Thursday, May 8, 2014

Three New Jersey Walks

(the Palisades Park trail begins on this historic road)

Thomas called days before we were to visit him and Marlie in Jersey City, and said, "What do you want to do when you're here?"  My answer is always the same, "Take us somewhere in New Jersey that we've never been to before."  This is an easy request, because Bill and I have hardly been anywhere in New Jersey.

In the past few years, we've gone to interesting bars, delicious restaurants, bakeries, apple farms, and city parks in New Jersey.  We have also been to amazing natural areas that are filled with history and beauty.

This past March, Thomas drove us to Palisades Interstate Park for a hike.  Entering the park, high above the river, and rounding ever-descending horseshoe bends to river level, we parked at Alpine Landing. The Landing was once an active place of commerce, near a break in the cliffs, where merchants with wagons pulled by oxen could meet arriving trade ships. 

(views of the rugged Palisades and the Hudson River abound)

As soon as we started up the trail, we passed a large stone commemorating the unsuccessful attempt by British Commander Cornwallis to intercept George Washington, using this trail, on his way to Trenton, during the Revolution.

Marlie, Thomas, Bill, and I planned to make an entire loop of five miles--up to the top, across the plateau, down to the Hudson River, and along the shoreline back to the car. Although I had seen the rocky cliffs of the Palisades many times from the train on the east side of the river, hiking both above and below the cliffs was a new adventure. Once we reached  the plateau, we were rewarded with views of the Hudson north and south for miles. "With rock like this," I said, "we should see an eagle."

(Cliff Dale house foundation)

 As we traversed the flat top of the ridge, we began to notice overgrown paths, foundation remains, and plantings from cultivated gardens of long ago. I was fascinated by the paths and walkways that emerged from the forest floor. We speculated that they originated from bygone luxurious homes of the wealthy that would have dotted this high promontory.  Eventually, we stumbled upon a huge foundation. 

(a graceful stairway from long ago)

Later, at home, I read that these remains had belonged to Cliff Dale, the mansion of George Zabriskie, who made a name for himself as a representative for Pillsbury flour.  Although Palisades Interstate Park was first begun in 1900, the building of the George Washington Bridge in 1931 prompted John D. Rockefeller Jr. to buy up properties to add to the park, as assurance against development that he knew would come with easy access across the bridge to Manhattan.  When he donated the land to the park commission, Rockefeller required that all structures be razed, and Cliff Dale fell.

(Cliff Dale Manor, 1911-1939, note the foundation in front)

After hiking a couple of miles along the plateau, we made an abrupt descent on numerous switchbacks to the river.  "You would think we would see an eagle," I said.

At the river's edge, the water, at high tide, made the soothing lapping sound of waves hitting the rocks.

(Thomas begins the steep descent to the river)

(The Lower Hudson, up close and personal!)

 We walked and chatted, and then Marlie called out, "An eagle!"  "Mom! An eagle!" Thomas echoed, making sure I didn't miss it.  Above the trees, the large dark bird with white head and tail soared. As if the history, the mansion ruins, the walk in the woods with my family, and the peaceful shoreline walk along the Hudson River were not enough, the eagle made my day.  We watched it fly out toward the water and then back over the cliffs and out of sight.

(the trail continues just above and alongside the river)

A couple of years ago, Bill and I also drove south in March for a New Jersey weekend.  Visiting in late winter is appealing, because it's almost spring in New Jersey, and still winter at home in Albany.  And it's a time when our children can more easily fit us into their hectic work schedules.

That time, we visited DeKorte Park, part of the New Jersey Meadowlands in Lyndhurst.  The history here is fascinating.  This park is reclaimed from 300 years as a riverside garbage dump.  Now it's a showplace with an observatory and a center for Environmental Studies.  It is also an important bird watching area as part of the Atlantic flyway.

(Meredith and Marlie enjoy this "please touch" turtle exhibit!)

Trails over one-lane dirt roads and board walks crisscross the waterways and park perimeters.  Signage tells us what we might observe at various locations.

(DeKorte museum and environmental center on stilts over the water)
(the Jersey Turnpike and Manhattan beyond)

As we walked farther out on the trails, we could hear traffic noise from the New Jersey turnpike.  Rather than taking away from our experience, the sound only heightened our awareness of how the urban and the natural can co-exist if given a chance.

(the area is restored with native plantings)

When we returned to the parking area, we saw trailheads edged by daffodils, leading to the hill nearby. As extraordinary as reclaiming the marsh had been, this garden that covered part of a modern-day landfill, today's garbage solution, also completely intrigued us.  We were fascinated by the ecological success of a once-destroyed tidal mud flat.

(Trail up the landfill garden.  The landfill's liner is made from 400,000 recycled soda bottles.)

Last year, I drove down to New Jersey in March by myself. When I arrived, Thomas said, "I thought we'd go to Paterson.  There's a waterfall there."  With Marlie at work, just Thomas and I headed out for the day.

We parked within feet of a huge statue of Alexander Hamilton, a good sign that early history was made here.  A walkway led us above the 77-foot high Great Falls of the Passaic River, part of the Paterson Great Falls National Historic Park.

In 1792, Hamilton set up an investment group to fund the creation of America's first planned industrial city. While many different mills were built, silk manufacture dominated, and Paterson became known as the "silk city." We could imagine that anyone coming upon the power of this waterfall would see great potential for industry.

(the walkway made it possible for us to look down on the waterfalls)
We walked across to the far side, observing the falls from every angle, and then went back to the car.  There was little else to do in the neighborhood, after we had explored the historic park, and, anyway, Thomas had researched another park for us to visit in Paterson.

Up and up on residential streets, we drove, until we reached roads that wound through the woods of  expansive Garret Mountain Reservation. We parked near a castle and observation tower once owned by a wealthy silk manufacturer.  Since we had just seen the Great Falls, we knew all about local silk manufacturing!  Trails headed in two directions; we picked one that led out across the ridge.

(Thomas sits on the ridge overlooking Paterson, with the Manhattan skyline beyond)

A pervasive quiet was only broken by bird calls. How amazing to be able to look down on such urban views from this point of solitude.

At times the path became rubbly with black volcanic basalt, which could be treacherous underfoot. Eventually, we came to an equestrian center, still within the reservation, and then we turned back, retracing our steps past all the peaceful bluffs we had seen on the way in.  I thought that, if I lived in densely populated Paterson, I would try to come to this oasis as often as possible.

(volcanic basalt lies under the grass on this ridge)

It's fun to explore new places, and, at the end of the day when we're back at their apartment, Thomas always prepares a delicious dinner for us, and Marlie, creates a gourmet dessert. This is one great getaway package deal!