A Travellerspoint blog

Day 67 (11.07.07) - Lighthouses, Tall & Small

We visited Hereford & Cape May Lighthouses and Sunset Beach on Cape May.

sunny 50 °F


Miles Driven - 116
Weather - Sunny & Clear, but cold and windy
Camped - Walmart in Mays Landing


I actually got up early, for a change, so we got a good start to our trip south to Cape May. We didn't know what to expect there, they had a lighthouse and beaches, but we expected we'd check them out quickly and get out of Dodge so to speak. The drive was lovely, the cold snap has really brought on the fall colors down here. We tried stopping at a couple of museums only to find they were closed for the season.

Mom did see a 'Hereford Lighthouse' on the map, so we decided to check it out. This one wasn't too tall, only 53 feet above sea level - but it protects a bay and can be seen for 13 miles, so that must be high enough. The light is built above the keeper's house, rather then in a separate tower. It was built in 1872 and housed a forth order Fresnel lens.


Here is the view of the beach & bay from the watch room just below the light:


This lighthouse had a museum also, but it was more of a lighthouse museum than a general museum as was the one in Stoneington, NH. They had a lot of information about the Lighthouse Keepers in Hereford. The first one was killed shortly after taking over when his boat sank as he was rowing back from the mainland (the bridge we drove over wasn't built until later.) We also learned that Fresnel is pronounced 'Frei-nel'. Wikipedia has a nice article explaining about why these are so special, the difference between the sizes (Hereford had a fourth order lens), etc.


Before electricity, lights were rotated using a mechanism similar to the gears, weights and pulleys in a grandfather clock. Also, there is usually a small room just below the light called a 'Watch Room'. During storms, the keeper was required to stay up at night and make sure the light stayed lit and 'watch' for any boats in distress. If a boat floundered, the keeper alerted the U. S. Life Saving Service (USLSS) nearby (which has since been absorbed into the U S Coast Guard).

Outside the Hereford Lighthouse is a very nice formal garden. (Yes, another Garden in The Garden State). Notice the flowers still blooming in November! There is also a sign that reads "Please don't chase butterfiles. This is their home"


We also found a book in the museum explaining why New Jersey is called "The Garden State". Basically because of New Jersey's location, it has plants and flowers from both the Northern States above it as well as the Southern States below it - it is sort of a transition zone area. In the past, both Native Americans and colonists were amazed at the beauty of the native flowers. One colonial brochure called the area "The Garden of America". While the region is much more populated now and much of it is covered in blacktop and strip malls, the name has stuck. Wildflowers still abound where ever they can get a foothold (they are probably more common in spring and summer). Also there are a few formal (if small) gardens open to the puplic as we've been finding.

After visiting the Hereford lighthouse, we continued driving south to Cape May, the far southern end of New Jersey. Cape May isn't hard to find, you pretty much just drive south until you run out of land. The 1859 lighthouse is the third one at the site (that can be documented anyway). The first two were lost to erosion, which is very severe in this area. This one is much taller than Hereford, at 157.5 feet tall.


For $6.00 you can climb up to the watch room, which I did. There are 199 steps from the bottom to the Watch Room just below the light. These steps are made of wrought iron and have hand rails on both sides as well as frequent turnouts in small alcoves, so the climb isn't too bad (if you aren't afraid of heights).


At the top, you can walk around the ring outside the lighthouse. It was very windy up there, so I took a couple of pictures of the view from the top and went back inside. Notice the RV at the far end of the parking lot.


One of the workers at the lighthouse, Percy, was in the watch room at the top to answer visitor questions (and probably check to make sure climbers are still breathing). He was also kind enough to allow me to photograph the light up above, but I couldn't go up there because it is still a working USCG light.


You might be wondering why the RV was parked at the far end of the parking lot? When we drove in, we found out that Cape May is considered the "Raptor Capital of North America". The interpretive signs and viewing platforms were all over there, at the end of the parking lot. When we arrived, a local school group was doing a field trip to view hawks and other raptors. Tony was one of their escorts and we swapped travel stories briefly. He also told me a little about what was so special about this area, because so many raptors migrate through her in the fall. I guess Mom and I weren't the only folks who were a bit chilly today!


Of course, I guessed wrong as to how to organize my visit. When we first got there, I did see hawks and a vulture over the pond. I figured I'd climb the lighthouse first, then come back and take pictures of the raptors. However when I got back from the lighthouse, there were no more birds. I should know better than to assume anything about wildlife behavior by now! However, I was able to walk around a bit and learned some more about the flora and fauna in the area.

Common Reed, as this is called, is a native invasive plant, it chokes out other wetlands plants - but it's pretty when the sun shines through it.


While at the visitors center for the lighthouse, I also learned that a beach down the road a bit was the source of a so called "Cape May Diamond". These aren't diamonds at all, but Agates that can be polished to look like glass, but they're much harder of course. Since we missed the copper mine in MT and another gem mine in NH - I decided to check this out. Sunset Beach in Cape May is a happening place in the summer - wall to wall people. However, in November, with a cold wind blowing, we had no trouble parking. There is an old wreck not very far off the beach that makes the rough wave action even worse. Agates wash down the Delaware River and get tossed around pretty good, giving them a sort of natural polishing action. They lay all over the beach, mostly whites, but other shades as well including translucent ones. I picked up a handful or so, the clear ones I could find were all very small, but I thought it might be nice to pick up enough to share with friends back home. (The picture on the right is after being in a rock polisher for three weeks, the ones I picked up don't look like that of course.)


On the way out of Cape May, we stopped to fill up our propane tanks and noticed one of the gas station attendants wasn't working as hard as the others (ho, ho):


We did make it up to Atlantic City finally, but got there so late the lighthouse was closed (the Casino''s weren't). Mom lost the map for a time and the GPS software wouldn't fire up (looks like one of my two USB ports is going bad) so we had quite a time finding our way out of town. I think I drove almost across NJ before finally getting almost back to Atlantic City to find the Walmart we were looking for (another hour and a half drive to go ten miles). I guess it wouldn't be much of an adventure if we didn't get lost once in awhile. But now it's late again - and after I swore I would start going to bed at a more reasonable hour. Oh well, there's always tomorrow...

Posted by jl98584 20:00 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents


I'm again a little envious. For years, as a birder, I've read about Cape May and the migrations through there. I'd love to visit the place sometime. And I love to photograph any old lighthouse.

by msj

This blog requires you to be a logged in member of Travellerspoint to place comments.