Our Family Trip on the I-80 Frontier of the PA Wilds
The I-80 Frontier has been referred to as the “Welcome mat of the PA Wilds.” Running through the counties of Clinton, Centre, Clearfield, Jefferson, and Clarion, it’s one of the easiest ways to travel through the Pennsylvania Wilds. I considered this when my family was planning our annual summer vacation, which would take us west along Interstate 80.
I suggested at the dinner table that we stop at some of the neat sights along the I-80 Frontier, and I could take photos and come up with a column about them. This suggestion was received with more enthusiasm than I expected from my family: my wife, Michelle; and my daughters, Tiffany and Biz. My son, 4-year-old Paul Matthew, is pretty much up for anything.
“That’s what I like about this family,” commented Biz. “We’re not so concerned with putting on the miles. We always stop and see stuff.”
We set out on a Thursday morning in August, driving west. I wore my lanyard with my Wilds Cooperative of PA membership ID card in it. There is no reason for this except it makes me feel like a cut-rate Hemingway.
We didn’t stop in Clinton County, because we live there, and we’ve all been to the Piper Aviation Museum and Bald Eagle State Park. They are well worth the trip, however, if you’re considering a visit. And Centre County, though beautiful, was filled with construction that day.
Then came Clearfield County. We went past the highest point on 80 east of the Mississippi River, which happens to coincide with S.B. Elliott State Park. This is a beautiful park with over three hundred acres of land to hike and explore, created in 1933. The highest point is actually marked with a sign stating that it’s 2,250 feet above sea level, though there isn’t really too much to see from there except more of 80.
“I can see our house from here, Daddy!” Paul called out from the back seat. “It’s very, very true!”
Not long after, just south of exit 97, we stopped at Doolittle Station, a sort of tourist spot that combines a restaurant, ice cream, small museum, and miniature golf. This was a big hit with Paul, because there were dinosaur replicas all over the place. It was like Jurassic Park, except safe.
A Bigfoot replica also stands in front near a T-Rex, so I got to encounter Bigfoot on this trip, too. Doolittle Station is more than worth a stop, whether you’re eating a meal, or want to spend a couple of hours taking a break from the road.
Next up was Jefferson County. This is where we found Scripture Rocks Park in Brookville. As we walked through the park, we saw the rocks, which are the big attraction there. Well over fifty rocks have Bible verses carved in them, all in a uniform, neat hand. This is the work of Douglas Stahlman, who began carving the verses into the rocks around 1911.
“Wow,” my wife commented as we walked through. “This guy had nothing better to do.”
This might be an accurate assessment. Stahlman’s wife died of blood poisoning in 1901 because of his refusal to get her medical help, instead relying on prayer. He moved to Brookville in 1907, and a few years later, began carving scripture into the rocks. With a map, it is possible to walk through and see them all. It’s a pleasant hike by itself, and the rocks make it even more fascinating.
“I could spend the whole day here,” Biz commented as we walked. “We’ll have to come out and make it a day trip, how about it?”
And then we rode into Clarion County. Named after the sound made by the Clarion River, which reminded early settlers of bells, Clarion itself is a scenic area worth a visit. We walked through downtown Clarion, stopping to look at the courthouse and the old jail, plus the park directly across from them. (Incidentally, Clarion is also a fine place for a restroom break, you know, if you happen to be traveling with a preschooler.)
And then after, we went past the Clarion River itself, a wonderfully scenic stretch of river that is good for hiking and fishing. I took the opportunity to get a couple of photos of this designated National Wild & Scenic river.
And then we passed out of Clarion County, and out of the Pennsylvania Wilds. I took off my ID card.
“There was some fun stuff to see,” commented Biz.
“And we’ve really only scratched the surface there,” I said. “There’s so much good stuff to see along this route, we’ll have to make another ride out here sometime. Who’s with me?”
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