The East End – Montauk State Park, Camp Hero

The night was really mild so that the heat didn’t cycle on off very often. Since the rooftop solar panels are brand-new, I checked the voltage and was very pleased to find out there was over 12 volts. I am of the age where I usually take a walk about 6 o’clock in the morning, and when I did, I found the sunset was spectacular. You couldn’t really see the ocean from where we were camped, but the dunes ,the grass ,the pink sky ,the sound of the surf, and the temperature being about 64°, it was pretty great for the tail end of October, and made for a wonderful morning.

fishermenOne of the problems with New York State Parks is that the generator hours are skewed late and early. According to the literature, we were not allowed to run a generator until after 9 AM at the Hither Hills State Park, but fortunately the french press coffeemaker had been repaired the week before, so we boiled water and made coffee. No generator to run. A couple of egg sandwiches and we were ready to start our day.

We took the walkway out to the beach, and the first thing we noticed was a gyre of birds chasing baitfish. There were number of surf fisherman trying their luck, and I believe they were more excited than the birds. There were several that had 4 x 4 trucks suited for the beach, and they were racing down the beach to where the birds were, casting their lines in, and then chasing after the birds down the beach to do it all over again.

striperWe found ourselves near one stationery, mostly, fisherman who had been chasing the fish. He had two poles with lines cast out into the water, so I asked him what kept the lures in place. He told me he used diamond sinkers, and offered to show me one, and I declined since I was familiar with them. I asked him what was  running besides the guys with the 4×4’s, he laughed and said that the stripers were running too. While we were talking, one of the poles he had cast out fell over, and he  reeled in and undersized striped bass. I was impressed. Back in the day the fish would’ve been keeper size but today, you can only catch giants, so the fish was revived, but back in the ocean and sprinted away, but only after I took two pictures of our fisherman and his catch.

We stood there for a while, and took in the view. We enjoyed the waves and the breeze and the birds and the tranquility of the morning, and then took off for parts of Montauk we’ve never seen before. It was easy to leave the campsite, since I haven’t put out any stabilizers, and there were only a pair of chairs from watching the space base station pass overhead the night before to be put away. First stop was the necessary station, which went remarkably smooth. No spill no foul.

montauk_spWe passed through old Montauk again and headed out to the trailhead for the trail that led to the seal haul out area. We stopped by the overlook with the big sign, checked the sign, and then took off. The State Parks of Montauk are really beautiful, but I’m more comfortable with the trailhead signs in the Catskills, or in the National Parks. There is no trailhead sign for the trail we were looking for. Eventually we discerned that the roadside parking was actually a small, gravel strewn, area with parking for about four cars, so we parked the RV, locked it up tight, and took off. On the way to the trailhead we found a white SUV parked at the side of the road by a car parked right smack in front of the ‘Do Not Pass This Point’ sign. The road both East and West of the trailhead is littered with signs that said no parking, no time, no way, no how, or words to that effect. We discovered that the gentleman with the white SUV was a fellow named Tom, who was the guy that ran the whole show, and he was in the process of getting the car parked smack in the middle of everything removed.

Every Park should have a guy like Tom in charge. We had a great conversation. I discovered he’d been there about 30 years, and was still really loving his job and keeping the parks beautiful for everyone to enjoy. He was in the process of getting brand-new maps made for both the Camp Hero State Park and the Montauk State Park. He was very kind and provided us with a beta map of Camp Hero State Park, and explained that he didn’t like the fact that someone thought that two maps would be appropriate. He told us they were in the process of merging the two to make one map that had all the trails in both State Parks on it. I told him I thought that was a great idea, and we bid our farewell and were off.

The initial trail was a well-maintained sandy road covered with grass that someone obviously mows and trims the trees on both sides. After a short walk, we hit the spur for the seal haul out beach, and took a left and headed down a more traditional Catskill like trail. Within a very short period of time, I felt as if we were walking through Prince Frederick Park in Quantico Virginia. There were a variety of Oaks, Ashes, Hickory trees, Beech trees and small Holly trees (not bushes) throughout the woods. These were not small immature shrubby trees; these were trees that in some cases had been there for over 100 years. I’ve been wandering around the East End of Long Island for almost 50 years, as the first time I’ve seen a woods of that nature. I honestly felt as if I was 400 miles south. I’m not sure if it had something to do with the local geology, and the thick layer of clay near Montauk point, but something there made the local vegetation look just like a climax deciduous forest in the Virginias.

The forest slowly changed and it was really nice, because suddenly we were walking down the trail and it felt like the Catskills, and then into a more familiar scrub tree woods typical of the East End, and then through an area of reeds and brush. The narrow trail opened up into another wide well-maintained mowed and trimmed road, and then there was a big sign for the seal haul out area. We apparently with the first people to visit that day, as there were a number of birds, cormorants I think, drying out on some of the rocks out in the water. At the first sight of us they flew away and never came back. I was anticipating sneaking up on some seals laying on the beach, but that was not on today’s program.

seals3There were no seals on the beach, or on any of the rocks off the shore, but there were about 14 harbor seals either swimming around or lounging on rocks just beneath the surface. It was the first time I’d ever seen a group of seals anywhere on the East End. We gaped and gawked, took some pictures, and there was only one dustup in the water and it was over so quick I couldn’t get a shot. Lots of splashing and arfing. We decided to continue on to the oyster pond, mostly because of the great write-up it had on the large map at the overlook parking lot, so we headed back to the wide grassy road and took a hike.

pondWe arrived at the oyster pond. There were about eight swans swimming on the pond on the far side, about as far away from us as they could get, and just a little bit further away from them was a big flock of ducks happily paddling around on the surface of the pond. The far side of the pond had rocks near the shore and a slight incline that was wooded on the uphill, but our part of the pond was bordered with reeds and very not spectacular. It was a typical empoundment pond on the East End, and there are many. It was undeveloped and undisturbed, but it was very ordinary.

The walk back to the parking lot for the RV turned out to be a short one, and very enjoyable. We decided that instead of having lunch in the RV where it was parked, we would head off to Camp Hero, find a nice place to Park with a view of the ocean, and then see what was there to explore. It was a short drive, and since it was a weekday there was no eight dollar parking fee. We found a nice spot to view the ocean, from the top of a cliff, and had a great lunch of tuna and toast with lettuce and tomato. Great company, great view, great food great lunch. After lunch we hopped out wandered round little bit and succeeded in not falling off the cliff.  We took a bunch of pictures of the cliff face with the lighthouse in the background. It was a very beautiful spot, and the only other place besides Bryce National Park that had hoodoos..

bluffDuring the Second World War Camp Hero was an Army base, assigned to coastal defense. The Department of Defense constructed at least two large shore batteries where 16 inch guns were mounted. I wanted to see what was left of the installation, so we drove around and found Battery 113. All was visible of the Battery were what had been to large access doors at the rear of the battery, and the front of the battery had two large cement marquees that I suppose were designed to protect the guns from shell fragments when they were in the extended position.

batteryThe interpretive signs indicated that the guns installed in the battery were from a class of ships the Navy was prohibited from building by treaty signed in 1924, and that the guns were removed from the battery in 1949. There was really no other information about the function of the battery, where the guns were removed to, whether the guns were actually ever fired, or how the whole battery-operated. All access to the battery had been long ago sealed off when they poured 12 inch thick concrete walls over any opening leading into the battery.

radarNearby, there was a large radar installation that you could look at, there was no access, that was used back in the 1950’s through the 1960’s as part of the Nike missile program that protected cities in the New York metropolitan area. The antenna was very impressive, as it was about 120 feet wide and goodness knows how tall. The scenery value Camp Hero State Park is high, but the historical information is nonexistent. We had places to go and miles to travel before we were there, so we bid farewell to the East End Long Island and headed west.

Who made a quick stop at my aunt’s house, chatted for a while, bid her farewell and headed and headed off to my cousin’s house in Nassau County, where we had a most excellent time, and stayed too late, but I’m retired now so it doesn’t matter. All in all a great time, excellent places to visit, and I hope to go back again and spend more time, even if it is expensive.

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