“Do you have anything special planned for your one hundredth post?” my wife asked me while looking at the statistics for my blog. One hundred posts. It seems like only yesterday that I started this blog to try to capture some of the road trip adventures I take throughout the year. Trips to 15 states. Over 60,000 miles of driving. Journeys to the top of Mt. Washington and across the Delaware Bay. To the Honda Heritage Center in Marysville, Ohio. To Assateague Island, Virginia. To Cape May. And Cape Cod. To frozen waterfalls in New Jersey and Minnesota. To diners, restaurants, food trucks, and pancake breakfasts. To battlefields and battleships. To retro video game arcades. To museums, sporting events, rodeos, and miniature villages. It has been an amazing ride.
Fortunately, my wife had a suggestion that would be worthy of the one hundredth post… the
Lighthouse Challenge of New Jersey. For nineteen years, the lighthouses of New Jersey have worked together to create a two-day challenge: participants visit every lighthouse in New Jersey. This event, held in October, raises money for the upkeep of the lighthouses, many of which are now used as museums and historic sites. From Sandy Hook to Barnegat to Cape May Light, the challenge encourages you to visit all twelve remaining lighthouses in the Garden State. Would we be successful? Would we give up? Would obstacles thwart us from reaching our goal? Read on to find out!
The official map for the Lighthouse Challenge of NJ.
Our adventure began before 8:00 am on a rainy Saturday morning!
At 8:47 am, we arrived at Sandy Hook Lighthouse. The oldest operating lighthouse in the United States, Sandy Hook was featured in a previous post.
And we encountered our first issue of the day… we were not expecting so many people to be taking part in the challenge! We waited almost thirty minutes to enter the lighthouse.
In the Visitor Center, we purchased a Lighthouse Passport book and also a special deck of playing cards (not pictured). At each lighthouse, you get your passport stamped and also receive a playing card. Each deck is missing 13 cards – you pick up a card at each stop of the challenge. You have completed the challenge when you have completed your deck. At Sandy Hook, we received the Ace of Hearts.
Our next stop was the Twin Lights of Navesink. Located in Highlands, New Jersey, the two lighthouses were built in 1862 on a hillside 250 feet above Sandy Hook Bay. We arrived at 9:38 am. Upon arrival, we received the Nine of Hearts.
One of the fresnel lenses from the Twin Lights, on display in the museum. The lens itself is 9 1/2 feet in diameter and weights over ten tons.
While the north tower of Twin Lights can be climbed year round, the South Tower is only open for special occasions, so of course that was the one we chose! And of course there are open stairs… the first of many more such staircases to come. Gulp.
The modest 64-step climb to the top was well worth it, however. The view was spectacular!
Due to the number of guests, we were limited in our time at the top, but I managed to snag this panorama to try to capture the view.
We next arrived at Sea Girt Lighthouse at 10:52 am. Built in 1896, Sea Girt operated until 1945. It was the last lighthouse built on the east coast of the United States with the light integrated into the lighthouse keeper’s home. Here we added the Three of Hearts.
The lighthouse has operated as a museum since 1981. It was restored to appear as it would have in the early 20th century. Interesting fact: Sea Girt’s third lighthouse keeper was a woman – Harriet Yates, who took on the job when her husband died.
After a hectic morning, it was time for a lunch break! We chose Scojo’s Eatery in Surf City, NJ. The menu looked promising – there was a lot of variety, and many gluten-free options were available.
My wife ordered an omelette with turkey bacon, spinach, and Monterey Jack cheese. Home fries and gluten-free bread completed the meal.
I went with the far less healthy, although totally delicious, option of a cheeseburger and fries. The burger was served on a pretzel bun (which was amazing), and the fries were terrific. Full and happy, we headed north, up Long Beach Island, toward our next destination…
We arrived at Barnegat Lighthouse at 1:08 pm, where we received the Jack of Hearts for our deck.
Built in 1859, the 165-foot tall lighthouse towers over the northern end of Long Beach Island.
Despite the rainy start, conditions continued to improve as the day went on.
A bit of drama with another lighthouse further down the coast (to be discussed later) meant that instead of the usual 13 destinations, there would only be 12. So the organizers of the challenge added a new destination this year: the Barnegat Light Museum. We received the Two of Spades at the museum, which is less than a half mile from the lighthouse parking lot.
At first, I was a little cynical about the museum – from the outside, it was small and the entrance area was cramped. Entering it however, proved a fascinating opportunity to learn about seafaring off the New Jersey coast. This is the original fresnel lens from Barnegat Light.
In the days before modern commercial fishing trawlers, fishermen had to use their knowledge of fish and the ocean to make their living. These fishing nets would be placed along the coast at night, and in the morning fishermen would return to their nets to bring in the evening catch, full of fish who had swum into the nets and been trapped.
In the backyard of the museum was a tar pot. Tar would be brought to a boil in the brick pot, and then nets would be submerged in the tar to insulate the netting from the harsh effects of salt water.
The town’s original post office has been rebuilt in the museum. Some of the post office boxes still have mail in them – a nice touch!
Departing from Barnegat, we arrived at Tucker’s Beach Lighthouse at 2:14 pm, where we received the Six of Hearts.
The building is a recreation, built in the year 2000. The original Tucker’s Beach Lighthouse tumbled into the Atlantic Ocean during a storm in the 1920’s. The collapse was captured by a photographer and the photos are displayed in the museum.
I did enjoy the map of New Jersey’s lighthouses that filled most of the floor of the museum. We did a “selfie” by Tucker’s Island.
The view from the top of Tucker’s Island Lighthouse. It is part of Tuckerton Seaport & Museum, a recreation of a historic seaport. Honestly, I was unimpressed. It is overpriced, and many of the exhibits were unstaffed. It costs $10 per person to enter and walk around the seaport museum… money better spent elsewhere. This would be the only destination on the trip I would recommend against visiting.
Maybe the highlight of Tuckerton Seaport… whoever organized the Halloween decorations at the museum was certainly a fan of Stephen King’s It.
At 3:15 pm, we arrived at Absecon Lighthouse. Located north of Atlantic City, New Jersey, Absecon is the tallest lighthouse in the state. Construction was overseen by Civil War hero General George Meade. Meade, who commanded Union forces at the battle of Gettysburg, also oversaw the construction of Barnegat Lighthouse and Cape May Lighthouse. We received the Queen of Hearts here.
There are 228 stairs climbing to the top of the 171-foot tall tower. Of course we climbed it! And of course there are open stairs… again. Sigh.
Not all of Absecon Lighthouse was built in America. The base of the lens was assembled in Paris.
The view from the top. The Ocean casino is visible to the right.
We took a few minutes to enjoy the ocean air at the top of the lighthouse before heading down, and onto our next destination…
At 4:31 pm, we stopped at US Life Saving Station 30 in Ocean City, where we received the Four of Clubs. The station only reopened in July of this year after almost a decade of restoration work.
US Life Saving Station 30 was one of 42 such stations in New Jersey (which had the most stations of any state in the US). These stations, which were dotted along the coast, existed to rescue survivors of shipwrecks. The United States Life Saving Service later evolved into what we know today as the US Coast Guard.
The station has been painstakingly restored to appear as it would have in 1915.
Every item in the house is either from the early 20th century or an accurate reproduction.
With dinner reservations at 7:00 pm, we had time to catch the sunset in Cape May at Sunset Beach, New Jersey.
The view at the end of the sunset was spectacular. The shipwreck of the concrete ship SS Atlantus is visible in the distance on the right.
At 6:32 pm, with twenty eight minutes before our dinner reservation, we swung by the Cape May Lighthouse, where we received the Ten of Hearts for our efforts.
Built in 1859, Cape May Lighthouse rises to a height of 157.5 feet. It’s light can be seen up to 24 miles out at sea. The Lighthouse Challenge is one of the only times when these lighthouses can be entered after dark.
Reservations for 7:00 pm at Menz Restaurant in Rio Grande, NJ for a very special dining experience.
Haunted dining! A yearly tradition, diners at Menz can enjoy their meal inside a restaurant that has been transformed into a haunted house.
We passed this assemblage of ghouls on the way to our table.
This gentleman was hanging out behind our table.
Despite the decorations, the food remains outstanding. I ordered the BBQ grilled salmon, while my wife got the broiled seafood platter – lobster tail, scallops, shrimp stuffed with crab meat, and salmon.
We stayed the night at my family’s shore house in Cape May. Overnight, it rained and beginning at midnight, the area was subject to a warning for gale-force winds. I created this short video to show the difference between Saturday evening and Sunday morning:
We prepared for another day of lighthouse adventures with breakfast at Uncle Bill’s Pancake House in North Cape May. Uncle Bill’s has been ahead of its time for a while: for instance, almost every type of pancake and waffle can be made gluten-free upon request.
At 9:46 am, we arrived at Tatham Life Saving Station in Stone Harbor. We received the Four of Spades here. Built in 1871, it is the oldest building in Stone Harbor.
A US Life Saving Service Lifeboat. Imagine venturing out in the Atlantic Ocean on a morning such as today, in five foot waves, in an open rowboat, to rescue shipwreck survivors? The Life Saving Service’s motto was “You have to go out, but you don’t have to come back.”
The station also houses an impressive museum of artifacts from the First and Second World War.
We climbed to the top of the station, and were treated to a nice view of the early morning sunshine.
We left Tatham at 10:02 am and departed the Atlantic Coast of New Jersey for the lighthouses of the Delaware Bay and the Delaware River. Our third-to-last stop was East Point Lighthouse.
We arrived at East Point Lighthouse at 10:50 am and received the King of Hearts. Built in 1849, East Point’s design strongly influenced how many lighthouses on the Pacific coast were built. It is the second oldest lighthouse in the state. It is located in a remote, undeveloped area of New Jersey: access to it means bumping down an unpaved dirt road.
As we toured the lighthouse, we met a member of the Friends of Hereford Inlet Lighthouse of North Wildwood. Originally a stop on the Challenge, the Friends of Hereford Ligthhouse are locked in a bitter dispute with the township of North Wildwood. The mayor of North Wildwood ordered the building seized from the Friends organization, and they were locked out of the building, with all the locks changed. North Wildwood’s leadership has made several accusations of malfeasance against the Friends, although the Friends have written to rebut the allegations. Out of solidarity, the other lighthouses organizations removed Hereford from the Challenge. Barnegat Light Museum was added in its place. You can read more about this debacle here.
I asked the museum staff if I could pull my car in front of the museum. They said yes. As I have said before, in almost every instance where I have asked to stage a shot of my car for my blog, the responses are positive, if maybe a bit confused.
Our second-to-last stop was Finns Point Rear Range Light in Pennsville. We reached here at 12:26 pm and received the Seven of Hearts. Built in Buffalo, NY and transported to New Jersey by train and mule-pulled wagon, this wrought iron lighthouse stands 115 feet tall and has 130 steps and an 11-rung ladder to the top.
Would we climb it?
Of course we’d climb it! And of course there are open stairs!
The view from the top was spectacular.
We stopped for lunch at Botto’s Italian Line Restaurant and Market in Swedesboro for a quick lunch before heading to our final stop.
Lunch was Botto’s award-winning Italian sausage with gluten-free penne pasta and marinara sauce. It absolutely hit the spot!
At 3:03 pm, we arrived at our final destination: Tinicum Rear Range Lighthouse in Paulsboro. We received the Five of Hearts and successfully completed the 2018 Lighthouse Challenge of New Jersey!
We rang the ceremonial bell to indicate we had finished, received our final card, and then were entered into a prize drawing, too!
We treated my Accord to a thorough exterior and interior cleaning at the local car wash.
After driving exactly 450 miles from Saturday morning until Sunday afternoon, we arrived home.
Our weekend, summed up on one map. Full credit goes to my wife who not only suggested this trip for the 100th post, but also did much of the organizational planning that led to this being such a success!
The Lighthouse Challenge of New Jersey was an amazing weekend. For two days, we toured almost the entire coastline of this state, exploring lighthouses, seaside resorts, and little-known towns. We ate great food, saw beautiful sights, and had a wonderful time. Having completed the challenge, we both felt a sense of accomplishment at meeting our goal. To anyone who enjoys road trips, the ocean, or exploration, I would highly recommend participating in this trip next year.
With the one hundredth blog post now officially written, I would like to take a moment and again thank everyone who has taken the time to read, comment upon, and share their feedback with me for this blog. Thank you for allowing me to share my travels and adventures with you.
And thank you for coming along on another journey down the open road ahead.
‘Til next time.