Emily and I spent this past weekend celebrating our anniversary in the beautiful Laurel Highlands of southwestern Pennsylvania.
Friday after work we drove down to Nemacolin Woodlands, stopping for dinner at a nice Irish pub in Uniontown with an island decor (yes, you read that right).
We arrived at Nemacolin to find the usual fancy hotel trappings that make me mildly uncomfortable like valet parking and a gentleman whose sole purpose in this life is to make sure that we don’t carry our own bags to our room (where that guy was when we were ready to leave remains a mystery). After a quick drink at the hotel bar we retreated to our room to watch the end of the Olympics opening ceremony.
We woke up early on Saturday and had coffee on the balcony before grabbing breakfast and heading out for a day of fun and excitement. We called for a shuttle to the “Adventure Center” to engage in a bit of zip lining fun, only to have the shuttle take the longest possible route to the AC, visiting just about every other part of the resort before depositing us at our destination.
We got ourselves signed in and harnessed, then went up to the top of the ski slope where the zip line was set up. The family ahead of us in line was pretty amusing, with the stereotypical nervous mom and the teenage son who decided to go down backwards.
The zip line itself was lots of fun, as I hope you can see:
(marvel at my awesome camera work).
By the time Emily and I had finished our zips we had to grab another shuttle back to the hotel and change before heading to what for me was the highlight of the trip, spelunking in Laurel Caverns.
We opted for the Lower Caving Tour which goes about 46 stories beneath the mountain (we didn’t get quite that far down for lack of time). They told us that the caves were about 50°F year-round and that long pants and sleeves were essential (both for temperature and because you get scraped up on the rocks). Then they packed our tour group in the hottest room they could find where we waited for our guide to distribute helmets and give us the safety talk.
I can’t stress enough how much fun the caving was. Climbing over and under rocks, crawling through a little stream, and marvelling at the graffiti, some of which was from the 19th century.
At the bottom of our descent the guide had us do a little exercise where everyone shut off their lights leaving us in total darkness. We then had to climb up and around the rock in the picture above using only our hands to guide us. It reminded me quite a bit of the Invisible Exhibit in Budapest.
Contrary to what you might believe, the hardest part of the trip was not all the climbing and crawling. Rather it was climbing and crawling up 40 or so stories after spending two hours climbing and crawling down them. The final 17 or so were strangely extra brutal because rather than slowly climbing over boulders we had to briskly walk up a 30° ramp the whole way.
Exhausted and filthy, Emily and I stopped in the gift shop for some ice cream and we took our dirty selves back to the hotel to clean up for dinner.
Dinner was at the historic Stone House Inn, where we sampled some calamari at the bar which was, I must admit, far too good for an appetizer in a bar in the middle of nowhere in a land-locked state. Dinner was prime rib for myself and BBQ ribs for my better half. The food was excellent and the feel of the place was very nice. They were going for a country kitchen motif, which I thought they pulled off very nicely.
After dinner we went back to the hotel and promptly passed out from all the excitement.
Sunday was a much more laid-back day. After a quick breakfast we checked out of the hotel and went to investigate the wildlife habitat trail on Nemacolin’s grounds.
They have lions, tigers, and bears (don’t even think about it), along with a plethora of sheep and even a llama.
We also stopped by a small building which housed a few antique cars. They were pretty cool but my favorite was actually an 84 Lumber motorcycle.
When we’d finished checking Nemacolin’s grounds we still had some time to kill so we swung by Fort Necessity, which is not only the site of George Washington’s first loss in battle (though to be fair he started it) but also the site where the French and Indian War (Seven Years’ War if you’re nasty, or European) started. These two facts are related.
We finished up our vacation with a tour of Kentuck Knob, which is the “other” Frank Lloyd Wright house in the Laurel Highlands. It was built for a much less wealthy family than Fallingwater, and consequently it’s much more modest looking and, I think, more practical as an real living space (to be fair Fallingwater was designed as a vacation home).
Kentuck Knob also has a sculpture garden on the grounds, the pieces in which were added by the current owner, Lord Palumbo.
After the tour we made for home, stopping once again in Uniontown for dinner. This time in a nice little Italian place called Meloni’s.