Laurel Highlands Trip

Text by Jason Beale, Manager, Abbott’s Mill Nature Center

Photos by John Harrod, Manager DuPont Environmental Education Center

As we enter the first week of summer, I think back to my favorite memories of the spring.  Undoubtedly, the May 19-21, Delaware Nature Society Laurel Highlands trip rises to the top.  This annual Delaware Nature Society offering blends the natural beauty of birds and wildflowers with unique tours of Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Kentuck Knob” and “Fallingwater” houses.

The journey through Pennsylvania is very scenic, passing through the pastoral beauty of the Lancaster Amish farm country and the ridge and valleys of central Pennsyvlania.

Late afternoon light on the Kentuck Knob porch
Late afternoon light on the Kentuck Knob porch

Our first stop was Kentuck Knob.  This Frank Lloyd Wright house isn’t as well known as others, but still possesses the features unique to his style: day-lighting, natural flow of air, and vistas drawing the visitor’s gaze to the outdoors without obstruction.  Local stone and wood were used in the construction and the house is situated in a manner that blends in with the natural beauty of the site. 

We had a dinner at the Summit Inn, which sits on Laurel Ridge and overlooks southwestern PA.  Soon after, we retired to the Lodge at Chalk Hill which has a pond on-site.  We were serenaded by the resident birds and frogs before dusk.

The following morning we headed to the Powdermill Nature Reserve.  This Carnegie Museum of Natural History research station features a nature center, bioacoustics lab, and the longest running bird-banding lab in the nation.  Bird bander Andrew Vitz and his crew treated us to a excellent demonstration of mist-netting, banding, and measuring songbirds.   It was quite a treat to view treetop-dwelling and shrub-skulking warblers in the hand, as well as Swainson’s Thrushes and a variety of other birds.  A highlight for a few of our crew was when they had the opportunity to release Ruby-throated Hummingbirds right from their hand!

Babs Harris and her new feathered friend
Babs Harris and her new feathered friend

Our next stop was Linn Run State and the unique Spruce Bog at the summit.  The diverse topography of the highlands creates a variety of microclimates where rare plants and colorful warblers thrive.  We enjoyed a picnic lunch with a Swainson’s Thrush taking over the role of the neighborhood robin.  A variety of stunning birds were present as we took the short hike to the bog, including Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Black-and-White, Black-throated Blue, and Blackburnian Warblers.  We also found a Mountain Dusky Salamander beneath a log in a spring seep.  The bog itself featured insectivorous sundews and pitcher plants as well as wild cranberries. 

 

Mountain Dusky Salamander at Spruce Bog
Mountain Dusky Salamander at Spruce Bog

 We took another trail to focus on wildflowers. We found painted trillum, including a mutated specimen with 4 petals!  Also present were yellow clintonia, bellworts, fringed polygala, and dwarf ginseng.

"4-petaled" Painted Trillium variant
"4-petaled" Painted Trillium variant

 We spent the rest of the day at Ohiopyle State Park.  This beautiful, rocky river features a scenic waterfalls and hiking trails.  We visited the natural waterslide at Meadow Run, but nobody was willing to test the cool water.

Anyone for a slip and slide?
Anyone for a slip and slide?

Once again we retired to the Lodge at Chalk Hill, a pleasant dinner, and scenic views off of our porches.

Frank Lloyd’s famous Fallingwater was our last stop on the trip.  I had seen the pictures, but have to say that the actual house and site far exceeded my expectations.  Nestled next to the waterfall amongst a pristine mature forest with thick rhododendrons lining the stream, bird song was everywhere.  Hooded Warblers, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Scarlet Tanagers, and Baltimore Orioles were among the highlights.  The entire house, inside and out, exudes a sense of peace and harmony with nature.

A view from the window at Falling Water
A view from the window at Falling Water
The classic view of Fallingwater.
The classic view of Fallingwater.

As all good trips must come to an end, we packed our bags and returned to Delaware, already looking forward to next year’s visit.  Join us in the future for this wonderful spring trip.

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