The reason people flock to Cherry Springs State Park, and the reason we and my brothers’ families agreed to drive 4.5 hours for a few nights together, is to see the stars…all of the stars…to infinity and beyond. To Malcolm.
Cherry Spring State Park is one of the best places on the eastern seaboard to see the Milky Way. It carries an International Dark Skies rating (who knew?). There is a campground for regular people (vault toilets only) with a telescope (that’s us) and a campground for astronomers (flush toilets, la-ti-dah!). The ladies walked to the astronomers side during the day to take their fancy flush toilets for a test drive. The gates close there at dark so dust won’t be kicked up by cars to block the view. Also, all lights had to be red, no flashlights allowed anywhere. Even the lighting in the bathroom was red.
So with all this in mind, we were ready to see some stars. Even though we were lumped in with The Norms, there was an enormous field behind us (the top of the mountain -2500 ft up- had been cleared in the 1930s when it was used as an airport) and we were prepared with my brother’s big ol’ telescope.
And then clouds. Clouds, clouds and more clouds. The first night it rained, ah well. The second night looked promising until around midnight. We went to a Ranger talk on what to look for in the night sky. Unfortunately, we were there during a waxing, 1/2 moon phase (Note: try to go during the new moon phase) and the moon didn’t set until 1am, so while we saw some nice, non-Baltimorian sky, it wasn’t what we came for. We did get to see four planets arcing across the sky: Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars. I didn’t even know you could see four planets, with the naked eye, at one time. We also got to peek at the moon through the park’s powerful telescopes, which was interesting. We saw many of the moon’s features: craters, channels, mountains. It was so cool that it looked unreal. But, as the clouds moved in, you could feel the optimism being sucked out of everyone around the campfire. We decided to go to bed and set alarms for 3am to see if conditions had improved. They hadn’t.
Although the stargazing was a disappointment, we had fun family time during the day. On day 1, after a pretty drive through PA, we all arrived within an hour or so of one another and set up camp.
Then there was the ceremonial consumption of the cheeseballs. We almost brought a second barrel, but then reasoned we were only there 2 nights…surely that was excessive. They were gone in hours.
We explored nearby, admired some nature, and ate spaghetti and meatballs for dinner. We each brought a different meal or two, and honestly, each meal outdid the last. Creativity in packing meals can keep camping fun….and it doesn’t have to be complicated at all.
My brother’s Coleman stove is sweet! Wish I got a better pic. Note to self: may have to upgrade.
I hung out with my bros and our spouses that night and on the way back to our trailer came within a few feet of a skunk. I jumped and retraced my steps and waited for said skunk to scoot off….but this would not be our last encounter….
Day 2: Slow morning with breakfast of coffee, chocolate chip pancakes, sausage and some laughs.
Then the Chris and I and the kids and my youngest brother and his wife went into town to explore and get some coffee and ice cream. Coudersport, PA is an adorable mountain town on the Allegheny River with antiques, book stores, taverns and an adorable ice cream parlor….and McDonalds and IHOP.
My son was asking where all the alligators were in the river. What? The alligators. ummmm… (I start feeling nervous….what is he saying? He has a quick fuse when you as ‘what’ too many times, and I don’t know what he is talking about)…there aren’t alligators here. ‘Isn’t this the Alligator River?’ We all got a chuckle. Allegheny. Ah, 5-year-old cuteness.
When we got back we ate a PBJ lunch and then went over to explore the astronomers campground. As mentioned earlier, there are some pretty serious restrictions once the sun sets to guarantee optimal viewing.
It was here that we saw the opportunity to donate to Cherry Springs Dark Sky Fund, and my sister in law suggested that as Hero Bear’s #RememberinMalcolm contribution to Cherry Springs….and that’s what we did!
We also wandered down a different path near our campsite. I didn’t bring a camera, but it was a beautiful hike with great views from the top of the mountain and wild turkey’s gobbling across our path.
Tonight’s dinner was cheesesteaks cooked on the grill over the fire and they were DELICIOUS. Yumyumyum.
After dinner we did get to see a beautiful sunset through a brief moment of clear sky.
We had s’mores and waited for the arrival of moon set. But around midnight, when the clouds rolled in with no end in sight, we decided to catch a few hours sleep and set alarms for 3.
At 3am, I snuck out of the trailer, careful not to wake husband, kids, or SIL and baby who were bunking with us. I crept towards the bath house. When I got far enough away from the trailer I flicked on my flashlight. And there, strolling around the corner of the vault toilets, was my skunk buddy. Same one (his back was mostly white, which really made him stand out, fortunately). We locked eyes. I said ‘FINE’ aloud, and stalked away to pee behind a tree.
For our last morning at camp my brother again used his great stove to cook us up some omelettes and sausage, with toast prepped over the fire.
In the end, Chris and I were quite disappointed we didn’t see Malcolm’s star. But we did get to spend time with family that also happens to be our good friends, and that is such a gift.