Courtesy of the Tioga County Visitors Bureau
I have been hiking the nature trails of North Central Pennsylvania for almost thirty years, and the Barbour Rock Trail just outside Colton Point State Park is one of my favorites. Some of my friends may say that’s because it is so short—only about a mile round trip—and mostly flat. And while those are charming attributes, I’d venture to say that those who truly know me wouldn’t be able to hike that trail without understanding exactly why I enjoy it so much.
The trail starts at Colton Road and goes about half a mile, where it brushes against the western rim of the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon before making its loop and returning to its origin. The forest there is mostly open woods of oak and maple, with a thick line of mountain laurel ripping through the middle of the trail. About three-quarters of the way out on the trail you start seeing open sky straight in front of you through the gaps in the trees. Anticipation grows, knowing you are almost there, almost to The Vista. The vista where time seems to stand still and the world is a whole lot bigger than it was when you got out of the car. Time spent at the vista is, for me, a reprieve from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It’s a time to reflect on and process the past. It’s a time to map forward progress. And when I’m not engulfed in life’s turbulence, it’s a time to just soak it all in.
From the vista you can see north and south into the length of the canyon itself. I have often sat up there watching as the weather changed from fair to foul or foul to fair. Whether it’s the lifting of early morning fog from the canyon or an evening rainstorm bringing the fog in, I am always mesmerized by the transformation. To sit on the edge of the gorge watching the cloud pack below moving in and out of the contours of the rugged terrain is inspiring. You start to wonder if you are sitting on the edge of the Earth, pondering what creatures may be waiting in the abyss below, or to imagine you are sitting on a precipice in Heaven waiting for an angel to pass by.
I have often watched as gray squirrels frolic in the trees on the edge of the steep drop-off. They dangle over the edge of the canyon on the limbs of huge oaks, comfortably showing off for their visitors. One evening I stood there alone at sunset pondering the meaning of life when I heard a rustling in the leaves to my right. I watched as a large squirrel traipsed across the forest floor, climbed up into a maple tree, and walked out on a limb about ten feet off the ground. As if signaling to me, the squirrel turned to look at me, then looked back towards the canyon as it lay down on the limb. When I left ten minutes later it was still laying on the branch.
My wife and kids and I go out there together every fall. We stop to pick up and break open acorns from both red and white oak trees. It’s still funny to watch the look on their faces as they bite into the bitter fruit. The boys and I always go on a search for the perfect walking stick, and I ask them the names of plants in the area. They are starting to know quite a few. I always caution them to stay away from the steep drop-off, and they always reply, “I know, Dad, stay on the trail.”
Sometimes my wife and I take some mom and dad time, drag out a blanket and a picnic basket, and just hang out for a while. Some of our best conversations have taken place out there on the edge of the canyon.
And no matter what is going on in my life, walking the half-mile back to the car after being at that vista always makes me smile.