Sunday, November 4, 2007

Berks County Roadtrip: Crystal Cave and Roadside America

Today was all about reliving old memories, while making new ones. I had a very cool childhood. I was fortunate enough to spend almost every weekend on the road to music gigs- and during our travels we always made it a point to stop at roadside tourist attractions. I think that's why I always bonded with the Griswalds. At any rate, Dave hasn't been to any of these cool places I've been to. When we first met, he told me that he loved trains. And for four years, I've been trying to go on a day trip to check out Roadside America, the world's largest miniature village. Since Crystal Cave was in near by Kutztown, I plotted a spontaneous Sunday afternoon.

Roadside America, Shartlesville
Roadside America is just amazing. Of course last time I was there I was a kid, so things looked a lot bigger- but this roadside Pennsylvania attraction is definitely one to take in. The 1,500 square-foot attraction was started by brothers Larry and Paul Geiringer. The story is that when the two were boys, they lived on a mountain and saw all these 'miniature' houses and buildings. They were fascinated by them- even upon learning they were regular size buildings.... They began to build models and train sets and their passion eventually led to Roadside America. Paul became and priest and moved to Ohio, while Larry kept going. He passed away in 1963; his wife took over until her death in 1973 and to this day, the same family runs Roadside America.

What is so cool about Roadside America is that all the miniatures are hand-made from simple tools-- the hard way-- but also as I like to say, "the heart way." The stained-glass windows on the little churches are all hand-painted. So, so cool.
Some things that you'll see at Roadside America in addition to streams, waterfalls, trains and trolleys are: Indian tee-pee villages; snowcapped mountains with winter activities and working cable cars; tribute to the coal, lumber, steel and energy industries; the Old West; rural farms with a hoe-down in the barn; a modern zoo; early colonial towns with great architecture; a circus; an airport and so much more. There is music playing throughout, as well as buttons you can push to make certain things work- very, very cool.

Every half-hour Roadside America tells everyone to take a seat and they play patriotic music as they turn down the lights so only the lights within the village are on- it is kind of like a sunset, night and sunrise show. Very cool. The only thing that I didn't like was in the slides was a picture of Jesus- that was unnecessary to me, but this IS after all a family business and they seem to have religious roots.
No matter how old you are at Roadside America, you feel like a total kid again. I should also mention there is a gift shop which of course sells Roadside America souvenirs, but also lots of train items and a selection of PA Dutch and Amish items, too.

Crystal Cave, Route 222, Kutztown, Pa.
I wrote so much about Roadside America that I don't want this post to be too, too long. I was at Crystal Cave many times as a kid, so it was cool to bring Dave here as well. The site closes Nov. 30, so the season was winding down- this was good because we had a small group. We had a spunky teenage tour guide, Steph I think her name was. Very funny and good with the lingo. It always helps when you have a knowledgeable tour guide!

This cavern is very cool- a great geological lesson for sure! We got to see stalactites, stalagmites, flowing rock and other geological marvels made only from sediment and water over the course of hundreds of years. It's amazing that this structure exists underneath Pennsylvania farm country. What was kind of cool to learn was that early visitors were allowed to saw off stalagmites/tites as souvenirs, so some of the cave's treasures are now family heirlooms! 54-degrees year-round, Crystal Cave is definitely literally cool as well.

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