Archive for the ‘New Jersey’ Category

Duke Farms

June 29, 2012

This was a farm that tobacco built, although you would be hard-pressed to believe that this vast 2,000-acre estate is simply just a farm. Created by J.B. Duke in the late 1800’s, it started out as a purchase of a single farm by the Raritan River. The estate quickly expanded as 40 other farms in the surrounding area were added to the property. In the beginning, Duke Farms was meant to be an actual farm with cattle and horses, but J.B. tried his hand at it and changed his mind, opening up the land as a public park instead.

The landscaping is diverse, ranging from waterfalls to hills to a large number of lakes, with sculptures dotting the landscape almost randomly. This work is attributed to the design firm of Frederick Law Olmstead – the same firm that designed Central Park.  Given the size of this place, you will probably want to explore by bike to get the most out of your visit here. On bike, you should probably give yourself 2-3 hours to look around.  On foot, you ideally would want to spend half a day here.

The Coach Barn was the first of several barns to be built. It’s clear from the expensive finishes that they were meant to be more than just barns. In fact, they look more like mansions to us ordinary folks!

Doris Duke Farm

While the other barns seem to be in good shape, this one is being reclaimed by nature. The old hay barn is now a home for these lovely ladies.

Doris Duke Farm

I saw two conservatories, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more to be found elsewhere on the property. This is the major one, called Orchid Range. As you would guess by the name, it housed orchids. J.B.’s daughter, Doris, had a passion for them. The conservatory still has orchids on display today, along with other tropical plants.
Doris Duke Farm

Doris Duke Farm

This foundation was meant for yet another mansion that was planned.  It remains a mystery why they stopped building it.
Doris Duke Farm

Had they completed the mansion, this would have been the view from the backyard.

Doris Duke Farm

While water plays a large role in the landscape design, the lakes and waterfalls that I saw were not that attractive – they were covered with green algae!  Fortunately, there were plenty of streams where the water ran clear and the trees gave plenty of shade – perfect for a picnic!

Doris Duke Farm

Duke Farms is located at 1112 Duke Parkway West in Hillsborough, NJ. It is best to drive there and is about 1.5 hours from the city. However, you can take the N.J. Transit Raritan Valley Line to the Somerville Station and taxi the remaining 1.5 miles to the entrance. The grounds are open 8:30 to 6:00  every day except for Weds, July 4th, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Admission is free, and there is plenty of parking space. No pets are allowed. There are a number of environmental workshops and tours being offered right now – costs vary, and you should register in advance.


Palisades Interstate Park

March 25, 2010

Do you remember the Cliffs of Insanity in the movie The Princess Bride?  The cliffs here remind me of that. They’re pretty wily and not for the faint of heart.  There are several trails you can choose to tackle here, depending on your energy level and expertise.  There’s a rough and tumble trail on top of the cliffs called the Giant Stairs, which only experienced hikers should do.  I’ve never done that one.  Then there’s the Long Path, which is also on top of the cliff, but much safer and requires less skill.  I’ve done that one and don’t recommend it, only because it’s next to the highway and you hear the cars whizzing by all the time.  I’m devoting this week’s post to the Shore Trail that is at the base of the cliffs.  I consider this the gem of Palisades Park and an easy hike.

First off, it’s important to note that this is an 8-mile one-way trail.  If you’ve got 4 hours and lots of energy, you will need some transportation stationed on the other end to pick up your exhausted self.  What I did was walk 1.5 hours into the trail and then walk back the way I came to create a good 3-hour hike.  You can customize this hike as you choose.

This is a pretty good pic that summarizes what you will see along the trail. The ducks are optional.

Further in, you’ll encounter small beaches. Beware of ticks if you sit down anywhere. They’re quick buggers.

Don’t forget to slow down and enjoy the wildlife, including strange caterpillars.

At some point, you’ll come across this clearing where you can plunk down a picnic basket and have yourself a nice lunch with a breeze coming off the Hudson.

This clearing is also home to the remains of a settlement.

What I like about this place is that you’re reminded that you’re in civilization because of the buildings just across the river, but everything’s so far away you can admire the view without any of the noise to go with it. It’s like you’re on your own island.

To get here, you can drive or take the bus. For the bus, take the Rockland Coach bus at the Port Authority.  Several of its routes stop at Closter Dock Road.  Click here for current routes and schedules.  If you’re driving from the city, take the upper level of the George Washington Bridge to the first exit, Palisades Interstate Parkway Northbound. There are no hiking fees but you do need to pay for parking.  Dogs are allowed but bikes are not.  There are ticks here, so wear light colored pants and long white socks so you can spot them if they crawl on you.  Click here for a current status of the trails.  Some parts are closed during certain seasons.