SEA TO SHINING SEA: Fallingwater, Ohiopyle, Confluence and Rockwood

July 27, 2013

DAY 74 and 75 - July 26 and 27, 2013 - The first year of Barack Obama's second term as POTUS.

Trish told me that in the mid 1950s, before this nation grew serious about cleaning up its environment, businessmen in Pittsburgh carried an extra white shirt with them to work in the morning.

"Their first shirts were so sooty by noon that they had to change into a fresh one.  There was so much smoke and coal smoke in the air from all the steel mills that they had to keep the downtown street lights on during the day."

Many of those shirts were probably purchased at Kauffman's department store. The Kauffman family did well selling new shirts and lots of other stuff to the steel-rich city. When Frank Lloyd Wright impressed Edgar Sr. with designs for his new office, the businessman decided he had also found his man to design a getaway on property the family owned in Mill Run, about an hour southeast of the city.

What a contrast.  The Kauffmans' getaway traded sooty air for fresh breezes, teeming streets for quiet forests and the pounding throb of steam whistles, train whistles and steel hammers for bird song and the clean, constant rush of water over rocks.

They picked their architect, chose a site on the side of a hill with a nice view of a waterfall and between 1934 and 1937 watched their $40,000 cottage budget - a fortune in those depression years - swell to a final project costing $150,000.  They also learned how it felt to wrestle with genius.

Wright loved the waterfall but decided just looking at it would not be as compelling as actually designing the falls into the house.  Now, more than 70 years later, Fallingwater stands as arguably the most well recognized residential architecture in the US - the White House notwithstanding.

Anyone who appreciates houses and how they inform the human condition needs to visit Fallingwater.  It's hard to imagine a structure more integrated into its natural setting.

It's just one of the features along the Great Allegheny Passage that make this western Pennsylvania area such a great destination.  Wright aficionadoes will also want to visit the nearby Kentuck Knob home.  If you get there, tell us about it.  That will have to wait for another visit from us which is almost as certain as death and taxes.

Ohiopyle, a great outdoors town for bicycling, hiking, kayaking, rafting and the sound of falling water, is the jumping off place for visits to the Wright homes.  Pennsylvania has pumped millions into stoking the tourism industryt for this area and Ohiopyle has taken full advantage.  Jim, involved in rafting expeditions, tours and rustic motels in the heart of this tiny town, told us that the great Allegheny is bringing millions of dollars each year into the Pennsylvania economy. The Youghiogheny flows right through the middle of town.

Upstream about 10 miles - which offers great rafting and bicycling combos - another cool little western Pennsylvania town, Confluence, offers nice restaurants, rooming houses and a taste of quiet life in the hollows and gorges of the fabled Laurel Highlands.  Think cool and refreshing Rolling Rock ponies in their green glass bottles dripping with ice. Latrobe, Pa.

Another freight train whistling by just out back of the restored Opera House and their associated café here in Rockwood reminds me to mention my hosts here in yet another town taking advantage of the trail.  The owners have invested heavily in town including the conversion of a former grocery store down the street into a hostel that provides inexpensive dormitory-style lodging for cyclists passing through. We're hunkered down there for the night and sleeping in metal bunkbeds from Ikea.  Pennsylvania has a Progress Fund providing low-interest loans for entrepreneurs in towns along the trail. It's working.

Yesterday's 50 miles put us over the 3,000 mark and today's 20 put us up to 3,028 for the journey so far.

Get outside and get active.  All that oxygen coursing through your veins and arteries will make it easier for your body and mind to sense and recognize all those Higgs Bosons in your system and the amber waves of God's infinite love between, around and through it all. Plus, it will make you smile.

Sweet dreams!

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