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Archive for October, 2009

The so called Widlife Refuge, Not!Burning up another vacation day in autumn, I decided to take this nice day and kayak the Passaic River in and around the Great Swamp Wildlife Refuge. As usual, and in opposition to its name, there was virtually no wildlife to be had. My only encounter was a deer on the side of the river. While it was a nice looking buck with antlers and all, he was all I saw. Fortunately he stood still long enough and was close enough for me to get a good picture. It’s ironic that I have it as the lead picture for this blog posting when the other photos I took during the day look so good. This is I have to mention about wildlife in this posting since there was no more to be seen. I also encountered a couple paddling a double kayak late in the trip, short of that nothing but river and the vegetation.

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The rest of the trip was marked by peace and serenity. Nothing else to really write about except the weather, the colors, the water and the relaxation that is paddling the Passaic River in fall, especially following and nice rain storm.

That’s right. The last fews days were marked by rains and today was the day of clearing. The temperature was in the upper 50s or low 60s and there was no breeze to speak of. The sun was out for the first 3 hours with and occasional cloud. By the end of the trip it became overcast but rain was never in the forecast. For late October in New Jersey, the weather was warm and comfortable. I was able to wear just my bathing suit with sandals and no socks. I didn’t have to wear a jacket either. How to you beat that?

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The clouds and sun combined to give me good mood lighting for the day’s photography. The colors were golden and brown more so than reds. The fall colors were a little past peak here but still there was plenty to enjoy. There are many dead branches in and out of the water that break up the beautiful color combinations. I liked the lighting and the glow the lighting and the colors provided. There was a Renoir-esque warm feeling to many of the comforting views I encountered which I think I was able to capture on my camera. Even the video looks pretty soothing. The calm waters made for some still footage, so enjoy the YouTube videos and the pictures I show here and on the Picasa Google Web Albums. Conditions may never be this good again to snap such nice shots.

DCC_4247_edited-1One of the nice things about doing this segment of the Passaic is that it is incredibly natural. You see virtually nothing that is man made. So little that I can name them here. From the parking lot I went north and saw several Great Swamp signs. There was a wooden observation post and nothing else until the bridge leading to the Swamp that was at the northern extent of the paddle. There were two bridges in that area. One was a car bride to the refuge and the other was a blockade to the rest of the river. I a;so saw bird feeders in the river, yet no birds. I saw no wires, no docks, no concrete and no pollution!!! The only thing I heard was an occasional airplane and some unknown low frequency thump in the distance. What I’m trying to get at is that it was just a supernatural paddle. On the rebounds of the trip, south of the Lord Sterling Bridge, I did see a red barn and a house at which I turned back around to go home. If you are fortunate enough to synchronize your trip in this area of the Passaic with high waters you can take advantage of a great natural kayaking experience.

Due to these high waters the river was very accessible. We have paddled most of the water before but I guess never in such high waters. The last time we did this segment we had to portage twice before heading back toward the parking lot. In addition, finding your way around vegetation was difficult at times. During this trip, navigation was circuitous in a fun and adventurous way. I kept going forward and forward, never getting stuck, never having to portage and before I new it, I saw a bridge I didn’t know about. I went further up the river than I was ever able to go up before, and without portaging. The bridge had a sign on it “No Boating” so after I went under it I saw why. This was then end of my journey up the river. The bridge to no where kind of placed a barrier on going any further upstream. I kind of think it’s all headwaters and swamps thereafter. I always love seeing places I haven’t been to yet.

After I turned around and got back to where I started I decided to continue downstream past the Lord Sterling Bridge. I took that for a while, about one half hour until I turned around to get back home. I continued down the river until I saw my first house then I turned back. The sun was at my back on the way back from here and gave me some real beautiful shots. This segment of the trip was well worth it. It was here that I captured some of the best shots of the day. I haven’t been on this part of the river since our inaugural kayak trip back in April so I was good to see some of this again.

To get out of the river I rammed the shore that was setup perfectly for that maneuver. There were leaves that I rammed into and once on shore I scooted 4 or 5 times and was securely on land. Stepping out was easy and dry. So was getting into the kayak. The high water levels gave me access to the shoreline that didn’t include mud. Therefore the entire journey was clean and dry.

Timeline of the paddle:

  • 11:30 -Left Home
  • 11:50 – Arrived at the Lord Sterling River access parking lot
  • 11:54 – Snapping pictures in the parking lot
  • 12:08 – Snapping pictures in the water
  • 12:12 – Start paddling up-stream into the refuge
  • 12:51 – Encounter slow movement of psychedelic green pieces of vegetation down the river
  • 1:15 – I see a bridge leading the refuge, confirming I have never gone this far.
  • 1:17 – I reach the end of the river as I go under this bridge and encounter anther that cuts off the river.
  • 1:22 – Turn around and head back under the bridge downstream
  • 1:48 – I see the lone deer on the bank of the river
  • 3:07 – Get back to parking lot and see the Lord Sterling Bridge
  • 3:12 – I cross the Lord Sterling Bridge and continue downstream away from the parking lot.
  • 3:29 – I reach the end of my journey downstream as I see the back of some homes on the bank of the river.
  • 3:30 – I start paddling upstream back to the parking lot.
  • 3:51 – I see the red barn just south of the bridge.
  • 3:55 – Cross uder the bridge
  • 3:58 – Take my last picture prior to stowing all the equipment away in preparation of getting out of the boat.
  • 4:10 – In the parking lot but without the kayak on the car.
  • 4:15 – Driving away.

The photos of this trip look really nice. I think the colors are warm and comforting. Enjoy them and others in my Picasa Google Web Albums.

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A lonely, solo kayak ready for the Passaic River

A lonely, solo kayak ready for the Passaic River

When we purchased the kayaks back in April 2009 we decided we would paddle this year in lieu of a vacation.  Our plan was to try to take advantage of nice days and kayak.  Being a long-time public servant I have lots of vacation built up and am forced to take some at the end of the year.  I saw that this Wednesday and Thursday were going to be unseasonable warm and nice so I decided to take the days off and kayak.  This was to be my first solo paddle as you can tell by seeing only one kayak loaded up on Kathy’s car.

Heron reflecting in the autumn colors

Heron reflecting in the autumn colors

I was hoping the autumn colors would be out in force, but unfortunately, the full colors were still a week or two away with many trees on the river colors green to light green.  There was the occasional speckle of red, yellow and orange but green was the rule of the day.  In any case the weather was perfect, in the upper 60s with no wind, no chill and no threat of rain.  It was more overcast than I expected but there were time the sun peaked through the clouds and for an hour or two in the middle of the day the clouds disappeared providing bright sunlight.  It was so nice that in late October I was still very comfortable in a bathing suit, sandals and a cooling shirt.

If you refer to the timeline below, I started paddling at 11:25 and I got out at 3:45.  That is just over four hours without getting out of the cock pit.  My bottom was a bit sore at the end of the trip and my bladder needed a relief by the end of the trip, but the entire thing was comfortable and relaxing.

Click here to view the photos I took in a Picasa Google Web Album.

I got to the parking lot of the Essex County Environmental Center at 11:00 and it was pretty crowded.  There was apparently a meeting going on in the old building by the launch ramp.  I walked in the front door looking to use a bathroom and the entire meeting looked back at me and I wasn’t a pretty sight in by kayaking garb and all.  It felt like a scene in a movie where someone opens the door at the back of a church trying to stop a wedding at the last moment.  I found my way to the bathroom using the side entrance and off I went.  May I add that it was a beautifully remodeled bathroom for an old building.

DCC_3046_edited-1I was psyched to launch into the trip.  I got unloaded and ready by the riverside.  I got all the electronics stowed away in waterproof bags, I got the bilge pump out and had my snake shaped sponge ready to go.  You never know how elegantly you are going to enter the water. Especially when trying to launch without stepping into the water or mud.  The step in and scoot method.

The riverside looked good for the step in a scoot method .  The shore was relatively un-muddy with some pebbles to drain the water. The angle of approach and slipperiness of the pebbly mud looked good for the step in and scoot method.  I stepped in and didn’t need to scoot because the weight of my body pushed the kayak down the bank sharply into the river.   The nose went under and I began to list to the left badly.  I almost flipped the kayak but managed to stave off total humiliation and got into the river.  I did manage to take on a good inch of water or two during the listing so I spent the first 10 minutes of the trip pumping and sponging the water out of the boat.  Not a big deal and all the valuables were unharmed but it once again teaches me to respect the perilous nature of being in a kayak.  Needless to say, I was happy I had the pump and sponge at the ready.

You can see the Rt 280 bridge in the back

You can see the Rt 280 bridge in the back

Paddling upstream toward the Eagle Rock Ave. bridge.

Paddling upstream toward the Eagle Rock Ave. bridge.

After the pain in the a$$ launch, I headed downstream.  I went under the Eagle Rock Ave. bridge and headed toward 280.  I got there in about 20 minutes so it was close.  While there was no current to think about.  I was paranoid about going past Rt 280 and encountering a current I wouldn’t be able to paddle upstream on.  This was as far downstream as I would go.  I then turned and headed southbound.  First I went back under the Eagle Rock Ave. bridge, past the environmental center, past the abandoned railroad bridge and finally, toward and past the Rt 10 / Mt. Pleasant bridge combo.

Chasing a blue heron under the abandoned railroad bridge.

Chasing a blue heron under the abandoned railroad bridge.

Approaching the Rt 10 bridge.

Approaching the Rt 10 bridge.

Debris in the river

Debris in the river

Going upstream this entire length was quite easy and battling a current wasn’t an issue.  In addition, while the water was shallow, navigating it until the ultimate blockage was very accessible.  While there were down trees all over the place, none of them, until the turn around, were substantial enough to block the river.  It’s one of the things that makes the Passaic an enjoyable paddle, the natural debris that you encounter.  The only bummer is the unnatural debris that the downed branches gather.  I thought there was less litter, primarily water bottles, this trip than I have witnessed on previous paddles down the Passaic.

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I saw some good wildlife on the trip.  This included and extended photo session with two blue herons that leaped-frogged just in front of me for a while on the upstream leg.  I was able to get several pictures.  I would once again find these two herons on the rebound and get some good pictures of them on the way back.

DCC_3323_edited-1I also saw a deer quietly observing me on the Essex County bank on the way back.  He didn’t prance off for a while so I was able to get some shots of this deer up close.  I then noticed 4 deer jumping on the Morris side of the river an few moments later, but my camera was set right and I wasn’t able to get any pictures of those deer.

On my was back I did see a turtle basking in the sunlight on branch hanging just above the river.  The turtle was calm enough to never jump off the log and let me get some good close-ups.  He was the size of an upside down salad bowl.  I also saw at the turn-around site a migration of black birds darting through the trees and across the river that went on for at least 20 minutes and included what must have been hundreds if not thousands of birds.

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I was observing these birds during the turn-around, lunch break.  At about 1:40 I arrived a a downed tree in the river that would haven required portaging to navigate around.  Being that my rump was getting sore, I decided this was a good point to stop, turn around, observe the migrating birds in the trees and eat my sandwich.   This downed tree in the river spanned the entire river and it looked like it had been there for a while and will probably be there for a while.  This makes a South Orange Ave. to Eagle Rock Ave. paddle without portaging impossible.  Too bad, but at least I now know something new about navigating the Passaic River.   For the record, the blockage was just about 1/10th of a mile south of a the Cedar Ridge County Club golf course that is on the river on the Essex County side.

Cedar Ridge County Club

Cedar Ridge County Club

I ate a sandwich at this turn around that I purchased at Sorrento Bakery/Deli located in East Hanover on Eagle Rock Ave.  It is very close to the environmental center and convenient for a kayak trip.  A good thing to know.  It’s a real Italian bakery, much like Calandras and it also sport a deli.  I got a roast beef sandwich and a croissant and  the bill was only $5.00 after tax.  This really was a great bargain and both items were very good and fresh.  I would recommend going there again even if it wasn’t for a kayak trip.

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That way downstream on the way home was a paddle the whole way.  Don’t let the term downstream fool you into thinking there is any current.  I was a battle between wanting to stay out, take pictures and enjoy the time o the river and my bladder.  For the most part, my bladder lost the battle and was forced to suffer.  We slowly paddled our way back home, taking time to photograph was was interesting.  The sun was behind me on the way home and gave me better coloration in the trees than we had on the way up stream.

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I found a blue heron hanging out on the riverside right as we approached the environmental center and took my last shots of the excursion.  After that I stowed the Nikon D200 away and prepared for my landing.  I decided to video the landing but it was uneventful.  I rammed the shoreline, stepped out of the boat, only getting one foot wet and I was done.  I quickly loaded the car and went home.  This was my first solo paddle and I survived it.  Another one to report on for the Blog-o-sphere.

DCC_3180_edited-1The timeline, based on phots taken goes like this:

  • 10:45 – Car is loaded in driveway
  • 11:24 – At bank of river with kayak unloaded.
  • 11:26 – I email Kathy “I’m on Passaic about to go toward 280 then I’ll turn around and go toward rt 10. Bonn voyage”
  • 11:41 – In the water, heading toward Rt. 280 taking pictures
  • 11:48 – I see the Rt 289 bridge
  • 11:54 – North of Rt 280 bridge
  • 12:05 – Turned around and going back under Eagle Rock Ave. bridge.
  • 12:13 – I email Kathy that I’m back at the Environmental Center
  • 12:23 – I start following and photographing a blue heron as he evades me going up the river.
  • 12:27 – I see the abandoned railroad bridge.
  • 12:51 – The heron finally pulls a U-turn on me as we say “See you on the rebound”
  • 1:23 – I email Kathy that I just past Rt. 10
  • 1:55 – I begin the downriver leg after the turn around just past the golf course on the Essex County side.
  • 2:10 – I go under Mt. Pleasant/Rt. 10 bridge Combo
  • 2:18 – I start taking picture of heron on the branches
  • 2:28 – I spot deer on Essex County bank.
  • Home at last.

    Home at last.

    2:29 – I email Kathy that I am 30 minutes past Rt. 10 on the way home.

  • 2:49 – I photograph a turtle on a log.
  • 3:20 – I photograph a flying heron
  • 3:30 – I pass under the abandoned railroad bridge.
  • 3:34 – I begin photographing a heron close on the Essex County bank.
  • 3:36 – I see the Environmental Center
  • 3:37 – I email Kathy that I will be disembarking.
  • 3:45 – I’m on the shore and out of the boat.

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IMG_3359_edited-1Brian from work informed Kathy and I of this group trip sponsored by the Sustainable Raritan River Initiative led by faculty and students at Rutgers’ Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences. The initiative enlisted the cooperation of Raritan River Basin stakeholders from the public and private sectors. Its goal was to foster environmentally sound stewardship of this valuable resource. This initial public event was the Raritan River Collaborative’s inaugural Fall Float, a gentle, six-mile float from Piscataway to New Brunswick.  I have to say it was very well organized and run with tee-shirts, water bottles, food, rescue squads, cameraman and reporter and food and a bus ride back to the cars at the end of the trip.  All for $10.

The put-in was at Piscataway’s Riverside (Bakelite) Park which is just off of the River Road exit on Route 287.  Very convenient.  The take-out is 6 miles down river at the Rutgers Boathouse, Boyd Park at the Raritan River, New Brunswick.

DCC_2529_edited-1According to the sponsoring group, “The Raritan is a state treasure” therefore I assume it is soon to be called the PNC Raritan River. Rutgers and its partners are promoting a regional strategy to raise public awareness and conduct vital research leading to a better understanding of the threats to this resource and the development of strategies to protect it.  As far as I am concerned, I saw no pollution and it was phenomenally clean, so either their efforts have been very successful or we should move on to more dire situations; eh-hmmm, the Passaic River.  Nevertheless, I am not a chemical analyzer so who knows what the river is really like.  A big thanks to all for putting on this event, being a kayaker and all, I do truly appreciate it.  In the end, the event opened me up to the Raritan.

We arrived at 12:15 and everything for the day was perfect.  The weather couldn’t be better, 65 and sunny.  Actually the wind kicked up for the last 3 minutes of the float but that is really nit-picking.

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There were lots of participants, probably 40 boats and local river rescue squads using the occasion to practice their techniques.  Needless to say we were very safe and they weren’t needed.  DCC_2482_edited-1During the safety talk, the rep from the local save the Raritan River Coalition said the river was pretty low and we would likely have to portage a time or two, but due to the float’s excellent scouts, I never left the boat.  I probably would have had the same experience without all the help, but it was nice to have nevertheless.

There was no real excitement in the water, it was gentle with no rapids at all.  One or two rock ledges to avoid getting caught on, but that was it.  The water hardly moved but we did have a nice breeze at our backs.  You couldn’t have ask for any more help from the weatherman than what we got.

The water itself was super clean and shallow for the most part.  I can say I didn’t see one piece of pollution the entire trip.  That’s an astonishing fact.  It’s nothing like the Rockay where you see tires all over the bottom of the river and the Passaic where the ubiquitous water bottles get caught at every downed limb on the river.  DCC_2511_edited-1 Unlike those other two rivers, the Raritan was straight and boring and they don’t know what a low and difficult to manuever river is, when they were telling us about it during the safety talk.  In any case, the safety talk was in depth and informative.

The colors are a week or 2 away from peak in Morristown, but still they are present.  Down south of Route 22 in Piscataway, the leaves were disappointingly green.  Little color to speak of.  Too bad because the sky was blue with a few wispy clouds, a little more foliage coloration would have been beautiful with the weather.

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DCC_2494_edited-2We did see the largest quantities and varieties of birds that we have seen on any kayak trip yet.  To start with, while waiting at Bakelite Park to take off, Kathy spotted, believe it or not, bald eagles in flight just above us.  I luckily got a few shots off and almost got great shots, but they are pretty good nevertheless and the pictures confirmed our spotting of our American bird.  I almost didn’t take the pictures and didn’t try to get too many, but we never saw them again so I am happy with what I got.

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There were plenty of other birds including lots of migrating geese all day long in large formations above us.  In the water and in the sky we saw seagulls.  Then we also saw a really cool tree holding several cormorant soaking up the sun rays on some picturesque dead branches.

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Below is the timing of the day according the time stamps from my photos.

Speaking of photos, the pictures above are all available on my Picassa Google web ablum. Click here to view my Google web album from the trip.

  • 12:15 – Arrive in Parking lot at Bakelite Park, River Road (exit 9 of Rt. 287), Piscataway, NJ
  • 12:53 – Bald eagle siting while on shore waiting to take off.
  • 1:01 – Safety talk begins.
  • 1:20 – Safety talk ends with a welcome by the Mayor of Piscataway.
  • 1:30 – In the water.
  • 2:45 – We go under our first bridge at Landing Road since we went under the Route 287 at the start of the trip
  • 2:51 – We went under the beautifully sweeping Route 18 bridge.
  • 2:57 – We see the multitude of cormorant hanging out in the branches of a dead tree.
  • 3:14 – Go under the multi-arched concrete railroad bridge
  • 3:21 – Under the multi-arched stone bridge for Route 27 and we make our way to the final approach to the boathouse.
  • 3:35- With a burst of speed, I propel my kayak up the exit concrete ramp and step out of the boat without even getting wet.
  • 4:15 – I catch the first bus ride back to Bakelite Park and pick up the car and drive back to Boyd Park in New Brunswick.
  • 4:30 – Easy load and pack and up Route 18 we go.  A quick stop at Micky D’s
  • 5:15 – At home to feed the dogs.  Unloading into the basement was quick and easy and the Tivo of the Giant – Oakland game worked where I was able to enjoy the 44-7 trouncing of the Raiders. A great 5-0 start for the G-men.

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