New Jersey held its annual lighthouse challenge and to take part in the celebration, I went back to Cape May for the first time in years. Staying overnight somewhere to complete the challenge throughout the whole weekend wasn’t in the budget. So the original plan on saturday, Oct. 20 was to visit three lighthouses and a few other sites of interest around the Victorian seaside town.
Since it was on the way to Cape May, the first stop was East Point Lighthouse within the Heislerville Fish and Wildlife Management Area. I had seen a photo of it and loved the remote view that someone captured from a distance, inspiring a visit. From the view in the photo, the lighthouse looked a bit worn and even abandoned.
When I saw it up close, East Point Lighthouse didn’t have the same abandoned appearance or feel to it with visitors milling about. However, preservation efforts are underway because the inside has damage from a fire in the past. While I was up in the light tower, a guide told me and several others that the fire was caused by people that weren’t supposed to be there on the grounds. You can read more of its history via Lighthouse Friends.
The guide also explained how the light works as a signal. A white strip of plastic was placed over one side of the light, having to do with aligning the signal to another light out in the water, the Miah Maull. Before going back down the spiral staircase, I told the guide this was the first lighthouse I had ever climbed and snapped a photo of the view. The guide said it was a great one to start out with for climbing, not being one of the tall lighthouses.
Once outside again, I followed the path back out to the sandy lot that ended right at the water’s edge. From there, I walked along a narrow stretch of sand along the surf to get more views of the lighthouse.
Between East Point Lighthouse and Cape May, a quick stop was made at the Southville Corner Restaurant. Back on the road, I passed a few abandoned old houses that I didn’t see very well until going by them. I wished I could have taken photos of them. One had tendrils of maroon swags of leaves growing down over the front door from the roof. Another one didn’t really have the overgrowth happening, but was worn all over its white exterior and looked foreboding in such a lost state.
Arriving at the grounds of the Cape May Lighthouse, it was off to the beach first and climbing a sand dune path brought into view the WWII bunker. The old structure was a good distance away from the path I took to the beach. I decided I wanted to get more than just far-off photos of it, so I went shuffling along a bit awkwardly with the sand shifting underfoot. Once there, I suddenly thought, why not explore all the way around it before making my way across the sand again?
Next, over at the Cape May Lighthouse, a shed-turned-gift-shop was filled with many maritime items to buy. Some displays set up outside included driftwood and shells for sale to raise lighthouse preservation funds.
I went inside for a few moments for a few interior photos and glancing up the spiral staircase, I knew I wasn’t going to try conquering it. At least not on this trip and right after the long trek out to the WWII bunker and back. I did a good bit of exploring to that point and was able to check “climb a lighthouse” off my bucket list at East Point.
Heading back to the car after exploring Cape May Lighthouse, there was an elderly lady sitting on a bench with her dog. She said her name was Mary and in talking with her, a sad story was told about the lighthouse during her time working there. She said that a man had jumped from the top and landed near the oil house. After that happened, she left the lighthouse. This Cape May article by Susan Tischler also mentions the incident, near the photo of people standing around outside at the base of the lighthouse. Check out more of the history of Cape May Lighthouse at the NJ Lighthouse Society website.
The next lighthouse stop planned was Hereford Inlet, however time was running out after Sunset Beach. Although I didn’t make it to a third lighthouse, I’m glad for at least checking out Sunset Beach for a few reasons. It was a stop in which I was able to see multiple attractions in one place. First, the World War II Lookout Tower came into view on the left and further up was Sunset Beach surf shop and Sunset Grill sharing a parking lot and gorgeous beach views. Before even stepping off the lot and onto the beach, I could see a huge ship out in the distance, bigger than the low-lying cargo ships with the bridge at one end. Then I spotted the World War II wreck of the S.S. Atlantus, which at first had been blocked from my view by a mini-van at a certain angle.
A few metered binoculars were available to get a better look for 25 cents; on my right, an elderly man was looking through one and commented about the huge ship, curious what it was. Once my meter was running, I looked for that ship, hoping I’d be able to read something on it. The sight of it reminded me of past trip to another New Jersey shore point, when my family and I spotted a huge ship through the haze of a much hotter day. Even with my camera zoomed in as far as it would allow, I couldn’t make out what was on the ocean-going vessel. You can read more about my Point Pleasant trip in the links below.
The view through the meter at Sunset Beach paid off. I could see the ship’s large white letters, NYK and something smaller afterward that I couldn’t make out. A few dolphins breached the surface of the water while I gazed through the meter and another object spotted far in the distance was red spark plug lighthouse. Based on images on the Lighthouse Friends website, that may have been Miah Maull Shoal Lighthouse. Sunset Beach definitely had a few extra surprises to enjoy, but more was still to come!
Later on at home, I did a Google image search on NYK cargo ships and found images of a large blue ship resembling the one passing Sunset Beach in the distance. There are cargo ships that go up and down the river near my house, but if I ever saw this ship passing my area, I’d be stunned at its size up close!
Well, back to my time at Sunset Beach. I went over to the Sunset Beach Gift Shop for a few souvenirs, on the way meeting a friendly beach cat. It was letting everyone pet it, not skittish at all, except for one when someone passed by walking his little dog. Then, Sunset Grill was originally planned as the place to go for dinner upon arriving at the South Jersey surf spot. However, it was closed. That worked out fine since at least that gave a reason to stop in the downtown Cape May area later. Despite wanting to see other sites such as that third lighthouse, it was worth hanging around longer there as a beautiful sunset wowed the beachgoing audience. I had already taken a number of photos of the shipwreck, also known as “the concrete ship,” with the rocky jetty in the foreground. But when the sunset took on a dramatic look, I had to snap a few more photos of the golden rays beaming down.
Also, I even got to see Cape May Lighthouse’s light switched on from Sunset Beach and captured a photo of the beam shining right in that direction.
Leaving Sunset Beach behind in search of dinner, I stopped at the lookout tower for a couple of quick photos from the side of the road.
Then it was on to dinner somewhere in Cape May’s downtown Victorian area. There was this adorable pink Victorian ice cream shop on the way, which was closed for the night by then, but I’d love to try it another time. Parking was briefly an uncertain issue, but turned out alright in the end. There were two cars ahead waiting for two spaces about to open up at an outlet mall along Carpenter Lane. After the two leaving made room, one of the cars waiting in line took one space and the other forfeited and turned left to go down Perry Street.
A sign indicating a fee to park pointed to a meter at the end of the sidewalk and after getting a paid slip for the space, it was time to eat. There were plenty of places to eat within walking distance of the car, from southwestern cuisine at Gecko’s and fine food at Tisha’s Fine Dining. Tisha’s featured outdoor dining which was decorated in a festive autumn theme. Further up, I saw a building with a ship’s wheel displayed outside on the upper level of its exterior. It was the Pilot House; I knew that to be a restaurant option as well. I couldn’t see beyond the Pilot House from my vantage point, but on my smart phone map, the Ugly Mug Bar and Restaurant was around the corner from where I was able to see the former’s maritime decor. It was decided to eat at Jackson Mountain Cafe in the end and it was a very good choice indeed. I quickly narrowed the menu options down to getting either a spinach and tomato quesadilla with bacon potato salad or a crab melt. In a location of maritime themes, I went with the seafood choice. I would definitely go back to Jackson Mountain Cafe; the atmosphere, food and service were great!
After dinner, I took a few photos of one of Cape May’s beautiful examples of Victorian architecture, the Merry Widow. Crossing the street toward it, I heard a man’s deep, loud laughter sounding as though it came from the inn. It also sounded a bit crazy, like when someone is in character as a villain while telling a spooky tale. Maybe it was someone I didn’t see, leading a group on a walk of the town’s haunted side. As I walked down the street past it, I overheard a woman in a horse-drawn carriage saying something about “one of the most haunted inns.” I turned to see and the carriage was just arriving at the corner on which the Merry Widow stood, although I wasn’t sure if she was talking about it. The last stop of the evening led to some browsing at a store in the breezeway of the shopping outlet.
Trekking along in the sand, to snap photos of places or sites I’ve never seen before and might not often get to see, made for a very enjoyable trip. I saw a lot of sites in South Jersey that I had never seen before this past saturday. Of course, there is still more to cross of my list of Cape May experiences. Coming away from this trip, I have a couple of goals in mind for next year’s lighthouse challenge. I didn’t climb the one tall lighthouse I visited this time, so I want to climb just one of them in 2013. I also want to plan ahead, save up and stay overnight at the shore in order to see all of the lighthouses listed as part of the challenge. That will take me to a good number of other lighthouses I have never seen before. I hope I can also go on a tour of lighthouses (in the summer) via the Cape May Whale Watcher as well because I’ve been wanting to do that for so long!