshannon State Park, located about 25 miles northwest of town. We entered into the park from the south on the quaint, country Beaver Road; which led us along the lake and directly to the park office. With map in hand and bladders on empty, we got back into the car and continued north on Beaver Road. We drove a couple of hundred feet and made a left onto Black Moshannon Road, crossed the lake and then a quick left onto Westside Road. We followed along the narrow road, passed some perfect picnic pavilions and arrived at the road’s terminus, a turn-around with a small parking lot its center.
Two doors shut, two guys stretched, and two trails appeared. The Bog Trail or the Indian Trail? The Bog Trail it was. It didn’t take much of a hike to reach the the first wooden platform built above the black waters of the bog and Black Moshannon Lake. According to the park literature, the water’s dark-color comes from the tannins of the sphagnum moss and wetland vegetation. As the water moves from the clear, cold springs & streams that feed the lake, it becomes enriched with the tannins begins to take on a tea-colored shade. Despite most of the lakes in Pennsylvania being shallow reservoirs, this is the first one I’ve seen that has black water. Just to the north of us we could hear the screams of small banshees and their parent’s unsuccessful attempts to quell them. Instead of heading north, we chose to turn around and head back to the Indian Trail. From the map we could tell this path wouldn’t allow us full advantage of the lake & bog, a feature we were more than happy to sacrifice for the absence of the wailing souls. – Shout out to the real Wailing Souls! –
The Indian Trail started out relatively wide with little obstacles to maneuver around. The mixed forest contained both deciduous & coniferous trees, with the conifers undoubtedly stealing the show. The white pines & hemlocks towered overhead as the delicate green ferns and undergrowth basked in the giant’s dense shadows. Eventually, after some knee high grass & rebellious mountain bikers, we reached Black Moshannon Road. Instead of walking to the car via the road, we turned around and backtracked through the forest. Although we had just walked the trail, walking it “backwards” contained an entirely new experience. The trail, when approached from this direction, looked entirely different.
We exited the park the same way we entered it, Beaver Street to the southern entrance. The GPS told us to turn right so we made a hairpin right onto Steele Hollow Road and the view got real, really real. A perfect sweeping vista of the valley below; the patterned cornfields and wooden farmhouses, all illuminated in the soft orange glow of the afternoon sun.
Before we headed into downtown State College, we had a pitstop to make on the outskirts of town. We needed to stop at TJ’s, or as many of you may know it, Trader Joe’s. Somehow the Harrisburg area has yet to gestate a TJ’s and I just can’t go too long without my Trader Joe’s dehydrated pineapple slices. Look at me over here, I sound friggin’ like a corporate shill. Wack. But trust me, I am in no way getting paid by anyone to say their name. I just like TJ’s hustle. Although admittedly I never looked into their affairs. Maybe they’re not worth supporting at all, it wouldn’t be the first time I was disappointed in a business.
Regardless, we stocked up on non-perishables and set a course for downtown State College. We headed nowhere in particular, just as close to University Park as we could get. We slid into a parking spot on Allen Street less than a block from College Avenue, the main divide between the campus & the town. We wasted no time and hoofed it directly to University Park. We entered onto the campus near the Kunkle Activities Center and unknowingly walked towards Old Main, the building that cemented Penn State as a legitimate educational institution.
As we approached Old Main we could see a row of golf carts parked in front of the building and a wedding party scattered about the massive pillars of the entrance. And yet not 200 feet away another wedding party approached, Wedding Party B. Heading to the same massive pillars and front entrance of Old Main, both groups donned almost identical habiliments. The men all wore suits in the same shade of grey and crowns of flowers sat upon the women’s brows. Neither group did well when trying to hide their obvious surprise and discontent. Same place, same time man. Same place, same time. The matrix be trippin’.
We decided not to further muddle the water and walked around to the back of Old Main to Pollock Road. From there we wandered between buildings, around construction fences, and through massive courtyards lined with trees to end up at the Arboretum at Penn State.
We entered the Arboretum from the East Park Avenue entrance and unknowingly walked through the H.O. Smith Botanic Gardens. At the time I just figured the fountain, bamboo, and flowers were all part of the arboretum, and they are, I just didn’t realize it was a unique part of the arboretum. To be honest I didn’t ever know we skipped the Rose & Fragrance Garden until I looked at a map while writing this article. I just know that somehow I lost Ryan in the endless circle of the Pollinator’s Garden. Up to my eyes with echinacea, joe pye weed, and some purple flowers who’s signI didn’t see. Those weren’t the only plants present, they were just the ones that inspired photographs.
Next up was the Fruit and Vegetable Garden, home to a bunch of, you guessed it, fruits & veggies. The only plant that caught my eye was a striking specimen of kale. Maybe I’ve just never seen kale growing in the ground, but the stalk of the plant had such a beautiful purple color to it. It literally stopped me in my tracks and made me take it’sphoto. And I use literally with its literal definition, as in actually happened, not as in “it happened like a lot”. Although coincidentally I have been eating loads more kale lately. Hmm.
Before we left the Arboretum and headed to the Lewis Katz Building, we made a stop at the highest point in the gardens, The Overlook Pavilion. Available to rent, the pavilion features a commanding view of Bald Eagle Ridge to the northwest. I imagine the sunset views from there are downright breathtaking.
We left the arboretum and headed northeast to the newly constructed Lewis Katz Building, the home of Penn State Law. Actually one of the homes of Penn State Law, the other being in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. My brother wanted to see the building first hand as he was/is considering returning to school so he can get his lawyer on. Which reminds me, speaking of school, school hadn’t yet to started for the Nittany Lions. The campus was all but vacant, think of a more kept version of the world Will Smith lived in during I Am Legend. The only students we saw were fall athletes in their PSU workout wear and groups of freshly arrived freshman, young-faced and buzzing about campus. But back to the Lewis Katz Building.
We approached the glass and steel structure with hopes of entering it. We wondered if by chance any of the doors were open. We saw students entering and exiting other buildings on campus, so we hoped for the best. Door 1. Nope. Door 2. Nope. Let’s… try… one… more… Nope! Looks like it’s time to find something to feed our grumbling stomachs.
I don’t know about you, but the first thing I want to eat after a day full of hiking is the last thing I should. Luckily, or maybe not so luckily, Ryan felt the exact same way that I did. I gots burgers on my mind, burgers on my mind. Somehow we ended up in a Five Guys eating greasy burgers and fresh-cut fries. I didn’t even opt for the water, a cistern of soda for me! A real pig, I know. But it tasted so good. Again, this is not a push for Five Guys. It just fulfilled both the prerequisites of places I eat, it was present and there wasn’t a line. Perfect.
After the corporate gorging we waddled back along West Calder Way in search of our car. I’m not sure why we took that particular street, but it is home to a 170 ft. mural entitled “Dreams Take Flight”. Located on the wall of McLanahan’s Downtown Market, it was created under the management and organization of The Community Arts Collective. The mural was painted with the assistance of more than 800 artists. We got back to the car at the tail end of the blue hour exhausted and recovering from our step-filled day and unholy meals. The drive home didn’t have much talking, didn’t need much talking. We just listened to the live stream of Sylvan & Esso at Lollapalooza 2017. What a great end to a great day.
– ‘Til the next one. –