We were driving home one evening on a “school night” *gasp*…the sky really captured my attention. At this time of the day, the greenery, barn, and road are sort of muted in color and tone, as the sky is lit up in the few remaining moments before the sun has set. And so, in this painting the sky becomes “the story” or the point of focus. There’s this feeling of calm at the end of the day… less to do (hopefully), maybe a cup of tea and less TV.
When we can’t find the time to wander for countless hours and miles…we escape to “our happy place” — Natirar Park. Spanning 491 acres, through Peapack-Gladstone, Far Hills and Bedminster, Natirar Park reminds us of the hills, streams, vistas and open spaces still alive with wonder and beauty in New Jersey.
We have sat on every bench, appreciated the beauty of the spring wildflowers, followed sights and sounds of migrating birds, used the shade of the large trees to nap after spending the day sipping wine at the Wine Festival, breathed in the crisp air of autumn as the scenery changed to bright yellows, oranges and reds, and have reminded ourselves what it was like to have a true snow day; sledding until our bones ached and all we craved was hot chocolate.
Yet, this weekend our routine trip to Natirar still managed to surprise us.
We walked the lower and upper loop, stopped to sit on our favorite bench and even met an English White Golden Retriever. After returning to the car, a pitstop at the porta potty and a couple of “Are you hungry’s?” and “I don’t know, are you hungry’s”, we decided to go get something to eat.
But this time, instead of heading back toward home we put our faith in Yelp (which we do a lot when we are traveling, so why not when we are close to home, right?). And to our surprise, we were just 3 miles from satisfying our hunger. We set out for Gladstone Market thinking we would grab a quick sandwich or soup; yet when we reached our destination, we realized that the Gladstone Market shares a parking lot with the Gladstone Tavern. So after getting over the fact that we were probably under dressed, we walked left instead of right and landed on the porch of the Tavern quickly noticing the large horse statue that occupies the front entrance. (Very fitting, especially with the Far Hills horse race held each year just up the road.)
The first impression is very open, friendly, and inviting. If we were underdressed, we would of never known. We sat by the window looking out at the porch and that large horse. After some debating (because the menu is that good) we decided to share a few of the appetizer options. Guacamole (made to order) with warm Tortillas, Crab Tots, and Chicken Quesadilla with shredded brussel sprouts. We licked the plates clean! Perfect portions and the 3 sauces that accompany the Crab Tots really manage to bring out the flavor. But after having appetizers that good, we would have done a disservice to ourselves if we did not look at the dessert menu.
Not only do they have a dessert called “Hot Chocolate”, but they house churn the ice cream! So we went with the Little Apple Pie. A scoop of maple walnut is included and we added an extra scoop of the peanut-chocolate chip! It was delicious! We will definitely be back! A great surprise Sunday adventure indeed!
It is not easy to look forward to a Wednesday morning, but on this Wednesday I would not spend another chaotic day darting from one meeting to the next and staring helplessly at the computer screen as 50 more emails pop up. On this particular Wednesday morning, Caitlin and I would hit the road to embark on another adventure.
We set out for the White Mountains of New Hampshire to do some hiking and camping, but first we stopped at a town called Hancock (NH) and spent the night there at Hancock Inn B&B. People have stayed in this historic building since 1789 (George Washington’s first year in office). The town itself is located in the Monadnock Region and maintains its original character. Part of me wonders what it would be like to move to a town like this, away from all the madness.
The following day we arrived at Crawford Notch Campground in the White Mountains; an immense campground near the Saco River. We immediately headed for the trail and managed to squeeze in a short hike before darkness covered the mountains. We startled some people (and their dog) as they tried to peacefully smoke Marijuana, on the way to the waterfall, which was the big scenic point of this hike. The first night in the White Mountains was cool and crisp – the kind of mountain air that you remember breathing for months after the trip.
Next morning, we hiked Mt. Washington – the tallest peak (6,289 feet) in the Whites, which likely makes it the most popular hike. Still, it wasn’t too crowded until we made it to the summit. Most people apparently drive up to the summit or take the old railway. I doubt that we will be doing this hike again, but it is a beautiful hike and worth doing at least once. There are just far too many other trails to explore in this enormous landscape. Back at the campsite, we had a gourmet dinner of Ramen Noodles and found our beds in the tent in minutes, exhausted after the 11-mile walk.
As we dozed off listening to the owls in the distance, pleasant memories of the local flora and fauna floated around in my mind. Cornus canadensis (Bunchberries) – what looked like little mini flowering dogwoods carpeted the cool, moist ground. Perisoreus Canadensis (Gray or Canada Jay) came around to investigate as we hiked through the dimmed forest toward the end of the day/hike – they flew over our heads and landed just 2 feet away. They reminded me of Blue Jays, but bigger, black, gray, and white; not as loud, and their heads not triangular, but round. Finally, up near the summit, Arenaria montana (Mountain Sandwort) made for a spectacular display of white and yellow sprinkled over the rocks and gravel. I hope it won’t be too long until we return to this mountain wilderness for another adventure.
Recently, I’ve been spending more time in the Catskill Mountains of southeastern New York State. It’s the closest drive I can think of that will get me to a mountainous region with a 3,000+ foot elevation. I would imagine that folks from the upper west coast would chuckle at that number. Well, these mountains may not be as tall as the ones out west, but they have their own unique beauty and vibe. According to geologists, these mountains are a result of uplift and erosion. The process that formed these mountains is different from the process that formed most other mountains, which involves folding, extensive faulting, magmatic activity, and other events that can be described as orogenic events. Today, the Catskills are described less as a mountain range, and more as a severely eroded plateau resulting in a sharp relief (Catskills GIS Atlas 2012).
To me, a mountain is anything that has dirt, rocks, plants, and an incline. Places like that tend to have “vibes”. I’m going to forget the fact that the area is crammed with resorts and that it is mostly known as the place where many young stand up comedians got their start. I drew my own take on these mountains as it hit me while camping there and hiking through the area. I cannot define that vibe in a word because I had many different experiences there.
We once camped at Mongaup Pond: a beautiful campground on a lake. We filled the raft with air and lowered it into the water. We paddled through the water and a bald eagle nervously floated from tree to nearby tree as if he were always uncomfortable. As soon as I opened a Victory Pils he was gone. Some time later, a golden eagle circled the lake over and over again. I don’t think he found what he was looking for. Some time even later: Witches (I think?). Into the night…awakened inside the tent by strange lights on the outside. In the morning, we tried to place the sounds we heard that night, but we could not tell what they were without adding imagination. What was the vibe….?
Back to our favorite campground: Woodland Valley Campground. The vibe is always really good here. No enchanted lake or breathtaking views, just a quiet place amidst oaks and other hardwood trees that I can’t really identify. The main attraction photo describing this place in the brochure was a photo of a leaf. The man working the visitor’s booth closely resembled Keanu Reeves. He didn’t talk much about surfing, but he had great tips for reserving campsites: “Just ummm pull it up on the website man, click reserve, and you’re golden, bra”. Nights here consisted of craft brews, lanterns, interesting humor, stars, hammock time, little mice on Harley’s, and the sound of the owls (if you are lucky).
While hiking; the air always smelled great (unless something crapped nearby). The climbs were challenging, rocky, and refreshing. Once at the top, sometimes you’d see peaks of similar size; cobalt and cerulean blue in the distance. Other times, you’d see hazy bodies of water down below or nothing but thick fog. In the woods, something was always scurrying around and rustling up the leaves. Now and then you’d feel a presence of something and then nothing. Suddenly, a bird of prey would leave in haste crashing through the trees, cursing you for discovering its hiding spot. You’d wait for your heart to slow down and then take some water from the stream.
What about the people? Not my favorite subject. What was the vibe in the Catskills? I’m not sure I’ve got it yet, but I’m excited to go there again.
“I can make my exhilarated way over an unknown ice-field or sure-footedly up a titanic gorge, but in these terrible canyons of New York, I am a pitiful, unrelated atom that loses itself at once”
– John Muir
I hear ya, Johny. I hear ya.