Posted in Travel and Diversions

Cook’s Forest, Clarion County, Pennsylvania


Scrape, metal on rock.



Push some more, you feel the paddle touch the bottom of the river among the rocks and the canoe moves off the rock your canoe was hung up on. The rock has been scrapped enough now that it has silverish metallic scratches on it and it will collect some more aluminum from two or three keels this summer if business is good at the outfitter.

No whitewater on this river. Just a lazy meandering flow of four miles per hour through some beautiful deciduous and coniferous trees. The pine trees are mostly planted along the edge of the river between the Clarion River and the aptly named River Road.

Why when they were planting trees along the River Road in Cook’s Forest did they plant Pine trees. Well the reason that the Pa. Dept. of Transportation (PENNDOT) would give would be quick growth to prevent erosion, but secretly they knew that with pine trees come pine needles and pine cone, things that are painful to step on when trying to dry your feet off when coming out of the river.


Navigating the Clarion river should be only be done in old sneakers, you know the ones, the ones with the holes in them, the ones you wore all last year to school, you even wore them out in the snow and slush when your mom just rolled her eyes and gave up on trying to get you into boots. Yes those sneakers, that you have ran around in all summer, mowing grass without sock on, dragging them while riding your bike because something was wrong with your brakes, and definitely the ones you stepped on every hot tar bubble on the road with, just to see if you could hear it pop.

Do not go into the Clarion River with water socks, or athletic sandals, the river hates these sham shoes and it will fill them with gravel, and will throw every slimy rock in your way to make you slip if your wear something other then old sneakers.

The river itself is nothing spectacular, it does not even get in the top ten in length of rivers in Pennsylvania. The Clarion is only 110 miles, and empties into the Allegheny in the western part of Clarion County. The ten miles that pass through Cook’s Forest State Park is the major attraction in that state park, every trip I have taken to Cook’s Forest has had at least one day on the river, either canoeing, tubing or swimming/wading. It is hard to swim in a river with old sneakers on not that there are many places you have to swim, most of the river can be crossed with careful walking the water only getting as deep as four to five feet in some of the deeper sections.


But while the Clarion River is the main course in Cook’s Forest the rest of the side dishes are equally enjoyable. Cook’s Forest is a National Natural Landmark for it stands of old growth trees. Whereas a huge percentage of the forests in Pennsylvania have been cut down around the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th for the logging industry there are still some incredibly old trees in Cook’s Forest.   You can enter into these old growth areas and it feels almost like a cathedral of living green and brown.


To get an overview of the area I suggest the Seneca Overlook Trail which leads to rocky outcroppings looking over small portions of the river and the rolling hills covered with deep green forests. For those that are not afraid of heights or seemingly rickety rusty metal structures you can climb the eighty foot Fire Tower #9 and on a clear day see fifteen to twenty miles. There is a trail that leads down from to the river and is rated as a difficult 9 tenths of a mile, or you can drive up the aptly named Fire Tower Road a dirt road that starts just across the state run campground on Route 36.   This is a relatively easy walk and the parking lot near the Fire Tower has a bathroom and running water.


There are other campground outside the actual state park but I don’t think I have stayed in any of them since I was a very small child. My grandfather, Audley Forringer, owned a small Scotty Trailer and he would take it the a campground that was then called Shady Lane Campground, just outside the park. My parents, two brothers and myself, would stay in a blue and gray canvas tent that required all of my dad’s considerable engineering skill to erect, with its sliding poles, stakes and honest to goodness metal springs to keep tension on the structure.   My mother told me a story of how when I was very small , I let my balloon go and I just watched it float further and further away with a smile on my face, until I realized it was never coming back, then the tears flowed.   I also remember one Boy Scout trip where my younger brother Kevin got dared into jumping off a bridge, he eventually did it for a Coke and fifty cents.  Now with so many of those trips in my mind a lot of them blend together, family trips in one category and Boy Scout canoe trips in another.



Most of my trips center around the PA State Campground located up the hill from the river on PA Route 36. You can set up almost immediately inside campground.   The Ranger booth is located on the on the road that runs just past the playground. Sometimes it is manned sometimes it is not it depends on the season, day of the week or if a bathhouse needs cleaned.  You can choose from sites that have a spigot or electricity, all a have a picnic table and fire ring. These fire rings have cooked miles of hot dogs and mountains of s’more’s on wood sold by various enterprising locals. There are private campgrounds, and cabins, and I have heard tales of something called a bed and breakfast but I am not sure what that is or if it is just something made up to scare children.   After staying so many many nights in tents in Cook’s Forest I am hesitant to believe there is any other way to sleep there.

If the river is the steak in the meal that is the Cook’s Forest experience, and camping is the potatoes, then a few hundred things are the vegetable and the desert.   Hiking as mentioned earlier covers about thirty miles inside the Forest, horseback riding, history presentations at the Sawmill Arts Center.   Of course with any tourist area comes things not related to the natural beauty associated with the original preservation efforts things like go-karts, water slides, miniature golf, knick knack sales, freshly made fudge, ice cream and video arcades. I have participated in all these things, especially the fudge sales. There is one thing that we always seemed to end up doing on Saturday nights, we would go out to eat somewhere, and on the way back my father would take some side roads and we would always look for Whitetail deer.

What sets Cook’s Forest apart from the hundreds of other state parks in Pennsylvania. Nothing, there are other parks that are bigger (Hickory Run), other parks that have more exciting rivers (Ohiopyle) and some much more remote (World’s End), but this is a place I love, maybe because I am so familiar with it. Maybe I love it because I have so many great memories of it.

One more thing, the actual name is Cook Forest, but everyone I have ever heard talk about it have called it Cook’s Forest.

cook forest



Next week: Washington, District of Columbia.





Posted in Travel and Diversions

Bellows Beach, Windward side, Oahu


People are going to see the title and think why would one of your favorite places not be a beach in Hawaii. Well I am not a beach person. Beaches just don’t appeal to me. I am a mountain guy. Give me a green covered mountain with streams, lots of trees and rocky outcroppings any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

I became familiar with Bellows Beach when I was stationed at Schofield Barrack, Hawaii in 1992. When I filled out my wish list for overseas assignments I put down in this order, Alaska, Korea and Hawaii. The Army in their infinite wisdom gave me Hawaii and a guy that put down Hawaii was sent to Alaska.

Bellows is on the windward side of Oahu, this means the trade winds are always blowing cool moist air from that side over the rest of the island. It is also on the eastern side of the island so it is the first part of the island to see the sunrise. The beaches are pristine white sand and there are no hotels, no resorts, and not a great deal of commercialism like down in Honolulu. Trees run right down to the beach and it is probably a lot like the entire island was before the ‘progress’ of roads, electricity and other improvements came to paradise.

One of my favorite things about going to Bellows was the trip to it. I lived right outside of Pearl Harbor, I could see the Arizona Monument every night as I came home from work, so I lived in a very heavily populated portion of the island. To get to Bellows the drive would take us past Punchbowl on the left, then Diamond Head on the right and then around to the rocky shore near Koko Head Park which included Hanamuma Bay.


While passing thru Koko Head Park you started entering some of the most gorgeous shoreline on Oahu. Rough sharp volcanic rock cliffs that drop into the ocean, waves crash into the roughs cliffs throwing up magnificent spray. This is the shore line that was made famous in television and movies. The ‘From Here to Eternity’ beach where Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr get splashed with water while entangled in each other is on this stretch of ocean front, and scenes from the television show Magnum P.I. were also filmed here, if the chopper was racing along some rocky cliffs, well that is section of the shoreline.

fromheretoeternitybeachscenestillScenic drive off Oahu's east shore

So leaving Koko Head area you will pass Sandy Beach, sounds pleasant right.   Wrong, locally it is called Broken Neck Beach, it is rough, tough and wicked. Only experienced body and boogie board surfers can handle this. Pull in and watch the people sailing kites in the treeless area near the parking lot. Unless your were raised on the shore, save your vacation and your vertebrae and keep going to Bellows Beach; it has a sandy bottom and consistent wave pattern that is not too extreme.



Two more things of interest along the way if you are a big fan of the TV show Magnum P.I., the first is T.C.’s chopper pad out on a pier. You will sit it clearly and it is obvious, the next not so much so, again you have to be a fan of the TV show for this to mean anything to you.   Robin’s Nest, or the Robin Master’s estate. It is just past T.C.’s pier in fact you can see one from the other, but you have to look closely because it is surrounded by trees and fences and the fences have tarps on the interior. But driving by it as many times as I did and you will catch glimpse of the buildings used in the show and recognize the tidal pool.

chopper padrobinsnest3

So that is on the way to Bellows Beach, but what do you find when you get to the actual beach. You exit off the two lane road onto a smaller two lane blacktop road , passing thru small trees and bushes towards the recreation area. Once you get there what do you have, not much and that is reason I like it. The beach is probably only about fifty yards at its widest, and that is probably at low tide. There is a campground with bare bones accommodations and some cabins, but sorry these are only for military and retired veterans. There is a small convenience store to buy beer and such but again only for military ID card holders. There are picnic tables scattered about and elevated charcoal grills near the tables and a few pavilions for groups. In the reservations center you can see pictures from World War Two of the miniature Japanese submarine that washed ashore after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the first Japanese POW. who was captured on December 8, 1941.  While walking the shore lines your can see crabs and green turtles swimming in the surf, but avoid the jellyfish.

This is the first place I ever sat in a kayak, and I loved it, I took it out to Moku Nui and Moku Iki Islands which take about an hour to paddle to from the shore. The most exciting part of kayaking was getting off the beach and through the crashing waves, and the second most exhilarating part was riding the waves into the beach at the end of your paddle.  Another big point in my life happened here, this is the first place my daughter touched the Pacific. She would come back to the windward side of the island and learned to surf sixteen years later.

I spent two wonderful days here in a tent, when my mother-in-law came to town. I read, I walked, slept and relaxed.   I could not tell you what time of year it was, because Hawaii does not have seasons, well maybe rainy and not so rainy, but the temperature is within a sixteen degree range all year round, and like I said on Bellows Beach there is always a wonderful sweet smelling ocean breeze giving the air a perfect taste.

This place has been ‘improved’ since I was there last from the websites and promotional videos they have built up the place a few more cabins, a miniature golf course and a driving range. That may be good for the kiddies and to accommodate more guests but I think it loses some of its charm. So get there before they put in a boardwalk and a series of fast food joints.



Next Week Cooks Forest, Clarion County, PA

Last week’s Travel and Diversions:  Walt Disney World’s Wilderness Lodge Lobby