Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Bushkill Falls (or What It Takes to Earn a Pin)

Last Thursday, I met up with my good buddy Mark near his old stomping grounds, around Mount Pocono, Pennsylvania. 

As I have described in previous posts, Mark didn't hail from the region exactly, but was close enough across the river in New Jersey that it was an area that he had frequently visited over the years. We only hung out for a few days, but decided that we had to see something unique instead of just marathoning movies and Internet videos (however entertaining that may have been). 

I had always heard of Bushkill Falls and had personally missed half-a-dozen opportunities in the past to visit the location (once, as a workplace outing; another, weekend trip with the family, etc.) and was eager to eventually see the place. It had always looked beautiful in pictures. As we were driving around, I learned that Mark had also never visited the Falls, despite being so geographically close. Well, there we go: we had a destination. 

Keep in mind, as we agreed on the visit, we had both assumed that the Falls were a small roadside attraction, such as a single outlet of state park property that people pulled over and took pictures of or something in that realm of visitation. We were in for a surprise. 

We found the entrance off of a major road and pulled in. We crossed a lovely stone bridge over a pond and saw many people fishing on the banks and sitting around. There were multiple wooded parking spots and a broad way of sorts with stands and buildings awaiting us. It looked like the entrance to a pioneer-themed amusement park. I was immediately skeptical. As charming as these locales were, lots of people and commerce typically leant itself to a less-than-ideal nature visit. We passed a timed maze attraction and saw some children deciding whether or not they wanted to run the time trial. We found some souvenir shops, restrooms, and a history kiosk, but didn't know where the... you know, where the Falls were. We eventually discovered that it was a paid attraction (about thirteen dollars for an adult ticket) and waited in line. As previously noted, we had assumed that it was a state park. But, hell, we were there and still eager to see the famous Bushkill Falls so we paid for our admission and I decided to spring for the extraneous two dollar cost of the "official trail map." 

The woman at the counter informed me that there was a ticket inside with a chart of the alphabetical letters A - T on it and on the trail there were checkpoints tagged with these letters. At these checkpoints, you would pick up a unique hole punch and mark your progress on the ticket. It was your typical scavenger hunt, basically. At first, I did not care at all. Glancing at the map, the entire length of the trails seemed a daunting task: Mark has been fighting multiple ailments and recent injuries to no end and we both were doubtful about how much we could tackle. The moment we entered the trails, however, we offhandedly discovered the "B" trail marker, punched our ticket, and decided that we had to (and would) complete the chart. We were completionists in video games, so why should this be any different, heh. 

We took plenty of pictures and the Falls themselves were incredible. Words really cannot do them justice. I had initially thought there was only one location. While the most prominent falls were certainly breathtaking, we found dozens of picturesque scenes along the full trail. We even circled back at one point to make sure we had every trail maker checked off (we were enticed with the promise of a pin if we completed all twenty, so we decided that I must have it for my backpack full of band and pop culture pins and patches). Overall, we completed the entire trail (and then some) in about three hours. The weather was beautiful and there was a great deal of shade on the trails. It was beautiful to see so many different types of people and families out there, too. 

We realized, also, along the way that there were sufficient letters to spell our respective names. Along with being completionists, we were also suckers for a gimmicky photoset, so we each took pictures of the letters in our names (and the complementary shots of the other taking them, even if they turned out less than complimentary) and Mark arranged them in a single shot, topped off with a panoramic shot I took (pictured below). 

At the end of it all, we earned our pins and had an incredible time. Although it was not state property (it is privately owned by the Aramark company) it was kept up very well. The trails, bridges, and stairs were all very safe and well-constructed. I was very pleasantly surprised with the expansive reach and diversity of the attraction. If you are ever in the Pocono area, I definitely recommend a trip out there. There are multiple tiers of difficulty and terrain, so do not fret if you are not an avid hiker. Hell, we didn't think we had it in us, but we bested it (and then some!). 

As a side note, in search of one of the trail markers, we had somehow managed to wander off of the main path and into a super-unkempt utility trail. We had only realized our error when we saw a Ranger with a bright neon vest trudging through mud trying to get us back on the main route. Oops. As basic economics will tell us, people react to incentives, and damn it, we wanted our pins.  

It was a day to remember.