Youhiollegheny River: A Real Mouthful of an Adventure

For the past week, I’ve been itching to get outdoors. And not just outside for a quick jaunt around town, or a bike ride to the campus library – I wanted to get outdoors, for a whole day, away from my screen and work and school and STRESS.

So yesterday, I brought up to John the idea of driving out to Ohiopyle State Park over the weekend, just to check it out and get out of our little bubble. Of course he agreed, because John is agreeable and open-minded (and because of that, he is incredibly fun to travel with and just do life with in general…. I love him) so we planned to get up early and hit the road the next day.

I was up early, before 7, brewing coffee and forcing myself to eat cereal. You know that feeling when you first wake up in the morning where you’re so hungry that you actually feel ill and aren’t sure if you can eat? And yet somehow all you want is a big-ass stack of pancakes and a slab of ham? Yeah, that happened to me this morning, but without the slab of ham. Or the pancakes. I packed us a couple of peanut butter sandwiches and two apples, and we were in the car by 9.

Not too shabby for two humans who tend to view time as a suggestion! Too much Doctor Who, I think.

The drive is absolutely beautiful. John’s GPS took us south through Homer City and onto the back roads of Blairsville, then down to route 30 just around Ligonier , then straight south until the only gas station was – you guessed it – a 50-year-old pump that was  80% rust, operated by a kindly older gentleman with a ghost-white beard, who was thankfully not 80% rust. The route was full of languorous, winding roads, bordered by impressions of deep green. Some of the evergreens resembled the tufted ears of a lynx, brushing the sky as we rounded sinuous curves. Although we only touched the edge of Ligonier, I’m already itching to go: just as you’re entering town you glimpse the imposing Fort Ligonier, which is situated on a hill with threatening wooden poles protruding outward from the fort itself like porcupine quills. I promise we’ll go soon and I’ll tell you all about it!

Driving into Ohiopyle State Park is sort of an adventure all by itself, in that for about an hour you’re driving lazily on the sexy curves of these mountain roads, occasionally spotting a cow or two, and then BAM! There is a two-story ice cream parlor/BBQ restaurant/gift shop/canoe rental shack right in front of you. Suddenly we were surrounded on all sides by people on rented bikes, people on motorcycles, people dressed in hiking gear, people with their wet hair slicked back, licking ice cream cones and lazing by the riverside. It was all the tackiness of a beach town, without the beach. I fell in love immediately.

Finding parking was a snap (large, open parking lot + getting there early = minimal parking stress), so the first thing we did was walk down to the riverside. The bank is all slippery stones, deep ancient gray and sedimentary red. We sat by the riverside, and of course I took off my shoes and dipped my feet in…. oh my. It. Was. Heavenly. Icy cold, clear, and if I’d had my swimsuit and some anti-chafing ointment I would have leapt right in.

We walked a bit more by the riverside, watching people swim and fish and play fetch with their dogs. We walked the bike bridge and stood hundreds of feet above the river, watching people kayak and raft down its challenging rocky bed. We met a sweet dog named Molly who had been in a puppy mill – she’d given birth to some twenty litters before she was rescued by her current owner.

These are the kinds of conversations I get into while exploring. 🙂 I get to meet beautiful dogs and interesting people!

We found a trail that ran immediately parallel to the river and, in our infinite parkour skill, managed to navigate the slippery rocks to sit atop the ones immediately above the waterfall, which boasts a twenty-foot drop. One lady sat on a rock across from us, dangling her feet casually in the rapids, reading a mystery novel. I tell you, some of these people really know how to relax.

In case you don’t know, John and I are both graduate students and thus we are very poor. We teach to support ourselves, but right now money is tight because it’s summertime. So we sort of lived today vicariously through the people who could afford to rent kayaks, bicycles, and rafts… and promised ourselves that when we started getting paid again, we’d come back and master the rapids. 🙂

I’m thinking a trip out to Ligonier next weekend, if only to drink an overpriced coffee beverage and walk around that simply incredible fort we passed on the drive.

If you read this, thank you! Any feedback is good feedback in my book. 🙂 Enjoy the pictures below!

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