They looked out on the hundreds of trees that line the steep, rugged hillsides of the canyon, most of them just beginning to turn a springtime green. "It's still a gorgeous, beautiful spot and we're glad we came back."
The Geists are among the thousands of tourists, travelers, hunters, and sportsmen, from in-state and out-of-state, who every year drive to this out-of-the-way scenic recreation area in Pennsylvania's Northern Tier, not far from the New York state border.
The nearest town is Wellsboro, the Tioga County seat that was founded in 1799 by a Philadelphian named Benjamin Morris. The town's many restaurants, bars, shops, and hotels thrive from having the canyon just 10 miles away.
"This whole area has benefited for years from the canyon, plus the state parks and forests and game lands. We give out maps to the canyon all the time," said David Cox, a desk clerk at the Penn Wells Hotel on Main Street, a lodging built in 1869.
The Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, which is also called Pine Creek Gorge, was formed by glaciers that clawed their way down from Canada thousands of years ago.
The most notable was a huge sheet of ice called the Wisconsin Advance, "which began about 70,000 years ago," according to a booklet about the canyon written by Tioga County resident Chuck Dillon, who also runs a canoe and raft business here. "Evidence of this glacial activity is widespread throughout Tioga County," he wrote.
The creek at the bottom of the canyon winds between two state parks — Leonard Harrison Park on the eastern side and Colton Point Park to the west.
"A large glacial lake was formed over Pine Creek, with the overflow from the melting glacier and Pine Creek continuing to cut a southward channel between the locations of today's Leonard Harrison and Colton Point state parks," Dillon wrote.
The narrow, winding Pine Creek offers fishing, kayaking, canoeing, and rafting. Hikers and bicyclists use a parallel trail that was once a rail line. Hunting is also a major draw. And the large forests are "home to over 40 mammals, including the ubiquitous white-tailed deer, the secretive bobcat, the black bear, and the wild turkey," according to Dillon's pamphlet.
For bold visitors, a steep, winding walkway made of dirt and stones, called Turkey Path, leads from the observation deck down to the trail and creek far below.
"The winding path is something like a mile down to the bottom, but many people who walk it say it seems more like five miles coming back up," said state park ranger Rob Smith.
The drive along the west rim of the gorge provides beautiful scenery and an impressive density of northern Pennsylvania birds and other wildlife. Migratory and breeding birds that can be seen include woodpeckers, mourning and black-and-white warblers, wild turkey, and wood and hermit thrushes, the state's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources said.
One way to see the canyon is on the vintage Tioga Central Railroad in Wellsboro. The train regularly runs Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday during the season. There are also many weekday specials. Dine on the train for brunch, lunch, or dinner — and check out the specialty tours, like the Ice Cream Express. All cars are air-conditioned except the open-air observation car.
Low amounts of snow last winter and a shortage of rain this spring have lowered the water level in the creek, which in turn has put a major crimp in rafting, kayaking, and canoeing.
"Pine Creek is a little low right now," said Smith. "But fishermen are still out in force. They're doing quite well, from what I hear."
Smith, who has been the ranger here for seven years, justifiably raves about the views from the canyon's observation deck, which is just a few yards from the building that houses his office.
"My office view is awesome," he said. "It's beautiful now in spring but you should see it in the first two weeks of October, when the leaves are turning gold and red and orange."
Brian Thoele comes here four times a year from Norwalk, Conn., where he works for Tower Optical, to service the coin-operated binocular viewers on the observation platform.
"This is just gorgeous," he said. "I never get tired of looking at the canyon."
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