The idea of a lost valley – a valley where extinct animals still roam – has been a fascination of many authors and filmmakers over the years. Looking at my bookcase, some of my favorite novels involved these lost worlds: Journey to the Center of the Earth (Jules Verne), The Lost World (Arthur Conan Doyle), and The Land That Time Forgot (Edgar Rice Burroughs).
Do lost valleys still exist in a modern world where satellite imagery shows us our surroundings in detail? The obvious answer is no, nothing is truly hidden from us in this modern age.
However, according to Henry Shoemaker, a lost valley does exist in the mountains of central Pennsylvania. Recorded in South Mountain Sketches, “The Lost Valley” tells the story of this mysterious valley filled with animals which history records as being extinct. Like many of the stories I grew up reading, the mysterious valley is not easily found – it is usually found by accident, by a hiker or hunter who is lost in the mountains. According to Shoemaker, this lost valley is located in the upper tributaries of Lick Run, a mountain stream which empties into White Deer Creek in Union County.
While I question a lot of Shoemaker’s writings, there is something about this story that is different than most. Instead of immediately jumping into a highly romanticized story, Shoemaker begins this story by stating he was on his third trip into the tributaries of Lick Run in his attempt to find this lost valley. While he likens the valley to legends of the lost valleys in the Alps, Shoemaker’s approach to this story makes me think this one may not have originated completely from his imagination or adapted from European lore.
Shoemaker reports two reasons for his motivation to find this lost valley. The first event that happened was a local boy named Smith had killed a beaver in one of the tributaries of Lick Run around 1903. Shoemaker wanted to see the beavers, their dam and pond for himself because this was the first beaver reported on the waters of White Deer Creek since the late 1880s.
The second thing that fueled Shoemaker’s curiosity was the legend of a lost valley. The Smith boy reported “he had looked out across a valley which teemed with every animal and bird known in that section of Pennsylvania in the olden clays, the trees being filled with passenger pigeons in such numbers that they appeared blue.” After Smith reported his find, numerous explorers and hunters invaded the gap at Lick Run in search of the mysterious valley. Despite the searches no one discovered it, or the beaver dam which was key to uncovering the location of the lost valley.
Shoemaker himself went in search of this mysterious valley, but was only rewarded with views of the White Deer Valley from atop the mountain.
Rather than stopping there with his report, Shoemaker had to add his own story about the lost valley. The story, which Shoemaker claims to have come from one of his guides during his third trip to discover the valley, involved a young lady known as Hazel Hawk. Hazel was the niece of lumberman Adam Hawk, who had camps along Lick Run and White Deer Creek. Hazel and her mother arrived at her uncle’s camp after her father – Adam’s brother – was killed in a logging accident.
According to Shoemaker, while staying with her uncle, Hazel met a young lumberman who was working along White Deer Run. Unfortunately, her mother did not approve of the relationship and the two lovers met in secret.
Late one fall, Hazel set out to gather chestnuts on the ridge and while there, she was surprised by the young man. The afternoon passed quickly for the young lovers and as the sun began to set, Hazel began her trip back down the mountainside.
As shadows covered the land, Hazel lost the trail. In her wanderings, she discovered another trail which she followed believing it was the trail she needed to take to get home. Instead, the trail led her to a large beaver pond surrounded by gigantic gum trees. Hazel crossed on the breast of the natural dam and continued on the trail she believed was taking her home. Instead, Hazel came to a large, fog obscured valley from which only the tops of pine trees protruded.
Completely lost, Hazel lay down on the ground and quickly fell asleep. When she arose the next morning, the fog had lifted and Hazel stared at the scene before her. The valley was a mixture of forests and natural meadows. From the sides of the valley, several waterfalls watered the valley and beavers had created a series of pools used by the wildlife of the valley. As she watched, she was amazed at the wildlife in the valley – woodland buffalo, moose, elk, deer, panthers, wolves, and many other animals were thriving in this remote wilderness. Birds of all sort, including golden and bald eagles, hawks, and Carolina parrots flew among the gigantic white pines sprouting up from the valley floor.
After spending all day watching the valley from her vantage point, Hazel settled down to sleep once again. The following morning, she continuing watching the wildlife in the valley below until mid-afternoon when she left to find her way home. She retraced her steps, found the beaver pond and followed the waters until she found Lick Run. As night was beginning to cover the land once again, Hazel was discovered by searchers.
When questioned about where she had been, Hazel told the tale of the lost valley and many of the lumberman went off to find it with no luck.
It would be fifty years later when the Smith boy brought in a beaver that he had killed along Lick Run, when Shoemaker would take interest in the lost valley . If Shoemaker took any other interest in the lost valley, he never records it in any of his writings.
Does a lost valley exist in the mountains of central Pennsylvania? While my mind screams “No,” I would like to believe a valley untouched by humans still exists. However, maybe like the mythical Brigadoon, the lost valley rests hidden in time and space and only when the stars align and the fog lifts can it be seen by those lost in the mountains.