Highlands Trail #19: Spruce Run

~5 hours, ~7 miles, moderate, but tasty parts

Hike #19: Why We Hike

A blaze appears after a long time without one

A blaze appears after a long time without one

Being a Highlands Endeavorer means at times you'll be required to take calculated risks. Today's risk was potentially getting your car towed. According to the map, there was supposed to be a place to park next to today's end point. Unfortunately, the ground was completely snow covered due to the heavy snow from two days before and no roadside parking lot was visible. So, I had to take matters into my own hands and make a parking area on my own. I found a little opening on the road at this corner (Bellwood Park Road and Tunnel Road) and just went for it. I left my car there with a 50/50 confidence level that it would be there when I got back.

This might be called Tunnel Road because it heads under the Route 78 overpass. Or not.

This might be called Tunnel Road because it heads under the Route 78 overpass. Or not.

Here we have a classic situation where it's prudent to leave the sign in the car, just like we did back in hike #13 and #14.

Alert. Alert. Alert. Connectivity is very spotty in this area. And when you do get a connection, it will take a while to get a driver. I had a Lyft driver cancel on me mid-ride. Then I ordered an Uber driver, who took over 30 minutes to arrive. Budget your time accordingly for these types of unpredictable situations. This is not some town hall bingo game we are running here, this is a full contact sport. This is the real deal.

Your destination is a parking lot next to Spruce Run, on 2 Van Syckles Road. Looks like this, chief:

Get out of the car. Enter this forest.

Not too far into it, you will stroll through a waft of sweet smelling pine, which signals you've come to this section below, a wonderful fairy land pine forest. Take it in. This is indeed one of the highlights of this hike.

It was at this point that I ran into some blood splatter, which startled me for a moment. I probably hadn't seen anything like this before because I haven't done much snow hiking. I addition, I haven't done much snow hiking in areas where hunting is permitted. 

Shortly thereafter, you are walking through the sidewalks and streets of Spruce Run.

These snow-covered Adirondack benches paint a blissful winter scene.

The Spruce Run roads are marked fairly well, but certain sections are a bit blaze scarce. 

Follow along like so:

Special Highlands Endeavor shout out to whomever blazed this trail right by the snack stand! There is obviously only one item to select: cheesesteak filled egg roll with fries.

Pass the snack stand and go by these pretty classy birch trees:

call your mom, tell her you are okay and you love her

call your mom, tell her you are okay and you love her

Ignore the sign below, go straight down this road. Trust me, it's all good. Keep going.

Hang a left on Van Syckles. This is not a long road walk. You meander a bit on trail on the north side, then south side, spending some intimate time with both Spruce Run and the Clinton Wildlife Management area.

A lot of this section looks like this kind of stuff:

There are some better parts:

My lowest emotional moments on these hikes have been when the clash of human nature with all of nature was so violently obvious. Human development stretched west from New York City like an ever expanding tentacle squeezing the life out of the wild. The city got crowded, so people went out further. The suburbs got crowded, so people went out further. Sprawl to mall. Humans suburbanizing the wild, building bigger and bigger houses along the way. The signs are aplenty: over-saturation of our lakes by boats and homes everywhere, trails running along backyards and through town streets, and deer feeding in our subdivisions. In my town of Edgewater, we asphyxiate migrating geese because their poop is too unpleasant.

This poor deer tried to cross the street at the wrong time. 

On the corner of Van Syckel's road, you find Van Syckel's Tavern. It's not open anymore, which is unfortunate, since I really needed a drink after seeing that dead deer. I bow my head in respect to the tavern operator from back in the day, David Reynolds, a true patriot. This man was arrested and hanged for treason by the British in 1773 for counterfeiting colonial money. Funny how counterfeiting the right money at the right time makes you a patriot.

A hero worked here

A hero worked here

This is why it is tough to road walk in the snow. You do not have much room to walk. 

This is why it is tough to road walk in the snow. You do not have much room to walk. 

Hang a right on to Norton Church Road, then this left:

Here's the part you've been waiting for. You're about to get your money's worth. Monstrous hill walk! Yes, it's concrete, but goddamn, it is a great workout.

Incline is as large as it appears.

Incline is as large as it appears.

Take a right on Mountainview Road. The ferocity of steepness continues.

Your reward is Tower Hill Farm. Not much, but it's something. And you got to walk those hilly roads for free, so don't complain.

Via the Hunterdon County website:

Tower Hill, a former farm of 150 acres, is today comprised of 216 acres of meadows, forested slopes, and wetlands. The farm was purchased as a weekend retreat for Ira and Margaret Devonald on behalf of their seven siblings in 1932. Commuting from West Orange, the siblings participated in chores ranging from growing oats and corn to raising sheep and fighting birds. Eventually, three of the children, Edwin, Florence, and Margaret, resided at the farm year-round. Margaret sold the farm to the County in 1983.

I wish more people will would sell or gift to the County, so we could get rid of these highlands trail road walks for good.

Not many people showed up on this snow covered day. 

Another challenge with snow hiking is finding a place to sit. No surprise, everything is snow covered, so pretty much every rock and fallen tree trunk is off limits. Because of this, I ended up eating my sandwich while hiking. This qualifies as a helpful tip, so make sure you jot it down in your notebook.

In about 47 minutes and 29 seconds you will reach Jugtown Mountain Preserve. There were some ruins that I believe were part of the mine facilities that used to be here. According to the Hunterdon County website, Jugtown traces its name to the rock ledges where moonshiners hid their jugs to avoid government authorities during Prohibition. This site, known as Swayze Mine after landowner William Swayze, was one of the 41 known mines in the county in the 1800s, and one of the main producers of magnetite ore. For more information about other Swayze family members, go here.

I've started to grow fond of seeing coyote tracks on the trail. From what I've read, they often follow human trails for long distances. Their tracks will sometimes veer off the trail then I find them back on the trail in a only few feet ahead.

Take a left back into society, man.

Go under route 78 and back to your car. Assuming it is still there.

Use this map for this hike.

Artistical rendering of the hike: