Saturday, July 28, 2007

Falling or White?

The Ohiopyle Area is known for two things -- Frank Lloyd Wright architecture and the Youghiogheny River (yah-kuh-GAIN-ee or the Yough, pronounced YOCK) and its rapids. Lets start with Frank --

Arguably, one of his best known designs is that of Fallingwater just outside Ohiopyle. The house was commissioned by Edgar Kaufmann, who loved the waterfall on the property and assumed that the view from the house would show the falls. Instead, FLW put the house ON the falls. This visit, I took the "in depth" tour which was for two hours and included some areas (such as the servant quarters) that are not part of the regular tour. While Fallingwater is the famous house here, nearby, on a hill on the other side of Ohiopyle, sits another FLW house named Kentuck Knob. This is a beautiful example of FLW's Usonian architecture, built with the " common " people in mind -- but the house is anything but common! At first glance, the house appears to be built in the shape of a "U" with one side the entrance, one the carport, and one the utility space. In reality, there are no right angles in the house. None. Anywhere. It is a complex arrangement of triangles and parallelograms and other assorted shapes that aren't square. The interior is red cypress and field stone, cut, of course, on angles. The house is still privately owned. It is a real find, and well worth a visit if you are in the area.

The other thing Ohiopyle is known for is white water rafting -- and I did it! There are three distinct portions of the Yough: Upper, Middle,and Lower. The Middle has no fast rapids and is a gentle float only. The Upper is only for the experienced or stupid -- it drops 115 feet in one mile, and is rated class IV and V. The Lower Yough, which I did, is somewhere in-between, rated class III. Since I am not yet totally out of my head, I signed up for a guided trip. There are 4 outfitters that do rafting trips from Ohiopyle, and they all operate in about the same way, and use the same put-in and take-out spots. Each group of people who go out (we had 64 people) keep somewhat together throughout the trip, and have 2 to 6 per raft. Everyone is pulled aside before the large rapids, and given instructions for navigating them. The guides travel on the river in their rafts or kayaks to help people who get stuck on rocks or go overboard. They also locate themselves at strategic points in and around the rapids to provide directional help (go RIGHT! Not that right, your OTHER RIGHT!) and rescue if need be.

Since I was on a guided tour, I was paired up with a guide named Mike who was the "sweep" guide -- staying at the back to be sure no one was stuck and left behind. However, when we got to a rapids and the main group was off to the side for instructions, Mike and I went first as he needed to station himself for possible rescue. After he navigated the rapids, he would get our raft safely on a rock where I had a good view, and then go stand somewhere strategic and either throw a rope to people who fell in, or help get rafts unstuck from known trouble spots (this usually involved getting in the water and wrestling the raft off the rock, or thowing his entire body at it to shake it loose -- while standing, barefoot, in the middle of the whitewater). I had a great view of all the rafts as they came though the rapids (and all the spills) from a safe vantage point. Once, I was positioned in the middle of two whitewater cascades, one to the right, and one to the left with a big rock directly in front of me that was separating the two flows. It was really impressive to be in the middle of all that energy! We also pulled one person from the water, and "taxied" a couple others from the rocks they were stranded on back to the boats they had fallen out of.

The weather around here has pretty much been the same each day -- sunny and hot until late afternoon, then some thunderstorms, then clearing. Only one day has this pattern not held -- the day I went rafting! It began raining when we got on the bus to go to the take-in. It rained for over half the trip, sometimes quite hard with even a little lightning and thunder (we didn't stop -- we were about as low in altitude as we could get, surrounded by trees and mountains and the lightning never got severe). In the beginning, I actually liked it -- there was a lovely mist on the water, and all the trees were that deep, vibrant green that foliage takes on in the rain. And once you are wet, it really doesn't matter much if you stay in the rain because you aren't getting any wetter! Eventually it started to get chilly, but the sun came out shortly thereafter and the rest of the trip was bright and warm.

The outfitters I chose were Laurel Highlands River Tours, and they were very conscientious about taking care of their customers and watching out for them. It was a marvelously fun experience, and Mike was so good at steering the raft that I never felt we were going to tip over (although I probably could have been arrested for giving him a beer -- he seemed very young, and said he's starting his Junior year in college this fall). Some of the other folks in our group really should have opted for the guided tour -- they had a lot of trouble on rocks, people fell out, and in some cases they tipped the entire raft. Some of them learned early that help would come when they were stuck, so they never even tried to get loose from a rock -- they just sat there until Mike, or one of the other guides came by to help. A videographer kayaked with us, and I did buy the video -- the picture below is a still from that video.

So why is this titled Falling or White? Just add "water" of course!

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