Hemlock Falls.

Some road trips are epic cross-country adventures, like when my wife and I drove from New Jersey to Wisconsin and back home again for the Christmas holiday. Some road trips involve hours of planning, careful coordination, and come together beautifully, leading to wonderful memories such as the 2018 New Jersey Lighthouse Challenge. Others are impromptu journeys, where we see a cool location on the morning news, look it up in our phones, and set off, like our jaunt to Roadside America. Most of the trips and adventures detailed in this blog are fantastic opportunities to see beautiful sites, learn about history, and meet really cool people. On occasion, however, we have… a complete dud.

My wife and I have been on a waterfall kick over the past few months, as we detailed in our recent trips to the Adirondacks and the Delaware Water Gap. Searching online, we discovered a 25-foot waterfall in a nature preserve less than an hour from our home. We did careful research, checked our maps, and headed northward, only to discover that (a) several roads we had planned to take to the falls were closed for seemingly no reason (b) signs to the waterfall along the hiking trails were non-existent (c) calling the trails “rocky” was the understatement of the year and (d) sometimes the destination isn’t really worth the journey.

Despite the foreboding build-up, we certainly had a memorable adventure. It was one for the books (or maybe one for the blog)! After you finish reading and snickering at our (mis)adventure, I do have some really cool updates to share – an interview with an Acura owner whose adventures start where the road ends, a cool video connected to our drive last week, and some automotive updates. So let’s begin!

Hemlock Falls

Map of New Jersey, with red pin in location of Hemlock Falls.
Only 20 miles west of New York City, Hemlock Falls is located in the South Mountain Reservation in Essex County.
View of Garden State Parkway, northbound.
Our morning began with a northward drive on the Garden State Parkway. The clouds burned off as the morning went on, leaving us with blue skies and sun.
2012 Honda Accord coupe parked in row of cars in parking lot.
After driving through some beautiful neighborhoods, we arrived at South Mountain Reservation in South Orange, NJ. Originally part of the city of Newark, South Orange (along with the towns of Orange, East Orange, and West Orange) seceded to form their own independent towns. The towns’ name comes from William III of Orange, the King of England (via Wikipedia). Our drive to the park was foiled at times by unexplained road closures… we’re still in the dark as to why those roads were closed, but the detours added time (and aggravation) to our drive.
Hiking path in woods, with fallen tree blocking the path.
An omen. Not even one hundred yards into our hike, we came across this fallen tree blocking the trail. We should have taken this as a sign from nature to turn around, get some Starbucks, and spend the day watching TV. Instead, we climbed over the tree and continued on. Silly us. Nature herself was telling us to stop… and we ignored her.
Hiking trail though woods of South Mountain Reservation.
See all the signs pointing us toward the waterfall? Yeah… neither did we. Without any guidance on the trails, we had to use the compass on my phone to keep ourselves pointed toward the northeast until we eventually, almost by accident, ran into our destination. The trails were pretty, however. South Mountain Reservation originated in 1895, when the land was purchased by Essex County to be developed as a public park (via Wikipedia).
Rocky trail leading through woods.
An online guide I had read before our visit had described the trails as “somewhat” rocky. It’s the understatement of the year. The trails were littered with small rocks, none of which were embedded into the ground, instead constantly shifting under your feet. Imagine walking across countless oddly-shaped marbles. Good hiking shoes are a must… once again, leave the loafers, flip-flops, high heels, and soccer slides at home.
Rocky cliff face in South Mountain Reservation.
Many of the geological formations in the park date back to volcanic eruptions during the Jurassic Era, over 200 million years ago.
Hemlock falls.
After an hour of hiking, we arrived at our destination… and were promptly underwhelmed. The trickle of water definitely didn’t compare to Dingmans Falls or Cascade Falls. Still, Hemlock Falls is listed as one of the twenty best waterfalls in New Jersey, so we were able to cross it off our list. Been there, done that.
View of Hemlock Falls.
I was treated to a momentary break in the tourists clogging the site, so I quickly snapped several photos.
Staircase carved into hillside.
South Mountain Reservation was developed by Olmstead Brothers, the landscape architectural firm operated by the sons of Frederick Law Olmstead. Frederick, who developed many noted public spaces including Central Park in New York and the landscape of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, stated that South Mountain Reservation had some of the most beautiful terrain he had ever seen (via Wikipedia).
View looking downward at Hemlock Falls.
The stairs lead up to a trail along the top of the falls. I hopped over the retaining wall and ventured along the rocky cliff above Hemlock falls. For a sense of perspective, if you look closely you can see a man standing at the base of the falls. As I have stated in this blog several times, I have a wicked fear of heights… but a little acrophobia was not going to stop me from bringing back photos for my readers!
Hill filled with tree-roots.
After a few minutes at the falls, we began our trek back to the car. This steep hill was our path away from the falls – the roots made for some good handholds as we pulled ourselves up the hill.
Spider web with prey caught in middle of web.
As we stumbled our way down the trails, we spotted this web that a spider had spun between two trees. While the spider was absent, her lunch (center) was certainly present. This type of web is known as an orb web. Fun fact: a spider will typically spin a new web once a day. Based on strength-to-weight ratio, spider silk is stronger than steel (via Papertrell).
Scenic overlook with rock wall in foreground.
On the way back to the car, we spotted this scenic overlook, and went to check it out. The scene? Not much – trees had grown so high that any view was obscured by the branches and leaves. While South Mountain Reservation is home to cool geological formations and a small zoo, the much touted Hemlock Falls failed to deliver the goods. Overall, though, as we stumbled over loose rocks, scrambled up hillsides, and aimlessly wandered down unmarked trails, we had a good laugh at our misadventure. Just don’t expect Hemlock Falls to make a return appearance in this blog anytime soon!


An Off-Road Acura Adventurer

Black Acura MDX driving through a mud puddle.
This Acura MDX is living its best life… and so is its owner.

Recently, I have featured the high mileage Hondas of two courier drivers and their 400,000– and 680,000-mile Accords. For today’s post, I thought it would be interesting to introduce a new acquaintance, Sam, and his Acura MDX. For Sam and his SUV, it’s not about the number of miles driven, but the roads taken to get there… or maybe I should say the lack of roads! I’m not sure the designers at Acura, Honda’s luxury brand, ever intended their flagship SUV to go to some of the places that this one has gone! I met Sam through his Instagram feed a few months ago, and when I asked if he’d be interested in being featured in the blog, he accepted my invitation. Let’s dive in:

Q: Hi Sam! Thanks for taking some time out of your schedule to do this. First, tell us about your Acura. What year is it? Why did you choose the MDX and when did you get it? Are you happy with your purchase?

Thanks for considering my MDX and myself for this interview. Currently, it’s a 2010 Acura MDX with the Advance and Entertainment packages. It’s the vehicle with all the features and options that Acura had to offer at the time. I’ve always owned Acuras in the past and I decided that I wanted the 2nd generation MDX since it was first introduced in 2007. It has that “do everything” look and feature. This 2010 model is actually my 2nd MDX ever owned, my first one was a 2012 with the same specs. Long story short, I needed the engine replaced and it was actually cheaper to find another MDX than to replace it. I purchased my 2012 MDX back in 2015, and replaced it with this 2010 MDX in 2018. The best part was that I found one that only had a few miles more than my first MDX, so it was kind of like continuing the ownership. I am very happy with my MDX. 

Q: How long ago did you start doing these off-road adventures? What sucked you into this hobby (or lifestyle)?

I would say it’s been about 10 years ago, when I got my 2007 Acura TL Type S Aspec. I installed a roof rack & cargo box, then lifted the rear a bit too. I also had a 2006 Acura RSX that I was planning on lifting and doing an AWD conversion, then giving it an overland-style build. But getting a MDX was a better choice. I was starting to go on road trips and started camping for the 1st time. I was surprised all the places I was able to take the car and keep thinking, “I need an MDX for more room and to go further.” A few years later after paying off the TL and RSX, I found my first MDX. Then, “Bam!”. Hooked. 

Q: What’s a typical off-road trip for you?

In the past, I’d push the MDX more and more until things eventually kept breaking. Now that I’m on my 2nd MDX, I’ve been more cautious about which trails to take. And I’ve found that I enjoy camping more than an off-roading. Before, I’d try to go on every trail and off-shoots that my Jeep and Toyota friends would go to. It was a fun and learning experience altogether. But I’ve learned to be ok with parking my MDX and hopping inside a buddy’s rig to enjoy the rest of the trails. I know there are plenty of places that this MDX will never go to, but ultimately, all I wanted was to be able to go a little further into the trails to get to camp than a stock MDX could. 

Q: How many days out of the year would you estimate that you’re venturing off-road?

I go off-roading about once a month, but try to camp twice a month, if I can. My work schedule usually has me working every other weekend, so it gets a bit tough to go when I want with friends.  

Q: How well does your MDX handle the rough terrain?

This MDX handles very well overall considering its a heavy vehicle with no low range. The electronic suspension in this model is plush compared to a [Toyota] 4Runner on the trails. Although, it does have its limits when it comes to long-rutted uphills in the heat, but it’ll eventually make it where a stock 4Runner could. Depending on the timeline and trail, sometimes it’s just better to turn around and go elsewhere. 

Q: Aside from routine maintenance, how has your MDX held up? Any major or unexpected repairs?

Overall it has held up better than I thought it could. One major unexpected repair/damage that occurred was my first MDX, where driving through a mud pit too many times in conjunction with a broken off intake resonator and a flimsy K&N filter, allowed mud to enter the intake manifold, then the engine. Yeah, that was fun. We barely made it back to the main road, then 80 miles to nearest gas station, where it finally died and got towed. 

Q: What’s the wildest off-road adventure you ever had? And/or what’s the strangest thing you’ve seen in the wilderness?

Going through mud is always wild for me! But I think the scariest was when I was driving through a narrow cliffside trail in the Sequoias on soft sand patches. We thought the trail was going to go through onto another trail leading back to another main road, but after an hour or so of driving, we were stopped by a locked gate that appeared to have been overgrown by vegetation. We had to turn around, there I did a 40-point U-turn, going in reverse was not an option. There were a few times a wheel would slip, then we slid a tad closer to the edge and had to slowly correct the line. So glad we got out of that mess unscathed. 

Q: What’s your dream road (or off-road) trip?

I’d like to some day be able to do a trip up to Alaska. Tons of Northwest coast trails to tackle. 

Black Acura MDX set up for camping.
Sam’s home away from home. I’ve been following the evolution of his MDX for the past year or so, and it is photos like this that make car camping look so attractive. All of the gear you see in this photo has its place inside the MDX – it is a well-organized machine.
Acura MDX in front of two dinosaur sculptures.
One of my favorite photos of the MDX. Thanks, Sam!

If you enjoyed reading this, you can see more of these adventures by following his Instagram account: @acura.mdx.adventures. In addition to the cool photos, Sam was also kind enough to write up a walk-through of all the modifications and alterations he has made to his vehicle. I am saving that information to include in a future post, so stay tuned. In the meantime, I thought I’d end with the MDX’s current odometer reading: 133,700.

A Curvy Road Update

In my last post, I detailed the trip my wife and I took to visit the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, the location of the 1969 Woodstock concert. Along the way, we took New York Route 97, considered the curviest road in New York. It was one of the coolest roads I have ever driven. My wife did some internet sleuthing and found out that back in the 1980’s, Porsche used the Hawk’s Nest section of Route 97 to film an ad. I thought it would be fun to share here and give you a sense of just how twisty the road is:

Accord Updates

Gray Honda Accord inside of NJ state inspection station.
New Jersey vehicle inspections are due once every two years. My Accord’s inspection expired in July, but the state of New Jersey extended all vehicle inspections until December 31st, as Motor Vehicle Commission offices were closed for several months due to the COVID-19 shutdown. After finally reopening last month, inspection facilities were jammed with cars. However, on a recent afternoon I drove by the local inspection site and there was no line. So did my 8-year old, 157,000-mile car pass? You betcha. With flying colors.
Car odometer reading 157722 TRIP A 231.9
After our journey to Hemlock Falls, the Accord inched closer to 158,000 miles. Overall, it is running well, although it has developed an intermittent hitch in its gear shifting. I have noticed that when downshifting between 3rd and 2nd gears, there seems to be a bit of a hesitation as it shifts, and then jolts into the lower gear. It doesn’t happen all the time, but often enough that it will be going to the shop to get checked this week. Fingers crossed that it’s only a minor issue!

As Tom and Ray Magliozzi, the hosts of NPR’s Car Talk, said, what fun is a trip that goes according to plan? The really memorable moments are when nothing goes right and you encounter difficulties… that’s the stuff you’ll remember for years and years. And we certainly won’t forget this trip! If you’re looking for dog parks, playgrounds, a small zoo, and some cool geological formations, South Mountain Reservation might be the park for you. If you’re looking for well-marked, easily navigable trails and an amazing waterfall… well, no need to visit this one. We took care of it for you.

Next week, we have another multi-day road trip planned to upstate New York, so I will be looking forward to sharing those adventures in this blog. Until then, be well, and thanks for joining us for another journey down the open road ahead.

‘Til next time.





8 thoughts on “Hemlock Falls.

  1. I loved reading about Sam’s MDX! Pretty sure I’ve seen him on social media and admired his sense of adventure. Also, it’s refreshing to read about your waterfall visit. I can almost smell / hear it just via your photos. Keep it up!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Those stone steps on the trail are really pretty. At least it wasn’t far from home. Still got some great shots out there.

    Hopefully you’ll get a good report on your car and it will be a minor problem. Nice interview with Sam. Neat to read about his adventures.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The one-hundred year old landscaping was really cool – I probably should have spent more time accentuating the positives like those steps!

      Yeah, fingers crossed about the shifting thing. It goes in today, so we’ll see what happens. Thanks for reading!


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