Last week I took some time off work to head up to the Allegheny National Forest. The ANF is one of my favorite places to go hiking year-round and the North Country Trail offers 100 miles of trail through the ANF. ANF also has some of the darkest skies in the Eastern US, perfect for stargazing.
This trip started at Cook Forest, at the southern end of the ANF range. Cook Forest is famous for having one of the few remaining Old Growth forests in America. This area, called the Forest Cathedral, is a wonderful place to hike on a cool rainy day. It almost feels like you are walking through the Pacific Northwest, with towering Hemlock trees, lush green ferns, and a quiet elegance.
After a 4 mile hike, we spent the night at a backcountry shelter along the North Country Trail. This particular shelter is one of my favorites. The surrounding forest is unlike any I've ever seen, it almost feels like something out of a Medieval scene.
Our goal for today was to complete the Minister Creek loop, a relatively easy 6 mile hike. We had perfect weather, cool, with a light drizzle. Along the trail we saw plenty of Painted Trillium, Foam Flower, Hepatica, and Jack-in-the-Pulpit. As we hiked up to the overlook, i couldn't help but think back to my last time at Minister Creek. I had spent 4 hours creating a Star Trails photo from the overlook on a cold, April night.
As we hiked through Minister Creek, we entered what looked like a warzone. A large swath of forest was completely devastated, with barely any trees left standing. It turns out, a very bad thunderstorm blew through the area last June. I couldn't believe the destruction, it was truly amazing to see the wrath of nature. The only other time I've seen such destruction was in the Rocky Mountains. A mud-slide had decimated a swath of forest, leaving a scar on the landscape.
After our hike at Minister Creek, we headed to the Allegheny Reservoir. It was surprising to see the difference in foliage progression. The tops of the mountains looked like late winter, while down in the valleys Spring was in full swing. We made camp at my favorite site, right along Sugar Run. I've spent many nights here over the years, it is a beautiful spot.
With camp set up, we were ready to have a big dinner. Driving 1 minute down the road took us to Sugar Bay, a perfect place to watch the sunset. We finally got to have our first real meal of the day.
I was surprised to see the sky clearing up, as the forecast had called for rain and clouds the whole time. I began brainstorming Milky Way photo ideas, since this is one of the darkest areas in the Eastern US.
Thankfully the clouds held off all night. At 3am I woke up to photograph the Milky Way. Driving down Route 321 provided a nice foreground element. Using my Rokinon 14mm I got a decent wide-angle shot. I also used my Sigma 35mm Art to get a more intimate Milky Way shot.
As the first light started creeping in from the east, I decided to head back to my warm sleeping bag.
My last goal for this trip was to find some Lady Slipper orchids. Unfortunately, Spring is a little behind in PA. It looks like they won't be blooming for another week or two. Here's a shot I took of a Pink Lady's Slipper orchid a few years back.