Filed Under (rural life, rural living) by admin on 03-21-2008

Visit Hershey, Pennsylvania for a world-class amusement park, a classic golf course, outlet store shopping, and headliner performances. Don’t go out of your way for the free “Chocolate World” attraction that explains how Hershey makes chocolate; singing cows make the experience rather silly. I’m sure it would be way cool to tour a working chocolate factory.

The kids had the Thursday and Friday before Easter off from school. I’d been trying to conceive of an overnight or a day trip that would be very inexpensive, yet fresh. Inexpensive immediately rules out movies, shows, museums, amusement parks, and zoos… unless you drive to Washington DC where taxpayer money has funded many fascinating attractions you can visit for free. Driving to DC and back makes for an exhausting day, so I opted for an all-Pennsylvania experience.

We travelled a two-lane country road that took us through Centralia. That’s the semi-infamous town—now abandoned—that sits on a burning coal vein. The road detours around much of the town, but there is a cemetery where you can turn out and drive past barren home sites smoking with fumes from the underground fire. The wind chilled us quickly, but I squatted for a moment and held my hand about an inch above a smoking mound of soil; it felt pleasantly warm… and was quite sobering.

We continued our drive to Hawk Mountain, a preserve over which thousands of hawks migrate each year. In the visitors’ center, we learned that ignorant people used to sit on Hawk Mountain and kill thousands of hawks each year. Efforts of naturalist Rosalie Edge ended the slaughter and created the first ever raptor preserve. We’ll return in September to walk the trails during the peak migration season.

From there, we drove to Cabela’s outdoor outfitting store. This wasn’t about shopping. Sure, at Cabela’s you can find just about any outdoor equipment related to fishing, hunting, camping, and cooking. But more than that, the store is a shrine to hunters. There are impressive aquaria holding fish you might catch in central Pennsylvania. There is a long wall of mounted heads of game animals. There are exhibits of mounted animals from several climates. There is an exhibit of antlered deer with details about what made each newsworthy when it was killed. People who fish and hunt owe themselves a pilgrimage to a Cabela’s store. Ours was more of an anthropological look at the culture.

We toured for nearly two hours, then had lunch (Cabela’s has a decent restaurant inside), and finally headed into Hershey to visit the free Chocolate World attraction. This is an automated ride with narration that vaguely explains how Hershey makes chocolate candy… it’s really quite silly. It ends at the entrance to a “chocolate mall” where you can buy what must be any or every candy product that Hershey manufactures.

We had a nice time, though we logged close to three and a half hours of driving. On a warmer day, we’d skip the indoor attractions, and visit hiking trails and parks; I’d rather see critters roaming in the wilderness than stuffed and mounted in an outdoor outfitting store.

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