Early on Saturday, my pal Steve and I went to Summit to pick up our good friend Kelly from the train. She was coming in from NYC (as she does every now and then) to hang out with us and join us on a little adventure. Her boyfriend Billy was going to stay in the city to work on paintings in his Wooster Street studio, so it would just be the three of us zipping along Route 78 to points West. Rather than go traipsing through endless flea market stalls (as we oftentimes do) we decided to take her to a spot whose unique little secrets and surprises Steve and I unlocked two years ago.
After a stroll around downtown Summit, we headed over to Hellertown, Pennsylvania. Needless to say there was much natural (and man-made) beauty to enjoy there, especially on a sunny, mild Autumn day.
The four tires of my car (and our six feet) found us planted firmly in front of Lost River Caverns, a puzzling little jewel of geological wonder that has confounded explorers since its discovery in the 1880s. It is named as such because a river of fresh water (filled with mineral deposits) flows through its many passages and rooms, yet no one (despite all best efforts and unorthodox experiments) can trace the origin or destination of the water that runs through it.
The same family has run the cave as a tourist attraction for three generations and has done a great job of keeping its natural authenticity alive while making it a fun experience for kids, adults (and everyone in between). As you can see, Steve and Kelly only go in for the most highbrow moments of any trip. They're all about historical accuracy, education, preserving the integrity of The American Landscape and partaking in higher level learning...
Even the hillside surrounding the cave (and its very unique gift shop/museum) is something to take in...
Steve and I call this a "Mom and Pop" cave for the fact that it doesn't seem to have any corporate ties, instead boasting a folksy, independent "curiosity shop" charm that's reflected in its humorous displays and the fun array of merchandise.
Led by a friendly, knowledgable tour guide, small groups enter the cave through a small passageway, walking along (oftentimes wet) concrete walkways. Sometimes the visitors must duck or hold their bodies at an odd angle while maneuvering around the formations that make up the cave's many paths and rooms.
The largest room inside is called "The Chapel" and it is a space where weddings were once held.
As late as the 1940s, this room also boasted a dance floor and was the site of year-round square dances.
At times, this space feels like raw, uncharted territory which makes the 21st century explorer feel as if though they are the first to step through its serpentine depths. At other points, it has the orderliness and even design of the Roman Catacombs. Railings, steps and concrete walkways merge seamlessly with the centuries-old openings in the rock. As I said before, the cave's proprietors have done their very best to preserve its authenticity while accounting for the safety of its many visitors.
Can you spot the Tyrannosaurus Rex in the picture above?
After our thirty minute tour (and exit through the gift shop) we ventured back out into the fading daylight and rich color of the November afternoon...
We hopped over to nearby Bethlehem and had a stroll around some of its historic downtown...
Kelly (as she oftentimes is) was a stylish standout among the small city's classic charm.
Despite all the fun Kelly and Steve and I had at the cave, the most warmhearted moments of the day were had when we met up with my cousin Alyssa, who is a freshman at Bethlehem's Moravian College. The four of us had a long, leisurely early dinner at a great Italian spot that lent itself to relaxation and great conversation. It seems that my visit was perfectly timed, because Alyssa had just gone through a life shift similar to the one I just experienced. Despite the 20 year difference between us, we were able to discuss these changes and the lessons they brought... as equals. She gave her insightful observations on my last relationship and I worked to share some of my own on hers. It also helped to have my friends there to fill in some blanks. Over the course of this late afternoon event, I not only found that my little cousin was becoming a card-carrying adult woman with great perspective, but once again saw the continuation of a theme that's been running through my life for the past six weeks or so... the quiet knowledge that invisible hands (perhaps those of mine and Alyssa's beloved grandparents or some other benevolent angels) place people in front of one another at the exact moment when they can provide the best company, counsel and care for one another. Thanks to whoever it was "out there" who set this up, because all of us had a great time (as a group) and Alyssa and I had a great time hanging out together as family... As well it should be.
After dinner, we took in a little more of downtown Bethlehem (by night)...
...And then the four of us got back in the car.
I dropped Alyssa of at her dorm with hugs, kisses and good vibes for her future. The three of us remaining in the car left Pennsylvania, cut clear across New Jersey and deposited Kelly back within the urban familiarity of the Downtown NYC sidewalks. Mere steps from her building's front door, Steve and I sent her off with hugs, kisses, the bags of candy, jewelery and spices she picked up along the way and a nice stack of vintage records that I had collected for she and Billy over the past month. Sometimes it's great to be the chauffer... especially when you get to join in (and benefit from) all the fun that's created when the connections you've made with both friends and family come together.
PS: Hey, Alyssa... Like I said... If you need me, call me kiddo. I'm here for you. NO JOKE!