Thursday, July 21, 2016

What’s so great about an urban Appalachian mountain?
To be fair, Pittsburgh’s Mount Washington, formerly called Coal Hill (elev. 1157 feet), seemed every inch a mountain to a kid. The immigrants who trudged up precipitous winding paths from factories to their homes atop Coal Hill’s bluffs must have agreed. And they were no doubt too exhausted to enjoy the view—and what a view!

Best seen from Mount Washington, Pittsburgh’s skyline, long delivered from shrouds of coal smoke, is celebrated for what USA Weekend (May 18, 2003) named “the most beautiful vista in America.” Why? The Point. The Golden Triangle. The Three Rivers: Allegheny and Monongahela converging to form the Ohio. The Mount offers three options for viewing: standing, sitting, or riding.

Just stand on any observation deck. Look at all three rivers and the artfully designed bridges. Note the motor traffic, like toy vehicles fit for Christmas train villages. In good weather hundreds of boats: speed, sail, and pleasure, including the huge paddle-wheelers, stir up rolling waves that catch the light and lap the shores. Take your time. It’s free.  

For food with that view go to any restaurant on Grandview Avenue, say the venerable Le Mont or newer Vue 412. Sit. Eat. Drink and soak in the sight of steel, aluminum, and glass skyscrapers glittering in the sun. At night the lights from the Point reflect on the waters to create an urban fairyland. Watch headlights cross the Fort Pitt or Liberty Street Bridges and disappear into the Fort Pitt Tunnel or Liberty Tubes. Those towering buildings create their own illuminated magic. As you take your last sip of wine and reach for your check, you know this particular view is not free, but who cares?

Riding while viewing is the most fun. The first choice is old-world romantic and harkens back weary German immigrants, longing for the inclines of their homeland. Take either the Monongahela or the Duquesne inclines, “the oldest continuous inclines in the world” (Wikipedia) for unhurried mobile joy. The down Duquesne Incline delivers riders at Station Square, great for shopping and dining. Try the poached salmon with a dessert of black pepper-dusted gigantic strawberries. No kidding, the incline adventure up and down Mt. Washington can’t be beat—or can it?

It doesn’t matter if you drive from Wild, Wonderful West Virginia or fly into Pittsburgh’s International Airport—from anywhere—and continue through the green hills of southwestern Pennsylvania. Approaching the Point from the Fort Pitt Tunnel is the best. In fact, the New York Times claimed it “the best way to enter an American city" (Wikipedia). Watch The Perks of Being a Wallflower to see the high the under-the-mountain trek gives three teens as they drive their convertible through the Tunnel. Then check out Phil Cynar’s September 12, 2012, article: “Fort Pitt Tunnel Scene Thrills Emma Watson (with Video Link).”

The approach to Pittsburgh from the southwest seems quite ordinary. Whiz past former farmland converted to massive professional palaces that link shopping and lodging complexes: urban sprawl par excellence. And traffic: thousands of vehicles (according to Wikipedia,107,000/day: in/out) jockey for position before the Big Merge into two lanes heading into the Tunnel. Roar ahead for 0.684 miles, surrounded by white tiled walls and thunderous traffic. Yes, it’s lit. Just enough. Just enough to make your burst into the light at the end of the tunnel spectacular.

The light seems a far distant dream. Then you exit, voila! A vision: green Point Park, its fountain in full force; shining skyscrapers; golden bridges over glistening rivers; the Gateway Clipper fleet with their churning red paddle wheels making white-capped waves.
What can beat barreling under a mountain to be forever awed by that view?