Flowers and Tigers and Herons, Oh My!

Quiet weekends at home – there is nothing wrong with them! Binge watching your favorite show on Netflix, curling up with a good book, perfecting your favorite recipe… it all sounds delightful. However, when the weather is beautiful and the open road beckons, quiet weekends can quickly transform into action-packed adventures. What started out for my wife and I as a weekend of a few appointments, catching up on some movies, and working around the house, instead became a trip to a hilltop garden, a walk through the oldest zoo in New Jersey, and a boat tour of a lake in search of wildlife.

Come along, then, on this unplanned adventure through New Jersey. I’ll also share a fun video update about a Honda Accord nearing a million miles, an article that should resonate with any Honda or Acura owner, and sketch out the plans for the coming summer months.

Let’s begin:

Presby Iris Gardens

Map of New Jersey with red pin in Presby Iris Gardens in Montclair.
“Want to see a garden filled with nothing but irises in bloom?” my wife asked earlier in the week. Always up for a road trip adventure, we headed northward to the town of Montclair after work on Friday.
Sign that reads ESSEX COUNTY - THE PRESBY MEMORIAL IRIS GARDENS
The Presby Memorial Gardens were established in honor of Frank H. Presby, a local horticulturist who specialized in irises. He had intended to give his collection of irises to the newly established Mountainside Park in Montclair, but died before he could fulfill his plans. The gardens were established in his memory three years later (via Presby Memorial Iris Gardens).
Sign beside garden that has map of Lenape Trail.
The Iris Gardens are along the Lenape Trail, a 34-mile hiking path through Essex County. The trail passes beside numerous historical sites, including Mountainside Park.
Panorama of Iris Gardens.
The gardens contain over 10,000 irises, which bloom in a narrow window of the middle of May through early June. Consider this – the park essentially exists solely for this three week period each year!
Blue and white irises in a row.
I tried to keep track of the varieties and names of the plants, some of which date back to the 1930s. In the end, however, I’ll let the iris photos speak for themselves, with no commentary from me.

Blue, pink, and white iris.

Bee on pink iris.

Top-down view of opening of white and pink iris.

Blue and purple iris.

Take-out bag from Samba restaurant, along with several plastic containers of food.
After strolling through the gardens for an hour, we headed into the downtown section of Montclair to pick up food at Samba, a Brazilian restaurant. Samba is certified as gluten free by the Gluten Intolerance Group. No detail is too small – for instance, Samba’s cheeses and chocolate are imported from Belgium, where they are created in a completely gluten-free environment. Rather than having to pick select items from a menu, a person who needs to eat gluten free can order anything they want at Samba.
Plastic containers of food - one with white rice, one with black beans, and one with meat gnocchi.
Rather than eating at the restaurant, we ordered takeout and headed back to the Iris Gardens, where there are picnic benches and plenty of open space to spread out a blanket and dine in the fresh air. I had the gnocchi (made with yucca instead of potato) in bolognese sauce, while my wife had the yucca gnocchi with with olive oil, garlic, and sautéed seasonal vegetables. How was it? DE-LIC-IOUS!
White and yellow iris.
Content after our terrific meal, we wandered the gardens a little while longer.

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View of blue and white iris, looking upward.
After a wonderful evening among the irises, we headed home and got ready for day two of our weekend adventure.

Bridgeton and Lake Alloway

Map of southern New Jersey, with red pin in location of Alloway Lake.
Our Saturday morning adventure would take us to the heart of southern New Jersey, and the towns of Bridgeton and Alloway.

Bridgeton

2012 Honda Accord coupe, parked in front of two-story white building.
We had an appointment in Bridgeton, and afterward took some time for a little sightseeing. Our first stop was Potters’ Tavern. Built in the 1760s, the building was the local hotspot for news and gossip in the days leading up to the American Revolution. Indeed, the tavern was also the site for the publication of “The Plain Dealer,” a newsletter that argued for independence from Britain (via Cumberland County Cultural and Heritage Commission). Side note: I cleaned my Accord Friday afternoon. So bad is the pollen in our area that by the time we arrived at home on Saturday night, the car was turning green again. 
Entrance for Cohanzick Zoo.
Our next stop was to the oldest zoo in New Jersey: Cohanzick Zoo in Bridgeton City Park. Established in 1934, this 15-acre zoo is operated by the City of Bridgeton and the Cohanzick Zoological Society (via Cohanzick Zoo).
Path through zoo, with sign that says PLEASE KEEP YOUR DISTANCE AT LEAST ONE COUGAR APART
Despite its relatively small size, the zoo has a diverse group of animals in its care. The zoo also gets bonus points for approaching its COVID safety measures with a sense of humor and lightheartedness.
Cougar walking in its enclosure.
One of my favorite big cats (although one I hope to never run into during a hike in the wild) – the mountain lion. Depending on where you live, you might refer to this cat as a mountain lion, a cougar, a panther, or a puma, but they are all the same animal. Fun fact: the mountain lion can be found from the Yukon Territory of Canada all the way to the Andes Mountains in South America (via sciencing.com).
Bengali tiger.
The largest enclosure in the zoo is for two Bengal tigers, Rishi and Mahesha. I’m not sure which one this is, and I didn’t get close enough to ask.
Bengali tiger portrait of head.
Despite the fence and plexiglass that separated us, it was a little unnerving when the tiger locked eyes and began to walk directly toward me.
Red-tailed hawk in cage.
A New Jersey native that I’m not accustomed to seeing this close – a red-tailed hawk.
Head of Muscovy Duck
A face only a mother could love… the zoo attracts numerous migrating birds. This Muscovy Duck was hanging out by the entrance, and seemed entirely unimpressed with my photographic antics. Native to South America, the Muscovy Duck was the representation of the Aztec god of the wind (via allaboutbirds). Our time running short, we departed for our next destination.

Lake Alloway

County two-lane road through farmland.
We are South Jersey! Contrary to the state’s reputation for overdevelopment and congestion, much of New Jersey, especially its southern half, is rural. A significant portion of Cumberland County could easily pass for rural Ohio or Iowa.
View of Lake Alloway.
We had afternoon plans to visit with family in the area. Knowing of my hobby, we were invited to take a boat tour of Lake Alloway in Alloway Township, where our relatives told us we were bound to encounter some cool photographic opportunities. Although temperatures on the shore were in the 90s and humid, the lake was pleasant. A steady breeze across the water made for a comfortable journey.
Two turtles on a log.
These turtles were enjoying the warm weather.
Woodpecker in tree.
The variety of birds was impressive. This woodpecker flew in for its portrait session.
Heron in flight.
We spotted several heron on the lake, including this one who flew past our boat.
Heron spreading its wings on land.
Maybe my favorite shot of the afternoon – this heron spreading its wings as it prepared to take off.
Hawk in flight.
Several hawks were flying past the lake. This one slowed down at just the right time.
Hawk in flight.
Just as I thought the hawk was going to fly off into the distance, he circled back and came past the boat again. After a few hours on the lake, it was time to head home.
Car odometer reading 174219 TRIP A 111.1
Another trip, another milestone! My Honda Accord passed the 174,000 mile marker on this weekend’s journey. That 200k barrier keeps getting closer. Onward!

Odds and Ends

Before closing, I had a few items I wanted to pass along. First, for anyone who owns a Honda or Acura vehicle, you’ll be pleased to know that a recent study states that vehicles from these brands have the lowest cost of ownership for service and warranty costs. The average Honda requires $21 of maintenance over its first three months of ownership. Compare that to Volvo at $69 and Chevrolet at $83 over the same time span! While hardly the sole reason to buy a car, it’s nice to know that a well-made vehicle will often result in lower costs of ownership.

Speaking of a well-made vehicle, I received positive feedback for my feature of an 800,000 mile 2003 Honda Accord EX-L V6 coupe in my last post. The car’s owner, Justin, recently released a video tour of his amazing machine, and I’m pleased to share it here:

Finally, we will be taking a family vacation in the coming weeks, so this post is going to be the last post for a few weeks. I plan to come roaring back strong with a write-up of those adventures, along with some more automotive updates… and yes, there will be bird pictures galore!

Wrapping Up

This weekend’s adventures prove that New Jersey is filled with hidden gems throughout the state. Whether you’re interested in visiting a beautiful garden, stopping by historic buildings, or experiencing nature and wildlife up close, the Garden State has it all within a short drive. Presby Gardens are open daily from dawn until dusk and are free to visit, but check the website for information on when the irises are in bloom. Cohanzick Zoo is open daily from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm, and is free to visit (although donations are appreciated). Alloway Lake is open to the public, although there is a fee for boat launches for non-residents.

Thank you for coming along on this journey through the open roads of New Jersey!

‘Til next time.

10 thoughts on “Flowers and Tigers and Herons, Oh My!

  1. I loved the title shot of the heron! That is a great picture and I also enjoyed all of the zoo animal and later wildlife shots. Also, Samba looked delicious! I have not been to a certified gluten free restaurant before but that would be my dream destination. Looks like a fun adventure overall! I’m looking forward to that million mile update from Justin!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Most photos that I take, I’m not sure how they come out until I download them onto my computer and can see them on the big screen. That heron photo, though… I had a feeling I got it right the second I hit the shutter. Samba was terrific – definitely worth a visit! Thanks for reading, and something tells me that 1 million miles will not take that long for Justin!

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  2. History, birds, and Hondas – checked all of the boxes!

    The picture of the tiger locking eyes with you was probably my favorite this time.

    Thanks for including our car’s video.

    Have a great vacation! Can’t wait to see and read about it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi there, wanted to tell you how much we appreciated the lovely post about Montclair’s terrific outdoor and indoor spaces 🙂 We are the longtime PR team for Samba Montclair and loved what you posted. PS the gnocchi Bolognese is my fave dish there! All best and your blog is beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Another great article! I have a question for you – does your Honda dealer send you letters offering service packages even though the warranty period is well over? If yes, what do you think about the pros/cons? My car is 12 years old and I still get the them from my N jersey dealership.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading! Can’t remember the last time I received any service package letters or coupons from the dealer, although I do sometimes get the offer to “buy back” my car… which I guess would go away pretty quickly when they saw the odometer. 😁

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