The PA Turnpike – The First Go
About three years ago now a couple of friends and I went to the abandoned stretch of the PA turnpike out west. We found ourselves fascinated by the pictures of it and general lack of info past hearing people go and ride their bikes there. Thus, we made plans to head out there ourselves.
This was back while I was still in college and living out of an on-campus apartment, with my place being the halfway point for the other three. This led to us meeting at my place on a Friday night over the winter break, during which only students with internships were allowed to stay on campus. In the hours following everybody’s arrival we planned our approach after a bit of internet nonsense and before some drinking and more internet nonsense. The following morning myself and my friends piled into are cars. Once loaded, we set off on route 30 going West.
It took about two and a half hours to get to the eastern access of the abandoned stretch of road, found off of Pump Station road. It appeared that this area of the abandoned turnpike was rather popular as a hunting location as many were parking here. When getting to this “parking lot,” you should take note that there are houses nearby. So we learned for future reference it is easier to just plug those houses’ addresses into your GPS to get you in the right direction. Naturally, we had a look around this lot before continuing on.
We then proceeded to load things into my van and scouted out the parking lot mid way through the abandoned length of turnpike. This ended up being a short five minute drive away from the eastern access, and simple enough to find. If you are heading west on 30, you’ll end up making the right onto 915 (Valley Hi Rd) and then making another right after the 76 underpass. This will put you on Oregon Rd and lead you down into the valley where the midway parking spot is for the disused stretch of Turnpike. This is an ideal spot to move your cars to if you plan to camp out around the tunnels like we did.
However, we wanted to walk from one end of the turnpike to the next and since it was mid-October we were burning daylight we didn’t have.. So from there we drove to the western access at the intersection of 30 and Tannery road, just east of the Breezewood interchange. In doing so, we set ourselves up to hike from one end of the abandoned turnpike to the next. One thing I should note for anyone who eventually plans on making the same trip is that is that this lot tends to be the busiest of the three.
It was about 30-35 min. from the start of our walk before we came across the western entrance of the Ray’s Hill tunnel. Graffiti covered the walls of this tunnel. Cocks and balls were the most common site. Thus we could only assume that the site is the meeting spot for an elusive dick-worshiping cult that writes their stories in the tunnel. (Sounds like /b/ to me) From this entrance, we could see inside of the maintenance rooms. However, we didn’t know at the time how they could be accessed as the doors were welded shut. Not caring to muck with the door, we pressed on through the tunnel, taking a few pictures along the way.
Being that the tunnel was relatively short, it only was about a 10-15 min. walk for us with our distractions before we emerged from the other side. In fact the tunnel is short enough that you can see through it from either end. The western portal opened up to the woods of PA and to the side of the entrance was a small electric room. Not too far from the portal was a small clearing that might have been a campsite to our left (going east). Much of the pavement to the old stretch of road is in great shape considering it hasn’t been used in over 50 years (well that and by comparison to your typical active roads in PA). It was approaching 1pm by the time we got to the midpoint parking lot. Upon getting there we sat down and ate some MREs. We spent a good half hour sitting, eating, and relaxing before collecting our gear and moving on.
After about 30 min of walking east from the midpoint lot, we could finally see the eastern entrance to the Sideling Hill tunnel. The first impression of these tunnels is just awe, to think we just let them sit there for many years before anybody opened them up for biking and hiking use. And you can’t help but wonder if the active tunnels of similar age and build are actually in better shape (discounting the fact that the electronics have all been pulled from the ones I’ve walked).
This tunnel appears to be about a mile long on Google Maps.There is a point in the tunnel at which you cannot see either exit. It was at this point we decided to turn off our flashlights and enjoy the darkness before lighting a candle. Once lit, we decided to amuse ourselves by walking forward with it slowly until we saw the eastern entrance. At that point we blew the candle out and I put on an Imperial German march over my iPod. Naturally we sang along, which got us a few looks from a group we met at this point. From this we found that they were planning on camping at the eastern entrance of the Sideling Hill tunnel.
We decided it was a good time to regroup, set the fire, and collect the cars. After some discussion, we decided that two of us would hike back through the tunnel and set up camp, while myself and one other would head out to collect cars and some booze. We only had about two hours of daylight left by this point in the day, so we didn’t waste too much time. It was an easy walk east on the roadway to get to anon one’s truck and once we got in we used GPS to dial in the nearest liquor store. This put us on 30 where we noticed signs for ammo, and found a general store which had 25acp and 32acp for our meme-tier guns. Interestingly they had 5mm auto boxes as well, something I didn’t expect to see as a thing outside the Fallout games. Eventually we set foot in the liquor store looking for a glass bottle of vodka for under $20.
Once we got to the midpoint lot, there wasn’t much longer to sunset, so we locked our vehicles and set off once again to the western entrance of the Sideling Hill tunnel. Upon getting to the tunnel we we’re greeted with a “what took you so long?”
While I don’t recall exactly how long it was between us showing up at camp and nightfall, it wasn’t that long. With the campfire going, we decided to plunge into what was left of our afternoon MREs,canned food we brought along, and mulled mead with it.We sat and talked (meme’d) around the fire for a good three hours before I finally noticed something in the distance. I got everybody to quiet down; there where lights and singing in the distance. After seeing this we kept talking among ourselves, although quieter this time. Ten minutes later a group of people come up to the campfire and stop.We exchange brief greetings before they disappear into the tunnel. We keep talking until after about 10 or 20 minutes we start to hear hymns echoing from the tunnel. This continues for about an hour before we hear silence. Eventually, the same group emerged from the darkness once again, and disappeared into the night as silent as they came into the light of our campfire.
Eventually, we all passed out on the road bed, often waking up in every now and then in the night on the cold roadbed. Once we were all awake we decided it was time for some meme pics for fun before we headed out. After taking the pics, we walked the 30 min. back to the vehicles at the midpoint lot and separated. One thing we agreed on, was that we had to make a trip to Roburrito’s. (Seriously, go there if you ever find yourself in York for whatever reason) From there, it was a true parting of the ways after getting back to my dorm.
Work isn’t so great after a great trip, but I had Sunday to enjoy.
In any case, feel free to comment your questions about the Turnpike tunnels, I may not be the expert, but I’ll give them a go. Just be mindful that in every year following, we have been seeing more people (such is the Internet age with cool outdoor locations).