MD – Assateague Island

Horses! Horses! Horses!
(Title reference is to this Patti Smith song)

March 2012

It was time to get out of town. The daffodils were starting to bloom in my neighbor’s yard (mine are a bit slower to get the idea that it might be spring) and Dan and I were ready to see something other than our own yard. We tossed around a few ideas (too far, too early in the season, too great of a time commitment) and finally settled on a generic “Let’s drive to the Chesapeake Bay, camp, and then come home”. Ok, that sounded easy enough. I started to poke around on Google Maps to look at park options for camping when I saw it: Assateague Island. I had been there once, a long time ago, and thought that it would be perfect: it didn’t rely on spring, it wasn’t very far, the weather would be good and the island was populated with wild horses. How could we lose?

We got off to a good start: we slept in on Saturday morning. It was only 5 1/2 hours to the park via the most direct route, so we knew that we had plenty of time. We threw a bunch of stuff in the car, fed the kitties and took off to see the Horses! Horses! Horses!

There’s not a lot to say about the trip down there. New Jersey did manage to show me a fast-forward peak of spring, with the southern half about a week ahead of us with regard to leaf buds, forsythia and magnolia trees blooming. We crossed into Delaware, just in time to get stuck in traffic caused by an accident. We took advantage of the stopped traffic to scout out lunch: La Tonalteca in Dover. Oh goodness! This was the best Mexican I’d had since I left California. The wait staff was friendly, the food absolutely delicious and it was super easy on the wallet. I was surprised to see that it is a chain – and that there is a location closer to us than Dover.

We were incredibly close to our destination by now. We missed the Visitor’s Center and went over the bridge, saw a couple of horses by the side of the road and quickly took some pictures. I figured that if I didn’t take advantage of this one sighting, it would become my only sighting.

We went back to the Visitor’s Center (which is very nice, by the way) and got the information to register for camping at the ranger’s station. The nice guy behind the counter told us where the various bands of horses like to hang out, and told us about the new foal that was born just a week before.

null

null

We drove up to our campsite, the fog having moved in as soon as we had crossed the bridge the first time. It was a very open site, more appropriate for RV’s and house-size tents, but we decided against a walk-in site just because we’d be there for such a short period of time. We set up the tent and walked up the dune to see the Atlantic Ocean.

null

null

null

There were quite a few people there, surprising to us because it was so early in the season. I’d been here once before, as an early teen when my sister had a summer job as a ranger on the island. I don’t have many memories from that trip, but one of them was that people were everywhere. It was much nicer this time in that regard.

null

null
Dan finds a horseshoe crab shell

null
Walk-in camp site

null

So we walked down the beach, enjoyed the running dogs, the soccer-playing kids and the endless waves. Now it was time to go on the guided trail walks available to us. We started at the Life of the Dunes trail and saw the usual stuff: dunes, pioneer plants, edge effects…

null

null

null

null

null

null
Unconfirmed fox hole

Then we saw something really odd: a black ridge of layered rock running down the length of the trail. I was puzzled, as this shouldn’t be here; the geology was all wrong. Then we finally saw a sign. This was the remains of the Baltimore Boulevard, a road that had been built in 1950 to support thousands of homes that were to be built on the island. Only after the road (and the many dunes) was destroyed in a storm in 1962 did people realize that putting homes on such a fragile barrier island probably wasn’t a good idea.

null

From the Dune walk we wandered over to the Life of the Forest trail, hoping to catch a sight of the foal, as this is the area it has recently been seen. Unfortunately, nothing on four legs let itself be shown and instead we enjoyed the sounds of the birds in the trees.

null

null

At this point we decided to grab the car, hit the last trail in the park and then head up to Ocean City, MD, to catch a movie. On the way back to the campsite we read some more about the flooding of 1962 as well as the various shipwrecks that have happened along the coast, with ship remains coming and going as the sands shifted.

null

null

We were a little tired, just because of the amount of fresh air and walking in the sand, but headed on the Life of the Marsh trail knowing that it wasn’t very long (the trails were 3/4 and 1/2 miles long). Good for us that we took this trail, as we were finally granted a glimpse of the wild horses. There was one off by himself, but then a group of three, feeding just feet from the boardwalk.

null

null

null

null

null

null

null

null

We didn’t approach them, and they seemed content to keep an eye on us as they pulled constantly at the thin spring grass. I took my pictures, we made somewhat disparaging comments on their stature, discussing their diet and seasonal movements, and then left them to their business. It was movie time.

It was a quick ride up to Ocean City (less than 16 miles) and we were two of six people to watch “John Carter”. I’ve seen better movies, but it was still a great way to spend a windy, damp evening when your only other choice is sitting in a tent.

The next morning we were up at 6:40. A 7:06 sunrise was out of the question: the fog has rolled in even thicker than the previous evening. It was 47 degrees, but we had slept comfortably. We had taken complete advantage of the car and had outfitted the tent with Thermarests covered by a fleece blanket, down sleeping bags, a down comforter and full size pillows. See? Camping doesn’t have to be rustic.

With the car loaded we drove up the Maryland/Delaware coast, unable to see anything beyond the fog that covered us. We were in time to catch the 9:15 sailing of the Lewes-Cape May Ferry, which was fun but expensive, even with an hour and 20 minute sailing time. With nothing to see (still foggy), we ended up taking a nap in the car for the duration of the sailing.

null

null
“What is this? A ferry for ants?” (original Zoolander clip)

null
Watching the ferry come in

null

null
On board

Upon landing in New Jersey, we took the slight detour to see the light house at Cape May. It was a nice way to end the “scenic portion” of our weekend trip.

null

null

null

4 comments

  1. Uncle Don says:

    You two sure are an adventurous couple. I enjoyed the trip as well — vicariously. Thanks for great pics and outstanding narrative.

Tell me what you think! I want to know!