Take a ride to the Grand Canyon.
No, not the Grand Canyon in Arizona -- the one in north central Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania Grand Canyon is 10 miles west of the town of Wellsboro and just a few miles south of the New York state border -- a 260-mile, five-hour drive from Washington. It's smaller, admittedly, than its western cousin but spectacular in its own way.
You approach the canyon by winding state Rte. 660, which ends at Leonard Harrison State Park, on the east rim of the canyon. Just across the canyon is Colton Point State Park, a satellite of Harrison.
When you get our of your car in the parking lot you may wonder if you have taken this trip for nothing. Nearby is a small concession building, an entry area with maps and folders, and the park office. It all seems unimpressive. You walk down a short slope to an iron railing anchored in stone and concrete pillars. And you stand there with open mouth.
The word "spectacle" is over-used but here it is most appropriate. Just beyond the railing the mountainside sweeps away from you and plunges down. The slopes are covered with trees forming an undulating carpet dipping away from you that is a dozen shades of green in summer and a mixture of red, gold and yellow in the fall.
Eight hundred feet below, the winding Pine Creek snakes its way along the canyon for 50 miles through a great gap in the mountains. The deepest part of the canyon is at the southern end, off to your left. At that point it drops down 1,450 feet. The straight-line distance across to the west rim is 4,000 feet. At this vantage point there is often a breeze, sharp and fresh even in mid-summer.
Turn toward the north, to your right. The rise all fall of the forested mountains continue into the distance. There they begin to fade in the haze, the green losing some of its brilliancy and taking on a soft grayish tint. Finally, the far-off haze takes over and all you see is the rippling line of mountains like a smudge on the horizon.
There is no development here -- nothing but tree-draped mountains on either side.The only sign of civilization is the Conrail track at the foot of the eastern slope. The railroad, extending from the Williamsport-Avis, Pa., area, through the canyon northward toward Hornell, N.Y., weaves back and forth as it follows the creek.
The Pennsylvania Grand Canyon is the result of glacial activity thousands of years ago. Floods, earthquakes and constant erosion formed a rift that deepened as the centuries passed. Leonard Harrison, a civic-minded businessman and banker, is mainly responsible for the preservation of the canyon. He owned 121 acres that he originally had developed as a public picnic ground, and in 1922 he gave the tract to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Through the years other sections were added. In 1968, Pine Creek Gorge Natural Area was recognized as having national significance and registered by the National Park Service as a National Natural Landmark.
You can take short hikes from the observation area, following the trail signs. The wooded path comes out of the forest from time to time and veers toward the edge of the canyon. At dangerous drop-offs, guard rails either exist or are being constructed. The two main trails, called "Turkey Paths," enable hikers to walk down to the creek from either side of the canyon, wade across and walk back up the other side.
But even if you don't hike or camp, a visit to the "other" Grand Canyon is well worth the effort.