Monday, September 19, 2011

Pranked by the Wizard of Menlo Park

With Ivan away on a multi-day, out-of-state bird chase (it's migration season, after all), I was left to my own devices for Hidden New Jersey travels this past weekend. I decided to get on the Parkway and see where serendipity led me.

How'd you like to change this bulb?
The sign for the Route 27 exit led me to wonder how the renovation of the Edison memorial and museum in Menlo Park is doing. When I last looked, the website claimed the museum, at least, would be open this fall. It's worth a quick look, right? I got off the highway and made my way to Christie Street, site of TAE's first real lab, where the incandescent bulb was perfected.

Nope, the museum isn't open yet, and the building is virtually empty, so I guess it will be several weeks, at least, before they cut the ribbon. The memorial tower, cast from 1200 barrels of Edison Portland Cement, is still surrounded by a chain link fence and appears not to have much repair work done to it. No truth to the rumor, though, that the big bulb up top is being replaced with a compact fluorescent model.

What's an Edisonian explorer to do? Hmm... across the street there's a marker with lots of information on the electric railway that was tested there, but reading that only takes a few minutes. There's always the Edison Information Trail, leading into the woods behind the museum. I'd ignored it on earlier visits, and the explanatory posting was missing, but there was a big sign over the entrance. Apparently it was a youngster's Eagle Scout project. It's worth a shot, and I'll get a nice nature stroll in at the same time. Good enough.

I tromped into the woods, expecting to find little plaques or something along the way. No. I did find a yellow disk emblazoned with a light bulb, nailed to a tree. A marker, perhaps? Good enough... I'll keep going. The trail seemed obvious enough. But still, I wasn't seeing any of the data that one would assume would come on an information trail.

Abandon all hope. There is no information here.
Then I came to a spot where there was no undergrowth. The trail disappeared until I saw the start of a path across the open area. I expected to loop back, but I ended up at a ballfield that, from the road sounds, was probably separated from Route 27 by a barrier of trees. Okay, I guess I made a wrong turn somewhere.

Backtracking shouldn't have been that difficult. The wooded tract can't be any more than 10 acres, and there are houses nearby. How hard could it be?

Well, plenty hard. There were, of course, no markers, and finding the other end of the trail on that big bare spot wasn't as easy going as it was coming. I made several wrong turns and ended up bushwacking through some underbrush. Joking to myself, I figured I didn't have to worry about ticks because there were no deer around. And then, as if on cue, I saw two deer. Great.

I was close enough to some backyards that I could have taken them as an escape route, but I didn't want to deal with the embarrassment (or the police, if the homeowners were peeved). Instead, I pulled out my cell phone GPS and got a sense of where I was on the property. Fortunately the maps accurately showed where the museum and parking area are, and I was able to find my way back to the established trail after a few minutes.

No harm, no foul, but I have to admit I'm a little annoyed with the Boy Scouts, specifically the Eagle Scout program. This project was well thought out, and if this Flickr stream is any indication, it came out very nicely, but unlike others I've seen, it wasn't kept up. I guess I should have known better -- caveat emptor and all that.

Or maybe it was all planned ... like one of Edison's notorious practical jokes.

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