Tuesday Thrifty Travel Trips and Centralia Travel Tips

As you may have noticed if you read my blog often, we like to take day trips to interesting places. We don't have a ton of money to spend on a major vacation this year, but we have still had a lot of fun and adventure. Staycations have become popular this year, especially with the rising cost of gas.

Although most of the places I will tell you about and that we venture to are in Pennsylvania, I hope that my tips and places will inspire you to think about going on day trips to interesting places.

I have decided to start a weekly series "Tuesday Thrifty Travel Tips" because people ask me how I found out about these places and information about each place and I want to share how we cut costs and make the most of our mileage money.

Each week I plan to give you a Thrifty Travel Tip of the Week and then tell you about and show you a place we have visited.

Thrifty Travel Tip of the Week: How to Find Cool Place to Visit

The major way we first found out about places to visit was word of mouth. Our first road trip this year was way back in February to Centralia. My boyfriend's mom had mentioned it to him. When he told me about Centralia I remembered it from my childhood and the stories my parents told me about it and driving through. I am originally sort of from around there. Well, I grew up closer to Centralia than we are now anyway. We would drive through occasionally and my parents would tell us about the mine fire (more on that later) and we would see the town slowly be abandoned.

When someone gives you a tip about a cool place to visit, I think it behooves you to do some research on the place before going. For example, if we just went to Centralia without doing any research on our own, it would probably still be an interesting place to visit, but we would missed out some key points of interest. I simply "googled" Centralia and dug through what came up. Some of it was true, some not, but after doing a little research you can figure it out.

Another thing that has been extremely helpful for us has been buying the "Weird Pennsylvania" book. It is full of interesting and spooky places to visit. The author has given lots of information and interviews the local folks, too. If you are interested in weird places in other states, there are "Weird" books for other states, just do a little searching. I know there is a "Weird New Jersey," "Weird U.S." and "Weird Ohio", too. There are other books beyond the "Weird" state books, too. Look in your local section of your bookstore and you will find them.

I have found that as I am searching for information about one specific place, I find out about other places and that leads to others, etc.

If you are in Pennsylvania or visiting and interested in abandoned places, check out http://forgottenpa.blogspot.com/. They have written about a lot of places they have visited. We have even found out about a place that I drive by almost every day and never knew the history.

Sometimes you will type in a search for one thing, and others will come up, too. This is how I found the Hopewell Furnace, for example.

Trip Re-Cap: Ashland and Centralia, Pennsylvania

Our day started out around 10 am when we loaded up in our car with lots of water and some snacks. Usually we pack a lunch, too, but since we previously visited Centralia, we knew that there was a Mays Drive-in and that it was inexpensive and good. And I wanted to eat there for nostalgia reasons. There was one in my hometown (there are only 4 total).

Our first stop was at the Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine & Steam Tour in Ashland, Pennsylvania. We had found this place by accident driving around our first time to Centralia when we were completely lost. I also visited it as a child, but I would have never remembered it being there, even though I remember the visit itself.

We bought tickets for both the Steam train and the Coal Mine tour, and we got discounts for buying them together. Price: $13.50 for each of us for both tours. We had just missed the mine tour and had some time to kill, so we looked around the cool gift shop and the other attractions they have set up. There is also a park right there. The perfect place for a picnic, if you decide to pack your lunch.

We went on the Steam Train first. It was fun and educational. There was a great view at the end. I think it was worth the price for one time, but I think probably one time is enough.

The main attraction was definitely the Coal Mine tour. We boarded a little train and traveled down into a real coal mine. It is cold down there, so bring a sweater or a jacket if you go. Once in the mine you get off the train and your tour guide takes you through the mine and you get an idea of how it was to mine coal. I must say that it must be one of - if not THE most difficult and dangerous jobs there are. There are stations set up down there.

After coming back to the surface we stopped for a bite at Mays Drive-in. Excellent and inexpensive. (I think it was around $5 a person to eat there.)

You can look up directions to the Pioneer Coal Mine Tour in Ashland, PA, but getting directions to Centralia isn't always easy. I had a difficult time the first time we went, but this time it actually did come up on mapquest, so maybe it isn't as mysterious anymore. :)

To get to Centralia from the Pioneer Tunnel, go down the hill to the main road, take a left and turn right at Mays Drive-in and follow the road. You will go past the Byrnesville Washhouse , which is on your left. We just found out what it was from the forgottenpa blog. It is interesting to checkout, just watch your step.

After passing the Byrnesville Washhouse, you will go around a curve to the right. This is the beginning of where they closed Route 61 because of the sink hole from the underground mine fire. Continue on and you will see the other side of where the road is closed - it's a big pile of dirt. Park your car and you can walk back to see the sink hole.

A word of caution: sink holes could develop anywhere from the mine fire, so be very careful. Additionally, although there has been a lot of people around doing the same thing we were the last 2 times we were there, I do believe from my research that it is considered trespassing to be most anywhere in Centralia. I don't think anyone will bother you if you are not causing a problem, but I did want to caution you on that. And there has never been a fatality from the mine fire, although there was a close call once when a boy fell into a sink hole, but his friend saved him.

A Quick History of Centralia

Centralia used to be a booming coal mine city and, in fact, the name Centralia means "center of commerce." There were 5 grocery stores, tons of houses and other businesses. It was also allegedly the center for a lot of Molly McGuire activities. (Here's where your research would come in handy! Please look up more if you would like to know more.)

In 1962, garbage was taken to an old mine pit to be burned, which was a common practice. They would take their garbage there and every so often they would burn it, and then put the fire back out again. This time, however, they didn't realize that the fire had caught the coal on fire back in the mine.

Despite attempts at putting out the fire, it still burns today. According to our tour guide at Pioneer Tunnel the fire will burn for around 400 years if nothing is done.

The government has bought out most of the houses and paid people to relocate (I have gotten mixed answers about amounts and exactly how this was done) so most of the town is now gone. A few people remain, however.

If you don't understand the history or didn't see Centralia when it was still an actual town, you might not even understand what you are seeing. It just looks like a rural area with a few houses. But when you understand it, it is eery.

(This used to be the highway)

Back to our Tour of Centralia

There is a little path through the dirt (go to the left) to get onto the old highway and walk down to the sink hole. You will see all sorts of graffiti - you have to keep your kids focused on other things if you don't want to have to have some hard conversations about what certain things mean if you take your kids. It's a little walk and then you will see the sink holes. You won't miss them. There is smoke coming from them as well.

After you walk back from the highway, up the road just a little way - past the cemetery - is an area. We parked at the bottom and walked up the hill, others drove, but at the top is a great view of Centralia and you can see the smoke coming from the ground. There is also a great view of *I think* strip mines to the left. You can see huge amounts of coal.

From there, we drove around to see the abandoned streets and see what we could see. Like I said, it is eery.

I think the best thing to remember when visiting Centralia is to be respectful to the people who do still live there and don't damage anything.

Price to visit Centralia: $0

Overall this trip cost $13.50 per person, cost of food - approximately $5 per person, and the gas to get there.

To be thriftier - skip the Pioneer Tunnel and explore Centralia and pack a picnic lunch. Then you just have to buy gas to get there. (Or just do the Coal Mine Tour for $8.50.)

Feel free to ask me any questions about Centralia or visiting there and I will let you know what I know. You can also feel free to ask me questions about our Thrifty Travel Tip of the Week, if you like.

For more photos of all of our Centralia trips, check out my Centralia flickr set.

Also, check out my Magnetic Hematite Earrings in my shop. They aren't coal, but they sure remind me of it because the hematite ore looks sort of like coal and it is mined as well.

Here's to our brave miners!

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