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.

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