Part I: Off the Beaten Path

Note: This is the initial post in a periodic series that will feature recommended unusual places for a quick stop if you happen to be passing through an area. I will try to avoid the commonplace and focus on locations that are either odd and/or neat—-depending on your level of sanity. Also, all the photos used in my post are from there are more images of the unusual place in today's discussion.

A couple of years ago, my adventurous older son and I stopped off on a trip in a very unique town in Pennsylvania. Located north of I-81 well between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, is the very small community of Centralia. Now, this tiny hamlet was not always devoid of residents. In 1980, the town had a population of over 1,000; that is until 1984, when Congress allocated funds to purchase all the homes in Centralia.

What would motivate Congress to spend $42 million in relocation efforts for the citizens of Centralia? Oh, I forgot to mention Centralia’s nickname: "The Town that is on Fire."

For more than 30 years, a fire has burned in mines underneath Centralia. Too large and too expensive to extinguish, state experts decided it was just easier to relocate everyone—-as it is estimated that enough coal exists in the mines to keep the flames going for the next 250 years. Less than 12 residents remain in the town, and I am not sure why someone would want to stay: nothing like random holes developing in your backyard, the constant smell of smoke, or the troublesome levels of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide.

One of the most telling examples of the environmental impact in Centralia is the dull yellow flow in adjacent creeks:

Our sight-seeing reminded me of a scene from the setting of the Michael Shaara science-fiction novel The Herald (later published as the "Noah Conspiracy") and included:

-Abandoned streets with power lines where residences once stood.
-Sidewalks that go nowhere.
-Bare black patches of land with little vegetation growing.
-Visible steam coming from the ground
-Signs on the highway denoting the underground fire.

For the more hearty visitors, a section of closed highway can be walked, but it is somewhat unstable looking and the danger involved was certainly not something that I wanted to explain to my spouse after the little one began answering specific questions about our unusual stop.

Anyone driving in Central PA north of Harrisburg should definitely consider a side trip to Centralia. From some of the landscape and emptiness of the place, it may be as close to the moon as I ever get in my lifetime.

The next post on this topic will examine what I consider Arkansas' diamond in the rough.


mrs. fuzz said...

What?! I've never heard of this. That's amazing. It looks scenic even if it is smokey and full of cracks and holes. It seems like there are a lot more interesting places to see back east/south than there are out west, but that's probably because I've lived out west my whole life and the east is exotic to me.

Slamdunk said...

I think your comment Ms. F. has challenged me to dig up some of the kewl stuff out west to visit--looks like I have homework...