A Day in Jim Thorpe
03.07.2011 - 03.07.2011 90 °F
I was floating in that neverland between wakefulness and sleep when the first large dollops of rain began to hit the roof of the tent. Jay hadn't come to bed yet and I could hear him pulling tarps out of one of the bins as I shimmied out of the sleeping bag and quickly got dressed. We'd had such beautiful weather that we were lax in protecting the tents from rain. Now, at midnight, in the dark and heavy rain, we ran around like nuts covering the tents, throwing the chairs under the picnic table and pulling towels off the clothesline and throwing them the truck. It was just about this time that I was thankful for all those active bears we hadn't seen. It meant all of our kitchen supplies and food were already packed away, safe and dry.
We crawled into the tent again soaked from the rain and wide awake fron the adreneline rush of securing the camp. It rained for about an hour. We finally drifted off to sleep, hoping against hope that it was an islolated shower. It wasn't. A storm came through about 3:30am and then it rained continuously until morning. None of us slept well.
When the final drops of water were wrung from the clouds, we crawled out of our tents to assess the damage. For all the rain we had, it really wasn't too bad. Everything that was left unprotected was soaked (chairs, firewood, picnic table, stove) but the sky looked promising. We made breakfast and attempted to dry out the firewood.
While Jay cooked eggs and sausage, I watched several chimpmunks play tag around the open area behind our site. Photographing them was next to impossible. They were quick as a wink and the sunless morning provided little light. This was the best I could do.
This little guy's home was a luxury two story condo. I never knew if he was going to come out the ground floor doors or the second story window.
Originally, my parents were going to drive up and spend the day with us. Because of the rain, I told them not to bother making the two hour trip to sit around a wet campsite in damp chairs. We didn't feel like doing that, either. After a brief family counsel meeting, it was decided that the Wandrin' Family would spend the day in Jim Thorpe and give the campsite some time to dry out. Jim Thorpe is a quaint little town that sits along the Lehigh river and climbs steeply up the side of a mountain. Originally called Mauch Chunk (mock-chunk) from a Lenape Indian word meaning "at the bear mountain", the town changed its name in the 1950's to Jim Thorpe to honor the famous American Indian Olympian. It's history lies in the excavation and transportation of anthracite coal. Now it is quite the tourist spot, with Victorian bed and breakfasts, adorable shops and (from what I understand) excellent restaurants. Because of its proximity to the Lehigh river and Lehigh Gorge state park, there are plenty of outdoor activites as well - biking, hiking, fishing and whitewater rafting.
We were headed to Jim Thorpe to tour The Old Jail Museum, a place of history and mystery which pleased everyone in my family. The drive took about a half hour and on the way we spotted six wild turkeys. No deer. No bear. Just big turkeys. Traffic getting into Jim Thorpe was wicked. And Jim Thorpe was overrun with humanity. We made it to the museum just as it opened. It was very hot and sticky outside. It was only a little less so inside. The building was finished in 1871 and was considered to be the epitome of a high security prsion at the time. It remained in operation as a jail until 1995 when it was privately purchased and turned into a museum. It's main claim to fame is the hanging of several supposed members of the Molly Macguires, an alleged secret society of Irish coal miners who might have murdered mine bosses and supervisors. Historians today believe that there was never a secret society of Irish coal miners called the Molly Macguires. It is also believed that most, if not all, of the executed men were innocent and that the trials were a complete surrender of state sovereignty. I won't go into the details of how miners and their families were treated by the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company owned by Josiah White or the ridiculous excuses for trials that led to the hangings. I just want to state for the record that I believe more atrocities have been visited upon the human race because of greed and the love of power than any other reasons known to man.
We toured the small area of the women's quarters, the main cell block and the "dungeon" which contained cells for solitary confinement. A replica of the gallows was standing in the dining hall. Finally, we looked in cell 17, which has a handprint of one of the Molly Macquires on the wall. The story about the handprint goes something like this. On the morning of his execution, this particular Macguire still claimed his innocence. To prove it, he brushed his hand along the floor and then placed it on the wall making a handprint. He said that the handprint would remain forever, proving that he was an innocent man. The handprint does remain despite scrubbing, painting and even removal and reapplication of the plaster wall. It is quite a compelling tale. I do believe he was an innocent man (but not necessarily because of the handprint). Unfortunately, photographing the handprint was forbidden, so you'll just have to take my word for it.
Between the gallows, solitary confinement cells, and the handprint, we were sufficiantly spooked. We were also getting hungry. On the way to the Old Jail Museum, we passed a pub with an outdoor deck that looked like fun. Guess what the restaurant was called - Molly Macquire's. Before we actually went to the pub, we bought tickets for the 3 pm ride on the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway. There were so many people around we feared that we wouldn't get tickets if we waited. We walked from the train station to the pub and were seated right away. The menu had a combination of standard American bar food and Irish specialties. I ordered shepherd's pie which was very good but way too hot for such a hot day. The rest of the family ordered fish and chips or hamburgers and everyone was satisfied. While we ate, a guitarist named Billy sang songs for us. The kids loved this part. Apparently, they've never experienced live music while eating before. Perhaps we need to get them out more. All in all, it was a nice lunch. The only thing that was lacking was air conditioning or an invigorating breeze. We baked (or should I say steamed) under the orange canvas awning. I was beginning to feel like an overcooked dimsum dumpling.
The Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway travels from Jim Thorpe along the Lehigh River. The ride takes about forty five minutes and offers views of the Lehigh river and gorge. For most of the trip, a rail-to-trail biking and walking path parallels the tracks. For the majority of the year it must be a very pleasant way to experience the beauty of the area. For us, it was a test of endurance. The train is not air-conditioned and for the first half of the ride barely a wiff of a breeze came in the open windows. Yes, we were cheap and bought tickets on the standard coach car. But I would wager that even the open air car wasn't getting much air. Thank goodness on the return trip the wind cooperated and we enjoyed the sweetest breeze ever created by God.
School-aged children used this bridge to walk over the Lehigh river to get to school in Mauch Chunk. Thank goodness for school buses!
After the steamy -I mean scenic - train ride, we headed back to the Pathfinder. It was time to leave Jim Thorpe and we'd barely scratched the surface of what this quaint little town had to offer. We blasted the AC while we waited a millenia to get out of the parking lot. Earlier, the kids located a Turkey Hill with their high-tech Slushie radar. After the heat of the day, a Slushie sounded like the perfect refreshment. There was some disappointment over the limited selection of just two flavors but it was quickly forgotten with the first tastes of that icy goodness. We headed back to the campground hoping that everything was sufficiently dried out.
The closer to Hickory Run we got, the darker the sky became. It started spitting big droplets of rain as we pulled into the site. Jay and I waited in the truck to see what was going to happen. The rain stopped, but the sky was getting darker and darker. Thunder rumbled from all directions, resonating off the mountains. We really don't enjoy camping in persistent rain, especially in the form of thunderstorms. I called my mom to get a good forecast for the area. She told me that a very strong storm with possible hail was headed our way. (How did we survive before cell phones?). That was all I needed to hear. In the next 30 minutes, we had everything torn down and packed in the truck. The entire family was hustling to get finished before the storm came. We were urged on by claps of thunder and a few flashes of lightning. After one last walk through the site to make sure we didn't leave anything behind, we hopped in the truck and headed out. The first torrents of rain started just after we left Hickory Run. Within a few moments, water was coming down in sheets. It was such a heavy downpour that Jay could barely see to drive. The kids had been very disappointed that we left a day early until the rain came. Suddenly, leaving wasn't such a bad idea after all.
Driving out of the storm
The storm cloud that ended our camping trip
With just one stop for subs and ice cream, we made it home by ten o'clock. Many of the towns that we drove through were having firework displays for the 4th of July holiday. We enjoyed several shows as we traveled through Lebanon, Manheim, and Lancaster. We timed it just right to see the finale of the Long's Park fireworks as we drove by. They were fantastic, as usual. Being home felt so good - the hot shower, the AC, my Sleep Number bed. We had a great time but I was definitely happy to be back in my house, cool and dry.