Hike #18: Out of the gorge and into the furnace
Today's hike features a very special guest: the illustrious Mrs. Sandy Blanke, my wife. Sandy is not a regular hiker, hunter, trapper or outdoorswoman, this much is true. However, due to her deep Jersey roots, she was able to dig deep, find that intestinal fortitude necessary to take on the highlands, and make a very impressive showing, particularly as we scaled a very steep hill at Union Furnace. But let's not skip too far ahead.
This time around we had two cars. We parked one of them at the parking lot on Van Syckels Road and Serpentine Drive near Union Furnace Nature Area. Drive your other car or take an Uber to the parking lot on Observatory Road in Voorhees.
At Voorhees, take this trail. Yes, this one right here:
Pass this sign below on the way. Sandy's interior design impulses started to kick in. Was there any conceivable way to take this home with us without anyone knowing and at the same time not be stealing it?
Check yourself before you wreck yourself in this section of the hike, which is at the corner of Poplar and Buffalo Hollow. The turn up the street is not intuitive.
If you try going over the following iron bridge, you are heading in the wrong direction:
You are on the road again. Check out this obscene use of land. What is the point of all the vast empty mowed lawn leading up to this house? Is this Downton Abbey? Are we gentry?
Don't stop. Keep going. Hang a left on Route 31 south.
Unexpected perk of this stretch of the Highlands trail: you can get a new car on your way to Spruce Run.
Turn right on Van Syckels Road and another right into this:
You might have been able to deduce this already: so far this hike kind of sucked. Not too long ago you came through the majestic, welcoming arms of Ken Lockwood gorge, surrounded by fairy tale gnomes. Now you are walking on a local highway alongside car dealerships with trucks barreling down the road a few feet away from you.
However, do not fear or fret! You've reached Union Furnace Nature Area and you are about to get your ass kicked. In a good way.
But first a little background on Union Furnace, courtesy of the Hunterdon County website. This 97-acre wooded preserve bordering Spruce Run Reservoir is named for the colonial ironworks that flourished here from 1742 to 1781. Established by William Allen and Joseph Turner, both of Philadelphia, the ironworks could produce 500 to 1,000 tons of iron a year. Typical production included shoes for draft horses, firebacks, and farm implements. During the Revolutionary War, Robert Taylor, the ironworks' bookkeeper and superintendent, assumed ownership since Allen and Turner were British loyalists and fled the area. During this time, military hardware such as cannonballs and rifle barrels were cast. The ironworks ceased operation in 1781 when the forests were depleted of fuel. [I believe that last part means that they cut down all the trees]
So, what happens shortly after you enter the Union Furnace part of the hike is that you start to go uphill at a very steep rate and it is long. Sandy was poo pooing the hike up until this point, making fun of me, asking if this really counted as a hike, and she couldn't believe that she came out from Edgewater for this. Then, all of sudden, she gets all quiet. She is climbing this massive hill and the shiznitz is for real. A big shout out to the earth's crust for sculpting that topographical masterpiece a few hundred million years ago.
Sandy's wanted to know if we are climbing up a steep incline like that would we eventually have to climb down a similarly steep decline. You know the answer, folks:
Go to the bottom of the hill and hang a left on Van Syckels to get back to your car. Sandy and I decided to go into the reservoir and hang out a bit. I told her I doubted that it was legal, that it probably qualified as trespassing, but she didn't care at all. Total disregard for the law of the land.
Somebody built this really cool makeshift shelter in the middle of the reservoir. I wish I could say it was me, but it wasn't.
Special shout out to our guest hiker today, Sandy, one of the earliest supporters of the Highlands Endeavor. It wouldn't be possible without her. For those about to hike, we salute you!
You can keep using Highlands Trail Map #2 for Hike #18. It's better than having nothing.