A historic farm. A riverside park. Seals. A small zoo. And a favorite seaside destination. Whereas some posts involve careful, meticulous planning, others came together through a serious of unplanned and unexpected adventures. This post is the latter. Yet it is still worth sharing!
Since returning from our latest trip to the Adirondacks, my wife and I have chosen to embark on a series of smaller adventures. We stumbled upon a beautiful park beside Rancocas Creek in southern New Jersey on our way to visit the oldest surviving farm along the Delaware River between Camden and Trenton. We ambled through a small outdoor zoo in Johnson Park, part of the Middlesex County Park system. We returned yet again to Sandy Hook, part of Gateway National Recreation Area in Highlands, New Jersey, to engage in some seal viewing. And we took a weekend trip to my favorite beach town: Cape May.
So come along, then, on our series of miscellaneous March adventures! We’ll cruise through each of the spots before wrapping up with some automotive updates.
Taylor Wildlife Preserve
Our first adventure took us to southern New Jersey, and a pair of unique hiking spots near the Delaware River.
Although Taylor Wildlife Preserve in Cinnaminson, New Jersey was our planned destination, a sign for “Boundary Creek Natural Resource Area” caught our eye and so we made a quick detour.
Set on 34 acres in Moorestown, the park comprises forests, fields, and tidal wetlands (via Burlington County).
A series of platforms and bird blinds allow for a view of the wildlife along Rancocas Creek. We will definitely have to stop by when the weather turns warmer.
One of the highlights of the park is the human sundial. As my wife demonstrates here, stand on the correct month, hold your arms in the air, and it will show you the time of day. We were there shortly before 11:00 am, and the sundial was accurate! After both of us gave the sundial a shot, we set off for our next destination.
Our next destination was Taylor Wildlife Preserve and Taylor River Side Farm in Cinnaminson. Parking is at the edge of the property. After leaving our vehicle, we set off to hike one of the numerous trails that criss-cross the grounds.
With temperatures above freezing, the trails had thawed and turned into a muddy mess. We were glad we wore hiking shoes, but even so, we had to take care to avoid taking a tumble.
As humble as the trails seemed, they have an important history. These paths were once Native American trails, used by Delaware peoples who inhabited what is now Pennsylvania. They would cross the Delaware River here and set off to spend the summer in the cooler climate of the New Jersey shore.
Dredging work in the Delaware River in the 1920s created a small island not far from the shore. The trees became home to a colony of great blue herons – look closely and you can see their nests nestled in the branches.
There was plenty of activity in the nests, and after a few moments we caught this heron soaring overhead.
Ambling down to the edge of the river, we were treated to a cool view of Philadelphia.
In addition to the forests and wetlands, the property is also home to a working farm, which has been in the same family for eleven generations! Established in 1720, Taylor Farm is still in operation. When current owners Peter and Lily Taylor someday turn it over to their daughter, she will mark the twelfth generation inhabiting this farm (via SJ Magazine).
What better way to finish a day of hiking than with lunch at a local diner! My wife and I took takeout to my mom from Westmont Diner, located (unsurprisingly) in Westmont, NJ. Burger and fries, anyone? Yum! Johnson Park Zoo
The 478 acres of Johnson Park sits on the banks of the Raritan River in Piscataway, New Jersey. It was named in honor of the Johnson family, who founded nearby pharmaceutical powerhouse Johnson & Johnson (via Middlesex County).
The park has numerous walking paths, picnic areas, playgrounds, and athletic fields. But it also has one of the best-kept secrets in central NJ… a zoo!
The zoo has a small, but diverse collection of animals, including a herd of white deer. A white deer’s color is a result of leucism, which results in a partial loss of pigment in an animal’s hair and skin (via Wikipedia).
The future of the zoo is in doubt, however. Johnson Park sits in a flood-prone area, and severe flooding after Hurricane Ida in September of 2021 endangered the welfare of the animals in the park. Although none of the animals died in the flooding, the situation was concerning enough that county officials are looking for new homes for the animals (via My Central Jersey).
Did you hear the one about the peacock? It’s a beautiful tale! (I’ll be here all week, folks). While it remains open, the zoo in Johnson Park is a free, easily accessible way for children of all ages to enjoy up-close time with some neat animals! The Seals of Sandy Hook (Again)
On a sunny and warm Friday afternoon, I ventured out once again to Gateway National Recreation Area – Sandy Hook. The reason for my adventure? Harbor seals were spotted!
The view of the Atlantic Ocean from Route 36 never gets old. My wife read on social media that seals were reported active in Sandy Hook Bay. After our visit in early January to see these seals in the wild, I wanted to get some more photos!
One benefit of visiting Sandy Hook in mid-winter during a weekday – no traffic! I have never seen the park this empty.
I parked my Accord on the ground of the retired military base Fort Hancock and walked to the nearby jetty where seals have been spotted.
I got very lucky – just as I walked up to the jetty, numerous seals began emerging from the water.
Several seals positioned themselves on rocks that hadn’t yet fully emerged from the water – a far easier task than struggling to the top of a dry rock.
Check out the second seal from the left – pretty sure he’s had a rough day.
I’m not someone easily given to sentimentality, but I’ve gotta admit… these guys are absolutely adorable.
This sign was new. Guests are encouraged to give seals at least 150 feet of space. Lots of people have been coming to observe the seals this year- standing behind the concrete retaining wall offers a great view of the seals while keeping a healthy distance from the animals. I sincerely hope no one tried to climb on the jetty to see them closer – such behavior can negatively impact the seals’ ability to safely haul out.
On the way home, I passed yet another milestone – 193,000 is now in the books, and the 200,000 mile mark is getting closer and closer! On the Way to Cape May
And what collection of trips around NJ is complete without a visit to Cape May?
After a quick stop to visit family, our journey to the shore took us through some of the more rural sections of New Jersey, including this stretch of Route 40 in Salem County. Although you might be tempted to associate New Jersey with the congestion and over-development common in North Jersey, much of South Jersey could be mistaken for rural Wisconsin or Ohio.
We arrived in time for sunset, but unfortunately, an overcast sky meant that the colors were muted. Still, we enjoyed a nice walk down to the water’s edge before dinner.
Speaking of dinner, I’ll give you one guess where we went for takeout…
If you guess Fish & Fancy, you’re correct! My wife had the blackened grouper, while I chowed down on an order of Baltimore crab cakes. Deee-licious!
And if you guessed that we’d order takeout breakfast from Uncle Bill’s Pancake House, you’d also be right!
That’d be “the usual” for us – pecan pancakes for me, and gluten-free pecan pancakes for my wife. Yum! Yum! Yum!
After breakfast, I made time for a seaside “glamour shoot” of my Accord. Of course.
Toward midday, we decided to do some shopping at the Washington Street Mall in downtown Cape May.
The mall was a little less crowded than when we last came at the height of Christmas shopping season! With numerous stores and restaurants, this is a great section of Cape May to visit.
For the first time since the pandemic began, my wife and I felt comfortable going out to eat in Cape May. We tried the Cape May Fish Market, a seafood eatery in the middle of the Washington Street Mall. The semi-enclosed outdoor eating area offered protection from the elements (it was windy and drizzling for periods of the day), while also circulating enough fresh air to make us feel comfortable to take off our masks.
I started with an order of my favorite soup – New England clam chowder. I’m a bit of a chowder snob (Legal Sea Foods, the Boston-based seafood restaurant chain, serves my all-time favorite chowder), but this cup exceeded my expectations. I would definitely get it again!
At our server’s recommendation, I ordered the lobster roll. Often, lobster rolls are served cold, but this one was sautéed in butter and served hot in a roll coated with sea salt. Add to it some of the best french fries I’ve had in recent memory, and it was a fantastic meal. Just as good, though, was the simple pleasure of sitting down to eat at a restaurant, with a server to bring us our food and tend to us while we ate. It felt good to return to a sense of normalcy.
Tucked away on a back street is a must-visit location for anyone who enjoys peanut butter… the Cape May Peanut Butter Company.
Offering nine different nut butters, forty kinds of jam, and countless homemade snacks, this shop is a foodie’s dream.
Another Washington Street Mall institution is The Original Fudge Kitchen. With six locations in southern New Jersey shore towns, it is the go-to shop for fudge, chocolates, candy.
One of the Fudge Kitchen’s best products is its salt water taffy. Invented in Atlantic City in the 19th century, salt water taffy has since spread in popularity to other parts of the nation.
On a chilly day, a nice cup of coffee from Out There Coffee can help warm you up during your shopping. While my wife went with a sensible almond milk latte, I ordered the “Lumberjack” – espresso, steamed milk, and maple syrup. Talk about the perfect winter drink! Coffee in hand, we headed back to the car to begin the drive home.
Wanting to get in some more walking before the two hour drive, we detoured to the Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor. Since discovering it a few years ago, this has become one of our favorite nature preserves in New Jersey.
The elevated walkway allows for a unique view of the tidal wetlands, a crucial ecological environment.
The institute has a dock and viewing platform that protrudes into the Scotch Bonnet creek. My wife and I were momentarily befuddled by the broken shells littering the dock, until we realized that it is the debris from seagulls. The gulls use the hard surface of the dock to crack open shellfish such as oysters and clams by dropping them from great heights. The shells crack open and the gulls swoop down to have their meal. Fascinating, if a bit gross.
Numerous small cages were arrayed throughout the wetlands. One of the staff members told us that these are locations where terrapins have laid their eggs. Most terrapin eggs hatch in the early summer, but if the eggs were laid late in the season, they won’t hatch until after the winter. As the weather warms up, these cages should be soon filled with baby turtles. Very cool!
Aside from some ducks, the wetlands seemed pretty quiet. My wife did spot this lone heron standing amid the marshes.
After a few moments, it popped up on top of the marsh and posed for a few more shots.
Although the osprey nests are empty in winter, it will only be a little more time until they return. We’ll definitely come back to visit again!
After a two hour ride, we arrived home, safe and sound. At this point, I’m estimating the the 200,000 mile rollover should happen in late May or early June. Onward! Automotive Updates!
Before closing, I wanted to share a quick update on both cars in our garage – my 2012 Honda Accord and my wife’s 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee:
My Accord recently went to Burns Honda in Marlton, New Jersey, for scheduled maintenance. It received an oil change, a tire rotation, and new front brake pads.
The service advisor told me that my Accord is in great shape, and is ready for the final push to 200,000 miles.
My wife’s Jeep Grand Cherokee was simultaneously due for maintenance, and so went into the shop for some needed upkeep.
The Jeep took an oil change, a tire rotation, and also needed new front brakes (pads and rotors). Otherwise, Grace also checked out with a clean bill of health. I’m grateful that we have two vehicles that continue to perform well, are relatively easy to maintain, and most importantly, are paid off! Wrapping Up
The beginning of March was a fun collection of miscellaneous small trips throughout New Jersey, from new locations to old favorites. Even in winter, there are plenty of fun outdoor activities in New Jersey to keep you entertained, and the best part is that almost all of our destinations were absolutely free!
Stay tuned in the coming weeks for a much longer road trip that my wife and I have planned. Until then, be well, and thanks for coming along on yet another journey down the open road ahead.
‘Til next time.