Boulder Field and Shades of Death
02.07.2011 - 02.07.2011 87 °F
It was the perfect night for sleeping in a tent - cool and not too damp. We awoke refreshed and ready for some adventure.
(Notice I am maintaining my "Best Mom in the World" status by supplying ample boxes of sugar-coated cereal and Poptarts.)
The boys built a "natual" fire, using items they found in the woods. We spent the morning around the campsite, relaxing and reading.
This beetle was enormous - the size of Jay's thumb from the first knuckle to the tip. While I tried to photograph him, he turned his body to follow every move I made. Jay said he was squaring off for a fight. He probably would have won...
We lazed around until after lunch. While we were eating, we finalized a plan for the afternoon. Our first destination was the Boulder Field, a designated National Natural Area created by the last Ice Age. To get there, we drove the Boulder Field Road (fitting, don't you think?), a dirt road that meandered through forests of evergreen, oak, and hickory. The floor of the forest was covered with a carpet of ferns. Scattered throughout were mountain laurel and rhododendron. The mountain laurel was past peak bloom but the rhododendron was just getting started. It was very pretty drive and would have been extraordinary had it not been for the little white car that insisted on tailgating us the entire drive. Why the rush?? The only two destinations on that road were Hickory Run Lake and the Boulder Field. I could be wrong, but I think they are permanent exhibits of the park and aren't leaving any time soon.
When we arrived, the parking lot was packed. This was the first crowd we encountered but ended up being a theme of the trip. The entrance to the Boulder field was pretty busy with people and pets. Once we waded through the masses and got out onto the rocks it was much better. The field itself is 400 feet wide, 1800 feet long and about 10 feet deep with various sized sandstone boulders. It requires some amount of balance and agility to maneuver over the rocks and many people were not attempting it. Although it was very warm, we spent a long while climbing around, goofing off, and taking photos. We traversed the shorter length of the field and took a brief break in the shade. Once we'd cooled down a little, we picked our way back across the field and walked to the truck. My only disappointment was the amount of graffiti on the rocks. It was disheartening.
There are several deep depressions throughout the field that beg for some fun. (Disclaimer: No one was physically harmed in the making of these photos.) I did find myself wondering how many people had injured themselves maneuvering their way across the rocks. I'm sure it's been more than a few.
We left the Boulder Field and headed to Sand Spring Lake. The plan was to take Beach trail to Shades of Death and hike the Shades of Death trail. Sand Spring Lake is a day use area in Hickory Run. There are picinc tables everywhere and the lake has a beach for swimming. Judging from the multi-cultural representation, we thought that maybe it was a popular destination for escape from New York City. We saw numerous extended family gatherings with extravagant picnic spreads. Everyone seemed to be having a great time. The beach was too crowded for our taste, but many people were taking the opportunity to cool off in the lake.
We found the unmarked Beach trail and hiked the short distance to the Shades of Death trailhead. For me, Shades of Death conjures up images of decaying corpses and dark evil places. The trail is anything but that (much to the disappointment of the kids, I'm afraid). Instead, it is a lovely 1.5 mile hike along Sand Spring through rhododendron, fern and oak. The name of the trail is a nod to the history of the area. Supposedly, in the 1700's, settlers in the Wyoming Valley were attacked by Iroquois Indians. To escape, they fled into the Pocono Mountains. Ill-prepared for the conditions, most of the settlers died - hence the name Shades fo Death.
We did come across some contradictory information concerning the difficulty of the trail. The park guide labeled the trail difficult. A few other sources stated it was easy. Being a fairly experienced hiker myself, I have an opinion to offer. The trail is not easy. It isn't flat and has some serious (albeit very short) inclines/declines. The path itself is rocky and has exposed tree roots everywhere. It takes a fair amount of agility to traverse. However, I wouldn't call it difficult either. It's short and there are plenty of picturesque places to rest. Any average person of physical skill and fitness level can do this hike without issue. Our biggest problem was staying on the trail. It was not well marked. We often found ourselves at a dead end and had to retrace our steps. When the dead end is a grove of blooming rhododendron, though, who's really complaining?
We were hot and tired by the end of our hike. One of the benfits of camping is that it enables you to recognize and appreciate modern luxuries such as air conditioning. It felt so good to climb into the Pathfinder and crank the AC! We drove to the nearest Wawa for slushies and a snack then headed back to our campsite. The boys wanted to fish so they spent some time at Hickory Run Lake catching sunnies while we girls took showers and relaxed at the campsite.
We ended the evening cooking burgers over the fire and practicing the art of the perfectly toasted marshmallow. This was followed by storytelling and talking until late in the evening. When I finally crawled into my sleeping bag, I was tired and content.