Well, I’d be lying, if I said we had a really successful, wonderful weekend in Cook Forest that made us get in touch with nature and relive our shadowy past as Druids who lived in the woods and cared for the wild things, but later fought Arthas, and even later than that, fought Deathwing. Wait. Scratch that, that’s my online gaming life, not my past life in the woods.
Starting over! Back when I was a kid, I grew up in the woods. My parents, and the parents of my friends who lived on our street, had a ton of land, most of which was full of trees and vines and creeks and ravines. We spent all summer in the woods, building clubhouses and running across fallen trees and playing army, and all sorts of things that make it rather surprising that none of us met our demise Bridge to Terebithia-style.
And somehow, I thought that when we went back to Cook Forest (which I had loved as a child), all of this woods-know-how would just come right back to me. I thought, I haven’t been a city girl all that long, surely roughing it is just like riding a bike!
But we were running into problems before we even loaded up the car. I had to do a test run on Lucy’s RuffWear backpack (yes, I am now *that* girl who buys her dog a hiking backpack), and it took me about twenty minutes just to figure out where the snaps went.
But eventually, we had one little red dog in a backpack, one trunk full of supplies for the little red dog, and our directions plugged into our Garmin. (See? We were even using a Garmin. My ancient Druid ancestors never used a Garmin, they were probably too busy reading the stars and making elaborate teas with maps in them.)
And one thing my ancient Druid ancestors DEFINITELY never did was stop at Burger King drive-thrus! But, these are the sacrifices you make for your children. Lucy’s best “oh mah gawd there’s a cheeseburger comin out that window!!” face.
Shortly after our lunch break, things started to go downhill. We were slated to stay at the Hemlock Rest Cabins, which were the only cabins we could find in Cook’s Forest that were both pet-friendly and wifi-equipped. As writers, an escape to the woods was the perfect chance to spend hours writing in a relaxing atmosphere, but we’re both constantly getting distracted by using the internet for research purposes (to say nothing of blogging and Twittering for the blog and all of THAT), so we needed a connection to technology.
Well, when we arrived at our cabin, a few things became apparent. #1, what we had thought looked like window air conditioning units in the photos for the cabins were actually space heaters. #2, some of the windows could not be opened at all, and those that could would not stay open on their own. #3, it was about 95 degrees outside, and about 98 degrees inside, and no positioning of box fans was cooling us – or, more importantly, our little red dog – off. Lucy was panting and chugging water like she’d just run a doggy marathon.
Oh, and the wifi? The only place you could access it was by sitting on the very edge of that bed against the grimy wall. (I’m sorry, I know we were out in the boonies, but there is always a WalMart nearby in this country. And I’ve never been to a WalMart that didn’t sell cleaning products.)
The people who own the cabins are very nice, and if it wasn’t the hottest day of the summer, and you didn’t need internet access or a three-prong electrical outlet, I’m sure these were a great place to stay. Super close to the actual state park, and all sorts of horseback riding and other outdoor entertainment, but I couldn’t, in good conscience, leave this sweet little beast in a place that was so hot it felt like it ought to be on fire. So, we packed up our things again, reasoned with the owners, and took off for a Quality Inn that was pet-friendly, wifi equipped (in all parts of the room), and air-conditioned.
Hi, my name is Fox, and yes, I’m CityFolk.
By the time we were all settled, it was much later than we’d planned, so we rushed off to try to beat the sunset and see some sights. I was looking for the famed Cook Forest Fire Tower. (For the record, the true name really is “Cook” Forest, despite our Yinzerly-take on it of “Cook’s” Forest. I personally think Cook’s Forest sounds more appropriate, but whatever, I’ll play by the rules of accurate-nameage for this time!)
One of my biggest complaints about Cook Forest is that everything is impossible to find. It’s like no one ever took the time to make a guide book for this place, or, in the 21st century, a web page. I wanted answers: best place in Cook Forest to see the sunset, best entrance to the hiking trails in the Forest Cathedral, where to eat breakfast while looking at the Clarion River. But information was SOOOOO hard to find.
So, when I’m rich and famous, I’m going to go back and write a thorough Cook Forest guidebook, with directions to EVERYTHING. Eventually, after realizing we’d passed the entrance to the Fire Tower, we turned around and wound our way back, but after dusk was settling in and we’d missed any chance of an impressive sunset.
The Fire Tower is still quite a sight, though! I didn’t climb to the top, as I was afraid it would get totally dark before I was able to get back down again, and then I’d be lost in the woods, and Miss Lucy would have to go without dinner.
And despite my inability to actually live in the woods, being out there has a good effect on me. It was so quiet and still and lovely, like the trees were all gently hugging us and keeping us safe and comforted.
That night, we drove to Clearfield and had our delicious Denny’s burger, then came back to the room and passed out, food-coma-style, only to be woken at 7am by a thunderstorm.
In case you were wondering, there isn’t anything to do inside at Cook Forest. This is an outdoors-only sort of vacation. So, we took advantage of the hotel’s free breakfast (thanks for real eggs and bacon, Quality Inn, they were delicious!), and spent some time staring at the Weather Channel while packing Lucy’s backpack.
All week leading up to the trip, we kept saying to her, “Lucy puts her toes in the creek?” Although I’m sure she had no idea what this meant, she would wiggle her butt around and dance with great excitement each time we said it. Finally, she got to actually do it.
I wanted to take pictures every time we turned a corner, but we had to keep moving, as there was a group of three Jack Russell terriers just behind us, and we all know how little dogs feel a need to assert themselves around bigger ones!
If you go to Cook Forest and are looking to hike in the Forest Cathedral, there are several places to pull off and park. It might involve a bit of a walk to the start of the trail, but once you are on the pathway, there are markings on trees to help keep you on the right track.
The Forest Cathedral is one of the largest ‘old growth’ areas around. Some of these trees are up to 300 years old! And, what’s even more amazing, is that these survived a huge logging effort in the late-1800s. Someone very wealthy decided this forest area was so beautiful that they should remain standing (this someone was the lumber baron Anthony Cook, for whom the forest is named).
One of my favorite pictures: Lucy and Michael, walking through the trees. I can imagine the smells of the forest, and of all the dogs who came here before Lucy, were a bit overwhelming to her. Her little nose was working overtime!
In the end, we’d made it a good 50 minutes with Miss Lucy, which I think was pretty good for her first hike! Luckily, I’d brought some Goldfish snacks along, which we used to entice her to sit still on this tree stump for a photo! The only thing we couldn’t successfully do was teach her to drink out of her collapsable camping water dish, which she apparently thought was a purse.
We used the opportunity of a sleepy pup to go out on our own to explore the Allegheny National Forest, a post which will be coming later on this week.
Once we arrived back at Cook Forest, after a torrential downpour most of the drive (weather never likes to cooperate with me: I am the daughter of the Rain God, after all), I decided we hadn’t taken enough cute outdoors-y pictures, so we headed back in the direction of the Fire Tower to check out the other place of interest, Seneca Point.
The next morning, it was back to the ‘Burgh and the city life we’ve grown so accustomed to.
So, the trip wasn’t a *total* disaster, once we realized our priorities of wifi, three-prong outlets, and air conditioning. I’m excited to go back again, with hopefully some better weather, because somebody’s got to figure out where everything is in Cook Forest if we’re ever going to have a guidebook!