New Jersey Lighthouse Challenge

The Lighthouse Challenge of New Jersey is the closest thing New Jersey has to the Cannonball Run. You have two days to visit 10 land-based lighthouses, 3 life-saving stations, and 1 museum. At each location, you collect a souvenir (postcards, pressed pennies). Collect all the souvenirs and you win. If you plan your trip well, you can do it in one day. If you take your time, tour each museum, and climb each lighthouse, you will need both days — in fact, you might not make it if you spend too much time enjoying each location.

Bring extra money for souvenirs and donations for each lighthouse. Most lighthouses feature collectible pins commemorating the location.

I took the Challenge in 2019 with my friend Cat, an expert tourist & photographer. We took breaks to take photos of New Jersey landmarks, like Wildwood’s neon signs, gleaming chrome diners, and oddities like the cement champagne bottle in New Gretna.

I think I could have completed 2022 in one day if I hit the first location at 9 am, instead of 1:50 pm. If you can find out when each location opens or closes, and you start at either Sandy Hook or Tinicum, you can make it. The hardest part is having to navigate tiny shore towns with 25mph roads, then drive back to a major highway, and then back into a tiny shore town. The Jersey Shore is like a fractal with seemingly infinite twists and turns to get around bays, rivers, inlets, swamps, and places where the road just stops.

The Lighthouse Challenge of New Jersey is worth taking, whether you just want to challenge yourself & our vehicle, you want to experience New Jersey shore history, or you just want to spend a few fun days with friends.

Tinicum Rear Range Light (Paulsboro):

I finished 2019 at this location and started there in 2022. This lighthouse is across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. It is worth climbing for the views of Philly and the surrounding industrial & shipping areas. It looks more like a cannon than a lighthouse.

Tinicum Rear Range Light

Finns Point Range Light (Pennsville):

This lighthouse is across the Delaware River from Wilmington, Delaware. Like Tinicum, it looks like a cannon or smokestack.

Finns Point Range Light

East Point Lighthouse (Heislerville):

East Point faces Delaware Bay with Cape May to its east. It’s relatively short for a lighthouse and is in danger of shore erosion. Maybe it should be lifted a story if the ground beneath it can support that. This location is the hardest to find parking.

East Point Lighthouse

Cape May Lighthouse (Cape May):

One of the four (Cape May, Absecon, Barnegat, Sandy Hook) lighthouses that look like a classic lighthouse: tall, white with some color and a light at the top. This lighthouse is the toughest to get to because of the maze-like, 15mph local roads.

Cape May Lighthouse

Tatham Lifesaving Station (Stone Harbor):

I ended day 2 of 2022 at this location. I spend an hour here checking out their lighthouse & war museum and historical murals painted by a guy named Thomas.

Tatham Lifesaving Station

U.S. Lifesaving Station 30 (Ocean City):

I ended day 1 of 2022 at this location and then spent the rest of the day on the Ocean City boardwalk, which was still open. I got some of the saltwater taffy, thick-cut fries, and coconut macaroons that Ocean City is famous for. I should have gotten some pizza, but pizza is a gamble when you have a 2 hour drive home.

U.S. Lifesaving Station 30

Absecon Lighthouse (Atlantic City):

A classic lighthouse.

Absecon Lighthouse

Tuckers Island Light (Long Beach):

This one, I believe, is a replica. It features a museum and a gift shop.

Tuckers Island Light

Barnegat Lighthouse (Barnegat):

Maybe the best-looking Lighthouse in New Jersey (arguably Sandy Hook is more interesting).

Barnegat Lighthouse

Barnegat Light Museum (Barnegat):

Look for the seagull note where it sits.

Barnegat Light Museum

Squan Beach Lifesaving Station (Manasquan):

The antenna next door is impressive, as are the dedications on some of the benches surrounding the building. This one is a lifesaving station, which housed men and boats for saving people from shipwrecks.

Squan Beach Lifesaving Station

Sea Girt Lighthouse (Sea Girt):

Another of the short lighthouses.

Sea Girt Lighthouse

Navesink Twin Lights (Highlands):

This one is impressive in form and worth climbing for the view of Sandy Hook & Sea Bright. It looks like a military fortress. It is difficult to get a nice photo featuring both towers in the same photo. Parking is limited and the winding drive up to the lighthouses is a single-lane road.

Navesink Twin Lights

Sandy Hook Lighthouse (Highlands):

I started 2019 here. I think its shape makes the Sandy Hook Lighthouse the most interesting lighthouse in New Jersey. The entire Sandy Hook park is a former military area with forts, cannons, and missile launch pads. It’s worth visiting during the spring and summer.

Sandy Hook Lighthouse

Everything in the middle of Nowhere in the middle of Everywhere

Someday this field will be condominiums or apartments. It is one of the largest parcels of undeveloped land in the second-largest county, in the most densely populated state in America. It is completely surrounded by condominiums and apartment complexes, and a small park. Viewed on Google Earth, it looks like a dirty piece of bread surrounded by the winding tunnels of an ant farm.

Big Field

On the ground though, and until the day it gets developed, this field is one of the most magical places in New Jersey. Like most open fields, you’ll find a menagerie of birds and bugs hanging out on weeds, reeds, flowers, and small trees. There is plenty of life here. Below the flora and fauna, you’ll find soil that’s a mix of stones, sand, and clay. If you dig below the surface into the gray-beige clay you’ll find glittering chunks of iron pyrite, and black lignite (coal) that still resembles the trees it formed from. Amongst the sticky clay, sparkling metallic stones, and prehistoric chunks of carbon, you’ll find tiny prices of amber. Yellow, orange & copper-colored transparent pieces of tree sap that once dripped from the trees that are now coal. If you find a large enough piece, you might find an insect forever trapped in its golden embrace.

For decades scientists, academics, and rock hounds have known about this location and tunneled through its clay thousands of times. All the best amber specimens are likely taken, or trapped forever under a neighboring condo complex.

But, for now, you can still go there, and find a lot of clay, a little coal, pyrite, and amber if you look hard enough.

A shallow hole was dug in the gray clay-rich soil.

Amber Pit

A deep pit in the clay.

Amber Pit

Tiny chunks of amber are found amongst the clay, pyrite, and lignite. Insects are found in larger pieces.

Amber

FeS2, is a mineral formed by bacteria from iron and sulfur. Pyrite and Marcasite forms are present in this location.

Pyrite

Lignite coal resembles the wood it was formed from.

Lignite

BlueBerriesinHand

Blueberries for the low price of 100 fly bites

You’ll find three signs within 100 feet of the entrance to just about any park in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. A notice about Spotted Lantern Flies, a warning about Lyme disease-carrying deer ticks, and a warning about rattlesnakes. Sometimes a warning about black bears as well. Spotted Lantern Flies are a threat to plants, but not people. Lyme disease, not treated early, can make your life miserable. A rattlesnake bite can kill you. A bear can eat you.

You know the risks, and how to mitigate them.

Apply tick repellant, and check for ticks after your hike. Don’t step on or near a snake. Make noise so the bears know you’re coming and avoid you. Don’t pet bear cubs or snakes.

Or, simply stay out of the Pine Barrens.

Snakes!

What the signs won’t warn you about is Deer flies. I can’t think of a more annoying pest. More annoying than mosquitos. Imagine being surrounded by a cloud of tiny needles that fly down and poke your face, neck, hands, arms, and legs, over and over again. The summer of 2022 was bad. Late spring & early summer was hot, and the flies were grotesquely plentiful. I had to hold my hands up by my face, like a boxer, and continuously swat them away. As my arms swung in front of me, dozens of flies bounced off my hands and arms. It was like fighting a ghost made of hundreds of thumbtacks. My face is tingling just thinking about them.

So I learned about Deer flies and bought a hat with mosquito netting and a long-sleeve shirt treated with pyrethrum.

Potential life-altering, and insanity-inducing threats aside, the Pines are a beautiful and mysterious place worth taking risks and fighting the occasional amorphous cloud of flies.

Cranberry bogs — especially those reclaimed by nature — are a beautiful sight to see, especially near sunset on a day when the air is still, and the water mirrors the sun, sky, and trees. Yes, plenty of flies too.
Bog

Take a quiet winding trail or dirt road around bogs, slow streams, and through groves of pines and oaks. Where will it take you?
Trail

Maybe the trail takes you to an abandoned grove of enormous blueberry bushes, where you can feast like a king until your lips & tongue are indigo, and your eyes and mouth widen with ecstasy, allowing the sun, and visions, and flavors of the blueberry bushes flow into your mind as a glorious memory you can always go back to, to lighten up a dark day.
BlueBerries

Or maybe the trail takes you to a serial killer riding a bear using a rattlesnake for a whip, coming straight for you. Because they’re running from a massive cloud of Deer flies.

Yum or None & Done. Make the choice. Bear the flies to get the berries.

Emilio Carranza Memorial in Tabernacle, NJ

Captain Emilio Carranza was a world-famous Mexican pilot, in the same league as Charles Linburg. In June of 2028, Emilio embarked on a goodwill trip to the United States, flying to Washington D.C., and then New York. Tragically, on July 12, 1928, on the return trip from New York to Mexico, his plane crashed in Tabernacle, New Jersey. Since then a memorial has been created in his honor in Wharton State Forest. It’s relatively easy to get to; just head take Rt. 206 to Medford Lakes Rd to Carranza Rd.

The monument stands in the middle of a forest clearing:
Carranza Memorial

Each side of the monument features a unique message or design honoring Emilio or his heritage:
Carranza Memorial Detail

A photo of Emilio from an informational poster near the monument:
Emilio Carranza

I visited the monument in July, and it was surrounded by many floral wreaths honoring Emilio:
Emilio Carranza Wreath

Official New Jersey State Park Service website

Laurence Harbor Beach, yesterday and today

I visited Laurence Harbor Beach, (New Jersey) on 12/30/2022. Unfortunately, it was high tide, so beach combing was “slim pickings”.

Laurence Harbor Beach today:
Laurence Harbor Beach

Here’s a postcard from the first half of the 20th century of the same beach:
Laurence Harbor Beach

Laurence Harbor is good for rounded brick chunks, bathroom tiles, and bay-tumbled stones. There is also some nice gneiss, but it is part of the sea wall, so don’t remove it. The sea wall at Laurence Harbor needs to be rebuilt. There’s a lot of erosion.

Finding nothing interesting on Laurence Harbor beach…

As usual, beach combing on Cliffwood Beach was better for beach combing. Neither beach is good for sea shells, but they’re good for weird rocks and human debris (old coins, bricks, railroad spikes, ceramic electrical insulators):

Green basalt with crystals:
Green Basalt

Ironstone with an interesting pattern:
IronStone

JB Pines

Jamesburg Park Conservation Area, Disjunct Pine Barrens

Jamesburg Park Conservation Area is a rectangular park in Helmetta, East Brunswick, and Spotswood, New Jersey. The part in Helmetta is well-manicured, and family-friendly, with a lake to kayak & a playground for kids. The part in East Brunswick is the gritty, sandy, muddy, get-ready-to-dodge ATVs in the woods part. That’s the part I like. Interestingly, the park is part of a  disjunct region of the New Jersey Pine Barrens, specifically called the Spotswood Disjunct Pine Barrens area. Disjunct means it’s geographically disconnected from the rest of the Pine Barrens. Middlesex county, home of East Brunswick, is New Jersey’s second-most populous county — so it is surprising to imagine any forest that has not been raised and replaced with tracts of beige condominiums & McMansions, let alone something exciting as sandy-soiled pine country.

Pitch Pine Cone

People familiar with the better-known Pine Barrens in south Jersey will recognize many of the same plans and animals in Jamesburg park. Fowler’s Toads, wild blueberry-like plants, wintergreen, oaks, ticks, and of course Pitch Pines.

Sandy Soil

The geology is also similar: sandy soil, pure sand in some places, quartz pebbles, and plenty of bog iron/limonite.

Limonite

The roads in the area have so many pot-holes, it’s like gray Swiss cheese, or maybe the Moon. Single-lane Locust Ave (East Brunswick) has a spacious rock parking lot near a trailhead. Here’s a map of the trails. I parked there and entered the most challenging part of the hike — the Red trail — a sloping trail festooned with ankle-rolling stones, and toe-busting roots.  No obvious pines at this point  — mostly deciduous trees. The Red trail transitions to the Yellow trail, with leads to the White trail. Once on the White Trail, known as the Pitch Pine Loop, it’s clear you’re in the Pine Barrens. The ground becomes golden-white sand, and oak and pine trees are abundant, as are the blueberry-like berries, striped wintergreen, and plentiful mushrooms found in Pine Barrens of Burlington County. In spots the soil transitions from sandy to red/brown soil, quartz and bog iron are abundant, but mica schist and sandstone can also be found in places. The overall hike reminds me of Hartshorne Woods as much as the Pine Barrens. Hartshorne contains 4 major geologic formations (Shrewsbury Member of the Red Bank Formation, Hornerstown Formation, Vincentown Formation, and the sandy, gravely, iron-formation-rich Cohansey Formation shared by the southern Pine Barrens). Jamesburg Park features just one (the sandy Magothy Formation), but it transitions through a few soil types, and Magothy isn’t known for the abundant iron I see in Jamesburg. I wonder if more than one formation is exposed in the area.

A word of caution about the park: there are a lot of ATV and dirt bike riders on the trails. Listen for their motors and get ready to hop off the trail when they approach. If you have a hearing disability, come with a friend who can listen to their engines.

High-tension wires border the park on the southwest side. Also a favorite area for ATVs.

High Tension

On the north-east side of the park there’s some kind of foundation, covered with graffiti eyes:

Eyes in the Woods

Pretty but parasitic plants living off trees in low-nutrition soils:

parasitic

New Egypt Flea Market

New Jersey has many well-known flea markets (aka “boot sales” or “swap meets”), including New Egypt, Englishtown, Collingswood, Golden Nugget, and Columbus.

The New Egypt Flea Market Village has the most character of all the Jersey markets. While most markets have one or two year-round buildings and vast parking lots filled with tables and tents, New Egypt is comprised of a village of tiny, colorful houses, each with its own unique personality and goods for sale. It’s a stew of hillbilly, hippy, gypsy, rock n’ roll, Americana, and rural charm. You’ll find well-curated shops selling music, toys, antiques, homemade soaps, dried flowers from the Pine Barrens, coffee, and more (see the merchant list). You won’t find as many of the “dollar store” type items like off-brand batteries, cell phone cases, crew socks, and cheap sunglasses that dominate other fleas.

The entrance to the New Egypt Flea Market features weathered signs that look like they were last painted in 1969 with paint left over from a swimming pool (or my Dad’s old station wagon).
Entrance to New Egypt Flea Market

The day I visited there was a car show and a rockabilly concert. The guys from Weird New Jersey had a table to sell their magazine, patches, and stickers.
Classic Car

The wood-carved pig caught my eye. Now I’m hungry for Pork Roll. There’s a place next door to the flea market that resembles Barter Town from Mad Mad where chainsaw bears, eagles, and other beasts are made.

Wooden Pig

Balloons made of old vinyl records on the side of a music shop:
Record Balloons

Gotta go to the Hofheimer Grotto

Long story short: there was a guy named Nathan Hofheimer who had a copper mine in Warren, NJ. When the copper mine gave up all the copper it could, Hofheimer filled it with water and surrounded it with a semi-circular, multi-level structure made from rocks pulled from the mine, creating the impressive and eponymously named, Hofheimer Grotto. More info about the copper mine on Mindat.org.

Grotto Plaque

Grotto

The Grotto is currently the property of Elks Lodge 885. It’s open to the public and can be found at 99 Bardy Rd, Warren, NJ, nestled in the woods on the Elks Lodge property.

Sadly, the Grotto has fallen into disrepair. People throw tires, shopping carts, picnic tables, and every kind of trash you can imagine into the Grotto orifice — masks, vape cartridges, dental floss picks, blue bags filled with canine excrement, beer bottles, pizza boxes, Monster energy drink cans — it’s all in there. On top of the garbage, the Grotto is overgrown with all manner of weeds, including the thick-trunked Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima), which attract the lousy Spotted Lantern Flies that parasitize them. The water in the Grotto is stagnated and green. It doesn’t smell bad though, which is good.

Regardless of the decay, the Hofheimer Grotto is worth checking out. I climbed its Roman coliseum-like structure and chilled for about 30 minutes. Greeted dog-walkers as they entered the park. It was nice.

South-east of the Grotto, you’ll find the Hofheimer Cemetery. I found the Mausoleum, which was totally desecrated, slathered with spray paint, and had a collapsed roof. I walked the nearby trails and saw some mounds that looked human-body-sized.

Hofheimer Cemetery

So what can be done?

I’ve read that part of the problem is getting power to the Grotto to power lights and a fountain to keep the water from stagnating. Allegedly, Warren Township and the Elks need to cooperate on this, and they can’t agree on a path forward. Maybe, solar to make everyone happy? Then get a team of volunteers from the Lodge, a wood-chipper, chainsaws, and a dumpster, and get rid of the brush. Pump put the water. Fix or put in the fountain. Put in some lights. Rainbow LED fountain lights. Make it safe for families. Fix up the cemetery. I’m willing to help.

Hibernia cave

Hibernia Mine, Hibernia, New Jersey

Nestled in a hillside in Hibernia, New Jersey, you’ll find the Hibernia mine (mindat.org page). In the 18th and 19th centuries, New Jersey was a top location for iron production. In the south there was bacteria-created “bog iron”, and in the north, in places like Hibernia, magnetite, magnetic iron ore, was torn from the bellies of mountains.

Map of The Hibernia Mines

It took me a while to find the mine. The trail, starting at the trailhead at Green Pond Road & Lower Hibernia Road, forks in several places. One path leads to the graffitied ruins of a building, one leads to a pile of mine tailings, one leads to more ruins…

Hibernia  ruins

… and the top of the mountain, and one — the one you want — that heads toward the mine. Starting from the trailhead, I think it’s the second fork on the right; you walk up a hill and when you see what looks like the back of someone’s backyard, take the train on the left. When you get near the cave, you’ll feel the air get colder. There’s a wood platform on the left and on the right the final path to the mine.

As you get closer…

Approaching Hibernia Mine

And closer to the mine entrance, you’ll notice the air coming from the mine is very chilly…

Hibernia Mine entrance

Freezing cold, in fact.
Hibernia Mine a chilly 30 degrees

The mine is sealed off to protect it, and the bats who live there, from vandals and ne’er-do-wells. Though you cannot explore inside, what can be seen from the outside is visually impressive, and the cool air is a refreshing treat on a hot summer day.

Geologically speaking, you’ll find all kinds of interesting rocks in the park surrounding the mine: massive glacial erratics, purple & white “pudding stone”, pink granite, magnetite, biotite, milky quartz, and lots of banded, and some folded, gneiss. Migmatite, maybe?

In terms of hiking and discovery, throughout the park, you’ll find the collapsed entrances to mines, piles of tailing from mines, a cemetery for miners, stone ruins of building used to process ore, massive bear turds, and plenty of beautiful New Jersey nature.

Cliffwood Beach used to have cliffs made of prehistoric wood & amber

Cliffwood Beach, a community in Aberdeen, New Jersey, used to have cliffs made of prehistoric wood called lignite & amber. The cliffs have been covered with rock and concrete to prevent erosion, but if you’re patient, you’ll eventually find some lignite, marcasite, and even amber on the shore. Other than lignite and marcasite, I’ve found siderite, fossils, blue crystals, jasper, green basalt, almost-clear quartz pebbles, and human artifacts like electrical insulators and old bricks. Unlike the New Jersey beaches along the Atlantic Ocean, Cliffwood Beach is a beach of Raritan Bay. Don’t expect big waves, a boardwalk, or the cast of the Jersey Shore. Do expect some interesting rocks and artifacts.

Mindat page for Cliffwood Beach.

Lignite with Maracasite:
Lignite with Maracasite

Whale Creek
Whale Creek

Cliffwood Beach: plenty of rocks, clay, and old iron from buildings and boats.
Cliffwood Beach

Iron-stained quartz:
Iron-stained quartz

Fossils:
Fossils