The Lure of Rt. 522

Labor Day weekend, 2021, was not the first time that Route 522 took me off my intended path.

Red line showing US 522 in Pennsylvania

This road travels in a North-South direction, from the Susquehanna Valley in Pennsylvania to Powhatan, VA, and it is one of many spurs of US 22. My first occasion traveling on this route was a few years ago, when I was trying to avoid an accident and/or construction on route 322 in the State College region. I drove along, southbound, taking in all the scenery and expected to eventually see a road that would connect me with my normal route to Lancaster. However, after an hour or so of driving through farm fields, I realized that the sun was starting to set and it was not on the side of my car that it should be! As the sun sets in the west, well, that’s the direction I was traveling, southwest instead of southeast.

But the surprising discovery from heading in the wrong direction was this historical marker, below, for Burnt Cabins. It must have triggered a long-lost memory from a grade school history class, because I had no idea this place existed, at least insofar as I could drive through the area where this event occurred. In 2020 I made a special detour to this section of route 522 to take a photo of the sign; even though there are websites for historical markers, as part of my US Route project I want my own catalog of my experiences.

Burnt Cabins historical marker along route 522

If you look at the map above, you’ll see that 522 goes through Lewistown, PA, an area I wrote about in my search for Jacks Creek. My job search last September was in its final stages and I had a feeling I wouldn’t be driving through this part of the state again for quite some time. But instead of revisiting the exact same part of the creek, I exited the highway (322) early and drove up from the opposite direction, making a right turn onto Jacks Creek Lane. From there I tried to follow the creek northeast by making another right turn onto Back Maitland Road. Once on this road, however, I realized that the creek wasn’t going to be visible, except for an occasional suggestion of the landscape.

Notice how 522 runs roughly parallel to the creek!

I knew that I was driving further and further in the wrong direction, and since this was a spur of the moment decision, I had no destination plugged into my GPS to assist my sense of where I was. Another surprising discovery, however, was the location of Hartley’s Potato Chip factory! It seems like too much of a coincidence that I would stumble across the factory of my favorite regional potato chips while on a road following a creek in the middle of the state. Still, I kept driving. And then, all of a sudden, what do I see? A sign for 522! Back Maitland Road merges right into the route, and I felt relieved that at least now I would be able to orient myself. I drove on a few miles further, looking for a convenient place to stop and turn around, and found a gas station near the town of McClure.

A blue house across the street from the gas station in McClure, PA

To my dismay, though, I had no cell phone reception and no way of really knowing just how far I’d gone out of my way (in hindsight I could have asked the convenience store clerk). At least I knew that if I took 522 back the way I’d come and stayed on it, I would eventually connect with 322 and could make my way up to I-80. As I followed the route back I had my final surprise of the journey when I discovered that 522 crosses over Jacks Creek! My reflexes weren’t fast enough to make a sharp turn into a parking lot just after the bridge, but now I know what to do if I should ever find myself out that way again.

The last few times I’ve driven to Lancaster, both from Cleveland and now from my new home of Indianapolis, I see the sign on the turnpike for Fort Littleton, aka 522, and feel a certain kind of lure telling me that I should take the exit. I’ve yet to follow that urge, but there’s much more of the route to explore to the south and one day I’ll plan a road trip to include it.

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