A Morning Adventure Along the Lower Trail

It was a lovely morning, and my husband and I immediately set about discussing our options for the day. He wanted to go for a jog and I wanted to hike and take pictures. He suggested - and I quickly agreed - that it might be a nice morning to visit the Lower (rhymes with "flower") Trail, along the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River. It had been several years, at least, since I'd been there, and I jumped at the chance.

Rivers figure largely in the transportation history of Pennsylvania. Just so you get the history of the place first, let me share some information from the little brochure I picked up along the trail:

"Much of the trail was the original towpath for the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal that operated in the early 1800s. By the 1850s, most of the canals were obsolete as railroading became the superior method of transportation.

By the late 1800s, the Pennsylvania RR had taken over both the business and the land. By 1930, the PRR handled more traffic in one day than its predecessor, the Allegheny-Portage RR, had done in a year. As the RR grew, so did Central PA. Each of the trailheads is located at or near the former RR stations." More info: here.

The Lower Trail is 14.5 miles of crushed rolled limestone and 2 miles of blacktop. We started our adventure by parking at the Flea Market in Water Street, not far from Tyrone. The trail takes off at the edge of that parking lot, and it is a flat, easy walk, jog, bike, or horse ride. In May, it is swathed in green.

My husband jogged while I walked. I took my time and checked out all the wildflowers along the trail, which are considerable. The weather was just about the perfect temperature. I was not bothered by a single mosquito, gnat, or other biting insect.

I encountered other hikers, bikers, and joggers, and everyone was polite and pleasant. They all said hello or nodded. How could we NOT be happy, in this glorious, green space?

I saw several huge tiger swallowtail butterflies, and imagined they must find the mud along the water a fine place for puddling. I saw and heard birds of all kinds, and even was startled by the loud FWOOP! - FWOOP! - FWOOP! of a heron, which rose from the water and disappeared so quickly that I never got off even a single photo!

The one thing I regretted was that there didn't seem to be many easy paths down to the water, and I wanted very badly to see what other critters might be hanging out there. So I kept watch for an easy way down.

There are many lovely benches along the trail, and they are at FREQUENT intervals. If you need a rest, you can stop and enjoy the views. I spotted a nice bench from which a reasonably easy path seemed to head down to the water. And so I took it, hoping I'd find some amphibians waiting for me.

What you see above is one of the first photos I took along the water's edge. And let me point out first that this is not the main branch of the river, but a canal remnant. So the water was still and there WERE critters living there.

But as I took this shot above, of this beautiful, lush, green space, two things happened: 1) a huge frog (or toad, to be honest, I did not see it) leapt into the water with a mighty SPLOOSH! and 2) my feet slipped out from under me!

Now let me share a warning here. The water's edge is lined in black, slick, stinky mud. It is not a secure surface. If you step in it, you will slide before you know it. You must take this from one who knows: Exercise caution along the water's edge!

My right foot slid out from under me, and then the left, leaving long skid marks along the shore. I went down on my right elbow, and found myself balancing there, tripod-like, on two feet and one elbow, my camera still in my hand. No, I did not end up in the water, but I was muddy and plenty embarrassed, though no one saw!

I took a moment to collect my thoughts, tried to compose myself, and took a photo of my slide marks, before I put the camera safely in its bag, and crawled back up that hill. I carry antibacterial soap in my camera bag, and I washed the stinky mud off my elbow before I continued on.

Feeling a bit chastened by my slide, I walked a bit further down along this canal remnant, and I spotted two huge roundish shapes hanging out on a big log in the water. Snapping turtles! As soon as they saw me, they slid off into the water. You're right again: I got off not one single shot!

Shortly after my big sliding adventure, my husband passed me on his return from the jog, and I turned around and headed back up the trail to where we had begun, not far from the Alfarata Trailhead. I spotted another round shape climbing up the hill on the opposite side of the trail from the water: wood turtle!

I would be remiss in sharing this grand adventure if I didn't mention my little sidekick, Tiny Tiger. He stowed away in the front pocket of my daysack, and came out only to sit on some lovely benches and wander through the white violets, pretending he was a fierce wild jungle cat. (OK, yes, you're very fierce. Now behave!)

You may see a photo of Tiny Tiger on the main trail in the extras. (Don't worry! I carefully looked both ways before allowing him to sit there for just a minute for a photo.) Perhaps someday he will go for a ride on one of those snapping turtles! Or then again, maybe not. Do snappers EAT tiny tigers? Oh no!!!

My husband and I returned to our car and I told him all about my adventures, and the big slide (as it became known in latter days). When we get home, my husband usually washes the mud off our shoes. His, from running on the gravel trail, were clean. Mine were covered in stinky black river mud, which was a real bear to wash off. But they are clean now. Ready to go on another adventure!!!!  :-)

The soundtrack for this story can only be this one: Paul Simon, with Slip Slidin' Away. Now go on your grand adventures if you must, but take it from me, Amphibious Girl: y'all be careful out there.  :-)

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