Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Covered Bridges of Bucks County

At one time, more than 50 covered bridges stood in Bucks County, many of them spanning the Delaware River crossing into New Jersey. Bucks County still boasts 13 lovely, historic covered bridges -- 10 of which still carry vehicles.

Since their construction in the late 1800s, the covered bridges of Bucks County have symbolized the quiet rural life in the area. Bucks County was once home to more than fifty covered bridges. The 1930s brought the demolition of several of Bucks County’s covered bridges. And neglect, floods, arson, vandalism, and progress threaten the remaining bridges.

The covered bridge tour makes a large circle through Bucks County and is planned so you can start at any one of the bridges. It is possible to make the trip in one day but since it is 90 miles long, and will bring you over some rural unmarked back roads, it makes the most sense to break up the trip into segments. It takes you through some of the most gorgeous farmland countryside I've ever seen.

In the interests of time, we only visited a three of the covered bridges: the Van Sant Covered Bridge, the Loux Covered Bridge and the Cabin Run Covered Bridge.

Van Sant Covered Bridge

The Van Sant covered bridge is thought to be one of the most haunted spots in Pennsylvania. Many paranormal investigators have spent late evenings here gathering data. Throughout the bridge cold spots have been felt, cries heard, and apparitions spotted. So why all the paranormal activity?

Many urban legends haunt this bridge. According to one legend, a man murdered a woman and her child on the bridge and now she haunts the area mourning the loss of her child. Others think it's the murderer who's still hanging around, literally, since local ghost hunters claim to have spotted an apparition hanging by a noose from the rafters.

Other local legend's say the woman drowned her children herself, after giving birth at a young age and out of wedlock. This particular legend is fairly common folklore for many rural covered bridges, which are also often called "cry-baby bridges," because people have heard the cries of a baby as they passed over the bridge. Nothing so dramatic occurred during our visit, but perhaps the sound of the baby was obscured by our closed car windows and the hum of the car's air conditioning.

Loux Bridge

Photo barrowed from Bridgehunter.com. I usually don't like to "borrow" photos, but my camera was on the wrong setting,
and did I think to check it? No, not until it was too late.
Loux Covered Bridge is located on Wismer Road crossing the Cabin Run Creek upstream from the Cabin Run Covered Bridge in Bedminster Township and Plumstead Township. It was built in 1874 by David Sutton out of hemlock in the Town Truss style. This is one of the shorter covered bridges in Bucks County at only 60 feet long.

This is one of the few all white bridges in Bucks County. 

Cabin Run Covered Bridge

Photo borrowed from Packedsuitcase.com.
Showing the distinctive white entry with red body design, the Cabin Run Covered Bridge is located in Point Pleasant, Plumstead Township. The bridge was built in 1871, and is 15 feet wide and has a length of 82 feet. The Town truss bridge crosses the Cabin Run Creek downstream from the Loux Covered Bridge.

Where did the red color originate for the covered bridges? Paint was homemade in the early 1800s. The red oxide of iron was a coloring pigment that was commonly found in soil. By mixing red oxide of iron, skimmed milk, lime, and linseed oil, a red paint was produced that was well suited to paint barns and covered bridges.

Websites: Several websites offer information and directions about the covered bridges of Bucks County. Before you go, print out the directions from the Bucks County Tourism Bureau (http://www.visitbuckscounty.com/things-to-do/planning-ideas/covered-bridges/).

You may want to check out the Bucks County Covered Bridge Society at http://www.buckscountycbs.org/tour-the-bridges.html.

I found this blog about the covered bridges of Bucks County that provides extensive photos of the various bridges: http://www.davidhanauer.com/buckscounty/coveredbridges/

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Updated May 2019

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Hiking a (Small) Portion of the Allegheny Highlands Rail Trail

For this week's blog post, I'm recalling a memorable -- but accidental -- day trip we took during a vacation in West Virginia a couple years ago. With winter about to begin this year, it's the time to think about warmer weather day trips -- perhaps start planning a few more!

It's my guess we were near Shavers Fork.... the unusual tombstone reads: Here lies Peter Shaver killed by
Indians 1781. This mountain and Shavers Fork River are named in his honor.

We were out driving along Route 219 -- one of West Virginia's most scenic roads in my opinion -- and exploring rural roads off of 219. Occasionally we'd stop to photograph an interesting old house or barn, or whatever we found that was interesting.

We stumbled across Back Hollow Road, which somehow led us to Glady Road, which led to the Allegheny Highlands Rail Trail, so we hiked along that.

But it was early September in the West Virginia Allegheny Mountains, so the weather was perfect for hiking! So willynilly, without a trail guide or even really, knowing exactly where we were, we set off for a few miles long hike. We had small-ish children with us, so we would have walked no more than five or six miles, round trip.

The Allegheny Highlands Trail (AHT) follows the original route of the West Virginia Central and Pittsburg Railway built by Henry Gassaway Davis in 1884. The rail trail travels 24.5 miles between Elkins and Parsons, and provides panoramic views of the countryside as it passes through small towns and rural farmland. The rail trail has portions that are fine packed gravel as well as portions that are smoothly paved. The section we walked was fine packed gravel.

We saw deer along the rail trail, which on this stretch was mostly meadow and farmland. Wildflowers bloomed aplenty, and thus, there were many butterflies. A benefit to walking, not riding, the rail trail was the slower pace allowed us to appreciate some of the smaller details of the scenery. The trail was deserted, so we let our dog off the leash that day so he could trot along at his own pace.

On a personal note, in recalling this particular daytrip, I had to rely on Facebook posts and photo albums, as well as shared memories and discussions with my husband and kids -- a wonderful way to get to enjoy it all over again!

Getting there: See, that's the problem. I'm not sure where there is. Recommend getting a trail map from the Highlands Trail Foundation to plan your own adventure along the Allegheny Highlands Rail Trail!

Website: highlandstrail.org

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Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I'd love to hear what you're doing! Email [email protected] if you're interested in being a guest-blogger! 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Seeing Birds at the National Aviary

Winter school break looms large over the holiday season. What to do with the kids between Christmas and New Years? Why, take them to the National Aviary, of course!

There are few opportunities to get swooshed by a Victoria Crowned Pigeon (the bird is so much more fabulous looking than "pigeon" implies), or swooshed by several species of woodlands birds... but the National Aviary, in Pittsburgh, gives you that chance -- and if you love birds -- or even if you're just mildly interested -- you should really go check it out.

Home to over 600 animals representing about 200 species -- including the Victoria Crowned Pigeon, the National Aviary, located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is the only independent indoor nonprofit aviary in the United States. It is also the country's largest aviary.

In case you're wondering why it's the "national" aviary, and not "just" the Pittsburgh aviary, or some such name, that's because Congress formally accorded it "national" status.

The National Aviary's collection features birds representing every continent except Antarctica.  Many of these species are showcased in free-flight mixed species exhibits, to allow the birds to demonstrate natural behaviors. It was in one of these free-flight rooms where I was swooshed by the gorgeous pigeon.

The National Aviary has daily interactive experiences for visitors. Some of these include Penguin Point, a new exhibit featuring 11 African penguins and underwater viewing; Penguin Connection, a private encounter with an African penguin (for an additional fee); Little Peepers, a program for preschoolers; and the bird-feeding adventure Lories & Friends.

These programs are joined by various trainer talks, bird presentations, feedings, and encounters that help to create an immersive experience for visitors. The day I was there, I watched the baby sloth feeding, an adventure in patience -- although cute as a button, the little critter doesn't move fast. It was like watching a feeding in slow motion.

This place is kid-friendly. In fact, I felt a little out of place, being there without a kid or two or four in tow. It really is a delightful place for kids, of all ages. I was just as amazed as the littlest ones watching the baby sloth, or looking at the toucan or getting swooshed by the crowned pigeon.

Getting there: 700 Arch St, Pittsburgh, PA 15212

Hours: The National Aviary is open daily, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas.

Website: https://www.aviary.org

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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Lights on the Bay Brings Holiday Cheer

This year we also returned to Lights on the Bay, in Sandy Point State Park, to see what new lights have sprung up. It's been several years since we've driven through the light display.

The Lights on the Bay display is a 2-mile scenic drive along the shore of the Chesapeake Bay with approximately 70 animated and stationary displays illuminating the roadway. Our holiday light show is sponsored by the Anne Arundel Medical Center.

We saw some of our old favorites -- the Maryland themed crabs and oysters and a sea monster by the piers.

At one point, a giant teddy bear greats you.

I was captivated by the alien space ships. There were aliens throwing snowballs and aliens flying kites.. so much fun!

And of course, a variety of Christmas-themed displays, showing elves and Santa Claus, even driving a police car.

Overall, a fun display to drive through, and worth the somewhat long wait (on a Saturday evening) to enter.

Getting there: 1100 E College Pkwy Annapolis, MD 21409

Hours: November 19 2016 - January 1 2017, 5 - 10 p.m.

Website: http://www.lightsonthebay.org/

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Saturday, December 10, 2016

A Symphony of Lights Celebrates the Holiday Season

Going to Christmas lights displays, such as Howard County's Symphony of Lights, has become a holiday tradition for my family. Symphony of Lights is a dazzling display of more than 100 larger-than-life animated and stationary holiday light creations, made up of more than 250,000 bulbs. During the past 21 years, nearly 2 million individuals have visited the lights, and proceeds from the event have raised more than $7.5 million to benefit Howard County General Hospital, the only hospital in Howard County.

Enjoying the simple pleasure of the lights made me wonder how the tradition of Christmas lights evolved.

As our holidays celebrations evolved, so did our fascination with lights displays. They became bigger and brighter....

The custom of lights at Christmas goes back to the use of candles that decorated the Christmas tree in Christian homes in early modern Germany, in the mid-1800s. Christmas trees displayed publicly and illuminated with electric lights became popular in the early 20th century. By the mid-20th century, it became customary to display strings of electric lights as along streets and on buildings. In the 1960s, it became popular to outline private homes with such Christmas lights in tract housing.

Eventually the research led me down the rabbit hole of wondering what happens to all those discarded lights? Is there a way to possibly recycle them? Christmas lighting does lead to some extensive recycling issues -- and most, unfortunately, find their way into local landfills.

The good news is that there's a place that actually wants our old, broken Christmas lights! Every year, more than 20 million pounds of discarded holiday lights are shipped to Shijiao, China (near Guangzhou), which has the distinction of being "the world capital for recycling Christmas lights." I suspect there's little competition for that title!

The combination of cheap labor and low, or no, environmental standards made it profitable for local companies and factories to recycle the lights. As late as 2009, many factories would simply burn the lights to melt the plastic and retrieve the copper wire, releasing toxic fumes into the local environment. However, now a safer technique is used, which involves chopping the lights into a fine sand-like consistency, mixing it with water and vibrating the slurry on a table causing the different elements to separate out, similar to the process of panning for gold. Everything is recycled: copper, brass, plastic and glass.

More and more cities in the United States are setting up sensible alternatives and schemes to recycle Christmas lights, with towns organizing drop-off points for handing in old or discarded lights. As you take down your lights displays, please look for these places and turn in your old lights, so that they can be responsibly recycled, rather than lasting an eternity in a landfill somewhere.

Happy Holidays!

Getting there: Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods, Columbia, MD (use Merriweather Post Pavilion entrance off South Entrance Road); take Interstate 95 to route 32 West. Route 32 west to Route 29 North. Route 29 North to Exit 18B (Broken Land Parkway). Continue through 2 lights and make a right onto Little Patuxent Parkway.  Continue through 2 lights and make a right onto South Entrance Road. Turn right into the drive with signage for Merriweather Post Pavilion and Toby’s Dinner Theatre. The entrance to the Symphony of Lights is located to the right.

Hours: November 23, 2016 - January 1, 2017,  Wednesdays through Sundays only; 5:30-10 p.m., including holidays.

For other holiday day trip destinations, go to the Blog's Find a Great Place to Day Trip or click on the holiday season label below.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Different Kind of Gettysburg Spirits!

Gettysburg is almost as known for its ghosts as it is for its Civil War battlefields. But increasingly, there's a different kind of spirits lurking around this historic town!

No exploration of Gettysburg would be complete without checking out one of its wineries or distilleries, so we headed to Mason Dixon Distillery (MDD), well within walking distance of Lincoln Square.

MDD offered us a tasting of rum and vodka; afterward we toured the small batch craft distillery. The distillery is also a restaurant, and it provides small plate options based on a commitment to local ingredients, and also made from scratch.

MDD's menu is small, but comfortably sophisticated. Entrees include Shrimp & Grits (with rosemary and blistered tomato), Turkey Pie (with a butter crust and rosemary bechanel), and Meatloaf, with lamp and served with a pepper relish and cauliflower puree. Sandwichs offered include a Shrimp Po-Boy (with arugula and remoulade), Muffalata (turkey/country ham/mortadella), Pork BBQ (served with slaw), and a Hot Brown (turkey/bacon/tomato/mornay).

If you get a chance to talk to Yianni Barakos, MDD's head distiller and owner, it is likely he will share his story of how he became interested in distilling, and his overall commitment to using local ingredients, whether for the restaurant or the distillery. 

Barakos has long had a fascination for stills and distilling. When he was just 11 years old, Barakos' grandfather showed him a drawing of a still he used to maintain when he worked as a coppersmith in Greece. Based on that drawing, Barakos built his first still. Later, as an adult, he took distilling classes and apprenticed at Smooth Ambler Spirits in West Virginia.

All of Barakos' raw grains used for alcohol come from within a couple miles of the distillery. Mason Dixon has 47 acres on which they grow grains in Gettysburg National Military Park, in addition to local farming.

Whether you're there for the tasting or the camaraderie, try to take a tour of the distillery -- just through those glass doors off of the tasting room.

After our tour, they offered us a steaming cup of such very thick and delicious spiced and spiked hot chocolate, that, really, I was hooked. Both on the rum that goes in it, and the distillery for serving this delectable treat.

I'm all about the chocolate. And the pleasant warmth that starts in your belly after drinking it just adds to the experience. It was like drinking a cup of hot chocolate pudding, like drinking memories of my childhood (minus the rum, of course).

Barakos generously shared the hot chocolate recipe, which is a great addition to your holiday celebrations and which I've included below (I split it in half to accommodate home portions. I've made this at home, although I reduced the cayenne to fit my taste level -- it was really spicy as served by the distillery! He noted that this recipe "works great with our rum as it has such a big nose and flavor profile."

Mason Dixon Distillery Spiced and Spiked Hot Chocolate 

26 oz whole milk
6.6 oz semisweet chocolate
6.6 oz bittersweet chocolate
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp cayenne
200-250 ml of MDD Rum

Mix and heat slowly in a double boiler so as to not scald or cause the milk to become bitter; stirring constantly.

Getting there: 331 E Water St, Gettysburg

Hours: Wednesday-Saturday: 11:30 a.m.- 9:30 p.m; Sunday brunch: 10 a.m. -2 p.m.

Dogs: why would you even consider it?

Website: http://www.masondixondistillery.com/

For other day trip destinations in and around Adams County, go to the Blog's Find a Great Place to Day Trip or click on the Gettysburg or Destination Gettysburg label below.

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