Pre-Holiday Potpourri

The holidays are upon us, although this year will involve less merriment and adventure, and focus more on safety and health. For my wife and I, that means mall trips are replaced with online shopping, large family gatherings are replaced by video meet-ups, and going out to celebrations are replaced by quiet nights in front of the TV. But one thing remains the same: when we get a fantastic December day, with temperatures soaring into the 60s, we do the one thing we know best: get in the car and go somewhere beautiful!

On a recent mid-December weekend, we were surprised by a dramatic change in the weather. Not three days earlier, temperatures were struggling to rise above the 30s, yet on a gorgeous Sunday we awoke to sunny skies and a high temperature in the 60s. Grabbing only our light jackets, throwing the camera gear in the car, and checking the traffic report, my wife and I drove out once again to Sandy Hook beach at Gateway National Recreation Area in Highlands, New Jersey. It was a terrific way to spend an afternoon, and while I hadn’t planned on writing another post until after the holidays, this trip merited being shared!

Sandy Hook

Map of New York City and New Jersey, with red pin in location of Sandy Hook.
Although this blog featured a far more in-depth exploration of Sandy Hook a few summers ago, it is always fun to return to a familiar haunt and see it again.
View of Atlantic Ocean from atop highway ramp.
One view that never gets old: the vista from the Highlands-Sea Bright Bridge, part of Route 36 that connects the mainland of New Jersey with the Sandy Hook barrier island. This photo doesn’t do it justice: the Atlantic Ocean stretches out as far as the eye can see.
Entrance to park, with sign by road that says SANDY HOOK.
Although during the summer there is a fee charged at the entrance, admission is free during the off-season. Given the beautiful weather, I was surprised there weren’t more visitors on the island.
2012 Honda Accord parked beside dune.
Before beginning our explorations, it was time for the mandatory car-against-the-dune photo. For a nearly nine-year-old car with over 165,000 miles, it still cleans up pretty well.
Mockingbird on tree branch.
My wife and I do most of our nature-spotting on the western, bay-side of the island. This trip was no exception, as I caught this mockingbird posing for its photo…
Red-tailed hawk on power pole.
…and this red-tailed hawk looking for prey from atop a utility pole.
View of Atlantic Ocean and beach.
After a while on the bay side, we walked across the island to the ocean side and enjoyed the beautiful weather and a refreshing sea breeze.
Flock of small white and gray birds against water.
Although we mostly spotted seagulls, we did have a flight of these little birds pass right in front of us. Small and fast-moving, I was barely able to snap a photo before they had gone.
View of Sandy Hook Lighthouse.
Moving further northward on the island, we encountered an old friend: Sandy Hook Light. Built in 1764, it is the oldest surviving lighthouse in the United States.
View of Lighthouse and Keeper's House.
Eagle-eyed readers will remember Sandy Hook Light as our first stop on the 2018 New Jersey Lighthouse Challenge.
View of mortar battery earthworks.
Beginning in 1806, Sandy Hook was taken over by the US Army for military use. Massive gun battery fortifications, built in the 1890s to protect the New York harbor, still exist (via the National Park Service).
Rusting metal door in gun battery.
Although modern warfare has long since left behind the use of gun batteries for defensive purposes, the fortifications remain as a historical site.
View inside of gun battery.
Peaking my camera through a small hole in the rusting iron door, I was able to get a few photos from inside the gun battery. Talk about another great setting for a haunted house!
Left building is the Bachelors Officers Quarters and the right building is the park headquarters.
Many of Fort Hancock’s buildings remain, although many are in various states of decay. On the left is the former Bachelor Officers Quarters, where unmarried officers would live. On the right is the commander’s house, now the headquarters for the National Park Service’s offices at Sandy Hook.
Rows of houses along road, in various states of decay.
Hurricane Sandy in 2012 inflicted significant damage on the structures of Fort Hancock. Although several buildings were in the process of being repaired and restored, many others, such as the first two in a row of homes for married officers, still show significant damage. Fun fact: almost all of the buildings are available to lease for residential or commercial use. The lessee must undertake the cost of repairs and rehabilitation, but then is able to use the property as their own. Talk about a fixer-upper! 
Row of large administrative buildings across open grassy field.
Some of the largest buildings are undergoing significant repairs, and are being taken over by organizations such as the Marine Academy of Science and Technology, a college preparatory vocational high school that trains students for a life in jobs on the sea, including a significant connection with the United States Navy. Pretty cool!
2012 Honda Accord parked in front of missiles on pedestals.
As the sun slowly set, we began our trek home. On the way off the island, we pulled over for this quick shot. Fun fact: the “Guardian Park” commemorates when Fort Hancock hosted batteries of Nike anti-aircraft missiles that were positioned to defend New York City against Soviet attack.
Car odometer reading 165266 TRIP A 146.2
After a 45-minute drive, we were back home. The Accord was once again a rock-solid vehicle for our adventure, and is slowly beginning to close in on 170,000 miles. Onward!


Car odometer reading 59886 miles.
Speaking of onward, the Jeep is nearing 60,000 miles. It recently went in for maintenance, and aside from needing an oil change and a tire rotation, all is well.
2012 Honda Accord in garage, with white Jeep Grand Cherokee in snow.
A winter storm recently rolled through our area, dumping about ten inches of snow on the region (more snow than we received all of last winter). The downside of a one-car garage? The Accord stayed indoors, all snug and dry, while Grace, our Jeep, drew the short straw and endured the winter blast in the frigid cold.
Lawn covered in snow, with a pine tree in the background.
With Christmas only days away, Mother Nature did her own holiday decorating in our back yard!
Christmas tree, with ornament in center of image that has two Adirondack chairs overlooking a lake, with the words EAGLE BAY at the bottom.
And from the staff of The Open Road Ahead… happy holidays to you and your loved ones!

Wrapping Up

Sandy Hook at Gateway National Recreation Area was a wonderful diversion on a warm day in late autumn. Sandy Hook is open from 5:00 am – 9:00 pm during the summer months, and 5:00 am – 8:00 pm during the winter. Certain buildings (such as the lighthouse and visitor center) are closed due to the pandemic, but the outdoor sections of the park remain open. 

Thank you for coming along on this warm December adventure on the open road ahead. Have a safe, happy holiday season, and be well!

‘Til next time.


9 thoughts on “Pre-Holiday Potpourri

  1. I wish you and your blog staff a very Merry Christmas and happy holiday season! Like you, we will pass on visiting family in person this year. I’m a little concerned about our flight students. They’re all traveling home and just have to sit out five days upon their return before training again. I think we’re going to have some problems in January here.

    Liked by 1 person

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