Muttontown Preserve has ruins from the Albanian King Zog. That sentence seems very made-up. I’ve never heard of this king before, and I don’t know why a nature preserve on Long Island would be the place for the ruins of royalty. I headed into nature to find out.
Muttontown Preserve two parking lots and unclear trailheads. I met the captain in the lot near the Chelsea Mansion/Manor. I saw it called both things. It’s a large house with pretty grounds. We had to walk back down where we drove in, pass by the artists’ studio where there was an artist and a car that looked like half a car but turned out to be a car with a trailer, and went up the other path where there was a building. This was the nature building. Since it was closed and there was nothing out front that showed where to go, we went around back. The bathrooms were closed—and Capt was like, You didn’t check to see if there would be bathrooms?!?!, and I was shocked myself—but on the wall were maps. One marked where the ruins were. So it really is a thing. We turned from the maps to face overgrown nature. Trees and high grass and barely any paths to make out. I was like, Maps aren’t really helpful if there’s no starting point. So we simply started walking.
Muttontown Preserve has bugs. This was the buggiest walk to start off. I sprayed myself down with gross bug spray. It didn’t help. We’d seen a guy in the parking lot douse himself in bug spray, so I figured we should follow him because he had a backpack and seemed to know what he was doing. A few minutes later, he was heading back towards us. So much for knowing stuff. Also, I, too, had a backpack, so I don’t know why I was using that as a sign about knowing things. My backpack weighed the equivalent of a small child, and I had no sense of direction. Every time the capt would show me the map on his phone and be like, North blah de blah, I was like, yeah, ok, I can’t even see what’s on the screen, and if I could, it would not make one difference.
There were trail markers. They corresponded to the maps. They meant nothing to me.
After a few trails, a few circles, and many many many bugs, we came upon a sort of clearing. In that clearing was a large circular firepit, a large rotisserie made of tree trunks and a large branch, a few picnic tables, and a shirtless older man with his lunch and an iPad. There was a 50/50 chance we were going to leave here alive. We all greeted each other about the same time. The guy asked where we were from, and then he looked at Capt and was like, You’re not from around here. So the captain said, I’m from Pennsylvania.
The captain is not from Pennsylvania.
The guy was like, What part? The captain was like, the Poconos, like up in the mountains. The guy was like, Yes, I know it, and then named some highway that I suppose goes to or through the good state of PA.
Then the guy commented about how he liked Capt’s socks. I chimed in, Yeah, they’re pretty great. They had Starry Night on them. I like fun socks. The guy was like, Did you buy them for him? I was like, No, he bought his own socks. Then the captain asked the guy if he knew where the ruins were, and the guy said, There are no ruins—that’s a myth.
Then he explained how there’s another entrance to the park. We can go there and see a mansion. It costs $1200, which is what pays for this—and he motioned to the trees. Then he said the captain could leave his socks for the king at the ruins.
We left there alive, and not two minutes later found the ruins. I was like, He was talking about where we parked, right? Right. Why did he tell us to leave your socks there? No clue. You’re not from Pennsylvania. Nope.
The ruins are large walls with graffiti on them. No sign of a king anywhere. Lots more bugs. It was kinda cool to see the remains of a building in the middle of nowhere.
Then we left, and I saw a snake, so I was like, We need to take a path that has no snakes. We did that, and then we walked around to the manor and walked the grounds of the manor and found the parking lot again. We ran into an old couple who asked what there was to see, and I said, A lot of nature. Then a younger couple was roaming around the manor grounds, and the guy had a backpack, so they were clearly looking for the paths to hike. She came over to where my car was and asked, and I was like, You’ve gotta loop back around and go behind the building for the maps. I’ve got a backpack. I’m an expert now.
There’s a 50/50 chance that the shirtless guy near the firepit was not real. He could have been a ghost or a woodland magical being in the shape of a man. Or perhaps he’s a descendent of King Zog, trying to veer people away from the ruins as to not ruin them even more. Maybe he’s the King Zog’s ghost. I kinda want to go back just to see if he’s still sitting there.