Sandy Hook to the Rescue


HOEK (Dutch): Corner, angle; spit of land.

The long spit of land known as Sandy Hook, comprised of beaches, dunes and maritime forest, is a recreational wonderland. It serves a higher purpose, though. For centuries the spit has guarded the entrance to New York Harbor. The peninsula, owned by the federal government since 1814, has long been essential to the safety of mariners and the defense of New York. There’s a lot of history resting on the shifting sands of Sandy Hook!

161126_nj-gateway-nra-sandy-hook-lifesaving-station_6768acsNew York Harbor is one of the busiest in the nation. Seafaring is always treacherous, and many ships foundered off the Jersey Coast. In the 1870s, the U. S. Life-Saving Service was established, to watch the coast and rescue stranded seamen. Life-saving stations like this one were built along the coast. Spermaceti Cove Station No. 2, built in 1894, housed a six man crew of “surfmen” and their rescue equipment.

161126_nj-gateway-nra-sandy-hook-lifesaving-station_6815acsThe Spermaceti Cove station was used by the Life-Saving Service and subsequently by the U.S. Coast Guard until the 1940s. It has served as the Visitor Center for the Sandy Hook unit of Gateway National Recreation Area since the 1970s. Damaged in Hurricane Sandy, it’s now closed, to our deep disappointment. We could only admire the old girl from the outside.

Also guarding the harbor is the Sandy Hook Light.

161125_nj-gateway-nra-sandy-hook-light_6506acsFirst lit in 1764, it was captured by the British in 1776, withstood an American attack, and was held until the end of the Revolution.

161125_nj-gateway-nra-sandy-hook-light_6497acsThe Lighthouse Keeper’s Quarters now standing on the site was built in 1883. It also saw life as a U.S. Life-Saving Station.

Sandy Hook Light is still in operation 24 hours a day, using an automated, fixed 3rd-order Fresnel lens. When it was built in 1764, water lapped the shore just 500 feet away. The light now stands a mile and a half from the tip of Sandy Hook.

161126_nj-gateway-nra-sandy-hook-light_6894acsWe took advantage of a chance to climb the 103’ tower. Along the way, deep set windows gave peek-a-boo views of Fort Hancock below.

Sandy Hook’s location at the mouth of New York harbor made it the perfect place to build a fort to defend the harbor and New York City.

A wooden fort called Fort Gates served during the War of 1812. Fort Hancock replaced it in the late 1800s.

161126_nj-gateway-nra-sandy-hook-light_6902acsA view of Fort Hancock from the lighthouse. This is Officers Row, a group of yellow brick residences. Enlisted men lived in barracks and a small village of supporting buildings sprouted up over the years. The population of Fort Hancock peaked during World War II at nearly 12,000 military personnel.

Much of the fort’s defenses centered on concrete gun batteries using the most powerful cannons of the day. After WWII, the fort’s mission shifted to an array of Nike air defense missiles. At the end of 1974, Fort Hancock was officially decommissioned. It now is part of Gateway National Recreation Area.

161125_nj-gateway-nra-sandy-hook-fort-hancock_6402acsFort Hancock’s Nine-gun Battery.

161125_nj-gateway-nra-sandy-hook-fort-hancock_6419acsThese old gun batteries were quite picturesque, in a moody sort of way.

161125_nj-gateway-nra-sandy-hook-fort-hancock_6485acsBattery Peck.

Near Sandy Hook, in Atlantic Highlands, is Mount Mitchill Scenic Overlook. Perched at 266’, the highest natural elevation on the Atlantic Coastal Plain, it offers sweeping vistas of Sandy Hook, Raritan Bay and New York City. You get a feel for the strategic importance of Sandy Hook to the defense of New York and the safety of seamen traveling into the harbor.

Throughout the weekend, from every high point and lighthouse, we searched for the Statue of Liberty. Throughout the weekend, from every high point and lighthouse, Robb claimed to see her.

Atop the Sandy Hook Light,  Robb declared that he could see the Statue. Again,

161126_nj-gateway-nra-sandy-hook-light_6945aDon was skeptical. She never seemed to be where Robb said she was.

After two days of following Robb’s guidance, to no avail, I sought the aid of other visitors to Mount Mitchill. Within minutes, thanks to them, I had found what I was looking for.

At last! Lady Liberty! Let’s zoom in…

161126_nj-mt-mitchill-overlook_7002acs2There she stands, the symbol of freedom, the symbol of welcome to all who come to our beautiful land.

And guarding her flanks, Sandy Hook, ever vigilant.

Sandy Hook Au Naturel

161126_nj-gateway-nra-sandy-hook-lifesaving-station_6769acs2Ahhh, Thanksgiving! Autumn draws to a close with a harvest feast. Now thoughts turn to the holidays and the coming winter: shopping, caroling and celebrations, cold and snow and ice. The long dark season approaches. So naturally on Turkey Day, we went to… the beach!

Not just any beach though. Sandy Hook, the Far North of the Jersey Shore, in sight of New York City’s towering skyscrapers. Unexplored territory, as far as I was concerned.

161125_nj-gateway-nra-sandy-hook_6429acsOn the trail to the tip of Sandy Hook. Sandy Hook is a peninsula nearly 6 miles long and part of Gateway National Recreation Area. It juts out between the Atlantic Ocean and Sandy Hook Bay, at the entrance to New York Harbor. A variety of habitats comprise Sandy Hook. Glad to see some late fall color in the sand dune and shrub thicket.

161125_nj-gateway-nra-sandy-hook_6473acs161125_nj-gateway-nra-sandy-hook_6432acs161125_nj-gateway-nra-sandy-hook_6448acsMore dunes. Other habitats in the park include grasslands, ponds, maritime forests and saltmarshes.

FUN FACT: Sandy Hook is a peninsula, but furthermore it is a sand spit. The Jersey Coast runs generally north-south. But the mainland at Highlands New Jersey takes a sharp turn to the northwest. This change of direction is called re-entry. The longshore current which has been carrying sand northward reaches this point and dissipates, dropping its sediment load.

Longshore drift continues to carry sand along the sand bar in the direction of breaking waves. Soon an above-water spit forms. Vegetation takes root and grows, establishing a stable peninsula. In the lee of the spit, salt marshes develop. Wave refraction (the change in direction of a wave) occurring carries sand and sediment around the end to form a hook. Hence, Sandy Hook!

161125_nj-gateway-nra-sandy-hook_6451acsAt last we reached the point. It was a gloomy day, but still picturesque. A gloomy day at the beach beats a good day indoors. Winter will be full of dark, cold, gloomy days. We have found the beach to be the perfect antidote. Visiting the Shore on Thanksgiving is like getting a vaccination against the malaise of winter.

161125_nj-gateway-nra-sandy-hook_6455aThe beach at the point was a treasure trove of shells. Shells upon shells upon shells. Those smaller shells aren’t just resting there, folks. They’re attached to the shells below them.

I could have stayed here for hours beachcombing through the shells. Alas, my companions had other priorities.

161126_nj-gateway-nra-sandy-hook-lifesaving-station_6789acsOver on the Atlantic side of the spit a long sandy beach lines the shore. The only thing different than other beaches along the Jersey Coast is the view of New York City in the distance. (See top photo.) Oh, and the thin layer of teeny tiny pebbles covering the sand.

161125_nj-gateway-nra-sandy-hook_6170acsBrant along the Shrewsbury River at the southern end of the park. The brant is a small goose that hangs out near oceans. Adult brant have black heads and wear a white necklace at their throats.

161126_nj-gateway-nra-sandy-hook_6855acsSpermaceti Cove is one of several coves on the Sandy Hook Bay side of the spit. A trail led to a boardwalk across the marsh.

161126_nj-gateway-nra-sandy-hook_6849acsThe tide was dropping. In one of the nearly dry channels, we spotted this cloud of fish. They’d been left stranded by the outgoing water in a small pool, with no way out. How many fish do you think there are?

161126_nj-gateway-nra-sandy-hook_6846acsHere are a few of them, up close and personal. They were quite small, maybe an inch or two long.

Some of them appeared to have dark stripes or blotches.

I really need to learn more about fish.

161126_nj-gateway-nra-sandy-hook_6853acsNext to the pool there were other critters afoot, who had written their tales in the open book of sand. A heron had been here, and a raccoon, and at least one fox. Bet the fishing was good, for those content with hors d’oeuvres.

161126_nj-gateway-nra-sandy-hook_6873acsCedars, hollies and marsh grasses.

161126_nj-mt-mitchill-overlook_6958Spermaceti Cove from afar. Blue water, white sand, green trees. Who can think of winter with a view like this?