Archive for September, 2010

At the end of August Karen, the kids, and I, along with our usual excursion partners Elisa and Jon, took an eco-cruise of the Hackensack River and the New Jersey Meadowlands. You’re probably thinking, “What’s so eco about some sports stadiums and a mall?” and that’s exactly why the Hackensack Riverkeeper runs these tours. For about two hours you get to take a relaxing cruise on a pontoon boat through the remarkably peaceful wetlands. It’s a truly unique and surprising area.

You can see a lot of birds in the meadowlands. A major avian migration route from the Arctic down to the southern United States and northern South America runs straight through. Hundreds (thousands, maybe) of least sandpipers stop off here and pick their sustenance out of the mud, and there were plenty of other birds, like this snowy egret (thanks, Nancy):

You can also see the New York City skyline from here, partially hidden by a bit of nature:

And you can see the skyline and the birds at the same time, a truly disorienting juxtaposition:

Back in the days when we didn’t know much about ecology and healthy ecosystems, city planners tried to control the meadowlands with gates to keep the tidal flow out. Here’s is what’s left of one of those gates:

The Hackensack River is also a great place to see movable bridges. Some are still in use, such as this single-leaf bascule bridge and the vertical lift bridge below:

Some are no longer used and are left in the open position, like this swing bridge:

A number of ospreys have made their nests in the meadowlands. There are some telephone poles around with platforms on top, which were supposed to be inviting places for the ospreys to build their nests, but the birds instead prefer to build on seemingly less-hospitable structures. In this picture you can see the nest atop the poles on the right with the radio antenna. Two ospreys are also visible: One is perched on the fourth horizontal bar from the bottom on the large tower, and the other is flying toward the nest from the right:

Finally, an eco-cruise on the Hackensack River lets you go underneath the New Jersey Turnpike, which opened in 1952. An increase in traffic rendered the original turnpike too narrow, so it was widened by adding lanes. Here you can see the original inverted-U cement supports for the bridge and the newer cement posts on either side, which support the added lanes:

This picture from 1951 shows the turnpike under construction:

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Traveling far from the coast we inhabit—on a summer road trip to the middle of the country—we did not expect the opportunity to get on a boat. But one day in Wisconsin Karen was studying the tourism guide and discovered a car ferry across the Mississippi River. It was, perhaps, not the most efficient way to get to Mason City, Iowa (the farthest west we made it on this trip), but we knew we had to take it. Looking southwest toward Iowa, we saw the ferry approach the landing on the Wisconsin side:

The Cassville car ferry holds fewer than a dozen cars (or one tractor-trailer) and makes the one-mile trip to Nowheresville, Iowa, in about 15 minutes. Instead of your typical ferry that goes back and forth without turning around, this one has a jointed wheelhouse/engine combo that pivots 180 degrees. Here’s a close-up of the joint that attaches the wheelhouse to the car float:

And this is a view of it once the ferry is straightened out and headed for the other side:

On the Iowa side of the Mississippi, waiting for some upriver traffic to clear, was Marquette Transporation‘s Myra Eckstein (140 feet long, 4200 horsepower, built in 1974) pushing several loaded barges:

This was the view downstream toward Dubuque, Davenport, Muscatine and beyond:

The motto on the Iowa state flag sums it up neatly:

Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain

You can read all about the Cassville car ferry here (click to enlarge):

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