Riding Through Lehigh Gorge


My description of a perfect day would be an early morning spent reading/writing/thinking, being active (bicycle riding) in wilderness for most of the day, and finishing with a good meal with family and friends. This would cover my intellectual, spiritual, emotional and physical needs. Yesterday I had one of those days when we took advantage of a free day from classes at Lehigh University and rode the 25 mile-trail through the Lehigh gorge state park.

State officials have done a remarkable job of turning a disused and abused area into one that is thriving and still benefits many people. It is a classic gorge of steep rocky cliffs, much of it covered by tree, carved out by the flowing water of the Lehigh river. The gorge was used to transport coal and later harvested for timber as well as transporting logs, and after a couple of large fires, it was abandoned. The state obtained it in the 1970s and 40 years later, it is used by thousands of hikers, bikers and rafters yearly.


We rented bikes in White Haven and rode the 25 miles south to the scenic town of Jim Thorpe (formerly Mauch Chunk), Pennsylvania. We rode the same trail two years ago and we remember it as a struggle, but with the children two years older and our family riding more the past two years in Japan, the ride was easy. We could have ridden the 25 miles back, but instead took the shuttle back north to White Haven.

We had a few stops for swimming and throwing rocks in the river. The sound of a flowing river is so soothing and with the steep green walls and blue skies, the whole day was one of beauty. It is nice that the kids are getting older and we can do stuff like this with them. It also gives us a chance for conversations while we are putting in the long kilometers. To kill time waiting for the shuttle, we went back and found four geocaches along the trail that reignited the kids’ enthusiasm for geocaching. It is such an engaging activity for kids and it gives people the opportunity to see things they normally would pass by.

The view from the bike trail of the Lehigh river

I was nostalgic for my home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The remnants of the mining industry, the numerous trees and rock outcroppings, brought back memories of my beloved homeland. The Appalachians are so beautiful!

For dinner, Nadia prepared grilled salmon covered with an avocado paste that was gourmet quality. The heat of the day turned into a cool breeze in the evening. A perfect summer day!



The Moravians of Bethlehem

The old chapel from 1751

Bethlehem Pennsylvania is most famous for the Bethlehem Steel Company, which was at its peak, the second largest steel company in America. But before big company put its imprint on the city, the origins of the settlement go back to an obscure group called the Moravians. The name Moravian comes from Moravia, which was one of three (Bohemia, Silesia) historic regions that today make up modern Czech Republic. I take special interest in the region because my name Kralovec, is Bohemian, and my ancestor Andreas Kralovec, came to Wisconsin in the late 1800s from what was then Bohemia.

Bethlehem was exclusively Moravian for the first 100 years of its founding on 500 acres  of fertile farm land near the intersection of Monocacy creek and the Lehigh River in 1741. The Moravians were a bit cultish, living in communal groups by age, marital status and gender. They also had a communal socialist economic system which served them well in the early days. It must have been so difficult to clear land and produce food, avoid disease and native American attacks and thrive in the new world. The colony was opened up to others in 1844 and the communal, socialist system was also abandoned.

My children are fascinated by my historical tour of the communal buildings of the Moravians

The Moravians go back to a Bohemian man named Jan Hus. He is considered the first Protestant reformer, predating the more famous Martin Luther by 60 years. In reading Hus’s complaints against the Catholic church at the time, I pretty much agree with him wanting priests to marry, stop the selling of indulgences (basically bribes to get into heaven), eliminating the idea of purgatory, the mass to be said in Czech instead of Latin and laypersons to receive both bread and wine at communion. He was burned at the stake as a heretic 600 years ago this month (July 6, 1415). John Paul II, the Polish Pope, expressed “deep regret” for the act in 1999.

The Moravians, or United Brethren formed much after the death of Hus in Bohemia. They were persecuted in Catholic Hapsburg Europe but found refuge on the German estates of Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf in 1722. He greatly influenced the group, setting up a 100-years continuous prayer relay, starting the tradition of the daily watchword Bible study and most importantly for Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, sending out groups of missionaries around the world to start colonies. He visited Bethlehem and after a prayer service along the river, the citizens named the colony after the famous Biblical star.


Today one can visit the preserved early buildings of the Moravians, including the old cemetery.  There is a Moravian College and a Moravian Academy still in Bethlehem today and the Moravian church in America has about 750,000 members. The Moravians are also known for the Moravian star, the multi-pointed lighted star that adorns all Moravian homes. The city of Bethlehem in the 1930s as marketing campaign for tourists, created the lighted Christmas star on the hill of south mountain overlooking the city and named Bethlehem the “Christmas City”. 

I will be learning more about Moravians during my stay here in Bethlehem this summer.

The illuminated Moravian Star on South mountain overlooking Bethlehem. 

Pennsylvania Coal Region

Oliver with a piece of anthracite coal

I am getting in touch with my family roots here in Pennsylvania. Both sides of my biological family are from Pennsylvania’s Coal Region, located in the north east part of the state, in the Appalachian Mountains. The largest cities in this region are Wilkes Barre and Scranton. It is the location of about the only place in the USA where anthracite could be found. Anthracite is the purest form of coal, consisting of 92-98% carbon. From the mid 19th century to the mid 20th century, this was a big industry here, peaking in the 1920s. Today there are a couple of small specialty mines still in operation, but for the most part, the industry is dead, with most of the good coal gone and competition for other countries and other forms of fossil fuels, most notably natural gas making it unprofitable. This triangle of 5 counties helped fuel the industrial revolution in America, propelling steam engines and producing steel in the big foundries in Bethlehem. Waves of immigrants came to work in the mines, most notably Irish, but also my ancestors from Eastern and Central Europe. The Molly Maguires a 1970 movie starring Sean Connery, portrayed the radical Irish group, the Molly Maguires, who fought for mine workers’ rights in an age of exploitation. The stories of mining accidents, low pay, and the struggles of these immigrants to make a living are sad and often tragic. Although many of their ancestors benefit today from life in America.  My son Ollie (photo above) found this piece of anthracite coal in an old strip mine, just outside the town of Freeland last week.

The industrial revolution was an environmental disaster for the region however. First, as in many places in the USA, including my home region in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the land was clear cut of the majestic white pines and hemlock trees that covered the mountains here. Canals were dug and railroads put in to transport materials to the cities on the east coast and steel plants in the Lehigh Valley. More than 70 years later however, the Appalachians (this part of the chain is called the Pocono Mountains) are making a comeback. We rode the 25 mile bike path from White Haven to Jim Thorpe in the Lehigh Gorge State Park this weekend. I was proud of the kids of making the whole way. The views were stunning! We took an old tourist train through the valley and rode down. There are also lots of whitewater rafting and hiking in the park. I hope to explore more of it while I am here and glad that an area that was once a denuded, polluted, “super highway” is now going back to nature.

The mountains, although not the size of Rockies or Alps, have their own stunning beauty and it does remind me of the Great Lakes Region of Northern Michigan. In mid-summer, the sheer walls of green, the brown rapids of the Lehigh River, and the bright bloom of Mountain Laurels, makes for a pleasant place to relax and recharge.

The view from the bike path of the Lehigh River.

I will be exploring more of the Pennsylvania Coal Region this summer and exploring my family’s past here as well.


Hike in Nescopeck State Park

Today we went for an afternoon hike in the Nescopeck State Park, which is very close to Freeland, Pennsylvania, where we are staying this week. The 3,500 acre park is located between Mount Yeager and Nescopeck Mountain in Luzerne County. The valley is special because it is one of the few areas here in Pennsylvanian coal country that was not mined for coal. The park does not have spectacular waterfalls or dramatic rock formations, but it is a just a nice, forested, relaxing area. We hiked along the Nescopeck Creek and it had many beautiful old, Eastern Hemlock trees along the banks. The kids were playing hide and seek. The trees and ferns along the creek, gave it the look of the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which we saw last night. We could imagine the monkeys swinging through the trees attacking humans.

It is a newer park and I am glad the state was able to purchase and preserve the valley. So many people have moved out of towns and cities to build their 2 acres of paradise, that there are precious few unbroken forested areas left. Most of the park has a secondary forest feel however, but in about 50-100 years, it will look more impressive. They have a nice environmental education center. There are a couple of small lakes, many wetlands, and the Nescopeck Creek running through the valley. With a wet spring and all that water, the mosquitos and bugs were a bit bothersome, but overall it was another great day. I really love getting out into wilderness and showing my children the beauty and wonder of nature. As Nadia wrote on her Facebook page, I am in heaven!

Pocono Mountain Beauty

We went for a hike today in the Hickory Run State Park, located in Pocono Mountains of north eastern Pennsylvania. We walked the Shades of Death trail, which meandered along the Sand Spring Run (a run is what the Pennsylvanians call a creek). The Pocono Mountains are part of the Appalachian Mountain chain here in the Mid Atlantic region of the United States. Early pioneers called the area Shades of Death because it was full of swamps, hills, rocks, and thick, Laurel bushes that made travel through the area difficult.

The Hickory Run park was started by the late Allentown millionaire, General Henry C. Trexler, who bought the land and wanted to see it be a park where families could come and enjoy wholesome recreation, which we certainly did today. No one knows where the term “Hickory” came from as there are no Hickory trees in the area. The kids and Nadia and I were enchanted with the dark, misty, and green forests alongside the creek. It was prime time for the Mountain Laurel flower, the state flower of West Virginia and an icon of the Appalachians. The run had a couple of damns on it and in hotter weather, would make for a perfect swimming hole. I did go swimming at Hawk Falls, in another part of the park later on in the day. We had a nice picnic lunch and walked back to the park headquarters, which was a Manor House in the old town of Hickory Run.

The kids loved running along up and down the rocky trails. Ocean was thinking that a gnome or fairy would be seen in the misty, dark woods. Later on we drove to another part of the park to see Hawk Falls. It was pouring rain by the time we got there but that did not stop us. We ran back after swimming in the ice cold water. It brought back memories of the Bolivian jungle for Nadia and I! We hope to explore another park tomorrow in the Poconos.

Back in the USA

Ollie pets a goat at the Kutztown Folk Festival

For the second consecutive summer I am studying here at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, USA. It is better this year to have my family with me! I love seeing Nadia and the kids when I get back from my classes. The class I am taking has been very stimulating and it is nice to spend time with family. I really love the atmosphere of a university town and the Lehigh Valley in particular.

We were here for the 4th of July celebrations although we kept it low key. We did watch the fireworks display in Bethlehem and say Happy 238 Years to the USA. We also went to the Kutztown Folk Festival in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. This is the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch (German settlers to the USA) and Mennonite/Amish country in eastern Pennsylvania. The festival celebrates farm life (agriculture/livestock) and the “olden” days of America settlement. The kids watched a sheep shearing demonstration, saw many old engines for pumping water, sawing wood, husking corn, etc. I read to them a couple of books in Laura Ingalls Wilder series, and we particularly liked Little House in the Big Woods which is set in 1870s Wisconsin. I highly recommend the series for children and to see the stories come alive for them at the festival was really interesting. We also had some old fashioned kettle corn and sasparilla root beer.

One impression of the USA is the amount of space here for everyone compared to Europe. There is a lot of land for not that many people! As you can see below, the sports facilities of Lehigh University, which can be used by the public, are immense. I can just see the sports fanatical Serbs going crazy here with all this room to move. Nadia runs the cross country loop on the grounds while the kids play soccer.

Hawk Mountain Hike

I went for a long hike yesterday in the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, an international center for raptor conservation. The reserve is located close to Bethlehem in the Appalachian Mountains, and is called the Kittatinny (American Indian tribe Lenape, meaning “endless”) which is a pretty appropriate name as the Appalachian Trail goes right by here on its way to Georgia or Maine. This is an important flyway for migrating raptors and they come through in the thousands every spring and fall.

I am pictured above in the “river of rocks” which are these long, narrow spaces with thousands of huge boulders. It is amazing to consider that this mile long field of boulders was formed 11,000 years ago by the ice age. The intense cold of that period, loosened the rocks and they tumbled down the valley. They are sometimes called upside down rivers because of the stream of water beneath them.

The reserve has a lot of rocks! It was fun to climb and scramble over them during my 6-mile hike yesterday. The rocks probably saved the area from the Pennsylvania Dutch farmers! The area is surrounded by old farms and new “McMansions” and so unfortunately while hiking, the sound of cars and motorcycles can still slightly be heard.

I saw one raptor flying through the canopy and got some great photos of these black vultures on the East Rocks area. Vultures are scientifically classified as raptors.

It was a wonderfully relaxing day, being alone in the woods. I sweated profusely, but the heat probably kept most hikers away and I had the far reaches of the park to myself. It would be awesome to be here during the migration periods.

The Appalachian Mountains do not have the majestic quality of the Rockies, but they have a beauty and mystery in their own right. I always get recharged being in the wilderness and the hike was a welcomed respite from my doctorate classes this summer. I will definitely be back with my kids, they would love to scale the rocks!

A Pennsylvania Dutch Fourth of July


I had an interesting Independence Day celebration here in south eastern Pennsylvania, the heart of the Pennsylvania Dutch cultural region. The Pennsylvania Dutch were immigrants from Switzerland, Germany, and the Czech Republic who settled this area in the 17th and 18th centuries. They were seeking religious freedom, as many American immigrants. Over 300 years later, Pennsylvanians still affiliate with this culture, but most has been lost through the generations of American life and modern influences.

I attended the Kutztown Folk Festival, a celebration of values of these settlers. The Pennsylvanian Dutch are still evident today in the Amish settlements here, as well as private church affiliated universities like Moravian College. At the fair there were many old fashioned crafts, livestock shows, and a quilting competition. We stopped at an Amish farm (wheat field shown above) and bought some corn and tomatoes.

The Lehigh Valley Historical Society has done a good job in preserving the sites and promoting the teaching of history. It is amazing to think that this region was once on the frontier of America. The farmhouse below is from 1756 and is typical of the early frontier Pennsylvanian Dutch farms.

The Troxell-Steckel Farmhouse – 1756 – Ironton Rail Trail

It is nice that people recognize their heritage and remember the historical roots of America. With modern American culture, so much is homogenized that most US cities and towns are indistinguishable from each other. There is a lightly distinctive feeling of uniqueness here and the rolling hills of corn and wheat, the Mennonite horse carriages and the beautiful stone farm houses bring back memories of the first American settlers. It was a good way to spend birthday number 237 of the United States of America. Here in Pennsylvania, so close to many sites (Valley Forge, Gettysburg, Philadelphia) that played an important role in forming our nation.