I had an awesome weekend with some friends on the Batona Trail. Normally when I plan anything longer than a day hike the last place I think of is the New jersey Pinelands. What a shame - the Wharton and Brendon Byrne forests are a local treasure here in New Jersey. I'll definitely have to keep the Pine Barrens (as we locals call the area) in mind.
Before we got started my buddy Chris and I drove into the pines to drop a load of firewood and fresh water. We were able to cache within a short distance of the turnoff trail to Lower Forge Campsite. The Lower Forge camp is off limits to all motorized traffic, and is only accessible via foot or canoe (it is located right on the Batsto River).
After hooking up with Dean, Jerry, Joe, and Michael at Batsto Village we drove to the fire tower at Apple Pie Hill to give the new guys a birds eye view of the lay of the land (lol - flat!). From the top of the tower we were treated to 360 degree views of unbroken pine forest. In one direction you can make out the casinos in Atlantic City, and in another the skyscrapers of Philadelphia stand like sentinels on the distant horizon. It was just a pleasure to take it all in on such a perfect day.
After we finished with the views we made our way to the starting point of this weekends adventure: the Carranza Memorial. The monument is dedicated to Captain Emilio Carranza Rodriguez, a Mexican aviator who was killed when he crashed during a thunderstorm while on a goodwill flight from New York to Mexico in 1928.
After the obligatory photos we were on our way by about 1:30pm. This was by no means an epic adventure. We were actually just looking for a quick overnighter and the Batona Trail fit the bill. It's just 30 minutes from home, and perfect just to get out in a hurry. Anyhow, the days hike was only 5 1/2 miles to Lower Forge campsite. In fact it was harder carrying the firewood and water into the campsite than getting there. I'm not usually a big fan of campfires, but on this occasion it just seemed like a good idea. We must have looked pretty strange walking in with firewood, but I know this site gets heavy use and I didn't want to take from the few resources that might be available.
As you can tell by the pics, the campsite was busy. In fact, there were no less than a dozen other tents and I was the second tarp camper to wander in (a strange occurrence in this neck of the woods). After making camp and starting the fire we were finally settled in. There's something about a fire on a crisp evening, and this night was no exception. I'm usually in the sack by 8pm on most outings, but the company was good and the fire was warm, so I didn't call it a night until about 10:30.
I slept through the night and didn't wake until 4:30am, which is a rarity for me. I usually toss and turn all night (at least on the 1st night). Try as I may to get a little more sleep, I finally gave in to the approaching dawn at 6:30. I was the 1st one up so I got the water on to boil, and broke down my camp. One by one the rest of the crew was soon moving about. Again, we were in no hurry, so we were actually the last to roll out at 9:00am.
You can look at the Batona Trail and say "it's just sand and trees and no views and flat, and blah blah blah", but I found a difference in the sameness. It was kind of neat to not have to look at my feet all the time like some trails. This section of the trail follows the Batsto River from Lower Forge camp to Batsto Village so there were occasional views of the river, and interesting plants growing in some of the bogs.
The only bad thing I could imagine would be swarms of our state bird (the mosquito) in the summer. No, it wasn't summer, but instead a beautiful fall day with no worries and all day to easily cover the 7 1/2 miles to Batsto.
We walked into the visitor center parking lot at 1:30 where cheeseburgers and cold rootbeer were the perfect finish to the perfect weekend. I'm still blown away that we were able to fit an overnight hike into 24 hours. I'm sure we'll be back soon.