Monday, February 14, 2011

Beating the crowd

This weekend's jaunt brought us to the end of the Parkway. Yes, my friends, Exit Zero, Cape May. Given current work schedules and the need to get far away from the office, what had started as an offhand trip "maybe to Brigantine, maybe someplace else, uh, well, it's been a while since I've been to Avalon, so why not check it out" turned into a trek to the Cape May lighthouse and environs at the southernmost tip of New Jersey. From our starting point in Union County, that's well over 130 miles one way on the Parkway alone.

And, of course, there are sure to be birds there. Being a major rest stop on the Atlantic Flyway, Cape May has become renowned for the sheer variety of avian visitors. Thus, it was a good thing we had the optics with us. We figured we'd hit Avalon and whatever else on the way back.

Now, this trip was interesting in the fact that we were combining shared knowledge of locations, but seeing them from our respective angles. I've spent a few Labor Day weekends staying in the Victorian district of Cape May, hitting the beach, maybe stopping at a few of the nature preserves to check them out, but going very light on the birding. For Ivan, on the other hand, it's been all about the birds.

One thing we seemed to have in common: the ritual pit stop at the Parkway's southernmost rest stop, the Ocean View Service Area. It's my reliable place for getting a Roy Rogers cheeseburger and some Jersey tourist info. Imagine my shock and dismay to find that the Roy Rogers was CLOSED, its counter walled off. It rocked my world. I mean, I understand that I was probably one of the five people who ever bought food there, but come on! Am I expected to stop at the Atlantic City rest area instead? There's no charm to that place at all.

The other nasty thing they did was reconfigure the bathrooms, moving the entrances farther back toward the New Jersey Information center. You can see below that the whole thing is just a little confusing. I could make any number of jokes here about the fact that men never stop for directions, so maybe the only way to do it is to put urinals in the info center, but I'll refrain. (Interestingly, though, Ivan was the one who pointed out the photo op.)

It being winter and all, the Parkway trip was relatively quick and it seemed we were in Cape May in very little time (it probably also didn't hurt that I had company for a trip I usually drive solo -- good conversation does pass the time better than talking to oneself.). A few more miles, a quick stop at one of the Audubon centers, and we were at the Cape May lighthouse in Cape May Point State Park.

The park includes a beach, interpretive center, the lighthouse, a bird observation platform (with emphasis on raptors), a series of paths and, oh yeah, a World War II bunker on the beach. We saw an array of ducks and whatnot on the marshy side of the platform,
but the really remarkable aspect of the stay was the bare ground. Bare meaning NO SNOW.

The temperature was somewhere in the high 40s and had been for most of the previous week, giving the snow pack a good long time to melt away. We marveled in it as we walked along the paths and I took pictures. There's something really liberating about seeing grass or underbrush free of a white coating after so long. You can't help but feel that spring isn't far away. (Were the groundhogs right?)

Of course, I had to do my happy dance along the path at points. When the days are getting longer and the snow has disappeared, what else can you do?

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