We ventured to Sandy Hook, the New Jersey arm of Gateway National Park. I sought this spot out for a family outing to hopefully photograph a one-of-a-kind sunset. This barrier beach juts 6 miles North into the Atlantic Ocean from its base in the Highlands NJ, enclosing the south end of the horse-shoe shaped New York Bay. The site can only be accessed via Route 36 in Middleton, NJ (birthplace of Brian Williams of MSNBC News), approximately 10 miles from exit 117 of the Garden State Parkway.
Sandy Hook is considered the northern outpost of the Jersey Shore and a favorite for day trippers. Distinct from its seaside brethren, the landmark features three expansive brown-sanded bay beaches, lifeguards in season, ample parking, picnic and bathroom facilities. However, with no restaurants or commercial businesses in the park, the alimentation policy is “strictly bring in and take out”.
Seeking a more mindful experience, we ambled beyond the beach areas to the historic district at the northern end of the peninsula. Fort Hancock was an United States army outpost from 1895 to 1974. The site was used to manufacture artillary to defend the Atlantic coast and New York Harbor. The first of many concrete gun batteries was erected Sandy Hook in 1890. In World War II, manufacturing switched to anti-aircraft guns, and later, surface to air missles. Vestiges of these uses are displayed for public viewing.
We were fortunate to time our vist with a “Twilight by the Bay” tour given by a national park ranger. We were delighted to be able to view the inside of a recently opened and restored Fort Hancock Officers Residence built in 1898. (On the downside, other residences and visible army buildings in the fort were closed and in obvious states of distress and disrepair.) Our inside tour also included one of the concrete gun batteries built in the 1890s, a cold, dark, and imposing experience. Lastly, as the shadows began to climb, we scrambled over to the Sandy Hook Lighthouse, circa 1764, the oldest working lighthouse in the US. Scaling to the lighthouse beacon just at sunset, I was able to indulge my yearning to photograph the Sandy Hook sunset.
Although clouds covered most of the horizon, I was able to enjoy the colorful hour with my family from the 7 story height. All in all, mission accomplished.