Autumn in the northeast is a time of transition, as the temperature slowly dips lower and the leaves gradually shift from lush green hues to fiery orange, deep red, sunny yellow, and all shades in between. The time came for us to depart with the intention of chasing warmer weather south to eventually experience our first winter not surrounded by icy snow and freezing winds. After a slight but enjoyable delay in my hometown, our journey began with a short trip to western Pennsylvania to visit Ashley’s family.
Our first stop was Caledonia State Park outside of Fayetteville, PA. We only planned to stay a single night at the park mostly to do a little RV maintenance (emptying the gray water tank, finish sanitizing the fresh water tank, etc.), so I don’t have a full report of the campground itself. We’ve visited Caledonia before and it’s a beautiful park for hiking, picnicking, and swimming – you can even hike a section of the Appalachian Trail which runs through part of the park grounds.
The camping area is broken into two loops – Hosack Run is a mile outside of the main day-use area of the park and Chinquapin Hill is located near the main parking area. The park features 130 sites ranging in size from 10 to 68 feet in length, with 55 sites equipped with 30 or 50 amp electric service. The Chinquapin Hill loop is mostly comprised of non-electric sites and doesn’t allow pets, while the Hosack Run loop offers more electric sites and is pet-friendly. The dump station is also located at the Hosack Run loop, so if you’re staying in Chinquapin Hill with your RV, just be aware that you’ll have to drive a mile to the dump station if needed.
We stayed in Site 1 in the Chinquapin Hill loop, which was one of the few sites available when we made reservations because sites 75-130 were closed as of Labor Day, and we were arriving on the weekend of the National Apple Harvest Festival in Biglerville. As we were filling our water tank, we actually met someone in town specifically for the festival, which is a big deal for the area. We didn’t attend, but if you’re traveling through southcentral Pennsylvania in early fall it’s something you might want to keep in mind to add to your itinerary.
Back to our site – it was fairly exposed and close to the road, but not bad for one night and suited our intended purpose for this visit. Most of the sites appear to be on the smaller side, so pay attention when making a reservation online if you require a specific length for your motorhome. For some reason, the Caledonia sites weren’t accurately filtering by size on the website, so I manually scrolled through the available sites until I found one for us. We haven’t had that problem with making reservations for other Pennsylvania state parks on the website, so I’m assuming it’s a Caledonia-specific issue.
After breakfast in camp Saturday morning, we hit the road again with plans to meet friends at GearHouse Brewing in Chambersburg before heading closer to the turnpike for a couple of nights. GearHouse has been open just under a year, and we like it more and more with each visit. The brewery offers a wide variety of beer styles and although I haven’t sampled all of them, I’ve never been disappointed. If delicious craft beer doesn’t excite you, GearHouse has other options including local wines, hard ciders, and cocktails (some of them featuring beer). The food is solid, with a menu ranging from grilled sandwiches and flatbread pizzas to a charcuterie board and tater tot poutine (one of my favorite choices). We spent a few short hours catching up with our friends and grabbing a bite to eat, before reluctantly saying goodbye and heading to our next destination. As much as we wanted to spend more time in the Chambersburg area visiting with friends, we were now on a deadline to reach Ashley’s family before some of them left town with their own travel plans to help welcome a new baby into the family.
The quiet town of Roxbury, located south of the Blue Mountain exit on the PA Turnpike, was our next stop. We visited here on our first trip through this area with the RV in the spring and knew we wanted to stop again because we had so much fun spending time with our former co-worker and now good friend. True to form, a stop in Roxbury isn’t complete without many rounds of the always popular game Dirty Marbles, as well as experiencing unique events in rural America. On this visit we were introduced to a Quarter Auction, which is a combination raffle and auction designed as a fundraiser for an organization. Our friend was one of the organizers of this event for the local Tall Cedars group, so we went early to help set up while chatting with her and her family.
The activities began with hopeful attendees purchasing numbered paddles as they arrived. Each paddle essentially represents one chance to win an item up for auction. Unlike the bidding wars prominent in a traditional auction, the Quarter Auction involves only a single bid of one to four quarters per paddle depending on the item up for bid. For example, the auctioneer holds up a gift card from a local store and announces the bid at one quarter. If you wish to bid on this item, you drop a single shiny quarter into the bucket on your table for each paddle with which you wish to bid (one paddle equals one quarter, four paddles equal four quarters – not too complicated). Then you hold your numbered paddles up in the air (or sit and watch everyone else if you didn’t bid on the item) and hope your number gets called as the auctioneer starts drawing numbers randomly from a bowl. If the number 16 is called and you happen to be holding the paddle with number 16 on it, guess what – you’re the lucky winner! You tempted fate, dropped a quarter in a bucket, held your paddle high, and won a prize – all while supporting a local organization.
As the excitement from Dirty Marbles and the Quarter Auction faded, we woke up the next morning to grab a hearty breakfast from the country store before saying another reluctant goodbye. We pointed the RV west and began the long slog on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, through familiar landmarks like the Tuscarora Mountain Tunnel, before exiting in Breezewood to run a few errands. Our journey continued on Route 30, past the Jean Bonnet Tavern and through scenic farm country before arriving in Stoystown for another brief visit.
Arriving at Ashley’s cousin’s house is like walking into a warm, inviting tornado. If the dogs are inside, one happily greets you by promptly sitting on your feet while the other, mostly blinded by age, bumps headfirst into your legs. The dogs are followed (or preceded, depending which group was faster) by two cute little blonde-haired girls vying for your attention to play with blocks, race around the yard, climb onto your shoulders, or smash Play-Dough. The small flock of chickens in the coop or roaming the woods outside, too young to lay eggs on our previous visit this summer, are now producing many eggs a day – which I gladly helped gather during our stay, assuming no one already beat me to it that day. And eventually, other visitors start to arrive, whether it be for a birthday party, holiday celebration, or simply to visit since they heard we were going to be in town. It’s overwhelming and completely comfortable all at the same time.
We enjoyed a night out to the local American Legion, sharing stories and laughs over Yuenglings (proudly brewed in PA), while the bartender instructed us on how to safely harvest a bee’s nest. One evening during our stay, I even had the opportunity to shoot a crossbow for the first time – don’t worry, no chickens were harmed during this event. After a couple of activity-filled days, we hauled ourselves out of bed early on the last day of our visit to see the oldest girl onto the school bus in the morning. I still believe that if the sun isn’t up, it’s too early for a kid to catch a bus to school, but I remember waiting for the bus in the dark as I’m sure many kids have done before me and I doubt that will change any time soon.
Amidst varied work and school schedules we said another round of goodbyes and drove over the hilly, winding roads to Windber for a lunch visit with Ashley’s dad and quick stroll through town. After enjoying conversation over some food and a beer at the Windber Hotel (no longer a hotel), we walked in the warm autumn sun along the sidewalk a few blocks to the Grand Midway Hotel. It’s nearly Halloween, so now feels like an appropriate time for some scary stories.
The Grand Midway Hotel, located in the middle of downtown Windber and beside the railroad tracks passing through town, is rumored to be one of the most haunted buildings in western Pennsylvania. Imagine spending the night in a building that’s over a century old with the world’s largest Ouija board painted on the roof. That’s right – confirmed by Guinness World Records in early 2017, the roof of the hotel is home to the largest “talking board” in the world. The hotel, currently open to the public one or two nights a week as a coffee shop, was originally a central station for arriving coal-mining immigrants in the 19th century. After many iterations, the building was most recently purchased in 2001, repaired, and converted into an artist’s haven offering invitation-only housing for painters, musicians, filmmakers, etc. The hotel has been featured on the SyFy channel thanks to the building’s haunted reputation.
Visitors report stories of a violent apparition – supposedly a man who died in a bar fight over a century ago – known to throw chairs, smash bottles, and even push people. The spirit of a prostitute who reportedly died a slow, agonizing death is said to wander the halls attempting to speak with guests and staff. Room #3, known as the most haunted room, is home to a statue of a nun which seemingly moves around on its own accord and even appears to people in dreams to communicate with them. Visitors to other rooms report cold spots, defiant spirits, and even a ghostly “Professor” seen reading in an office on the second floor.
I was content to stand outside in the broad daylight as we passed by the hotel. Ashley posed for a picture beside a lion statue and I definitely did not peer in the windows. On our next visit to Windber I might work up the courage to visit on a coffee shop evening, but don’t wait around for a blog update on that event any time soon! If you’re in the area this Saturday afternoon, the hotel owner is attempting to break another world record with the most people dressed up as ghosts in one location. The Guinness guidelines specify a white sheet of a certain length with two eye-holes as an official ghost costume, so go prepared if you’re interested.
We left the haunted hotel and hopefully any restless spirits behind as we drove to Sidman for the weekend, ready for a few days visiting with Ashley’s mom. Between rounds of Scrabble and Rummikub, we ate more than our fill of home-cooked meals, dodged enthusiastic Great Danes, and caught up about events of the past couple of months. Ashley happily posed as a model for some of her mom’s projects as they compared completed (and in-process) crafts. Amidst another brief and fleeting visit, we still found time to see a sunset or two before it was time for us to part ways and make one last stop before leaving Pennsylvania. On our way out of town, we rolled in to the suburbs of Johnstown to spend an evening with Ashley’s grandmother before leaving for our next stop along the way in southern Virginia.
Although these past ten days flew by, we’re grateful for the time spent with family and friends and for everyone who made time in their own busy schedules to spend time with us. Plans don’t always work out like we hope, so when pieces of life’s puzzle fall into place we make our best efforts to not waste opportunities to visit and reconnect. Thanks again to everyone who made space in their yards, driveways, and lives as we recently passed through. We’re looking forward to visiting again as our paths cross in the future!