You never know what surprises await on a walk in the woods.
By Jim Wright on July 14, 2017
Sometimes a hike becomes more than a hike, and that’s often the case in The Nature Conservancy’s High Mountain Park Preserve in Passaic County. But a hike that my wife and I took there to celebrate July 4 was a notch above.
We saw nature at its most beautiful -- butterflies and dragonflies. We saw nature at its most brutal (a Black Snake killing a young bird).
We used modern technology -- an app to measure how tall the summit of High Mountain is. And we found centuries-old technology in the form of a chert arrowhead.
We saw sassafras and salsify. We met nice people. And we had a picnic lunch at High Mountain’s summit, with its sweeping views of northern New Jersey and Manhattan beyond. All in all, not a bad day.
Okay, the butterflies and the view weren’t really a surprise, but the magic of a walk in the woods is often found in the unexpected, like the delicate if unidentified bloom below.
High Mountain isn’t just any woods, mind you. The 1,260-acre preserve, owned by Wayne Township, New Jersey’s Natural Lands Trust, and The Nature Conservancy, not only has 11.5 miles of rugged trails (maintained by the New New Jersey Trail Conference), but it has history and vistas. And it’s essentially in New York City’s front yard.
Perhaps the best way to tell the story is with pictures, in the order they were taken.
Let’s get the “rough” shot out of the way first. Tennyson called such moments “Nature, red in tooth and claw,” and they are as much a part of the natural world as sunsets and shimmering brooks. My wife and I heard the commotion before we saw it -- a scold of Blue Jays screaming bloody murder.
We figured they were mobbing a raptor, possibly an owl. But as we approached, we saw commotion on the ground, and then the snake, taking shelter from its attackers under a bush. In its mouth was a young Blue Jay, beyond hope.
Tough to witness, but as much a part of nature as Blue Jays raiding an American Robin’s nest. As we headed up the trail, we could hear the jays still screaming.
At the summit, we found the top of the greenish copper rod that once denoted the highest elevation at High Mountain. I tried an altimeter app on my iPhone. It read 907 feet. The official height, from what I've read is approx. 885 feet, so that wasn't too shabby.
While my wife, Patty, and I ate lunch, we enjoyed the view from the summit (we could even see the Verrazano Bridge).
We were soon joined by a couple who had recently moved to Weehawkin from rustic Connecticut. They were delighted they had found such a fascinating patch of wilderness so near to New York City.
We hiked a ways together. I pointed out a Western Salsify, which resembles a dandelion on steroids or nature’s daytime fireworks (since this was the Fourth of July, after all).
One of our new hiking companions pointed out a sassafras tree, which had three different-shaped leaves on it. Did not know that.
On the way back to our car, near one of High Mountain’s waterfalls, I found an arrowhead on the trail. I know the Lenapes used to live by High Mountain in the late 1600s, and I’d like to think this finely chiseled arrowhead, made from a rock called chert, was made by one of them.
I doubt the Lenapes were very big on celebrating America's independence from Great Britain, but their presence is still felt at High Mountain.
When my wife and I finished the hike, we looked back toward the path and reflected on our little adventure. Although the trails at High Mountain are well-marked, you never know where they might lead.
Jim Wright is a blogger, author, birding columnist and trustee for The Nature Conservancy in New Jersey.
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