When I was a kid back in the 1970s, there was a rumor that a haunted farmhouse on Dark Hollow Road would appear in the night and disappear during the day. You certainly didn’t go near the place at night; it was probably not a good idea to go there during the day either in case your car broke down and you found yourself stranded there at dusk.
Although I would like nothing more as a fan of eerie stories and urban legends than to find myself creeped-out, I’m just not feeling it as I drive along Dark Hollow Road. It’s a bright sunny February day; the temperature is in the mid-seventies, which is a record for Bucks County. I am looking for one of my favorite places in the entire world.
A few twists and turns later, I find a parking area. There are a few cars there. I am not the only one to get the idea to come here on a day such as this.
I park and proceed across a desolate muddy road to the start of the walking trail. Suddenly, everything is familiar. It occurs to me that in a few minutes I will see something incredible.
I walk through a strand of bare trees. (It’s still February, after all, despite the fact that it feels like May.) The trail is muddy, but I don’t care. You don’t come to a wild place like this wearing wingtips. This is still a place of mostly raw, unbound nature.
A few more minutes pass as I anticipate what I’m about to see. I realize that I am lucky to live so close to such a place. I used to come here all the time, but somehow several years have gotten behind me. I feel as though I’m about to meet up with an old friend.
There it is. It’s as breathtaking as I remember it. It is Bucks County’s answer to the Grand Canyon: the High Rocks section of Ralph Stover State Park. I am awed as I look 150 feet straight down to a horseshoe bend in the Tohickon Creek, a tributary of the Delaware that is more like a river in its own right than a creek. The fact that this vista would have been exactly the same 10,000 years ago is not lost on me. High Rocks is the type of place one realizes that nature follows its own timeline.
There are safety barriers here now. Many people have died or been severely injured over the years, as evidenced by a makeshift memorial just off the trail. These barriers were not here when I used to visit as a much younger man. I can vividly remember sitting on an outcrop, my feet dangling far above the Tohickon Creek, as I chatted with friends. The vibe is still the same, however. I feel like I am far away from everything, despite the fact that it is a mere half hour drive from home. Except for the sound of the rapids below, there is a pervasive silence that is hard to find in the modern world of motorcycles and truck backup alarms.
I linger for quite a while before moving on. Hawks glide on the thermals, circling over what prey might lie below. I proceed along the trail. Each vista seems more dramatic than the last. Evergreens below stand out from the bare branches of oaks, maples, birches, and sycamores. There is a way to legally go beyond the barriers; that is to have rock climbing equipment. There is certainly no better place in the entire region for those who pursue this hobby.
Finally, the barriers end. The landscape gradually descends. It is possible to hike down to the water’s edge without risking life and limb. I walk down a steep escarpment. Chipmunks frolic among fallen trees. I reach the water’s edge. I sit for a long time, absorbing the negatively-charged ions that gather above flowing water and give a sense of well-being. It is still a few months until the kayakers arrive. At last well-rested, I prepare to repeat the journey in reverse.
I have finally re-attained the heights. I am back behind the barriers. I gaze out at the creek below. In a month or two the first buds of impending spring will appear. After that, the greens of summer, followed by the blazing colors of autumn. It seems a long time away. Eventually, once again, winter will come. That is the time of year when it is possible to come to a place like this and have the entire world to yourself.
High Rocks is one of those largely undiscovered sublime gems that makes Bucks County, Pennsylvania my favorite place on the planet. I make a mental note not to let years go by before returning here again.