Category Archives: Exploration

Plainsboro Preserve

McCormack Lake

The New Jersey Audubon’s Plainsboro Preserve is a real gem and one of my favorite local places for a quick escape from the daily grind. At one time this land was an active quarry, but now it is about 1,000 acres of protected natural habitat teeming with wildlife located in the suburban community of Plainsboro, New Jersey. If you live in central New Jersey and are looking for a nice place to spend an afternoon reconnecting with nature, the preserve is a great choice.

At the center of the Plainsboro Preserve is McCormack Lake. Several of the preserve’s trails provide views of the lake from different vantage points, including the popular Maggie’s Trail which is only about a quarter mile long but leads out onto a peninsula and provides nice views of the lake from all sides.

Plainsboro Preserve - Blue Trail

While it is not a challenging place to hike with its relatively mild terrain, the hiking is quite enjoyable nonetheless and if you are lucky you will see a variety of wildlife. There are multiple trails of varying lengths and most of them can be done as a circuit around the preserve. I have used RunKeeper to measure my hikes in the preserve and found that if I do all of the trails available it works out to about five miles.

The thing I enjoy most about the trails here is that they are all different lengths so I can customize my hike based on how much time I have. If I have a lot of time I will do them all but if I have only an hour or so to kill I might just stick to one or two of them.

Another nice thing is that all of the trails have their own distinctive feel. Some of the trails like red and green go through woods that are mostly old growth beech trees while the blue trail goes through a mixed growth forest with a lot of ferns and skunk cabbage covering the forest floor.

The Plainsboro Preserve is definitely a place to bring a camera. You never know what kind of wildlife you will encounter. I have been fortunate to see all sorts of animals though I am still holding out for the elusive river otters! You can see some of the photos I have taken at the preserve in my Plainsboro Preserve photo set at Flickr.


Mt. Tammany And Sunfish Pond

Mt. Tammany - view from summit.
Mt. Tammany – view from summit.

If you live in New Jersey and have not done the Mt. Tammany hike you have been missing out. This hike has it all – spectacular views, beautiful scenery, cascades (waterfalls), and is very easy to get to.

Simply put, this is one of the more enjoyable hikes in New Jersey.

To get there you want to take route 80 west- the parking area is less than a quarter mile from the Delaware river crossing. You will want to look for signs that say Dunnfield Creek Natural Area. The parking lots are literally right off the side of route 80 and hard to miss. If you park in the first lot the trail head starts with some stairs at the far end of the lot. In the second lot the trail head starts with stairs right near where you pull in.

The blaze for this part of the trail that ascends Mt. Tammany is a red dot which is typically painted on a white square. The ascent can be pretty rough if you are out of shape as you ascend pretty rapidly and there are a few rocky parts early on that can be a little steep.

Mt. Tammany and Sunfish Pond -  trails I followed
The red lines on this map show the trails I took.

I unfortunately did not keep track of distances to key points on the trail but ultimately that information is not too important as it will become obvious when you get to certain points of the trail.

There are two really amazing views on the red dot portion of this hike – one you will get to about half way up or so which looks out over the Delaware River and route 80 below and then the summit which has a beautiful view of the whole Delaware Water Gap.

The summit is a great place to stop for a bit, relax, eat and drink and just enjoy. Don’t expect to have it all to yourself. There is a chance you might but this spot is very popular and on the day I went there were five of us enjoying the summit.

Once you are ready to move on you will see the blue blazes. This is the trail that descends the mountain. There are parts where the descent is quite rocky and it can sometimes be wet so make sure you pay attention to your footing.

Forest along the blue trail

While not as spectacular as the views from the summit, the scenery along the blue trail is not too shabby either. There are some clearings that on a nice sunny day make for good break spots just to take it all in and enjoy the clean air. I found the diversity of foliage and the contour of the land on the descent to be enjoyable.

You will keep following this trail and as you get closer to the end of the blue trail you will hear water from one of the small cascades in the area. At this point the blue trail ends and you are now on the green trail where you will be in a beautiful location with cascades that makes for some nice photos.

Dunnfield Creek cascades.

This is another spot that I spent a bit of time in. Rested up, drank some, and just took it all in. This area around the cascades is absolutely gorgeous. I imagine on a really hot day that the ice cold water might be nice to take a dip in.

Once you leave this spot and go down the green trail a little bit you will come to the bridge that crosses Dunnfield Creek. Once you cross the bridge, here is where you decide if you want to go on a longer hike or not.

If you have had your fill of hiking, you will want to turn left and follow the white blaze of the Appalachian Trail all the way back to the parking area.

Should you choose to go on make a right and follow the white blaze of the Appalachian Trail as you ascend the Kittatinny Ridge. This part of the Appalachian Trail is deceptive because when you first get on it from the green trail it is a clear, flat dirt path with few rocks but once you ascend a bit there are a couple of switchbacks and it gets quite rocky in parts.

Appalachian Trail

This part of the hike is long but pleasant. The terrain changes around a lot, and the foliage is quite varied. Unfortunately again I did not measure specific distance per segment of the hike but I believe this part was the longest. Probably a few miles.

I followed the Appalachian Trail all the way until I got to Sunfish Pond – you will know when you get there since it is a pretty large body of water. Once I got to the pond I chose to go around the east side. It is not the Appalachian Trail on that side but there is some distance you can do on a fire road. I chose to stay near the shoreline. There can be some snakes around here so be careful of where you step as they do not appreciate you stepping on them. Nothing to really worry about – just need to be aware that they are there.

I hugged the shoreline until I met back up with the Appalachian Trail on the other side and continued on a bit until I decided to play it safe and turn around for the hike back as I wanted to make sure I got back to the parking lot while there was still adequate light in the woods.

My total hike ended up at a little over 12 miles and took me a good portion of the day but it was worth every minute.

Here are a few of the links I used as my guide when plotting out this hike:

Mt. Tammany – Delaware Water Gap
Sunfish Pond

Just remember to use your head. Don’t take on more than you are capable of and make sure you don’t take on an all-day hike like this without having some food and water with you. Most of all, enjoy!


My Tracks

Since having converted to the Cult of Android in May, I have been on the lookout for great, useful apps that enhance my experiences in some way. I am not one for installing any odd shit on my phone. Hell I think I still have less than 20 apps installed outside of the stock apps my phone came with.

My Tracks on Android - Map

One app that I had never heard of until a friend mentioned it is Google’s own My Tracks. In a word, this app is awesome.

I should also mention, My Tracks is also available for iPhone but I have not used it on that platform yet so my focus here is on the Android version.

In a nutshell, the app can record your movement, or “tracks” using GPS and then allows you to share the map on Google Maps for others to see (or not.)

When you record your track, you can set markers for landmarks or points of interest along the way. So for example, say you take a hike in the woods and find something really cool like an old abandoned car, you can tag that spot with a marker and give it a description and it will be easier for others to find.

This functionality has made it a useful app for geocaching and some folks are even using it to track locations of shipwrecks.

Google My Tracks on Android - Stats View

Another use for this application is for fitness – runners, walkers, bikers etc.

While not explicitly designed for runners like Nike+, using Google’s My Tracks app does not require any special sensors or special shoes since it relies on a GPS signal to plot it’s data. And it is hard to beat the price as My Tracks is free.

The screenshot to the left shows a stats view from a track I recorded walking around Plainsboro Preserve. It shows distance traveled, time, pace etc all interesting. It also shows elevation statistics such as high, low, gain etc. Unfortunately though from researching that aspect it seems that GPS accuracy is less than ideal.

I have been using the app quite a bit just walking/jogging to see how my pace is compared to a previous time. I can keep multiple track recordings on my Android phone to compare information and determine if I am making any improvement in my pace and with some basic math figure out an estimate of calories burned if I wanted to.

My Tracks Android App - Share Track Screen

A cool feature I mentioned briefly above is the ability to share the track you recorded. Say you went for an off-the-trail hike in the woods, found some nice sights and wanted your friends to be able to re-trace your path? Well you can have the app send the track via email to your friends, or share it to Google’s own Google Maps service and from there set the map to public or private. Sadly no option to save it to any third-party sites such as Facebook or Twitter, though I suppose there might be a reason for that.

Here is an uploaded track I recorded on Google Maps.

On the map you will notice I set some markers such as “Maggie’s Trail” – every time you set a marker on the mobile My Tracks app it also stores metadata on the cell phone signal quality, carrier, tower etc. Most likely not too interesting to you unless you are a pretty hardcore geek (which some of us are lol.)

Google Map created by My Tracks Android App

There are probably other uses I will figure out over time, but as it is now this is quite a useful and fun app.

Definitely worth a download from the Android Market .


Lost & Found: The Pool at Cliffwood Beach

Antique linen post card of the Cliffwood Beach Pool

A couple of years ago I met a guy online who was working on a book (he is still working on as far as I know) about the rise and fall of the New Jersey shore communities throughout the twentieth century. Through our conversation I mentioned how I grew up in one of the small shore towns, Cliffwood Beach, and we got into talking about the resort destination it apparently once was.

The thought of Cliffwood Beach as a resort community was always beyond me. Through my childhood years there it always seemed to me like just your typical middle-class blue-collar family town. Sure, we had beaches but not many would go swimming in the bay being that it was so polluted. And there really was not much to do down at the beach other than look across at New York or set off illegal fireworks.

But the fact is that throughout the 1950’s Cliffwood Beach was a popular resort community on the NJ shore. It featured a board walk, a saltwater swimming pool, a restaurant, and some amusements. Every summer people throughout the area would gather to enjoy their beautiful summer days at this Raritan Bay community.

This came to an abrupt end in September 1960 when Hurricane Donna came ripping through and pretty much erased the resort area off the map.

I remember hearing stories from family members about the pool and the boardwalk, and the restaurant etc but there was pretty much no trace it ever existed other the stories that were passed down. I had been all over the town as a kid and up and down the length of the beach. Yet still nothing.

Cliffwood Beach Piers

Last summer (2008) I decided to go back to my childhood stomping grounds to see if I could find anything that would give me clues to the town’s history as a resort. I really did not see anything other than some old wood from piers (pictured on left) which may or may not have been part of the boardwalk. Still working on determining that.

Despite my best efforts though, I could not determine where the pool was. People I had spoke to told me the general location of where to find it but no dice. A few teens I talked to down at the beach were not much help either.

Cliffwood Beach as seen on Google Earth

On a whim I decided to look at some aerial views via Google Earth and almost immediately something jumped out at me – a wooded rectangular area right near the beach. (Highlighted in image to the left – click to enlarge.)

What made this location fitting was its proximity to the Green Acres park which apparently was built in the aftermath of the hurricane.

Cliffwood Beach Pool grown in

Unfortunately due to being too busy, it has been almost a year, but I FINALLY managed to make a return trip to Cliffwood. I set out right for the rectangular area in the Google Earth aerial and the image to the left is what greeted me. For being so close to the beach it was actually quite grown in with mature growth – trees, plants, etc.

Cliffwood Beach Pool grown in

Once I walked up the sandy path a little more to get closer to the overgrown area I immediately saw this aqua-colored outline of what was probably the top edge of the concrete outer wall of the pool. The paint was peeling, but surprisingly intact considering it has been almost 50 years since this pool last saw any use.

Cliffwood Beach Pool wall closeup

Here is a closer view of the top of the wall. As you can see, the color is quite bright and hard not to notice. Once I looked in the right area, the remains of this swimming pool were actually quite easy to find, though I think if you walked by this area regularly you probably would not have any idea unless you were specifically looking for it. The pool itself seems to be completely filled in with soil or sand, and is completely overgrown with vegetation. I am not sure if this was just a natural occurrence or if done by the town to avoid having to deal with it. Either way, it is quite hidden and it was pretty cool to find it.