Take the challenge!

13 04 2015

New Jersey Conservation Foundation has launched an awesome new “Step Into Nature Challenge”, asking people to set a goal for themselves to get outside more in 2015. Hiking, biking, and species identification categories are available, plus a custom category to create your own goal! For more information and to register, visit http://njconservation.org/StepIntoNatureChallenge.htm

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I am challenging myself to photograph 200 different species of native plants and animals in New Jersey this year! What’s your challenge going to be?

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Hike & Seek

24 06 2011

The National Wildlife Federation is expanding their Hike & Seek event to six cities this fall, including our very own Scherman-Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary in Bernardsville, NJ!

On October 15th, registered participants will hike 1-2 miles with a guidebook, stopping along the way to speak with naturalists, participate in scavenger hunts, and enjoy the beautiful natural setting of one of New Jersey Audubon’s most popular sanctuaries.  After the hike, the fun will continue with wildlife displays, games, and other activities.

Register early by clicking here or clicking the image above.  You can also volunteer as a naturalist by emailing hike@nwf.org





Quinzee fun!

9 02 2011

After the last big snow storm we were hit with, I decided to go out and play in the snow with my little sister, Alyssa. I suggested we build a snow fort (as we did last year) and that we recruit our brother, Casey, to help out. Casey brought up the idea of building a quinzee instead of a fort, and we ventured out into the front yard to get started.

To build a quinzee, you basically gather a giant mound of snow in roughly the shape of a dome or igloo. After the mound is of satisfactory size (you want to leave thick walls at least a foot thick as well as have plenty of room inside), pack the snow down as best you can. Then begin digging!

The entrance to our quinzee, lit from the inside

Slowly begin digging a hole to create an entrance to the quinzee. Dig down as well as in, until you almost reach the ground. You want to utilize the height of your snow mound and by digging straight in you would be wasting all the snow underneath you and the structure!

Alyssa, kickin' back and relaxin'

After an entrance has been dug out and you are at least a foot or two inside the snow mound, you can begin digging in other directions. We continued digging straight in for a bit until we could lie down inside the mound, and then proceeded to dig out the sides and ceiling a bit more.

When the inside space is sufficient (hopefully this means you can sit up comfortably) and there are still at least a foot of walls on all sides, the quinzee is almost complete! Smooth out the interior walls, add some finishing touches, and enjoy! If you’re going to be utilizing the quinzee for more than a day, it’s probably a good idea to reinforce the structure. You can do this by burning a candle inside the quinzee – this will begin to melt the snow, but the water will freeze and the ice will add support to the interior walls. Similarly, add water to the outside of the quinzee overnight.

If you are going to be sleeping in the quinzee and conditions are particularly cold/windy, you can build a small wall in front of the door to prevent the elements from getting inside. You can also carefully drill a ventilation hole in the top of the quinzee – be careful! You don’t want to compromise the integrity of the structure.

Shoveling the initial mound and removing all that snow from the inside of the quinzee is tough work, but with a friend or two helping out it goes by quickly, and hanging out inside is really fun! The interior heats up a bit and can end up being rather comfortable relative to the outside conditions. We made great use out of our quinzee, telling ghost stories, taking pictures, and even talking on the phone (ok, not really)!

Alyssa on a conference call inside the quinzee

Building this quinzee almost makes me wish for another big snow storm so we can make another! Almost.





The Last Days of Summer

30 08 2010

Things are starting to cool off a bit each night as the summer starts to come to an end while the nights eventually begin to get longer and we gradually lose more light out of each day. And one of my favorite things about this time of year is listening to the crickets and bugs outside all night long because for some reason it’s very soothing and helps me get to sleep. I LOVE that sound. Eventually once it gets cold enough at night that sound will go away for a while until next year. New Jersey is definitely a diverse state in my opinion and with our diversity comes the frequent changing of the weather and I’ve learned to take each season as it comes. Although I love the summer, we have Autumn to look forward to in a couple of weeks and of course in a couple of months we have my favorite holiday…Halloween.

Anyway, I figured I’d post a handful of outdoors photos that I took between the end of July and now. They are simple photos but sometimes that’s all you need:

Cape May National Wildlife Refuge. This is 2 miles of preserved beach and this is the trail that they let you walk through.

This is a trail by Jefferson Lake. There’s a lot of nice trails in the Allamuchy/Waterloo area. I walk fast everywhere I go as if I’m always in a rush but on trails like this I finally slow down. It’s nice to get away from my daily schedule and have nowhere to go for a while. It’s a bit liberating to be able to walk in whichever direction I feel like rather than a specific route that I have to take to get to a specific place by a certain time.

Same area but off the trails.

I climbed a tree and took this pic.

A garter snake I came across.

Thanks for looking. We’ll see where I end up next…





Hiking at Clinton Road in the West Milford Area

26 07 2010

One of my favorite places to hike is the trail off Clinton Road in West Milford that leads to Terrace Pond. It takes around 45 minutes or so to get to the destination at the top and there’s a cliff that you can jump off of into the water (although I hear a park ranger will fine you if you are caught swimming there). We went there today and the combination of the cool rain and the warm water of Terrace Pond was heavenly as I always find myself feeling more serene when I’m outside doing something like this. I’m sure that many of you outdoor enthusiasts feel the same way.

Another good thing about this trail is the fact that there is some moderate climbing involved and it really is a decent workout. You basically can go straight up the rocky mountain waterline and then take the blue trail off to the right which takes you through the woods and over some rocky obstacles and a choice of either staying on the blue trail or trying the white one which goes around the water at the top. This is a very popular spot so you will most likely see a handful of fellow hikers there if you go on the weekend. Oh, and I’m hearing that there has been some recent rattlesnake sightings and there are also bears in the area so be careful as always. Anyway, here are some pictures I took from earlier today. We started off by letting go our two little wood frogs that we kept for a short time. They ate like kings when we had them at home in a tank but we figured they’d be better off back in the wild:

Wood Frog

Goodbye, little fella!

Up the hill we go...

Elliott makes his way up the blue trail...

Terrace Pond. Great views and swimming up here.

On the way back down...

A Red Eft that we found on the way back.

Here's another one. They often come out when it rains.

Thanks for looking!





Go Take a Hike

9 07 2010

Walking is like breathing.  For most of us it’s something that we do without much thought or effort.  And for most of us (who rely on our cars to get everywhere) it’s probably not something we do enough of.

Walking around my neighborhood at sunset.

If I had to list my all-time favorite things to do, as strange as it might sound to some people, walking would be at the top of the list.  I love going for long walks (partly because they’re pretty good, low-impact workouts) any and every  opportunity I can get.  I try to get at least one long walk in each day and will walk to local stores and to friends’ houses whenever possible.  Even when I reflect on my travels, some of the best memories I have involve walks of some sort – hiking trails, zipping through crowds of people in cities, or strolling leisurely along beaches.

I’m pretty lucky to live in a neighborhood that’s quite conducive to scenic walks.  The landscapers in my development do an amazing job of grooming and pruning the beautiful flowers, plants, and trees on the grounds.  We have lots of winding, shady streets to walk on and a nice path that cuts through an open field and a wooded area.

Only walked a few feet from home, but suddenly I feel like I'm on vacation.

This all being said, I’m really interested in learning about new places to take walks or hikes.  What are some of your New Jersey favorites?

~Melissa





Spotted & Marbled Salamanders of NJ: Check em’ Out!

8 07 2010

Hey guys, how are you enjoying your summer so far? I am loving it. Anyway, this is my first post for this site and I’m looking forward to getting into the groove of posting some pictures and videos of places and creatures that we come across as we go out on our hiking trips. I have always been an amphibian nerd so I am happy to show you two different types of salamanders that we came across over here in the woods of North Jersey. Both are somewhat similar in appearance and how they live their lives aside from the patterns on their backs. These guys spend a lot of their time near a pond where they lay their eggs and underground where it’s cool and moist. They are really mild-mannered creatures who come out at night to hunt for food and they usually aren’t that easy to find.

I found the spotted salamander under a big rock by a pond and my brother Jordan found the marbled salamander underneath some dirt and leaves in the shade on the side of a small mountain which was also near a pond. These really are some beautiful creatures and I wanted to show them to you fellow NJ hikers so you can see who is living in the woods near the trails that you hike on! I will be posting some more pics and video soon of cliff jumping as well as anything cool that I can find down by the beaches in the Belmar/Spring Lake area so come back soon! Thanks for reading!

Spotted Salamander, found by Duck Pond in the Swartswood Lake area of North Jersey
Spotted Salamander, found by Duck Pond in the Swartswood Lake area of North Jersey


Marbled Salamander, found by Wildcat Mountain off Green Pond Road in North Jersey. Look at this thing! I put him in a tank for my son and we are planning to eventually let him go back in the wild, but for now he’s living underneath the substrate in my son’s amphibian tank.