Thursday, June 13, 2013

Many Wonders of Scranton, PA

Scranton, Pennsylvania is a tough one.  I spent 20 years avoiding it like a plague, because of the road construction back in the 1980's and 1990's.  Yes, the project that they were doing on I-81 and I-84 took forever and made a real mess.  Therefore, I never went there.  I didn't want to go there.  I didn't want to hear about the place.  It had driven me nuts for years, and I wanted to go anywhere else.
Then one day, years after all that, when I'd forgotten all about Scranton, PA, I was searching for waterfalls.  That was what I did in my spare time back in the early 2000's.  My son and I loved to go hiking to a good waterfall.  Anyway, I found some information on a lovely state park called Rickett's Glen.  It was supposed to be wonderful for waterfall enthusiasts like me and my son.  It reported at least 20 waterfalls, most of them on a waterfall trail.  One of them was supposed to be 94 feet high.  It sounded great.  As I read on, I learned that this park is only a few miles outside of Scranton, PA.

So, I decided that for the sake of seeing a boatload of waterfalls, I would suck it up and go to Scranton.  So I booked an inexpensive hotel in Wilkes Barre, because I was really reluctant to go to Scranton, and off we went.
By the way, the park was beautiful.  We spent two days, or the better part of them, hiking the falls trail.  It's in two parts, so we did one side one day, and the other the next.  It's a waterfall lover's dream.  That's for sure.  But, we were there for a few days, so we needed something else to do.
What to do in Scranton, PA?
For one thing, we went to the Lackawanna Coal Mine.  That's right, Pennsylvania is one of those towns of old.  Back in their heyday, they were the center of the universe.  Pennsylvania overall was ground zero for coal, oil, and steel back in the days of the huge magnates like Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, and Carnegie.  This was where their power struggles happened and where dynasties were built.
From New York and Pennsylvania to New Jersey, you will see the name Lackawanna on a lot of things.  In Pennsylvania, it's a county and everything named for that county.  Lackawanna is a word from the Lenape Indians which were located originally in this area of the country.  Lackawanna means two streams or where two streams fork.  I learned that from touring that wonderful mine.
While on the tour of the mine, you will see how they worked and how they extracted the coal from the mine.  It was harsh back in the day, and a lot of people died working in those conditions.  It is a fascinating little tour, however and a great ride in one of the old mine trains.  There are other mines in the area which you can tour.  Back in the day, they had a few different ways of mining, and you can learn about different ways by visiting different mines. The Pioneer Tunnel Mine will show you all about drift mining, which is pretty unique by today's standards.
So, then what?  Now what do you do in Scranton?

The Scranton area has way more outdoor stuff to offer.  They have almost a dozen well maintained extensive trails that you can hike.  They have it all, and it's all around town.  They have a beautiful river walk that you shouldn't miss.  It's great, and it's a beautiful walk.  River walks are one of the fastest growing trends in the Northeast.  I don't know about the rest of the country, but we sure do love them here.
Here's an interesting fact and a fun thing to do, that tells you how unique Scranton is.  You can take a tour and visit the Houdini Museum.  That's right.  These folks will take you to see all the things that scream Houdini.  It is the most extensive collection of things pertaining to Houdini, and they also have a great show with well known magicians for you to go along with your tour.  If you like, you can take a haunted tour as well.  Harry Houdini's wife spent years trying to reach him through seances, and now you can experience the whole thing right here in Scranton, PA.
There are many wonderful things to do in Scranton, PA.  No one was more surprised than me.  My son and I went to a wonderful place called Lahey's Family Fun Park, just outside of town where we rode go karts and played mini golf, rode bumper boats and had a great time.  We went to a McDonald's that looked like a 50's diner.  We went to a great downtown mall that had as much entertainment as they did shops.  They have a great modern art scene there as well.  They have a well known night life.  It's an amazing town.  You can even take a tour that highlights all the landmarks that they use on the TV show The Office.  The place is one of a kind.  Until I got off the road and visited the place I had no idea.  While it has plenty to be unique, why did I mention it as one of my adventures for anyone?
The trains.
Scranton had several rail lines running right through it back in the day.  Pennsylvania was the home of the country's first railroad.  But, in the heyday of trains and coal and oil and steel, Scranton was a hub.  Today they have Steamtown.  This is a great indoor and outdoor museum with an old fashioned roundhouse that still operates.  While you're there you can visit all the museum buildings, see all the trains that are still there and take a ride on a train.  It's not a long ride, but it's great for the kids. 
One of the great things about Steamtown is that you can go in everything and wander around.  It's the most accessible outdoor museum I've ever been to.  You get to see how everything works and what it felt like to sit in a real caboose, or mail car, or whatever.  It's a lot of fun.  If you like trains, this place is for you.
Now, here's the best part.  Several times a year, Steamtown offers specialty tours.  Some of these things last for more than one day.  You can book a real train trip on an old style train.  All you have to do is check their website for a schedule and book a trip.  They take a few every year through the beautiful Pocono countryside.  It's a great way to spend a weekend.
 There is also the Stourbridge Line.  That is another local train company that offers sightseeing rides in the Scranton area.  They are currently postponed.  That's what they say, but they do hope to be up and running soon.  Once again, just check the website.  They'll keep you posted.
Trains are something that not everyone appreciates, but to those who love them, they are the best thing in the world.  Scranton is known as Steamtown, and the reason is the trains.  There's a lot to do once you get past the constant road construction surrounding the city.  It's an amazing place to be.  Come see the trains and the mines and the waterfalls and the river walks.  Come and experience something that you never hear about on television.  Scranton has so much to offer that you could spend a whole week there taking it in.  It's that great.  I was wrong about Scranton.  It's a great place that I now go to whenever I get the time.  So, for anyone out there that hasn't visited Scranton, because of the way it looks on the outside, get off the highway and take a look.  Scranton will surprise you.  Enjoy!

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