Nature's GlowOn a recent warm fall day, a friend and I decided to paddle the Mullica River in the pine barrens of New Jersey. The Mullica is a remarkable river in the Wharton State Forest and only a little more than an hour's drive from Philadelphia. The tea-colored river meanders through the sand and pines of several distinct ecosystems including a savanna and beautiful beaver marsh.
Late in the day, we stopped for a short break along the sandy banks and looked skyward, remarking that the sun was putting on quite a display. The underside of the fluffy white cumulus clouds were reflecting a brilliant yellow-orange hue that was breathtaking.
As we left the river just after sundown, we packed up the Jeep Cherokee and loaded the canoe onto the roof racks. When we attempted to leave the access area parking lot to head back into the forest to get the shuttle vehicle, we were intercepted by a New Jersey State Police car. The trooper asked if we had another car parked along the river. We acknowledged we did and told the officer we were now headed to retrieve it.
"Sorry," the trooper explained, "The entire area is being evacuated."
Seems the beautiful yellow-orange colors tinting the clouds we observed earlier were from a huge forest fire burning more than 1,000 acres of the Wharton Forest just north of where we were paddling. If the wind had been blowing southward instead of northward, the flames would have caught us.
Luckily, the troopers got permission to escort us back through the forest so we could get the other car. The air was thick with smoke as we drove at night over miles of sandy roads between the pines.
It turned out to be quite an adventure. We learned a valuable lesson, though. Be suspicious of orange clouds. It's not always the setting sun.
Written by: Bob Wilson of the Philadelphia Canoe Club - Folcroft, PA
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