St. Marys, Pennsylvania Shamrock Tour®

Text: James T. Parks • Photography: James T. Parks, Steve Mauk

The Allegheny Highlands, in northwestern Pennsylvania, are a world away from the heavily populated environs of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Our home base in St. Marys, PA, is in the heart of the state’s rural elk country. The elk are so plentiful here that it’s one of the few places east of the Mississippi River that they can be hunted. With numerous trout streams, a national forest, and several state parks, our touring venue promises to be an outdoor paradise.

Day 1
A Bridge Too Far

Our first day on the road charts a northwesterly course. Steve is riding his red Suzuki® V-Strom 650 and I’m on my blue Honda ST1300. It’s overcast and cool as we zip along a series of backroads that snake along a northerly path. In Eldred, PA, I spot what appears to be a World War II tank crashing out of a building’s brick wall. I quickly scan the horizon to determine if we’ve stumbled into the middle of a movie set. No, it’s just the cutaway front end of an old tank attached to the side of a mural-painted wall of the Eldred WWII Museum. The museum is closed today, but I make a mental note to return when it’s open.

The undulating glacial hills, near the New York border, are awash in a veritable sea of goldenrod, which is in full bloom on this early September day. Now, something is tickling the inside of my nose. Could it be that I’m allergic to this autumnal treat for the eyes? There’s not much time to think about it because it’s time to turn off on the approach road for today’s main attraction.  

We spot the Kinzua Railroad Bridge rising 301 feet above Kinzua Creek Valley on a latticed steel frame. When the 2,053-foot-long structure was initially constructed of wood in 1882 it was the highest railroad bridge in the world. It was rebuilt with steel in 1900 and remained in service until 2002, when engineers determined that repairs were needed before it could be reopened. But on July 21, 2003, before those repairs could be made, an EF1 tornado – with wind speeds of 73 to 112 mph – slammed into the bridge and tore 11 of its towers from their foundations.

A light rain is falling as we walk to the observation deck to view the bridge’s remains.  Most of the steel structure is scattered helter-skelter across the valley floor like a child’s Erector® set creation that fell victim to a sudden temper tantrum. About a third of this “bridge too far,” however, still stands intact. Workers are busily reinforcing what’s left of the historic structure, creating a pedestrian promenade that will afford sweeping views of the valley far below. We spend several more minutes amiably comparing notes with two other rain-soaked riders, who have joined us on the viewing platform, about our travels.

We stop in Kane, PA, at Szymanski’s Bar & Restaurant to dry out, warm up, and enjoy a light lunch. During our afternoon ride through the Allegheny National Forest I’m twisting the throttle aggressively to make up for lost time. But the sudden appearance of deer on the roadway quickly persuades me that a slower pace back to St. Marys is a much wiser choice.

A hot shower and fresh clothes have us feeling just right for the evening’s delicious repast at the Silver Wing Restaurant, which is near the runway of the local airport.   

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the September/October 2011 back issue.