I love what you’ve done with the place…The promise of a bit of sunlight and the time to experience it sent me scurrying last week back to Gallitzin State Forest to capture the images I had visualized on my earlier scouting trip. Up at 4:00AM, a bit of coffee (some stupid left his thermos sitting on the kitchen counter), dressed for the chill, pack the kit and on the road by 6:30. What an exciting visual adventure this would turn out to be. The new Grouse/Woodcocks Habitat along Route 56 in Gallitzin State Forest[/caption]I love this town! You can get anywhere you want to be in no time at all. In twenty minutes, I was already setting up at my first location, ankle deep in bog, my new (since last spring) Rocky winter hikers sloshing with the ice-cold, mountain-top water. I really need to pick up a pair of wellies. Previous excursions to the forest had yielded exactly nothing that I was willing to share. Truth be told, humping 20 pounds of photo gear under mid-day overcast around the 12 mile loop of the John P. Saylor trail is far from inspirational. Every landscape hike brings me further in line with the wisdom of Brett Weston: “If it’s more than 20 yards from the car, it’s not a photograph,” although, yeah, I did end up hiking over a mile each way on this particular expedition. Jesus sets my itinerary. First stop was the most convenient: the new Grouse/Woodcock Habitat just off to the left of Rt. 56 climbing out of Windber. This recent upgrade in a previously unused area of the forest is overflowing with effusive color, even in the dead of winter. Vibrant green mosses and lush red and gold ground plants carpet the bog floor. Shining young white birch and deep green conifers ring the wetland and randomly dot the interior. The birch, especially, promise some exciting photo ops come fall. The dawn light, pre-sunrise, along with a polarizer, causes this cacophony of color to pop right off the ground and into the camera, and renders the sky a deep, azure blue. Little time to appreciate the beauty though, as it’s off to the next location before the sun breaks too far above the horizon. I don’t know how I missed this on my hike of the Saylor loop but, as I say, the light was uninspiring and I was fairly worn after 7 miles on the trail. It’s a fairy tree, really, right on the trail about a third of the way from Crum Road to Wolf’s Rocks. Point of Fact: Read Upton Sinclair’s The Gnomobile. The end of the book (not the movie) leaves the gnomes right here, in the heart of the forest atop the Allegheny Ridge. And I think I’ve found their tree: splotched with mint shaded lichens and surrounded by green moss and ferns and growing out of a culvert lined with more of those deep red ground plants (I really have to find out what they are) and golden grasses. I just stumbled across this place on my scouting trip last week while exploring the path between two deer exclosure areas and spotting a bit of light in the woods. Scouting pays off. Leave the gear in the car and wander around a bit. Grab the shot while it’s still in the blue shade and it’s off to the Clear Shade Wild Area just as the morning sun crests the ridge beyond the creek. Park at the Mill Run parking area and follow the creek to the Saylor Trail. This will save you at least half a mile over the Fisherman’s Trail route and probably two miles or more over starting from the Bog Trail parking area. The view was sublime. My friend Patty had suggested the beaver dam after my trip last month, but the light then was horrendous. Mulling on it overnight, I knew I had to wait for a dawn just like this. The sunrise glow filtered through the morning mist was exquisite. The harsh backlight I had feared was, instead, a caressing sidelight, outlining the dead trees across the creek and the meadow where they stand. The shadowed beaver dam and the Clear (there’s a reason they call it that) Shade Creek lead the eye directly into the scene. My work here is done but, it’s early. Time for a little exploring and scouting. I had plans for some windmill photos outside of Dunlo, but the energy company seems to have gated off access up there. I hoped I could find a way into the wind plant from the south. Apparently, forestry folks have been doing some development around the recently reclaimed Pot Ridge Strip Mines. New roads, repaired roads, drainage ponds and plantings have enhanced the area far beyond what it was when the mine was active. For some reason they’ve changed the name of Pot Ridge Road to Strip Mine Road, but the other improvements are extraordinary. If you go far enough, not only will you get a view overlooking the windmills, but you’ll also be able to see from the Allegheny Ridge to the Laurel Ridge and everything in between that isn’t deep in a valley. I’ve got some plans for windmill photos that I can’t wait to share with you. Finally, there’s also a new (well, new to me, at least) trail, The County Line Trial along the Allegheny Ridge off of Buffalo Road. That’s next on my list.
Pennsylvania’s 2.2-million-acre state forest system is one the largest certified forests in North America. The forest is certified (FSC-C017154) under the Forest Stewardship Council™ standards, and, through the hard labors of forestry workers, volunteers and, perhaps, a few gnomes, the Gallitzin State Forest has become a bright jewell in the DCNR crown. And it’s right here! Why are you still sitting there?