STARRY, STARRY NIGHT

Van Gogh’s “Starry, Starry Night was surely inspired by the darkest of skies with the brightest of stars. When it was painted in June of 1889 in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France, there wasn’t such a thing as light pollution or the ‘Bortle Scale’ which rates evening skies on a scale of 1 to 9 for optimal star gazing darkness. The whole East Coast lights that can be seen from space, scores a dismal 7 with the exception of northern Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Mountains with an impressive darkness rating of 2!

 

Northwestern Pennsylvania night skies have been rated among the darkest in the Northeast. PC Tioga County CVB

I first learned about the Allegheny River Campgrounds dark skies through a fellow Girl Camper who happens to own a campground there. When Carolyn Wise and I were chatting at an industry event and she told me that the region has the darkest skies on the East Coast, I knew I wanted to go there. East Coast residents often have to travel far west for good star gazing. Together we planned a trip and gathered the girls for our “Starry, Starry Night” campout. Our weekend event in late May turned out to be quite a reunion of nearly thirty women I had camped with the previous year in wild and wonderful West Virginia. It is always great to sit around a campfire and catch up with old friends and hear where their travels have taken them since we last met.

 

Waiting for darkness to bring out the Starry, Starry Night!

 

The Allegheny Mountains are loaded with unspoiled vistas and many campgrounds. I have camped in the area before and love the drive there. Pennsylvania’s northeast extension takes me north to Interstate 80 which runs east to west and the payoff comes when you exit I-80 and still have 115 miles of mostly two-lane roads to get to the campground. Winding north on old Route 15 you get to take in small town after small town. The beautiful old farms along the way were a lush spring green and along the roads all of the lilac trees were bursting with blooms.

 

Whenever I’m traveling I enjoy the backroads best. I just had to pull over on Old Route 15 and take this photo of a perfect day!

 

A small detour takes you through the historic town of Wellsboro, Pennsylvania. Wellsboro is the county seat of Tioga and home to Pine Creek Gorge, a 47 mile gorge carved into the Allegheny Plateau and often referred to as the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. The area has a rich lumber history dating back to the 1800’s and ending in the early 1900’s when the gorge was so depleted of lumber due to flooding, landslides and fires stripping any growth left on the mountain. Conservation efforts have restored the gorge with forests that now boast active wildlife and 100 year old trees. The Pennsylvania Lumber Museum in nearby Galeton is a great interactive museum and reproduction mill that comprehensively covers the industry that once ruled the area. The once active train line is now the Pine Creek Rail Trail. The 65 mile long trail has a gentle grade and is used for hiking, cycling and cross country skiing. USA Today named it one of the “ten greatest places to take a bike tour” in the world. When I camped in Wellsboro two years ago, the Stony Fork Creek Campground shuttled us and our bikes to the trail start where we enjoyed cycling downhill all the way back to the campground. My kind of biking! The town of Wellsboro is full of shops, restaurants and a great farmers market. We had a delicious lunch of locally grown organic fare from a local food truck before continuing west to our Roulette, Pennsylvania destination.

 

The Lumber Museum in Galeton, Pa boasts a reproduction mill and railway with a great interactive display of the industry that ruled the area for 100 years.

 

Stony Fork Campground in Wellsboro, Pa shuttles guests to the rail trail with their own bikes or rentals. The perk is that the 18 mile ride back to the campground is all downhill!

 

The Allegheny River Campground in Roulette, Pa. is literally right on the Allegheny River. Since I was staying in a rented cabin, I did not have a river site but I will definitely get one next time. The sites were level and spacious and it was a pleasure to sit with my morning coffee on one of the benches and watch the fly fishermen weave their lines across the sparkling waters. Our Friday night campfire took place around the campground’s pavilion in the middle of the sites and it was a great gathering space for thirty people to all fit chairs around the fire. We had a great time catching up and laughing even if the clouds rolled in and blocked the stars. On Saturday the Girl Campers spread far and wide visiting museums, junk shops and in search of geo caching stashes. We all gathered by the river after a community dinner to circle our chairs around the fire. I had been watching my weather app and knew we had a small window for star gazing before a westerly wind would bring the clouds. While waiting for it to get dark we shared our favorite star gazing apps and helped those new to the hobby download the app of their choice. The stars did not disappoint and by 11 pm the sky was an indigo blue and it seemed as if billions of stars lit the sky. Dragging our chairs just twenty feet from the light of the campfire seemed to double that number. We searched for constellations and recognizable planets but then settled in to just sit in the stillness and soak up a beauty that you have to travel to find. I was aware of the wonderful women I am privileged to travel with and of their silence. Sometimes we don’t have to express the wonder we feel. Sometimes we just know that it’s a special moment and that’s enough. When we meet again and are sitting around a campfire reminiscing, I am sure someone will say, “Remember that incredible night in Roulette when the sky was navy and we counted shooting stars?” We’ll probably have plenty to say about it then.

 

It could be argued that at the end of a rainbow there’s actually a campground!