Monday, June 20, 2011

A Trip to Chincoteague

Driftwood shell art on the beach.
People add pieces to it every day.
Well, it's taken me far too long to sit down and write this out, but I wanted to share the trip to Chincoteague, VA that my girlfriend and I took the weekend of June 11th - 13th. For those of you who don't know, Chincoteague is a tiny island off the tip of Virginia's part of the Eastern Shore. It was made famous in a series of children's books, the most famous of which is Misty of Chincoteague, which tells a tale based around the wild ponies of neighboring Assateague Island. The ponies on the island are in two distinct herds, and the Virginia herd is owned and managed by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Dept, which rounds up ponies every year and auctions off some of them.

Anyway, Christy and I had talked about visiting there for quite a while, since we'd both been avid readers of the books, and had both been there some years ago, but hadn't visited in a long time. So I managed to make a deal with Bruce, my trusted lieutenant at the shop, and we took three days off together to camp down there. And despite less than meticulous planning on my part, we had a wonderful time!

View of marsh and lighthouse from our site
To begin with, we ended up with a really great campsite, at the Maddox Family Campground, on Chincoteague. Remarkably convenient to both the beach (which is part of the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge) and downtown Chincoteague, it has a large open area for tents at the edges of the campground. We pitched our tent far from any neighboring tents and had a lovely view of the marsh and lighthouse... and enough of a breeze to keep the mosquitoes and biting flies away! I couldn't have hoped for a better site for our first camping trip together.

This fellow acted tough as long as I kept my distance
Assateague has beautiful sandy beaches, and if you're willing to walk a ways, you can have a stretch of it just about to yourself. We took several long walks where most of the living creatures we saw were birds, crabs, and dolphins.  One particularly lucky sighting was a bald eagle, zooming very low over the waves. I've seen a number of baldies along bays and rivers and streams, but never one right over the ocean. Of course we saw plenty of gulls, but they were mostly Laughing Gulls, not the more familiar Herring Gull. We also saw several flights of Pelicans and watched their wild display of diving for fish, smashing into the water with a great splash.  I've also never seen anywhere near as many Osprey in one day as we saw on our walks... truly astonishing.

Click to enlarge -
If you look really closely, to the
right of the birds, you can just
make out dolphin fins!
Perhaps the best animal sighting wasn't really a "sighting" strictly speaking. We saw several schools of dolphins during our walks, which we both really got excited about. The coolest part was when Christy suddenly realized she was hearing the dolphins... she was floating on her back, with her head tipped back, and heard a steady, loud clicking sound. I checked it out too, and sure enough, there it was. Neither one of us had ever heard them in the wild before, so it was a very fun discovery.

See him? By the middle
clump of brown needles.
The Refuge also has some trails running through it, a few of which are "multi-use", so we unfolded our Brompton folding bikes and tootled around the marshes and woods for a while, stopping to watch a bald eagle perching in a tree. It was pretty far away, and hard to spot, but as is so often the case, once you find it, you can't imagine how you didn't see it in the first place.

Of course, no visit to Chincoteague and Assateague would be complete without ponies. We actually only saw a few small bands out in the wild (I think the Maryland end might be better for wild pony sightings), but we also visited the Chincoteague Pony Center in town. There we visited the gift shop, but mostly just stood and watched and petted the ponies. Some things you never grow out of... it's fun to see people of all ages just stand and smile and touch these beautiful animals.

My Laughing Gull kite and Scott Sled

Another first for us on this trip was kiteflying... well, the first time we've ever done it together. Long ago, in my teens, I helped start up a kite making company with my then-brother-in-law, and I've owned and flown a variety of kites on and off over the years ever since. The beach is always a fun place for kites, so I brought some along, and one evening after our walk we put a few up in the air and just relaxed and enjoyed the feel of a tug on the string and the dancing of kites in the air. One of the several kites we flew was of my own design, built over 30 years ago (wow), in the image of a Laughing Gull. It had been one of our popular models back when the business was going strong, and it still flies great, if I may say so myself. My girlfriend flew a classic delta, as well as the yellow Scott Sled you see to the left, both also more than 30 years old.

It wasn't all sand and sun and water and wilds for us though... the town of Chincoteague is very charming, and has a bunch of shops and restaurants and a museum to visit. We didn't get to everything (so darn, we'll have to go back!), but we got a nice taste of the town by wandering the main street and ducking into some shops. Among the sights we took in were the Volunteer Fire Deptarment's firehouse on Main Street, the Roxy Theatre (where Misty put her hoofprints), and a lovely little memorial/statue of Misty, based on one of Wesley Dennis' wonderful illustrations from the book.  And of course we indulged ourselves with some ice cream... is it possible to go to the beach and not do so? I think not.

All in all a wonderful, fun, relaxing trip. Too short, of course, but most vacations are. This way we've always got more to see and do and all the more reason to go back.

Assateague Lighthouse

More photos -

Chincoteague/Assateague June 11-14, 2011

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