Saturday, December 15, 2012

Of Waterfalls and Wright

Ohiopyle State Park in Pennsylvania is a favorite of ours. We’ve gone whitewater rafting on the lower section of the Youghiogheny River and enjoyed kayaking on the milder middle section of the “Yock.” Separating these two sections of this mountain river is a broad waterfall adjacent to the quaint small town of Ohiopyle. The rail trail that runs through town allows one to bicycle all the way (if you so desire) to Pittsburgh or to Washington, DC—although I’ve only biked from there as far as Confluence, PA. Whether it is hiking, biking, or whitewater, Ohiopyle is a great place. Best of all, it is less than an hour away from Morgantown now that the four-lane from Cheat Lake to Uniontown is open.

Another reason to visit this area is that famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright built two homes in this area. Probably his most famous project was “Fallingwater,” a house built over a waterfall for the Kaufmann Department Store family. Lesser known but still interesting is the house he built for the Hagan ice cream family at Kentuck Knob, which also includes an interesting sculpture garden on the grounds. Both of these design gems are open for touring, and we made a daytrip to see them recently.

We started the day at Kentuck Knob, which is built into the peak of a mountain. As with most Frank Lloyd Wright houses, there is a strong effort to appreciate nature in the design. Our tour guide took us through the house and explained many of the highlights. Upon conclusion, we decided to walk back to the visitor center to check out the sculpture garden in the meadow below. There were a variety of items there, ranging from rock cairns to London phone booths to a section of the Berlin Wall. Although not as famous as Fallingwater, Kentuck Knob is interesting in its own right, and visiting both on the same trip gives one a good appreciation for Wright’s genius.

After leaving Kentuck Knob, the road winds down the hill into the Youghiogheny gorge. As we entered the state park area, a designated parking area on our left beckoned us to check out what might be there. To our surprise, there was a beautiful 30 foot waterfall as Cucumber Creek made its final rush to join the Yock. A pathway down the hill makes it easy to get to the lower end of this natural wonder. We will definitely return to visit this waterfall again and play in the creek.

There is another designated parking area on the main road just outside the town of Ohiopyle where another creek, Meadow Run, joins the river. This creek cuts a sluice through a long section of rock, creating a natural waterslide that I had heard about but had never seen. Needless to say, the water was cold and running high this December day, but I found it hard to envision "body surfing" through this rock-lined water chute. We need to come back in the summer to see how this is done without getting scraped up.
We then stopped at the overlook for the major cataract across the Yock River. This is the focal point for the state park and for the town of Ohiopyle. We had visited here several years ago during the one day of the summer when they let kayakers go over these 20 foot falls (the picture below is from that day). It was entertaining enough just watching kayakers go over this major waterfall, but one guy was successfully doing it with a stand-up paddleboard!
We had a snack at the historic general store and roamed around the little town (they’ve added a new ropes adventure course in the wooded park above the town!) before heading a couple of miles up the road to Fallingwater. Upon arrival, there is a nice area near the parking lot with a snack bar and gift shop. The tours leave from here and walk down to the house itself. We were on the final tour of the day, and it was just us and the tour guide. As with Kentuck Knob, there is no photography allowed inside, but of course photos of the outside of house, especially showing the falls, are legendary. You really have to take the tour to appreciate the cantilevered design and all the subtle features that went into this iconic house.
It made for a fun December daytrip to visit these outstanding examples of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture. Combining these man-made landmarks with the natural landmarks of Ohiopyle State Park is a great way to appreciate this mountainous area.

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