Friday, August 15, 2008

sand roads in the NJ Pine Barrens

Before I begin, I want to spend a very brief time on terminology. I have always used the term “NJ Pine Barrens” or the “Pine Barrens” when writing about the area some refer to as NJ Pinelands. I am going to continue to do so as I write about the Pine Barrens here unless what I am writing calls for using a more formal designation.

The Pine Barrens have miles upon miles of sand roads traversing the area.. Some go through designated State or Federal preserves, and others, well they just go where they go. The first time I spent some time driving on these sand roads, before I knew any better, I was not paying any attention to whether these roads were on State or Federal land. I saw a sand road, or what I incorrectly referred to as a “dirt road” and I wanted to drive on it.

At the time, I would spend time driving on various dirt roads in northeastern Vermont. These dirt roads were tough on the muffler on my little Honda Civic. I went through one or two mufflers thanks to Vermont. I quickly found out that these roads were a some times hard packed sand, not the rough and potted dirt roads that I was used to in Vermont.

My first tour on these sand roads was through what I now know is a pine forest, probably pitch and shortleaf pines. We had no map, so what I recall doing is driving in on this road for a while, then turning around and going back the way we came in. I was afraid to turn off on the intersecting sand roads fearing that I would get lost. And these were in the days of no cell phones so we would have been up a creek without a paddle. I loved the forest, love at first sight so to speak. There was something calming about the pine forest.

Then there was the time we were exploring other back roads, including sand roads not far from Tuckerton where we were staying. We started out going through another pine forest, and spending some time on sand roads. After several minutes, we passed through a small community. Perhaps a couple dozen houses give or take. It felt like magic and I was enthralled, a small community nestled among the pine forests of the Pine Barrens. We were never able to find this particular small community. I have even wondered if I am misremembering something. But I know what I saw, and I saw these houses.

As I spent more time in the Pine Barrens, I used more discretion in driving on sand roads in the Pine Barrens. Especially after walking on sand roads that I could not begin to imagine driving on. It takes effort to walk through loose sand! And there were a couple of times when we did a “k turn” on narrow dirt roads because we knew that if we went any further we risked getting stuck in loose sand.

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