Taking a back road

Wildflowers along Route 9 in Mamora, Cape May County. The back roads of South Jersey on the way to the Shore promise you will be surprised at some point by a serendipitous scene - or two - to photograph along the way. TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

The Atlantic City Expressway is celebrating its 50th anniversary this summer. When it opened on July 31, 1964, it forever changed the way we get to and from the Jersey Shore. This summer, though, whenever possible while assigned photos to take at the Shore, I chose the two-lane roads instead of the big toll highways, seeking a glimpse of an older, slower way of travel.

Farm stands, fields of wildflowers and faded structures. Artwork and advertising from another era. Flora and fauna, all can be found right off the blacktop, seen at a pace that prompts slowing down or stopping for a closer look.

It may not compare to a transcontinental road trip on the Lincoln Highway, or getting your kicks on Route 66, but the back roads of South Jersey can promise that you will be surprised at some point by a serendipitous scene - or two.

Natural roadside attractions remind us that South Jersey contains acres of undisturbed forests and marshes, waterways and wetlands with frogs, birds and bees, butter and dragonflies. The 1.1 million-acre Pine Barrens stretches across seven counties, and the 100-plus mile Great Egg Harbor River meanders through South Jersey on its way to the Great Egg Harbor Bay.

Occasionally, you'll have to slow for farm equipment (it is the Garden State, after all), but mostly it's squirrels, deer or raccoons that cross your path.

The end of August may be the unofficial end of summer, but it is by no means the last chance to catch summer at the Shore - and even prolong the season. And make it - as Ralph Waldo Emerson and others have said - about the journey, not the destination.