Keystone State Park

Posted on 06/20/2023 in misc

Trip: 34
Nights: 108-110

Back in December, I booked a campsite at Keystone State Park near Latrobe, PA. I picked that location because it is near the Aliner factory. I put a note on the Aliner Ascape Owners Group on Facebook, thinking if we got really lucky, maybe two other campers would show up. 11 other campers showed up (so 23 people and one adorable collie in total.) I accidentally created a camper rally.

As an aside, one of the many things I learned this weekend is that Ascape is pronounced A-Scape, not ascape like a misspelled escape as I’ve been pronouncing it for three years. That kind of ruins the classic rock reference that my camper’s name is based on (Journey), but nobody ever got that joke anyway, so nothing is lost.

Back to the weekend. We got in on Thursday evening and after setting up camp spent some time getting to know the others that road tripped in for the weekend. New York, PA, Virginia, Michigan, Delaware, and even Texas were represented. An impromptu campfire materialized that evening, with most of the folks getting word and making it there.

Friday morning was the Aliner factory tour that I arranged. And by arranged, I mean I messaged the Facebook Aliner account and asked if we could tour the factory, and they said sure, see you at 9 AM on the Friday of the weekend camping event. I don’t know what I expected, but the level of attention we received from Aliner staff was just amazing. We started with a free form discussion that had people passing their phones around to share pictures of some of their modifications, with a very interested CEO and senior production staff paying close attention. If a future Ascape model features an exterior luggage door, you 100% owe one of us a thank-you :) After that, we got a factory tour, with stops at every facet of production. They were not making Ascapes last week, but the process is very similar. Aliner fabricates just about everything in house, and I was surprised at how manual the process still is. When I say factory tour, I’m not talking about looking down on the factory floor behind plexiglass or anything like that. We were out on the floor, with an open invention to ask questions not just of the managers giving the tour, but any employee that was doing something that interested us. It was really fascinating. The CEO stuck around for the tour too, in fact, he took the photo of Michelle and me in front of the garage door with the Aliner logo. We were there over 90 minutes.

Collage of photos from Aliner factory tour

Aside #2: I had a serious flashback to my first post-college job when entering the Aliner building. The nondescript building that is much larger than it looks, the small, plain lobby with a secured door leading into a narrow hallway of offices attached to the plant triggered memories of my 5+ years at Westvaco Envelope in Chamblee, GA.

After the tour, Michelle and I went seeking lunch in Latrobe, PA. We ended up at the Tin Lizzy Taproom, where I learned taproom means something different in Latrobe, PA. To me, a taproom has many taps, featuring a wide variety of beer styles. In Latrobe, taproom apparently means they have both Rolling Rock and Yuengling on tap. I went with a Yuengling. The food was fabulous, so this is not a complaint. My bacon cheddar burger was perfect, and Michelle said her fish sandwich was among the best she had ever had. After lunch, we headed to the Lincoln Highway Experience Museum, dedicated to mid-century car culture before the interstate highways homogenized interstate travel. Route 30 in PA (the Lincoln Highway), was kind of the East Coast Route 66 back in the day. It was closed due to “unexpected staffing issues.” So we moved onto our next destination, the Fred Rogers Memorial Park. Mr. Rogers (and Arnold Palmer) are from Latrobe. We did a selfie with the sculpture, and also a drive-by of the house he grew up in.

After that, we headed to the Winnie Rogers Nature Preserve at Saint Vincent College and the Basilica. The local airport is nearby, and there was an airshow that weekend, so our nature retreat was very loud with the sounds of various planes practicing for the airshow. However, one of those planes was an V-22 Osprey, which was buzzing us at a very low altitude. It started raining within 20 minutes of our arrival, so we headed back to the campground. It rained off and on the rest of the day into the evening, but we did manage to get in some quality time contemplating life while staring at a campfire.

Collage of photos from Latrobe PA / Keystone State Park

On Saturday, we went out hiking / birding in the state park. I need to stop combining those activities, as we never actually hike much when looking for birds. We identified 16 species, and I may have seen a juvenile bald eagle high overhead, but I wasn’t able to ID with enough certainty to feel comfortable recording it in e-bird. After birding, we mostly hung around the campground with many of the Ascapers. We had to make a grocery store run and while out swung by the Lincoln Highway museum. They were still having “unexpected staffing issues,” although I have to wonder if it’s really unexpected if it’s a repeat event. Saturday night was the pot luck, with 23 people and one very well behaved collie. We had food for 40 people, at least.

We left the campground Sunday morning with the intention of driving straight home. I had decided that it was too soon for the Flight 93 Memorial, which was about a 10-mile detour for us on the way home. I had a change of heart as I approached, and we went to the memorial. I’m glad we did. It is very tasteful and respectfully designed. It’s not a big thing with lots to do. We were there about 75 minutes, and the only thing we missed was the ranger program.

Collage of photos from Flight 93 Memorial

Aside #3: When visiting a site memorializing a mass death event from a terrorist attack, do not drive your car up to the memorial, get out, take a selfie, and get back in the car and leave. Yes, I’m talking to you, woman in the VW Bug.

Apparently, we are doing this again next year, so if you have an Aliner Ascape, plan on joining us!

Click to comment, reply, or complain via email

I like hearing from readers, all three of you! Nobody comments on blogs anymore, and I'd rather not use Facebook or Twitter as a comment system so it's back to the email.