Thursday, July 31, 2014

Sandy Hook - History, Science AND Phys Ed

In honor of my birthday, I took a few days off work and we spent one of those days exploring Sandy Hook.    It was a beautiful day – not too hot, nice breeze, sunny and not too crowded. 

Sandy Hook is a barrier peninsula and the northern-most of the Jersey Shore beaches.  It is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area (part of the US National Park Service) and has beaches, salt marshes, hiking trails, a holly forest, Fort Hancock, the Sandy Hook Lighthouse, and great views of New York City.
We started our exploration by visiting the Lighthouse and the Lighthouse Keeper’s Quarters.  The Sandy Hook lighthouse is the oldest surviving lighthouse in the US.   It was built in 1764 and was originally called the New York Lighthouse because it was paid for by New York lottery sales and taxes on ships coming into New York Harbor.  It was occupied by the British during the Revolutionary War.  After New York ratified the Constitution, the Lighthouse was transferred to federal control.

When built, the Lighthouse was located 500 feet from the tip of Sandy Hook.  Because of sediment drift, it is now located almost a mile and a half from the tip.
We explored the Lighthouse Keeper’s Quarters which are set up as a museum with pictures, videos, and models showing the history of the Lighthouse and Fort Hancock.  We ended up not climbing to the top of the lighthouse.  Tours didn’t start until 1pm and by that time we were relaxing on the beach (at least Jen and I were, the children – which includes Daddy – we’re enjoying the waves).  There are 90+ steps and then a ladder to climb to the top so it’s best done when feeling energetic.

The Lighthouse is located on the grounds of Fort Hancock.  Fort Hancock protected New York Harbor from 1895 until 1974.   The Battery Potter was the first and only disappearing gun battery.  It was powered by a steam hydraulic lift system.   Even though it was obsolete by the time it was in operation (1893), due to the slow firing speed (over two minutes per round), it was still used until 1906 because it had a 360 degree range that could cover the entire Bay.  

Most of the areas are accessible only for special tours but we were able to explore the Mortar Battery, which was built in 1890 and included a system of tunnels for storing guns and ammo. 

We drove over to Horseshoe Cove next, for some exploration and beach combing.   On the way over, I am positive I saw a bald eagle in the water.  Nobody else saw it (we were in a moving car) and I did get some skepticism from everyone, but a little bit of research convinces me I was correct.  There have been bald eagles sighted at Sandy Hook this year, and I spent enough time around my father and grandparents, who are/were extremely avid bird watchers, that I’m pretty sure I can tell an eagle from a gull.  But anyway….

There were osprey platforms scattered throughout the area.  A couple seemed to have nests with babies but I didn't have my telephoto lens at this point so couldn't get a closer look.

Vicki loved splashing in the soft waves found on the bay side.  She was fascinated by how her feet kept sinking into the mushy sand.

We found a horseshoe crab molt (that we didn't realize was a molt until the Ranger program we did later on).

We found a skull that after much research appears to be a fish skull.  Daddy thinks it's a sea robin based on the shape.

We found a huge pile of sea shells washed up by the tide.

Georgie found some really neat looking rocks that he made up names for. Some were very unusual - green and pink.

The kids played on a long pole that I thought looked like the mast of a ship, but everyone else thought was a telephone pole.  It was smooth, had no footholds and was larger than any telephone pole I ever saw.  After doing research, one other possibility is a support from a railroad trestle that used to run through the area.

Finally, it was time to go to the beach!  The kids had a great time splashing in the waves....
Vicki was like a little fish swimming underwater, and diving right into the waves.   She's come a very long way this summer.

George has also come a long way, even swimming in from boogie boarding with Daddy.  He swam about 10 feet before he could reach bottom.

They also had some fun playing on the beach, running after the seagulls....
or burying Alexey in the sand.  But the vast majority of their time was spent in the water.

After a quick break for lunch, we came back to the beach in time to check out one of the Ranger programs.  This program was a small, informal drop-in change to see some of the sea life found around the area close up.  They had a little pool with tiny little hermit crabs, a green crab, shrimp, snails, horseshoe crab molts, a minnow, and a few different kinds of shells.


George was right in there chasing around the fish and holding one of the hermit crabs....

while Vicki was okay with just looking.....

 and Alexey was crazy enough to chase around and catch the green crab.

The kids were also able to see a ton of jellies in the water.  They were little tiny clear blobs with no tentacles and I'm pretty sure they were baby moon jellies.

After lunch we went to a different beach than in the morning (there are about 5 different beaches at Sandy Hook).  This one had waves a lot bigger and stronger than the beach from the morning.  Georgie had enough of the big waves fairly quickly but Daddy and Alexey had a great time riding the waves.

We are already making plans for another trip down there before summer ends.  :-)

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