Gateway National Recreation Area: Sandy Hook Light Grand Re-opening


Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.


I attended the Grand Re-opening festivities for the Lighthouse and Post Museum at Sandy Hook last month.  The historic lighthouse had been closed for about 10 months to correct issues with the foundation and structure that were manifesting themselves in stains on the exterior. The Fort Hancock Museum had been closed since 2010 and suffered a major setback during 2012’s Hurricane Sandy.


The $1.3 million dollar cost of the renovation was funded primarily by the parking fees beach-goers are charged during the summer months. The park’s non-profit partner, Sandy Hook Foundation, also raised money to restore both structures.


The program began with a presentation of the flag by a local academy’s color guard, along with the national anthem and pledge of allegiance.


The mayors of Highlands and Middletown, a county Freeholder, a senior Coast Guard official, the superintendent of Gateway National Recreation Area and the Commissioner of the National Parks of NY Harbor were all in attendance and spoke briefly about the significance of the Lighthouse and Fort Hancock.


Commissioner Joshua Laird spoke of the lighthouse as a member of the NY Harbor Parks family, having borne witness to two and a half centuries of American history. Superintendent Jen Nersesian spoke of the lighthouse as a survivor, having outlasted several wars and major hurricanes. And we were all reminded by the Coast Guard official that the Sandy Hook Lighthouse is older than Boston Light’s ‘new’ lighthouse and is therefore the oldest functioning beacon in the US.


The speeches were followed by a ribbon-cutting, first at the lighthouse and then at the Fort Hancock Museum (housed in the old military jail.)


There was cake and lemonade in the Lighthouse Keeper’s Quarters (which serves as the visitor center.) There were also some people dressed in Revolutionary War era costumes providing living history demonstrations.


After cake, I waited on the line for a few minutes to walk up to the top of the lighthouse. Because of the narrow and steep spiral staircase, only eight people were allowed up at a time. The line moved fairly quickly and before I knew it, I was at the top, looking down on Fort Hancock, the Batteries and the New York skyline.


I headed over to the museum for a slide show and talk about the archaeological digs conducted by Monmouth University while the renovation was in progress.  Artifacts as far back as the revolutionary war were discovered.


This was a fun event and it was great to see the community involvement in saving these Historic Landmarks. I found out about it through Facebook, of all places, but I’m glad I did!

My other posts on Sandy Hook:

  • Sandy Hook
  • Grand Re-opening
  • Sandy Hook Light (coming soon)
  • Fort Hancock (coming soon)
  • Women’s Barracks (coming soon)

Location: 128 South Hartshorne Drive, Highlands, NJ 07732

Designation: National Recreation Area

Date designated or established: 10/27/1972

Date of my visit: 9/30/2018


Glen Canyon National Recreation Area: Hanging Garden Trail


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After touring the Glen Canyon Dam, we asked a ranger in the visitor’s center for a short hike we could fit into the end of our day. He gave us directions to the Hanging Garden hike. The turn-off is 1/4 mile from the opposite side of the Glen Canyon Bridge from Carl Hayden Visitor Center on Highway 89.


There aren’t great signs for the turn off, so we initially parked at the wrong trail-head.


Our ‘wrong turn’ was an interesting hike meandering around the cool sandstone formations on the shore of Lake Powell.


Then we went a little further down the road and found the right turn-off. Trail-head parking is 500 yards off of Highway 89 on a dirt road.


This short, 1-mile round trip trail was created by the park service and leads to a startling green oasis beneath the rim of a butte. The route is easy to follow with a path marked by rocks along the entire route. There was no shade on this trail, but that was the only difficult part of the hike.

There is a seep spring hidden beneath the sandstone. This spring captures rainwater and then slowly releases it, causing vegetation to grow vertically on the sheltered wall. It was pretty cool to see this in the midst of the barren landscape.


To see my other Glen Canyon National Recreation Area posts, please click on the links:

Location: Scenic View Drive and Hwy 89, Page, AZ

Designation: National Recreation Area

Date designation declared: 10/27/1972

Date of my visit: 8/18/2014


Glen Canyon National Recreation Area: Glen Canyon Dam


Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

Having taken a morning raft tour of the Colorado River, we chose to explore the Glen Canyon Dam after lunch.
First, we stopped at the Dam Overlook on the east side of the river. If heading from Page to the Carl Hayden Visitors center, the overlook is before you cross the river, tucked behind the Glen Canyon NPS Headquarters. We walked down the short, steep path and stairs to amazing views of the Dam and the Colorado River.

Then we crossed the River and signed up for the next Dam tour. We had to pass through security screening and pay a nominal fee. As a federal power plant facility, security measures are in place. While no bags, purses, knives, weapons (duh!) or food are allowed on the tour, wallets, cameras, and clear water bottles are welcome.


On the tour, we got to walk out on top of the dam with a knowledgeable guide. There are some artifacts on display.


The tour took us from the top of the dam, and down into it to see the workings of the power plant.


The Dam was completed in 1966 and forms Lake Powell. Though touted as a vital source of renewable energy and regulated water flow, environmental groups criticized its impact on the Grand Canyon’s ecosystem. Because of the controversy, it was one of the last dams of its size to be built in the USA.


To see my other Glen Canyon National Recreation Area posts, please click on the links:


Location: Hwy 89, Page, AZ

Designation: National Recreation Area

Date designation declared: 10/27/1972

Date of my visit: 8/18/2014

The water level was pretty low when we visited. Our guide said this was the result of over a decade of severe drought.

Glen Canyon NRA: Colorado River and Petroglyph Walk

Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.
We opted to explore part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area on the Half Day Smooth Water Rafting tour with Colorado River DiscoveryThis was the highlight of our stay in Page.
We checked in early at the Colorado River Discovery store in Page. Next we rode a bus through a two-mile tunnel in the canyon walls to the docks at the base of the Glen Canyon Dam….this tunnel was created for the workers who built the dam. You have to comply with Homeland Security rules to use the Dam Access Tunnel. CRD provided us with clear plastic bags for our belongings.


At the docks we boarded a pontoon raft capable of holding up to 24 people…we only had 12 on ours so it was a peaceful ride. Our guide Nate told us a little of the area’s history, pointed out some interesting geologic formations, and various wildlife (we saw a few bighorn sheep.)


Nate kept it fun while we relaxed and enjoyed the ride. Do bring your camera. There is no splashing on the way to Horseshoe Bend and you can use the plastic bag to protect it on the way back when there is some spray.


We docked at Boater’s Beach at the foot of Horseshoe Bend. We walked a short path to see some petroglyphs…there was a National Park Ranger answering questions about them. Then we dipped our toes in the frigid 47 degree water…some folks had their swim suits and were brave enough to go all the way in.


Back on the boat,  we went a little further around the bend to see some interesting rock formations and then we motored back to the Dam access tunnel.



To see my other Glen Canyon National Recreation Area posts, please click on the links:


Location: 130 6th Ave, Page, AZ

Designation: National Recreation Area

Date designation declared: 10/27/1972

Date of my visit: 8/18/2014



Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area: Boston Light


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We were scheduled to be in Boston for a long weekend and so I checked the National Park Service website to see what park units we could visit while there. What a pleasant surprise it was to find that the NPS run tours out to some of the islands in Boston Harbor!

We chose the Boston Light tour out to Little Brewster island. The Boston Lighthouse was built in 1716, which makes it the oldest working light in the United States…over 300 years old. It was occupied by the British during the Revolutionary War and subsequently destroyed by the Patriots.


Since the lighthouse was rebuilt in 1783, it is not the oldest US lighthouse…that honor goes to the Sandy Hook Lighthouse in New Jersey. In 1989, the Senate passed a law requiring that Boston Light always be manned. The NPS maintains the Light in cooperation with the Coast Guard, though the actual beacon is automated now.

We met the park rangers at the visitors center kiosk in town, near the carousel and Quincy Market. They led our group to a boat docked behind the aquarium.

The ride through the harbor to Little Brewster took about 45 minutes. One of the rangers talked about the history of the various islands during our journey. Along the way, we passed a fort from revolutionary war days, the Long Island Light and other sights. We had fantastic views of Boston as we pulled away.


When we arrived at Little Brewster Island, Sally, the light-keeper greeted us, dressed in colonial-era attire. Sally is the 70th keeper of Boston Light…and the first woman in the role in its long history. She and her coast guard husband live alone out on that isolated island!

Sally, her husband and the rangers each led the tour through the various stations on the island.


We climbed the steps inside the lighthouse for a close-up look at the inner workings and the view from the top.


We explored tide pools below the keeper’s house and  a cistern that provides the light keeper’s house with collected rain water.

Some tips…there is no shade on the island. Wear sunscreen, a hat, bring water. There is no public restroom on the island and the boat does not stay docked while you tour the island…use the boat’s facilities on the journey.


Location: Boston, MA

Designation: National Recreation Area

Date designation declared: 11/12/1996

Date of my visit: 7/17/2015

This abandoned lighthouse is visible from Little Brewster Island
Airplane landing at Logan as we cruise out of the harbor
Passing by the Long Island Light on our way to Little Brewster
Exploring Little Brewster Island
Sally’s garden


Gateway National Recreation Area: Sandy Hook


Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

Sandy Hook in New Jersey is one of Gateway National Recreation Area’s three geographical units. The other two are in Staten Island and Queens, with the three parks framing the ‘gateway’ to New York Harbor.

I grew up on Staten Island and Sandy Hook was the closest beach to us for summer Jersey Shore trips. We’d load up the station wagon with family, friends and beach paraphernalia and head ‘down the shore’ several times during the hot summer months each year. Without a commercial boardwalk, it was the quietest beach within our day-trip radius, but we still left bright and early to avoid the traffic.

As kids, we thought of it as a welcome escape from the heat and a chance to body surf in waves less gross than on the Staten Island beaches. We didn’t realize that the peninsula had more to offer than the beach just after the entry gate or a life outside of July and August.

Spermaceti Cove Life-Saving station was built in 1894 as a base from which to rescue shipwreck survivors

I started visiting Sandy Hook again in recent years when a group of friends hosted a photo meet there on a mild March day. We spent the entire day walking the northern end of the peninsula, beginning at Fort Hancock.

Fort Hancock was built in 1896 and served as a primary defense of New York City up through the cold war. In 1954, operations were converted to a Nike missile base. The fort was decommissioned in 1974. There is still an active Coast Guard station just north of the fort.


What remains of the fort are the ruins of the batteries and the distinctive row of yellow houses (Officer’s Row.) When I visited with the photo group in 2014, little more than a year had passed since Hurricane Sandy had devastated these buildings and the charter school located in the complex. The school was rebuilt shortly afterwards and I’m guessing the homes have now been stabilized as well because the NPS is bidding out 60 year leases for them (according to their website.)


Sandy Hook is also home to the Sandy Hook Lighthouse. Sandy Hook claims to be the oldest lighthouse in the USA, and indeed, every time I post a photo of it on social media, a few fervent admirers will sing its virtues as THE oldest light still in use.


However, I have been to Boston Light and heard exactly the same thing from the lighthouse-obsessed couple that live on that isolated island and keep the light running when not conducting tours.

People who love lighthouses are very passionate about them and their claims to fame.

So which IS the oldest working lighthouse? It looks like Sandy Hook might actually be the winner by a technicality. Sandy Hook was built in 1764. The ORIGINAL Boston light was built in 1716 but was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1783. Thank you, Wikipedia!

Leaves of three, let it be!

That same year, I chaperoned a class trip to Sandy Hook for my daughter’s middle school. There were rangers and environmentalists on hand moving the kids through stations to learn about various aspects of the local ecosystem.


We learned about the horseshoe crab, a living fossil that has been on this earth for 450 million years. Their blue blood is invaluable to the medical industry and there is no synthetic substitute for it. Over-harvesting has led to a marked decline in the population in recent years and the species is threatened.

We were too late to save this one

After learning about the horseshoe crabs, the kids went out on to the beach and rescued the ones that had been beached by turning them over near the shore line and watching them swim away with the next wave.

This one happily swam away with the next wave

A year or two after the field trip, by the miracle of Instagram, I discovered that there were seals to be seen in Sandy Hook during the cold winter months! I checked the NPS website and found that I could sign up for a free ranger-guided viewing of the seals. We met our ranger at the lighthouse and caravanned to an undisclosed location. The NPS is having trouble with people traumatizing wildlife for the sake of photos, or doing plain stupid things like taking selfies with grizzlies for social media, so the rangers asked us not to post location specifics. Remember folks, it is a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act to come within 100 yards of the seals, so if you are lucky enough to see one on the beach, keep your distance.


When we got to the viewing spot, the rangers set up some telescopes so we could see the seals more clearly. Even with my longest lens, the photos were still pretty far off, so we were in no danger of harassing a marine mammal that day. It was still pretty exciting to see them!


Another great thing about Sandy Hook in the off-season is that dogs are allowed. There are lots of great paths winding through the fort area towards the beach at the very tip of the peninsula. On a clear day, you can see lower Manhattan from this beach.

And in the summer, I hear it’s a nude beach…no dogs or cameras allowed. 🙂

Location: 85 Mercer Rd, Highlands, NJ 07732

Designation: National Recreation Area

Date designation declared: 10/27/1972

Date of my visit: March 2016




Glen Canyon National Recreation Area: Lone Rock Beach


Welcome back to National Parks with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

After spending the morning touring Lower Antelope Canyon, we needed a respite from the heat. We’d originally planned to go to Horseshoe Bend right after Antelope, but switched up the itinerary and drove to Lone Rock Beach on the Utah side of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. What a spectacular setting in which to cool off!


This beautiful soft sand beach on Lake Powell is maintained by the National Park Service and the view is dominated by the monolithic Lone Rock. It’s about 12 miles north of Page. We paid a $15 entrance fee. There is limited hard-surfaced road, with the majority of access to Lake Powell on sandy roads or beach. We were driving a rental sedan and were warned we could get stuck driving down to the beach so we parked in the lot (which has a restroom) and walked to the water. It’s a long walk, but we’re used to long walks in hot sand to get to the water back home at the Jersey shore.


The water is warm and a beautiful turquoise color. The beach was not crowded at all, even though there were a lot of RVs in the main area (this is a popular camping site in the Park as you can pull your RV right up to the water’s edge.) We set up our mat a little ways down from them and had that section all to ourselves. This was the perfect way to spend a hot afternoon.DSC06545


Lake Powell is actually a man-made reservoir created by the Glen Canyon Dam. It was surprising to see all the motor boats and jet skis speeding around the lake, considering that people have to drink this water. Just sayin…

While Lake Mead (formed by the Hoover Dam) was larger than Lake Powell when they were both created, Lake Powell is now larger by volume due to a more intense drought/ falling water levels at the Nevada end of the Colorado River.

Location: Lone Rock RoadBig Water, UT 84741

Designation: National Recreation Area

Date designation declared: 10/27/1972

Date of my visit: 8/17/2014

You can see my previous post on Glen Canyon NRA : Horseshoe Bend here.