Watching the Warblers at Watchung

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One of the trailheads for the History Trail at Watchung Reservation, near the Trailside Nature and Science Center.

Well, now, trail heads, you’ve probably been wondering where your trail head in chief has been this winter.

I wish I could tell you that I was off on a long-distance hike in Australia or South America, or perhaps off on a mountain-climbing expedition in the Rockies or the Pyrenees.

But the truth of the matter is, between some ghastly weather in New Jersey this winter, a transition into a new job and not one but two graduate school classes this winter and spring, my hiking time has been severely curtailed. And by extension, so has my blogging time.

This weekend, having finally caught up on some things, I packed up my water bottle, binoculars and copy of “Birds of Eastern North America” and headed someplace I’ve not hiked yet: Watchung Reservation in Union County.

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Old Croton Aqueduct Trail, Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, NY

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One of the QR-code signposts found along the Old Croton Aqueduct.

I’m always joking that if Washington Irving wrote the Legend of Sleepy Hollow today, Brom Bones would never be able to ride down from Ossining in time for the Van Tassels’ party because he’d be stuck in traffic on Broadway.

Now, the Old Croton Aqueduct trail, on the other hand, just up the hill from Tarrytown’s business district…you can definitely imagine the Headless Horseman barreling through here. Yes, never mind that the aqueduct, now the Old Croton Aqueduct State Historic Park, was built quite a bit after Irving’s time. Today, instead of water, it carries walkers, hikers, bikers, and on certain sections of the trail, horseback riders. And yours truly got to check out the trail – long an item on my hiking to-do list – during a weekend outing with the family back in November.

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Down By the River: Liberty State Park and Hoboken, NJ

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View of lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty from the riverfront promenade in Liberty State Park.

Got a bit of a city hike to share with you…well, more like a city bike ride. If you’ll follow me, I’m going to take you down to a certain spot on the Hudson River in Jersey City. It’s a place with lots of bike trails, lots of sea breezes, and lots of history.

Not to mention a certain lady in a green dress standing on a rock right in the middle of New York Harbor.

You know who I’m talking about.

Lady Liberty just had a birthday not too long ago – and I think we may say that she’s still looking pretty darn good.

And this place of which I refer is Liberty State Park. Continue reading

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Happy birthday to the NPS!

IMG_5438Just a short – but very sweet – post tonight. Today marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

I’ve been to parks with awesome sea views (Acadia National Park, and the Assateague and Cape Cod National Seashores), not to mention under-the-sea views (the underwater trail in Virgin Islands National Park). There’s the park not too far from me that makes learning about the Revolutionary War more fun (Morristown National Historic Park).

And then there’s the one with the giant hole in the ground – you might have heard of it? The Grand Canyon National Park?

As part of the centennial activities, the NPS have launched Find Your Park, a campaign to get people out to enjoy their local national parks. On the NPS website, there’s a function where you can punch in where you live, and the site bring up national parks in your area.

I’ve visited a fair number of parks on the list, but there’s a lot more that I want to visit – so I need to get trip planning. Shenandoah, perhaps, or Yosemite? Or Denali – for like many others, I am smitten by the adorable pups in the Canine Rangers.

Happy birthday, NPS, and here’s to another 100 years or more.

For further reading:

NPS Centennial: Find Your Park, centennial activities, and much more.

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A three-legged rock, a birds’ nest and a visit with Lucy: Pyramid Mountain Natural Historic Area

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Tripod Rock, a glacial erratic consisting of a giant boulder perched atop three smaller rocks, is one of the most popular natural features on Pyramid Mountain.

How has Tripod Rock not fallen over after all these years?

That was my first thought upon coming across said natural feature at the top of Pyramid Mountain. And if you’ve ever visited Tripod Rock, that has doubtless been one of your first thoughts as well.

That is exactly what it is: a giant boulder perched atop three smaller boulders, deposited there millennia ago by a moving glacier during the Ice Age. The technical term for it, as I understand, is a glacial erratic. And there it has stood, weathering the ravages of time, storms and probably more than one would-be-vandal.

I actually saw a couple of kids and parents who were gutsy enough to go crawling around in the space underneath the main boulder, all the better for taking selfies. I myself would be a bit squeamish about having that much tonnage of rock directly above me.

So, Erin, you may ask, tell me more about where I might find this mammoth Mesozoic monstrosity? Well, sit ye down, children, and I’ll tell you all about it – and some other cool features besides.

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Everything’s coming up wildflowers: Replanting a trail at Bear Mountain

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The new sign for the Trails for People exhibit behind Bear Mountain Inn.

This is a public service announcement from your esteemed blogger-in-chief.

If you’re going to put in new hedging around your house, do NOT plant barberry. Please. Your friendly neighborhood invasive species removal crews will be eternally grateful. (Besides, a couple of states have made it illegal to plant barberry, because it’s such a nuisance of a plant.)

There.

As many of you probably know, it was National Trails Day on Saturday, June 4. I’d joined the Invasive Species Task Force from the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference up at Bear Mountain-Harriman State Park in just-barely-upstate-New York the year before. We’d spent an energetic – albeit prickly  – morning removing barberry bushes, a shrub once popular for hedging but now deemed an invasive species, hence the PSA. I was game to try again – and crews would be planting some native species plants along the now barberry-free slope.

My mom was up for a visit and she was game to join in, so Saturday morning found us making the amble up the Palisades Interstate Parkway.

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This one’s for the birds: Forays into birdwatching

I like learning new skills to bring with me when I’m out hiking – how to box a compass, how to recognize different kinds of plants, how to geocache.

And now, your blogger-in-chief is taking an interest in birdwatching.

Some bird watchers are experts; I am of the “I can recognize robins, cardinals and finches, but for anything else I have to go looking through the guidebook” level of birdwatching skill.

Why do so many people enjoy birdwatching?

Birds are beautiful (though some might beg to differ in the case of, say, a vulture), often entertaining, and most importantly, vital to a functioning ecosystem. Basically, if you don’t have birds, then you’ve got a serious problem. After all, that’s where Rachel Carson got the title for “Silent Spring;” she noticed, one day, that there weren’t any birds singing. And birdwatching gives you a sense of how many of what kinds of species there are.

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Down By the River: Riverwalk Trails, Hartford, CT

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Walking along the Yellow Trail along the Connecticut River’s west bank, looking south toward Hartford’s downtown area.

Well, trail heads, your blogger-in-chief has been a little bit AWOL these last few weeks, mainly because of grad school responsibilities, work (what else is new) and an academic conference: the Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA) spring convention up in Hartford. But fear not, oh gentle readers, for your blogger-in-chief had her (mental) hiking boots on.

In between conferencing (and wondering just how many times a sane person can use “trope” and “palimpsest” in a sentence), there was time for some outdoors stuff, including checking out some of the Riverwalk walking trails down along the Connecticut River.

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A Mountaintop Perch: Eagle Rock Reservation, Essex County, NJ

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The green trail will take you past this brook along the western edge of the reservation.

Here in the burbs of northern New Jersey, you’d probably expect that it’s hard to find a decent patch of woods in which to go hiking. But thankfully, we have a few such patches, including one that is literally up the hill from me.

Eagle Rock Reservation is perched high up on the ridge of the First Watchung, straddling the town lines of Montclair, Verona and West Orange. Like South Mountain Reservation down in Millburn, Eagle Rock is under the aegis of the Essex County Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs.

We finally got a weekend where the temperatures weren’t bone-chillingly freezing, or that it was either raining or snowing cats and dogs. So I spent that Sunday afternoon treating myself to a few hours of light hiking.

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Sugaring Sap and Syrup in the Snowy Swamp: Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center, Chatham, NJ

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The view from the wildlife observation deck off the orange trail at the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center.

I always figured that Vermont and Canada had pretty much cornered the market on maple syrup. Which is pretty much the case. But New Jersey has a maple sugaring season, too – granted, around here it’s much shorter than it is to the north.

I learned a few things about maple sugaring in late January, when I headed down to the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center in Chatham for a short group hike and a maple sugaring demo.

The center, near where Essex, Union and Morris counties come together, is part of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.

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