Some of our favorite stops are the unplanned, unexpected places we’ve landed. Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, Red Rock Canyon in Oklahoma, and Chippokes Plantation in Virginia were all places we’d never heard of until the day we entered their gates. Leaving New York City, we aimed the nose of the RV toward Cleveland for my bi-annual checkup, but we weren’t in a hurry. Without overthinking it, I looked for a place to stop along the way and found Ohiopyle State Park in Pennsylvania. (It is almost impossible for me to remember that Ohiopyle isn’t in Ohio.)
We rolled into the area on the latter part of Labor Day and the little town was jammed with buses and vans shuttling tubers, kayakers, and rafters in every direction. The Youghiogheny River carves its way through the valley. I have no idea how Youghiogheny is pronounced, and the locals rattled off “Ohiopyle” in a way that sounded like, Hi-ya-pie, but with that nasally Western Pennsylvania lilt that outsiders can’t replicate.
The next day, we got a start on some homeschooling before turning our sights on the nearby water features. The weather was perfect and we expected to find crowds of swimmers like we did on the Potomac last year. But to our pleasant surprise, Labor Day marked the end of their season. We had the place to ourselves and the shops in town that were open were selling off whatever they had left. I don’t think we spent $5 there.
Yes, they’re playing leap-frog. I might have to see if this curriculum is from 1920.
One of the main attractions at Ohiopyle is the natural water slides. The water was a little low, so it didn’t exactly send you careening down the creek bed, but one section was particularly effective for the small humans.
Pictures don’t tell the story. Here are some videos, along with a bonus of a brave kayaker going off a waterfall.
I don’t know if we’ll get many more opportunities to travel with the kids in September. What a difference when it comes to crowds and campsite availability. Would it be okay if we just homeschool for the first month every year?
Ohiopyle is about an hour south of Pittsburgh. We were tempted to check out Fallingwater, the famous home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. But with COVID, they were only offering outdoor tours, and they weren’t a bargain. But just up the road from our campsite was another Frank Lloyd Wright gem, Kentuck Knob (that, I can pronounce.) They offered small, timed, guided tours of the home, which is owned by a British “Lord” who has an extensive outdoor sculpture collection – including a giant piece of the Berlin Wall.
Kentuck Knob is frozen in time. We weren’t allowed to take pics inside, so you’ll have to trust me that the furniture was either designed by FLW or inspired by him, and the kitchen appliances were all original retro-space-age.
Middle pic on the left is a section of the Berlin Wall. Bottom right, the home cuts into the landscape like the bow of a ship.
It’s easy to get caught up in the beauty of our National Parks, but it’s a mistake to overlook some of the amazing State Parks out there. Particularly because they simply don’t have the crowds that National Parks attract. If a place like Ohiopyle were a National Park, I’m sure sliding on your butt down the creek would be forbidden and we’d have to book a site six months in advance.
All these waterslides and waterfalls got me thinking about a trip that Monica and I took to Belize way back before we had kids. We stayed in a rainforest lodge in a cabin with no windows – only screens. We signed up for excursions that would never survive the US legal system. One in particular – the cave waterfall hike – involved riding into the jungle in a pickup truck (joined by some kind of machine gun carrying militia), entering the mouth of a cave which was cut by a rushing stream. At one point we had to hold our breath and swim under a boulder to reach the next cavern. The entire hike was lit only by headlamps. We climbed inside the mountain up a series of waterfalls. This was all fine until we turned around, and the only way back was to jump off the waterfalls (inside the pitch black cave). In broken English our teenage guides explained that if we jumped too far, we’d hit a rock, and if we didn’t jump far enough – you guessed it – we’d hit a rock. ¡Dios mio!
The top two cave shots are not actually the same cave where the waivers we signed took on true meaning. This was before phones took decent pictures, so we didn’t have a camera that day. What I don’t understand is how Monica hasn’t aged. Yet I – on the other hand – have gone from young-and-dashing to old-and-dignified.
Ohiopyle was the perfect stop to keep my mind off my coming doctors appointments in Cleveland, and it was probably going to be our last chance to take a swim before heading somewhere north – yet to be determined – into some cooler fall weather. We don’t really know what “fall” is in Florida, so we were excited to see what the fuss was all about.
“Don’t make me turn this van around” is written by Jonathan Kile, and approved by Monica Kile. Jon’s 2014 thriller, The Grandfather Clock, is available free for Kindle on Amazon.com and other eReaders at Smashwords. Reach him at email@example.com. Monica is a non-profit consultant, grant writer, marathoner, baker, tour guide, and prolific bath taker. Also, don’t forget to follow our Instagram feed for stuff that doesn’t make the blog.