Sad to say, New Jersey (or Noo Joisey, as its inhabitants call it) is widely considered to be one of the armpits of America. The main reason for this isn't the proliferation of mafia types (though that is a problem in real life, even today), but rather a result of the mess caused by the state's heavy industry. In particular, toxic chemicals dumped into the waterways made some places pretty uninhabitable for both humans and animals. Unsavoury New Jersey cities like Camden and Newark aren't major tourist drawcards, either, though the casinos of Atlantic city and the more natural pleasures of the Jersey Shore are major attractions. Even here, prepare to get shaken down by local crooks, even if it is all perfectly legal - at most beaches you'll have to pay for the privilege of touching sand, and if you drive down towards Cape May in the South then you'll be paying a bridge toll to cross every little stream.
It's no wonder, then, that the main reason I was looking forward to coming here wasn't the inherent attractions of the state, but rather its proximity to a real attraction - New York city. I ended up living in South Bound Brook, about 25 miles west of Manhattan as the crow flies. But just four weeks after I arrived, Hurricane Floyd hit the area, dumping 14 inches of rain and lifting the Raritan river, which separates South Bound Brook from Bound Brook proper, by 45 feet, making this the worst flooding in New Jersey in the last 200 years. Luckily I was living up on a hill, so I wasn't affected by the flood, except that I couldn't get to work!
The very river which caused so much destruction was also a source of pleasure for me. The river, and the Delaware and Raritan Canal which runs alongside it, are full of animal life which seems blissfully unaware of their toxic reputations! As well as fish, there are the birds which hunt them, painted turtles and snapping turtles, garter snakes and the deer which wander the suburbs and have virtually taken over the state - or, as many gardeners would say, infested it. Just up the road is the Great Swamp National Wildlife Reserve, which despite its unpleasant name gave me many days of photo-taking opportunities, including shots of raccoons, and some toadstools which you might not want your maiden aunt to see!
The area around Cape May is an absolute magnet for birdwatchers, mostly because of the migrating birds which come here to rest and recuperate. The shorebirds which stop here feast on the eggs of the millions of horseshoe crabs which spawn each spring, as they have for millions of years. I wanted to see these prehistoric looking creatures, and the birds that feed on them, but unfortunately I didn't get around to it before the company I was working at collapsed (why does this keep happening to me?) and I had to go elsewhere. However, I did make the effort to do some leaf peeping at the Delaware Water Gap, which is on the border between northern New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The colors of the leaves on the hills combine with the beautiful blue skies. lakes and rivers to make a spectacular show.