Bumming Around in Bethlehem

… and Belfast.

Each year spring officially opens (for us) with our visit to the local showing of the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour. By late April, when the festival is held in Bethlehem, the weather is usually settling into a warmer pattern overall. This means that we can usually count on spending the morning hiking somewhere in the Poconos or Lehigh Valley on our way to the festival. Dad has come with us the past three years, and he was excited about his fourth trip. We invited his good friend Joe and Joe’s two sons (one of whom is a serious mountain climber/adventurer). We all had a feeling they would greatly enjoy the show, although Joe messaged Dad early Sunday morning to say that they wouldn’t be able to meet us for the hike.

This year, like last, we chose Jacobsburg State Park as our morning hiking destination. We arrived at the park just before 11:00am, as planned. Both the main parking lot and the new lot in front of the visitors center were nearly empty—this always bodes well for quiet trails! The more deserted the better.

Last year’s hike took us to the southern section of the park, past the old Henry homestead and other sites of the historic town of Jacobsburg. This year we chose the western section. A connector trail heading northwest from the visitors center led us out to Belfast Road. We walked the road for a short distance (spotting an unstamped PDH survey disk on the bridge over Bushkill Creek!) and then entered the “Sorber’s Run” section of the park, heading westerly toward, and then alongside, the creek.

I’ve never before seen such a thick wildflower carpet as we saw today along the first section of the trail. Patches of spring beauty, trout lily, and violets (purple and yellow) lined the wooded path on both sides. Jacobsburg also features May apples in abundance, and bunches of wild chives were sprouting up here and there. The sunshine was strong and clear and the sky was literally remarkably blue for PA (we all commented on it).

Spring violets
Spring violets

We made a circuit of this section of the park, following the outer green-blazed loop as it climbed the hill through open woods at the western edge of the park, then passed the stables and back down on the power line. We passed only a few mountain bikers (or, I should say they passed us!) including the fat-tire guys from last year whose bikes intrigued dad so much.

Rich asked if I remembered the stream crossings in this area from our days of mountain biking here. I didn’t, but his memory is always trustworthy. On our return hike along the red/green blazed trail we did indeed spot some crossing areas, right now a moot point as the creek is nearly dry. We also noted the new footbridge (dated 2008) at the northern trailhead of the Sorbers Run Loop with a completely blank/unstamped survey disk in its northeast abutment. The footbridge is one of many improvements we’ve noticed in the park these past two years. I like seeing little reminders that “someone cares” by not making you go out on the road, injecting some grace and thoughtfulness and workmanship into the trails and routes that people might want to take, and clearing out at least most of the horribly overgrown poison ivy that had overtaken the park’s narrow trails about a decade ago.

Our hike concluded along the red/green blazed trail where we found Rich’s stream crossings as well as a concrete platform from, we assume, an old pump house where Dad shared his pretzels with us and we got him addicted to wallaby food (Wiley Wallaby Australian-style licorice). Another group of equestrians passed us as we snacked; we saw more people on horseback today than we saw on bikes! The park remained oddly quiet for a Sunday.

We chose the lower route at the very end of the red/green trail. I like walking near streams when possible, but in wetter (or more normal) conditions I advise the higher route. It was easy to see that the lower trail is probably often mucky, and Rich confirmed that it always was in the past.

A peaceful scene along Bushkill Creek
A peaceful scene along Bushkill Creek

I wanted to take a few photos of the PDH disk once we emerged back onto the road. This is a narrow, dangerous spot as the traffic is heavy and FAST. I took the photos very quickly and we continued on our way back to the visitors center, and from there on to Bethlehem.

We parked in the Walnut Street garage (free on Sundays!) in Bethlehem. It was only around 2:30 and our plans were to meet Joe at 3:00, so we had some time to kill, and Dad wanted bagels for the morning. Last year he found passable bagels at Johnny’s Deli on Main Street, so we went to Johnny’s again.

We were standing in line looking at the menu when I had the vague impression that someone was calling my name. Wow! Sitting at a corner table were Dr. Monks and his wife! He was in Bethlehem to coach a math team for competition and popped into the deli for coffee beforehand. We were all surprised to say the least. He commented on how nice our morning hike and evening plans sounded, and he and Gina hinted at a possible retirement-in-stages now that their kids are out of the house. It sounded like they want to focus more of their energy on their “Prove It!” math camp in Colorado and ultimately some more recreational activities for themselves.

Joe and his son Chris, minus Aaron who was sick and decided to stay home, arrived promptly at McCarthy’s at 3:00pm. Rich and I shared a Guinness stout and Chris had an interesting back-and-forth with our quirky waitress about which of the dozens of whiskeys they serve was best. He found something he liked, but I know nothing about whiskey, so I have no idea what it was or what it was like. Chris and I were up for the loaded chips, which we ordered topped with loin bacon and gravy (Rich and Joe enjoyed some of them as well). Rich and I shared potato leek soup with awesome soda bread. Rich had the fish & chips, to which he gave two hooves up. I heartily recommend the roasted red pepper, onion jam and brie melt: I’ve had it two years in a row now. Dad and Joe enjoyed turkey and roast beef melts and Chris had the cottage pie. Apparently he doesn’t eat peas because he left a huge mound of them on his plate.

Stuffed and satisfied, we met up again at the community college, where Joe tried for a good half hour, in vain, to sell the ticket he had purchased for his son who was unable to join us. He eventually came back inside and joined us in the back row, where we have the best view. The films were as beautifully done as always. We all agreed that the standout was “Unbranded”, the story of four friends who after college decided to adopt wild mustangs and ride from the Mexican border through the western US to the Canadian border.

Today's Survey Mark

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