DL&W Oxford and "Manunka Chunk" tunnels

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by MarkBNJ, May 27, 2014.

  1. MarkBNJ

    MarkBNJ Piney

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    Ok, some more Highlands stuff for you flatlanders :). There are enough railfans and history nuts on the site that I trust I will be forgiven. I set out Sunday to fulfill an old goal: to hike up the DL&W "Old Road" and find the tunnels at Oxford and "Manunka Chunk."

    I drove toward Oxford first, following the old right of way west from Hackettstown to Port Murray and Washington, and then north along 31 toward Van Ness Gap, the notch that the old steamers were forced to climb before John Blair ordered a hole drilled through the hill.

    There is no public access to what remains of the right of way south of the tunnel. I entered off Jackson Valley Rd. just west of 31 by climbing the embankment where the bridge used to be. I don't know the status of any of the land I traversed on my hike north, but I did not cross any posted boundaries and stuck to the old roadbed (and in whose hands that is now, I do not know).

    The distance to the tunnel is about one and a quarter miles from where I parked. The southern half of it is tough going, with many downed trees across the right of way.

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    There are literally one or two of these every few yards, and in a few cases I had to climb the side of a cut to get around. A little north of the halfway point is an old bridge. It is not connected to any secondary road, and as best I can tell from the old aerials it was probably built for farmers to use in accessing their fields across the cut. Might still be in use.

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    There really wasn't much left to signify that I was walking on a railroad right of way. The occasional rotting tie, some concrete foundations, and a single old telegraph pole.

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    The going got much easier north of the old bridge. For whatever reason there seemed to be far fewer downed trees. The roadbed was up on fill at this point, not down in a cut, so perhaps something about the shape of the surrounding hills protected this area from Sandy.

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    The curve at the southern approach to the tunnel was built up with a huge amount of rock fill, which forms a massive embankment where the road turns north into the cut that leads to the tunnel.

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    Near this area there are the concrete foundations for what I guess was a signal tower controlling the southern approaches. There is an opening in the side facing away from the line, with stairs leading up to the pad level. Just speculation on my part.

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    I want to try to give you a sense of the atmosphere of this next shot. I had been working my way north for maybe a half hour or so, and I knew I was close. The first thing I noted as I headed up into the cut was a strong flow of damp, cool air; perhaps as much as 15 degrees cooler than the ambient temp at the time. It smelled of dark and damp and roots and water. I could literally feel that there was something looming up ahead that had a profound impact on the local environment. I worked my way around another deadfall and there it was.

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    I know I'm romanticizing this but it was quite unlike coming upon a foundation or some other remnant of a homestead in the woods. I think it was the juxtaposition of something so massive and artificial just abandoned out in the woods because nobody needed it anymore. Very odd feeling.

    There is essentially a river flowing out of the tunnel mouth. The ground in the cut is incredibly wet and soggy. I sank to my ankles a number of times while working my way in for a closer view. I was eventually rewarded by this image which, without boots, lights, and friends is as close a view as I was willing to pay for.

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    Spotted this on my way out. If anyone sees (T)rapper Frank let him know there's a message for him near the tunnel. I don't know who left this, who edited it, or who Ray is but fortunately I didn't run into any of them.

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    So much for Oxford Tunnel. It's still out there, exhaling its vapors into the cut. So if any of you guys feel like you would enjoy heading up there and maybe poking our heads inside let me know. I'd go back. I don't think we'd get far in, though.

    On to "Manunka Chunk." Why have I been putting that in quotes? I have no idea, but a lot of the old maps and references seem to do it. Might be because it wasn't really a named place, rather just an inconvenient hill northwest of Butzville. I'll just tell you up front that everything I said about the feeling of coming up on the Oxford tunnel goes triple for Manunka Chunk. It's like a place out of time. But first I had to find the damn thing.

    I knew I needed to start on Upper Sarepta Rd., and I knew the point where the right of way crossed the road headed north to the tunnel. As at Oxford the plan was to find the roadbed and follow it up. Unfortunately, there was no roadbed. There was a creek, and woods, and a fish and game road heading up the hill, but despite 40 minutes of clambering back and forth across the creek and consulting my map I couldn't find squat. Not a cinder, not a ballast stone, not a rotted tie, nada. I know it's there, somewhere, but like so much of Jersey's history it must be covered in dense brush. I just couldn't find it. So I headed up the fish and game road, figuring it must get me somewhere close.

    Near the top the road has a wire across it marking what lies beyond as private (I thought it was all Beaver Brook WMA but what the hell do I know?). I thought I was thwarted until I checked the map on my phone and realized I was a) well north of the line; and b) above the tunnel mouth. Next to me was a waterfall, and I spotted a trail running down the bank near the top. At the bottom of that trail were a couple of old rotted planks laying across the stream. I inched my way across and found another trail leading downhill to the south. At the bottom of this trail, finally, I found the cut and the old roadbed.

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    Looked like another slog, but again I could feel a rush of cold, damp air flowing down the cut. The monster was up there somewhere. The going here was probably not tough by PBX standards, but it was tough by Markbnj standards. Lots of deadfall, lots of water, but just a few hundred meters of that crap and I rounded a curve to claim my reward.

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    Too. Damn. Cool. I hadn't realized that this tunnel was a twin bore until I got up to it. As you can see, compared to the Oxford Tunnel this place has much more of a "Walking Dead" feel to it (as one of my friends who saw this image remarked.

    A little closer shot of the two tunnels from what would have been the north track.

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    Close-up at the north bore. This bore is as flooded as the Oxford tunnel, although in this case the water is flowing into the tunnel and down to the Delware on the other side, whereas at Oxford the flow was out of the tunnel and off down to the south branch of the Raritan. Note the multi-ton chunks of rock that have fallen from the ceiling.

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    Not a very good quality pic. I made my way across the stream to the south bore and found it much dryer, so I guess the north bore is lower.

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    A couple of ties in place inside the south bore.

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    The view from maybe 100' inside the tunnel.

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    I walked a little further in but it got dark fast, and I wasn't equipped. The bore was pretty dry and navigable as far as I went, so I am definitely tempted to gear up and go back and try to walk through to the other side, assuming I can find an intrepid soul who would go along.

    Looking back on my way out for a good shot of the south bore.

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    For anyone tempted to visit these places, the hiking conditions are strenuous, very wet, very buggy, lots of ticks. Care is required to avoid tripping on hundreds of deadfalls. The rocks are slimy. Water is raining into both cuts on all sides. It's a blast. :)
     
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  2. bobpbx

    bobpbx Piney
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    Mark, very good report, you tell a good story. So well, in fact, that I felt that same eerie feeling that you did when I saw your tunnel photo. Your line...."without boots, lights, and friends is as close a view as I was willing to pay for"....is a classic! Even with those alongside, it is very unlikely I'd enter a tunnel. I have no love for tunnels or caves. They can remain the realm of others braver than I.

    I think also you are quite brave in hitting those woods by yourself when bear cubs may be out and about with momma. In fact, who knows what critter may have taken refuge in that darkness as you approached?

    You definitely have my respect.
     
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  3. MarkBNJ

    MarkBNJ Piney

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    You know, I didn't give near enough consideration to the time of year and possibility of bears. That's why it's good for guys like me to know guys like you :). I always move as quietly as I can in the woods and I am all eyes and ears, but I specifically did not consider the possibility of wildlife inside the tunnels. I had no real intention of entering any of them when I started, but when I managed to get up close to Manunka Chunk and saw it was dry-ish I couldn't resist.

    Glad you enjoyed the tale.
     
  4. Gibby

    Gibby Piney

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    Mark did you notice the concrete addition to the cattle over pass? As the the locomotives grew larger on the old main line the railroad raised the over passes and made the tunnel a single track. It has been awhile since I trekked through the Van Nest tunnel but I remember seeing hinges for doors for the tunnel.

    Also, the station platform is still visible just down the road from the tunnel on your right as you pass the gas station heading north on Rt 31.
     
  5. manumuskin

    manumuskin Piney

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    as a caver I find my interest piqued:)
     
  6. MarkBNJ

    MarkBNJ Piney

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    Gibby, I noticed the concrete on top of the stone abutments, but it didn't register on me as having been raised. Makes sense. So you've been all the way through the tunnel? Do tell :). Ever done Manunka Chunk?

    Al, I'm looking for volunteers for the 2014 Manunka Chunk Traverse. You sound well-qualified. :)
     
  7. manumuskin

    manumuskin Piney

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    where is it? How far between entrances? Any vertical or diving?
     
  8. MarkBNJ

    MarkBNJ Piney

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    http://maps.njpinebarrens.com/#lat=40.8584383701607&lng=-75.04629977020261&z=15&type=terrain&gpx=

    Right in that little dimple in the middle. The pin is off just a hair sw but you can clearly see the right of way on the map. I would not expect any more vertical drop than a locomotive could handle, i.e. around 2%. I would expect the floor to be wet and flooded in some spots, but not deeply unless there has been subsidence. I would expect rockfalls, and I have no idea whether it is even open all the way through. I estimate it around 4/10 of a mile in length, but it could be a lot shorter. Sort of hard to tell where it pops out on the Delaware side. I went 100' in and didn't see any light down there, if that's any indication.
     
  9. Gibby

    Gibby Piney

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    It has been years, but I have been through the Van Nest, Manunka Chunk, and Roseville Tunnels. The Van Nest wasn't as flooded when I went through it a couple of times, so it was much easier than now. Bring plenty of light if you do because you may miss some of the details inside. There are holes for the workers to take shelter in as a train passed through and cool artifacts from all of the visitors. Watch out for the skeleton!;)

    When I went through the Mununka Chunk it had a section of ceiling that collapsed in one of its tunnels that we had to climb around.

    Hopefully, KevinHooa will chime in. He has been through that Mununka more recently and has a better idea of its condition.
     
  10. MarkBNJ

    MarkBNJ Piney

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    Man, you are whetting my appetite in a serious way. I absolutely cannot resist exploring underground spaces. I'm not into caves, really. I went once with this crew from Bloomington, IN, and when we got to the spot I looked around and asked where the cave was. They pointed to a crack in the ground. I'll pass on worming through stuff like that, thanks. But subterranean works have always completely fascinated me. I lived in Rhode Island for a few years and used to sneak into Fort Adams and explore all the underground store rooms and listening tunnels. We had a blast, and knew the place like the back of our hands.
     
  11. Scott453

    Scott453 New Member

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    The Oxford Tunnel may be caved in, but it is far from impassible. I have not gone through it in a couple years, but the light at the other end of the tunnel is visible. It's been 45 years since I was gutsy as a kid and went through the escape tunnel above it located to the right above the water outlet. The next 2 months will be the best months to experience the tunnel. Even if you are not bold enough to walk through, the fog the cool air fog that is released each morning provide a gasping sight. This happens on the Washington Side below Route 31.
     

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  12. Scott453

    Scott453 New Member

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    I have not looked it up in public records, but who owns the tunnel or can it be owned? I was always taught in school that whoever owns a piece of land owns below it. I now have a person who claims he owns he tunnel which I find difficult to believe. If anything, I would think it is a right of way. Any comments?
     
  13. Sue Gremlin

    Sue Gremlin Piney

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    Thanks for digging up this old thread, it's one of my fonder memories of exploring NJ with my husband. We were brave and stupid enough to walk all the way through the tunnel and back. I get the romanticizing, it truly was another world, like a rainforest. Plus there were fish in the tunnels, weird as that seems. It was an astonishing day. Actually we did it twice.

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  14. Scott453

    Scott453 New Member

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  15. Scott453

    Scott453 New Member

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    No worries... I have designed a before and after picture of a train that came out of the same tunnel in the early 1900's. It is a hobby of mine to do before and after pictures from the same angle. Anyway, I plan on getting some nice pics of the steam releasing this summer, as I plan on moving out of Jersey after 54 years and retiring from Mars Chocolate. In any case, I am happy to hear you enjoyed it twice. I went through it many times as a kid... once on a Harley 90 as a 9 year old. I was actually forced to go through the escape tunnel I mentioned as some older boys had me jump down to the top of the opening. I was too small to get out and had to follow them through to a 8 foot drop to the actual tunnel. That was scary at 9 years old.
     
  16. Mikebrennan

    Mikebrennan New Member

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    IMG_2121.JPG IMG_2291.JPG I've been through the tunnel many times. You'll need waders as the water is crotch high with knee high silt under it. Another major cave in 8/20/2018 has made it much more difficult and dangerous to go through. You can't see light at the other end anymore because debris pile is a good 14 foot high.
     
  17. Mikebrennan

    Mikebrennan New Member

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  18. Mikebrennan

    Mikebrennan New Member

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  19. Mikebrennan

    Mikebrennan New Member

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    The Njdep owns the tunnel and row in this section. Problem is it's all private property that's posted on Washington portal. It did used to be privately owned before the state bought it and most of the mountain.
     
  20. Mikebrennan

    Mikebrennan New Member

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