Hike and Slice Karmel Knocking Around National Parks

George Washington may have done the hike but he didn’t do the slice in Morristown

It’s May, and after a long stretch of rain, the weather was perfect – perfect for a hike and slice, and we decided to go where people hiked a very long time ago. New Jersey has a number of places of historical significance as it pertains to the American Revolution in the days of the original 13 colonies. One of those places is in Morris County, New Jersey – Jockey Hollow at Morristown National Historical Park, operated by the National Parks Service.

Washington slept here…

Jockey Hollow has a visitor center in the middle of the Park and provides various multi-media tools for a great history lesson.

Part of the learning experience at the Visitor Center at the Morristown National Historical Park

Although the crux of the fighting of the American Revolutionary War was taking place in the southern colonies, George Washington remained headquartered in the north and encamped in Morristown, New Jersey, from 1779 to 1780, in a mountainous region called Jockey Hollow. The site was believed to be advantageous from a defensive standpoint, and there appeared to be an abundance of resources.

The Continental soldiers would cut down thousands of acres of timber to construct a “log house city” of more than a thousand wooden structures which accommodated about twelve men each to house about 8,000 troops. In spite of the factors working in the site’s favor, the conditions at Morristown would ultimately prove even harsher and more difficult to endure than those at Valley Forge several years before.

Replicas of log cabins built by the soldiers of the Continental Army

Known as “the hard winter,” the season bridging the end of 1779 and early 1780 proved to be one of the coldest on record. Morristown received 28 snowfalls during the Army’s residence there, adding to the miserable conditions the troops faced in the wake of the shortages of food and supplies.

Soldiers were so desperate for food that they ate tree bark, leather from old shoes, or even dogs. Regardless that Morristown was located amidst vast farmlands, farmers were often unwilling to give up their crops to feed soldiers. And although Washington was against pillaging their farms and fields, he eventually was compelled to permit the confiscation of grain and cattle from nearby properties to keep his troops from starving.

There are replicas of the log dwellings near the site of where they once stood, as well as several memorial markers to commemorate people and events throughout the Park.

Of course, we were there to hike. And there are a number of trails throughout Jockey Hollow to experience the steps walked by the Continental soldiers. We chose the blue trail, also known as the New York Brigade Trail, because, of course, it is 3.0 miles and we, really I should say “I,” like to get to a 5K (3.1 miles) for a hike.

Parking was somewhat easy as there were multiple parking lots near the different trailheads, and the signs gave clear directions. We parked near the New York Brigade trailhead where there were facilities…amazingly clean facilities…available.

Plenty of running water at Jockey Hollow

The trail was very well-marked…good thing…because there were a couple of twists and turns that could have taken us in a different direction. The best way to put it about this trail was that it had a little bit of something for everyone – it was on the easier side, but had enough low level challenges to let you know that you got in a pretty good workout. There were a couple of inclines, there was some flowing water, there was some flat ground and some rather rocky terrain, there was a vast variety of plant life for all you botanists out there, and there was a truly nice view at the half-way point…a lookout. In New Jersey you come to expect…well…Melissa asked, “What are we going to see…more high tension wires?” But it was a great view and off in the far distance you could see the New York City skyline. And it became clear why George chose this place because of the vantage point. On a clear day, you could see everything.

The lookout on the outer loop on the blue trail

We made our way along the outer loop and by the time we got back to the parking lot, we had done 2.9 miles. I was disappointed because I am, of course, obsessed with the 3.1. But that was the only disappointment about this hike and this trail.

Along the blue trail at Jockey Hollow

Both Melissa and I agreed that this was the best hiking experience we had, overall, in New Jersey. We have been to a number of parks, and we have seen some magnificent scenery, with beautiful plant life and breathtaking waterfalls…but as for the overall hike, Jockey Hollow is the one. Perhaps because it is operated by the National Parks Service, as compared to the other parks and trails in the State, but the ambiance, the maintenance, the trail…even just the markings of the trail…it’s definitely a step (no pun intended) above.

But I know Washington didn’t eat here…

In keeping with our stepping back in time, we were hoping for an old tavern to go along with the history part of the tour. But, alas, the old and popular pizza-serving taverns were outside of the Morristown area. We did, however, become aware of a new establishment that claims an old-fashioned feel near the town square.

I have a list of pizza places that are pretty well-known that pizza connoisseurs on social media rave about, and we attempt to visit them after a hike in the neighborhood. Coniglio’s Old Fashioned at 11 South Street was mentioned multiple times so we decided to give the place a try.

Coniglio’s Old Fashioned in Morristown

We were confused immediately as there is no person to welcome you, to seat you, and nowhere does it give directions on how you are to attack this adventure. Yes, adventure. I am an educated person, but, apparently, I got confused easily when I simply wanted to get some pizza. There was a counter half-way into the establishment. There was a young lady there and Melissa asked where we should sit. She said that we could sit anywhere, and that she would take our order.

But when we went to sit down at table no. 9 (this is important), the young lady sitting with her husband at table no. 10 said, “No, you can’t sit down until you order.” That’s right. Just stick your nose into Melissa’s business and tell her just what to do. “She told us we could sit anywhere!” Melissa said as she sat herself down.

The young lady did take our order, we ordered just a Brooklyn Pie with extra sauce. “And what table are you sitting at?” Table 9!

Along the side of the counter where we placed the order, it was like an Italian bakery with donuts and pastries. The pizza ovens were in the very back of the place, and, if we had gone all the way back, there WAS a sign that said “Order Here” but we wouldn’t have noticed that if we hadn’t ventured to the rest rooms.

Pizzeria…or bakery?

The pie came out rather quickly and it was pretty good. And that’s a shame. A shame because everything else about the experience was not good at all. The place is obviously family-owned and when an older woman arrived, and saw Melissa looking at the donuts, she yelled over the counter, “What’ll ya have?” To which Melissa replied, “I am just looking at the donuts.” The woman yelled to no one in particular, “I just got here…” as she sifted through her purse and played with her hair right over the baked goods.

Coniglio’s Brooklyn Pie

Again, the pizza was good, the sauce was great, the crust thin but perfectly cooked – not too hard but not too soft either – and just the right amount of cheese, with no grease. We each tasted a donut, for the hell of it, and they were OK, but not worth the heartburn I had later on.

Italian donut…pistachio

I went to pay at the same station where I gave my order, but, a gentleman approached me and asked, “Can I help you?” I said that I was just looking to pay my bill. And he asked, “Did you order already?” We were sitting there an hour…you brought me pizza…you brought me donuts…you don’t remember me sitting there? YES I ORDERED ALREADY! “What table were you at?” he asked. AHA! Table 9! So they keep tabs on you…literally…by the number of the table you are sitting at, hence, why you need to sit BEFORE your order is given.

The pie was $25. I know…I know…it’s Morristown. So what? There was nothing so special about the pizza, the place, and certainly not the service (because there really is none) that warrants paying $25 for a “plain pie.”

Although, we should be thankful that we didn’t have to eat tree bark, shoe leather, or dogs, like the others who walked that path.

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