Thursday, July 12, 2012

"HOOT"enanny with the Jersey Devil

This Sunday, James and I were on our way home from a wedding in Delaware (the state where strip malls go to die) and we decided to make a stop at the Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey.  As a girl who grew up in North Jersey, I've made it a point to Avoid the South. When I hear the words "Pine Barrens" I always immediately hear that banjo song from "Deliverance" in my head and simultaneously think of the Jersey Devil....terrifying.
For those of you who are not up on your NJ folklore (I mean, isnt that a top priority for everyone?) the New Jersey Devil is a mythological creature that supposedly has been haunting the Pine barrens for over 275 years. the most popular version of the story is about Mrs. Shroud of Leed's point NJ who had 12 children and stated that if she had a 13th child, it would be the Devil. ( I mean, anyone who is having 13 children is just asking for it.... I'm talking to you Octo-Mom.) Well, one stormy night in 1735, she gave birth to her 13th child. They say the child was born normal but then changed into a creature with hooves, bat wings, a horse head, and forked tail. Then it apparently flew up the chimney and headed to the pines where it has been terrorizing the locals ever since.

On our way to Cedar Run Wildlife refuge we did not see the Jersey Devil, however we did drive through a pretty secluded pine forrest and James did express some concern that I was taking him into the woods to murder him.
 I didn't know what to expect from the Refuge but was pleasantly surprised when we got there. Running entirely on donations, The Refuge cares for more than 4,000 injured, orphaned, or displaced wild animals a year. There is an animal hospital on site that rehabilitates injured animals and whenever possible, releases them back into the wild. There are some animals that cannot be set free because they may have a more permanent disability which would prevent them from taking care of themselves in the wild. As unfortunate as it was that these animals were hurt, it's amazing that they are now given a second chance at life when they would not have otherwise survived... and its also really cool that we get to see them up close.


  In order to visit with the resident wildlife, we had to cross the beautiful Cedar Run Lake on a very unique bridge made completely of recycled plastic materials. (the picture above.) as we walked up to the first enclosure, I think both of our jaws dropped as we spotted Hallie one of the resident Bald Eagles. She came to the refuge in 2005 after being found at the base of a tree in Wyoming. She was attacked by Crows when she was just a nestling. She seemed to be pretty happy just chilling on her log next to her coi pond with a piece of fish stuck to her talon. Then again, she is being kept in a habitat that is right on the Jersey Devil's path of terror.

This male model is "Digger" he's a Red Fox and he's pretty bad ass. I had to "SnapChop" his photo because he was making such a funny face. Snap Chop is probably the most entertaining IPhone app. It takes your photos and adds random captions to them. I thought this one was very fitting. Even though Digger is disabled and has a problem with his leg, he needed double fencing and actually has five feet of chain link fence buried below his enclosure so that he doesn't dig his way out.  I'm pretty sure he was Morgan Freeman's understudy in the "Shawshank Redemption"

 This is Big Mamma the Red Tailed Hawk. She has been at the refuge since 1989 when a car accident left her with a disabled wing and leg. So she's been around since before Martin Lawrence decided to dress up as an old heavy set lady and make not one but 3 painfully mediocre movies about it. She's the original Big Mamma and from the look on her beak, she knows it.

This is my new best friend Squam, the Barred Owl. He's been at the refuge since 2002 because an impact injury left him blind in one eye. I'm pretty much in love with him and I think the feeling is mutual, I mean look at the way he is looking at me! Amazing.

After all our searching, we finally found the New Jersey Devil and as you can see from this photo, he's kind of a big deal.  Actually this is "Little Girl" A woman in NJ found her as a small kit and raised her as a pet with a collar and a leash for 2 months before bringing her here. Now she is so used to humans that she cannot be released into the wild. I think in this photo, she is sleeping with her head hanging off a hammock. Either that, or she was seriously considering having me for breakfast.

The amazing thing about visiting the Refuge, was that after we crossed the bridge to the area where the animals were housed, we did not see any other human beings. we were in the woods next to a lake, connecting with these animals up close. Its wonderful to know there is a place like this that helps to protect our wildlife.

The Cedar Run wildlife refuge also helps to educate over 19,000 students each year through their on site and outreach programs. The also run an adoption program where you can support one of their animals for a year.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

I'm hooked on Sandy!!!!

I had two lovely days off for the 4th of July and as we are still experiencing one of the worst heat waves I've ever felt, I did what most people do on a hot July day; I went to the beach!
Sandy Hook State Park in New Jersey is not your typical Jersey Shore beach. You won't have a "Situation" with anyone named "Snookie" and instead of a boardwalk filled with Bars, you will see sand dunes filled with birds and a possible appearance of seals (I have yet to see any.) there is also a really cool (and somewhat creepy) abandoned army coastal defense post called Fort Hancock. It was developed in 1895 to protect New York Harbor from Attack and remained active until 1974. The fort operated like a small town. it had its own school, movie theater, chapel, and even it's own baseball team. During WWII, the garrison of soldiers grew from 400 to over 18,000.  below are some pictures of the abandoned living quarters.  Pretty sweet diggs if you ask me. You really can't beat that ocean front view.

Within Fort Hancock is also the Sandy Hook Lighthouse which is the oldest Lighthouse in the United States. Being the skeptic that I am, I found that hard to believe and had to do a little research.  It turns out that the Boston Light on Little Brewster Island was the first lighthouse built in America in 1716 but it was dammaged in the Revolutionary war and had to be rebuilt in the late 1700's.  That means the oldest lighthouse as it was originally constructed is the one on Sandy Hook, built in 1764.
Enough with the boring history lesson. I came here for a reason and was not intending to leave until I was at least 2 shades darker.  There are several beaches to chose from in Sandy Hook. I usually head to the North Beach. If you are taking the Ferry from Downtown New York, this is probably the closest  to your drop off point and also provides a view of the New York skyline... which is awesome if you are playing hooky from work and can vaguely make out the outline of your office from your glorious spot on the beach. Most of the beaches have bathrooms and concession stands at the entrance. One beach that I would recommend avoiding though, is Gunnison Beach. This is Sandy Hook's Nude
Beach. I've accidentally gone there before. Yes, I swear it was completely accidental and I will surely never go there again. It is not what you picture when you think of a Nude Beach. I warned one of my friends to avoid it, and she went anyway thinking that it was no big deal. She ended up having nightmares for two days.   Their Motto is, "Life is short... Play Naked." but it is mostly older heavy set men who are heeding this philosophy.  They Proudly strut around the beach with hands behind their backs so as not to hide any of their normally hidden parts, and the best way to describe the activity in the ocean is Frolicking.  there is lots of hopping, flopping, jumping and accentuated body movements in the water. No Judgement from me if this is what you are in to, or if you are an older man who likes to frolic naked in the ocean. But if you have never been to a nude beach, this is probably not the place for you.
The rest of dear old Sandy is lovely and I would highly recommend a visit. If driving, there is a $15 per car fee. If you are taking the Ferry, I believe it is $26 one way.  Carpooling might be the way to go.  There is also a bike rental place near Fort Hancock and all 7 miles of Sandy hook is lined with bike trails so it's a great way to see the area and some of the wildlife.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Great Swamp Caper

Today was 95 degrees... not your normal 95 degree day, but the kind that causes your fingers to swell up and give you that weird muffin top over your wedding rings. What better day to kick off my commitment to getting outdoors more than a hot day like today, and what better place to go than the hottest stickiest place I can think of;  A Swamp!  We ventured out to The Great Swamp National Wildlife refuge in Basking Ridge, NJ.  The Swamp was formed about 25,000 years ago when the Melting Wisconsin Glacier poured into the Passaic River valley.  It's only about 40 minutes from Hoboken and they have easy trails on boardwalks so we wouldn't be over-exerting ourselves in this heat.  There are more traditional hiking trails as well but we decided not to do that today. 
  I have to say, when we set out to go here, I couldn't help but think of the Great Fire Swamp from my favorite childhood movie, "The Princess Bride."  I was picturing James sinking into the quicksand, being attacked by a Rodent of Unusual size and me having to save him. This place couldn't be further from the Great Fire swamp. And the closest thing we saw to a Rodent of Unusual Size was this guy below who was more of a rodent of unusual posture:

I like to call him "Yoga Squirrel" or "Downward Facing Squirrel." It was very unusual the way he was holding his tail and he kept flicking it towards his head. I've read that this may be a form of communication used during mating season which falls right around this time for them.

  This was about the extent of the wildlife that we saw and you probably won't see too much more than that, especially if you are accompanied by a loud flip-flop wearer like I was.
It was amazing though to hear the sound of the wind picking up speed through the trees. This is a sound I never appreciated when I was growing up but I miss it so much now that we live in an urban area. It starts of with a slow gentle rustle and picks up intensity almost like the sound of applause in an opera house.   I like to think the leaves were applauding the chorus of birds in the treetops.  I tried to take some photos of the birds but they were too quick and the one time I almost got a shot, James turned around and yelled, "What are you trying for a Big Year or something?" oh well.
 One thing we did see a lot of were Dragonflies. These were the biggest I've ever seen, some being about the size of my index finger. I get really creeped out when insects are big enough that you can notice thier eyes looking back at you. This may or may not be because one of my girlfriends made me watch "The Fly" at a sleepover party when we were much too young to be watching it.:
 He's pretty amazing looking, but he's definitely looking at me like he wants to hurt me... or eat me.

I think the part of the walk that excited James the most was the turtles. He kept stopping to look for them but was not successful until we reached the end of the boardwalk. We must have stumbled upon Turtle Mecca. I counted at least 20 turtles just that we could see alone! I watched this one little guy pull himself up onto a lilly pad and was amazed to see the size of his claws. I didnt even know that turtles had such long and sharp claws. I looked it up and read that amphibious turtles have sharp long claws to pull themselves up onto banks and logs and that males are particularly long because they may use them to stimulate the female during mating. ouch!
Other than the few animal sightings that we were lucky to see, the area was quite beautiful. I would imagine that Autumn is very nice here and much less humid. If my camera strap was not stuck to my neck with sweat, I would have ventured onto one of the more traditional hiking trails but the boardwalk was good enough for today.  The Swamp is definitely worth a visit even if you only stay for a couple of hours. If you are looking for a place to eat, head into the center of Basking ridge. It's an adorable little historic town with lots of cute shops and restaurants.  I will definitely go back there possibly to visit Jockey Hollow, one of the Revolutionary War sites, or even Washington's winter home.  Stay tuned for more.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

A New Beginning

Hello Blog readers,
   It has been 3 years and I have obviously not done anything with this blog so I'm back to change it up a bit. As I only have one follower (thanks, James! I knew I married you for a reason) I don't think he will mind. As for the rest of you, if you are reading my blog in reverse Chronological order, you may want to stop here. If you read the first 3 posts, please don't judge me... or go ahead and judge me. Man, that 3-years-ago-Des was so lame! I feel like I have a bit more clarity and focus now and hopefully I will keep up with this. If not, check back in 2014 for my next post.
  I recently had the immense pleasure of traveling to Alaska with Lindblad and National Geographic Expeditions. I work in Lindblad's New York office but have not traveled with our company in about 4 years. It was hugely eye-opening for me and it's a large reason why I'm taking up this blog again. Alaska was so much more than I expected. It's Awe Inspiring, Majestic and largely untouched by man. The towering snow-capped mountains, the crisp smell of pine, and the abundance of  wildlife awakened a spirit in me that I haven't felt in so long. I felt like I could breathe again for the first time in years.  For one brief week, I was that little girl again who spent her summers playing in the woods finding old snakeskins, Indian arrow-heads and building crazy forts. I was me again.
   The thought of coming back to the city terrified me. I did not want to lose myself again. I did not want to become that person who is brainwashed by the overload of advertisements; who has a constant feeling of need and greed. I didn't want to always hear myself say, "I would be happy if I just had that dress, or lost 10 lbs, or had the new Iphone, or looked like that girl over there." The list goes on, resulting in a person who is confused and not at peace. Something about New York does that to me and I may be wrong but I think it does that to a lot of other people. When I was in Alaska, all of that disappeared and I realized that I needed to make some changes. I can no longer allow myself to spend my weekends on the couch, nursing a hangover and watching mindless TV.
   There is so much to see and do right here in our backyards. There are a lot of great state parks, campgrounds and wildlife preserves right in New York and New Jersey. Just because I live in the city, doesn't mean I have to become the city. There is no reason why my future kids have to become TV and video game addicts, deprived of those childhood experiences that I had. It is up to me to make those changes and that's what I'm trying to do here. I'm going to try to commit to doing something to escape the city and connect with nature once a week and write about it. I promise to try to make it interesting and hopefully funny.
I will leave you with some photos from my recent trip to Alaska.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Vacation Archives: Antigua part 3. Nelson's Dockyard and Shirley Heights

   Knowing absolutely nothing about Nelson's Dockyard except that it is Antigua's  premier tourist attraction and that it is a restored Naval yard, James and I excitedly set out in a hired taxi to go check it out.  when we got there, again we were the only tourists in the whole dockyard.  (see figure a. below for full effect. Here you will see James, the only person in sight, in front of the Copper Lumber store. Built in 1789, it was used for.... you guessed it! Storing copper and lumber which were used to repair the ships.  It now functions as a hotel.)  We told the cab driver to pick us up in 4 hours, not knowing that all could be seen in a matter of 1/2 hour.  Don't get me wrong, it was a beautiful area. The Yacht marina was very picturesque. The splendidly restored Georgian stone buildings along with the scattering of antique ship anchors against the backdrop of the electric blue water brought us back to another time.  but after an hour, we had walked around twice taking our time and admiring the scenery. there was only one thing left to do....

                                                                      figure a.

So we headed past the massive pillars that once belonged to the old Boat house and Sail loft and over to the Admiral Inn, which used to be the Pitch and Tar Store.  Here we drank the most Amazing Banana Daiquiris amidst the most peaceful (partly because we had it all to ourselves) patio bar overlooking the lush greenery, crystal blue harbor, and the only remaining Georgian Dockyard in the world.  When we decided it was time to call the Cab driver to pick us up early, he told us that he had been waiting in the Parking Lot because he knew that we would be sooner than 4 hours.

I wish I had remembered this cab driver's name. I can't really even call him a cab driver, he was more of a tour guide really. He told us all about the history of Antigua as well as his personal history as he drove us past all of the houses in which he used to live.  After Nelson's Dockyard, he brought us to Shirley Heights, an old Military complex and lookout, which stood high above English Harbor and Nelson's Dockyard, to shield it from attack.  As you can see from the photo below the view was like none other and this photo does not even do it Justice.

Below Shirley Heights is Blockhouse Hill which overlooks the south side of the Island and contains a large gunpowder store.  This area is a National Park and has been left wild. Above you can see our guide/cab driver explaining the Century plant to us. You can see one in this picture in the distance between James and our Guide. It is a relative of the Agave plant and was named "Century" plant because it was believed to flower every 100 years. Later it was found out that they actually flower about once every 28 years.  I happened to be almost 28 while the one in the background was flowering.

Blockhouse Hill also had many wandering goats or so I thought. It turns out that these are actually native sheep although they closely resemble goats.  You can tell the difference because the sheep keep their tails down while the goats keep their tails up.  Thank goodness for this because I have very bad luck with goats as I was once chased half a mile on my bicycle by an angry goat when I was twelve-years-old.  This was the day that I discovered my amazing knack for Goat imitations. While stopped with my bike to see the animals at the farm down the street from my house, I called the goat over to pet him with my very best "bah".  This "Bah" must have been a very bad word in Goat-speak as it angered him to the point that he came charging towards me, leapt the fence, and chased me down the street while I pedaled like I was training for the Tour de France all the way back home. We did not have this experience in Antigua and as James was aware of my experience with goats, i was given strict orders to keep all animal noises to myself.

Vacation vault: Antigua part 2, St. Johns

Before I begin this post, I should tell you that I'm really not one of those gullible tourists that more savvy world travelers often scoff at. so please don't judge me for the following incidents.

St. Johns was a very interesting experience for us. I think we went in the afternoon on the 2nd day of our trip and did not go back after that. It's amazing to see how much the town relies on tourism. at the time we were there, there were no cruise ships in the harbor so it was like a ghost town. It was strange to be the only non-locals walking around. The Areas that were designated for tourists were creepily deserted. This guy in the below 2 pictures must have been desperate for some naive cruise ship patron to swindle. Instead he got me. I was actually in a cigar shop with James when this man came in and commented on all the mosquito bites I had on my arms and legs (this was before I had tanned enough to get rid of them.) He was holding an Aloe plant by the roots and he said he wanted to show me something outside that would help my bites. I don't know why I agreed. I may have been tipsy, or just curious. Partially I think I did it just for the photo op.

we went outside the shop and I let this lovely Rasta man rub an aloe plant on my legs and arms as you can see below. This was not my finest hour. After all was said and done, the man looked at my Boyfriend and said, "That will be twenty dollars U.S." we came to find out that everything in this town was "twenty dollars U.S." Not my most intelligent moment either. I certainly learned my lesson, never let strange men rub plants on you. Although, I could make a fortune ripping up aloe plants on the side of the road and selling them to unassuming tourists. If I'm ever in a situation where I have no job and I can't afford to pay my rent, I may just set up a hut down there and do that.

I thought I should throw in a photo of St. Johns Cathedral the Anglican church in St. Johns. The church in this photo was built in the Neo-Baroque style in 1845 after the previous two constructions were destroyed in earthquakes in 1745 and 1843. What makes this church most famous are the 2 bronze St. John statues, St. John the Baptist and St. John who gave the church it's name, which are on top of the church's southern pillars. These were supposedly stolen from French Warships during a battle in the mid 18th century.
Again... we were the only people there. It was kind of nice, yet strange. The Cathedral was located well into the town atop a big hill far from any other tourist destination. The doors to the cathedral were wide open and a couple of nice dogs came running out to greet us and as you can see from the image below, they were extremely friendly and followed us around the grounds for the entirety of our little visit to the Cathedral..... Yet not one other human was there.... very strange.

The picture Below is from one of James' moments of shame. At the time this was a very dramatic experience for us but I had to take a photo for posterity and as a reminder to him to never get caught in this situation again. We were walking through the streets and passed a sign for a Casino. as you can see from this picture. It was a hole-in-the-wall , very shady place. This lovely man in the white shirt with the chest hair's sticking out, was fully decorated in gold chains, watches, and rings. I assume to him they were the equivalent of a badge or a victory medal that a soldier would get for winning a battle. James' eyes lit up when we saw the run down building, to which I immediately interjected with a very stern, "NO". This did not work as he already had his wallet out. The game was some sort of Keno with an air machine full of little numbered balls floating around. You had to keep shelling out money to pick more balls. I'm sure the whole thing was rigged and the winning numbers were weighted so that they would never get pulled. He let James win a few rounds to get him hooked and then proceeded to take all of his money and some of mine. I think we lost about $250 US, and I kept saying, "James this is a scam lets go!" finally when he asked me for more money, I refused and was really rude to the slimy casino worker as I physically dragged James out of the Casino. Once we were outside in the sunlight, it was as if James was under a magician's spell and he just came to his senses again, as the words, " Oh My God, I can't believe I just did that" spilled out of his mouth. With hung heads we dragged our feet back to the taxi station and headed back to the resort, neither of us uttering another word for the rest of the trip back.

Vacation Archives: Antigua, May 2008

Last May, My Beau, James, and I ventured out for our first vacation together. After a far too extensive amount of research on the Caribbean Islands, James decided on Antigua and I readily agreed having become exhausted with the search. We chose Hawksbill by Rex Resorts. This Gem of a resort is set within 37 acres of lush tropical forrest with 4 private beaches to choose from. The above photo was our favorite, "Seagrapes beach" aptly named for the Sea Grape trees that provided James with shelter from harsh Caribbean Sun. I, on the other hand, spent the majority of the first 3 days trying to get as brown as humanly possible. One of the joys of being half-Indian is making my freckled friends jealous of how amazingly tan I can get.

Because of James' aversion to the sun, he spent most of the time in the water working on his new-found love for snorkeling. Watching him toss around in the water was like watching a 5-year-old learning to ride a bike. As funny as he looked doing it, he was heartwarmingly adorable and the look on his face was priceless.

I purchased an underwater housing for my point and shoot just special for this trip. while there was not a whole lot to shoot underwater I thoroughly enjoyed taking shots of the beach while halfway in the water. ok, that is a lie. there was plenty of sea life even right off our beach, but I had some difficulty co-ordinating the Camera with my snorkel gear while swimming. I guess I'll just have to go on more tropical vacations until I get it down pat.

I love this picture. I look immense, like I might be carrying sextuplets or even more! look out John and Kate! Someone should make a cartoon character based on this shadow. So this is mainly how the first couple of days went for us at Hawksbill. We relaxed, ate, drank delicious Caribbean cocktails, exploring the grounds and taking in the amazing sights. It was absolute paradise. Hawksbill is definitely the place to go if you are looking to relax.

-The Excursionista