Guest Post By Jessica Salt
There’s something beguiling about dank air that magnetizes both tattooed punks and families on bikes, alike. Or perhaps it’s the stale boredom of an omnivore’s fast food paradise – Breezewood –and not being satisfied by a sit-down meal, which lures travelers to the Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike and her moldy tunnels.
Surrounded by unincorporated communities like Needmore, Hancock, and Manns Choice, the Bedford County’s rolling hills are no popular destination, but over the years through-traffic brought bottlenecking. So in 1968 the 4-lane Superhighway was deserted for a younger, smoother route with longer lanes.
The overall length of Abandoned Turnpike is 13 miles. Ray’s Hill tunnel is the shortest of the 7 turnpike passages, at 3,532 feet long, and is about 5 miles west of its vacant counterpart, Sideling Hill- the longest of the turnpike sisters, stretching 6,782 ft. Post closing, Pike2Bike began the upkeep of these unused roadways; now they are trodden mostly by truant teens and Lycra-loving fitness folks.
Leading up to Ray’s Hill tunnel is an scenic stroll on broken pavement, the faded remnants of lane dividers peek lazily through the stray foliage that’ve since reclaimed it. Once the western portal entrance is visible, it insistently invites your company. But don’t go in without climbing atop – the monstrous exhaust fans are worth being awed by. Despite the threat of a 40-pound vulture scouring for prey (whose nest is also noticeably perched there) the area above the tunnel has a stagnant, barren feel to it. However, the dingy underpass is bewitching, and walking inside through the dark is a slow, misleading chase to the light at the end, which is tauntingly far. Run-ins with the locals may include discussions on why they are firing off smoke bombs, and whether or not their holstered firearm will be discharged during your visit.
Though the breath of Breezewood is primarily truckers honking their way back to I-76, the trail to Ray’s Hill doesn’t share its commotion, it is relaxed. After sunset, it is likely the same lot would host a dim sense of death – with no live street lights, the path transforms to an eerie lost highway.
While the tunnel has a certain enchantment about it, the town it hugs is not romantic. For every human on the sidewalk, there seems to be a dead motel – probably not much for pillow talk here. But there is Bob Evans, so exploring could be a fun day trip ending with pancakes and bacon.
All-in-all, Abandoned Turnpike would be a cheap ticket to get a conservative girlfriend hooked on abandoned stuff, or to finally get to pretend you’re on the set of a David Lynch film.