I had no idea how much I wanted to visit Assateague Island on Maryland's eastern shore until I was headed down the far side of the bridge onto the island and I surprised myself by saying right out loud, "I can't believe I'm really here" and then promptly tearing up and having a hard time seeing the turn for the national park at the bottom of the bridge.
This trip was no joke travel-wise. I have visited 3 families in the general vicinity, but there is just no good way to get there without intention and desire. It's not a side trip, not a thing you do on a whim. It is, however, a trip you should make, more than once. I am in love with this place, and not just because of a childhood reading and re-reading Marguerite Henry's books about wild ponies. It was that at first, but now I know the magic firsthand. I will return.
First, there are wild ponies everywhere. This is their place and you are a visitor. You are welcome, but very much in second place. If there's a pony in the road, you wait. There are signs everywhere reminding you not to come within 10 feet of them, not to feed them, not to irritate them. They will destroy your cooler if it's not in your car. There are volunteers around who herd the foals out of the road and make cars wait, all the while running interference with the people who want a photo more than they are worried about getting bitten by a wild horse.
I chose to camp in the national park on the bay side, but I would choose the ocean side next time. The bay side is lovely and quiet (and less mosquito-ey at this time of year, by which I mean manageable); the ocean side is walk-in, but puts you pretty much on the dunes above the north beach. There's also the state park right next door, which has camping as well.
My campsite was pretty much flooded by the recent rains, but there was room for my tent. A tiny little cottontail rabbit checked my tent out several times and many different kinds of birds hopped in and out of the bushes, busy with their own lives.
I headed to the South Beach after setting up my tent, sitting for a solid hour, staring at the ocean and rediscovering my addiction to sassafras candy. It felt so good to just wander around, watching the surf, sitting in the sun; the Mid-Atlantic has been so grey and rainy for the last week, it felt like a miracle.
After a quick dinner, I went to walk down the Life of the Marsh Trail near my campsite. The trail is almost entirely an elevated walkway, putting you high enough above the marsh to see the bay as well. I managed to escape the tourists on either side and spend some time leaning over the railing, watching tiny fish dart through the marsh grasses.
I should have continued writing this when I started it nearly a week ago, but there you have it - travel makes things like managing a blog a total hassle. I love writing here, but the logistics are nuts. The rhythm I got into while staying with friends is now totally thrown off because I am now camping and on the move quite a bit.
Anyway, I still feel the lingering magic of Assateague and am so happy that I had a chance to see it. Being so close to a place that captured my imagination throughout my childhood is indescribable.
Assateague is one of those places where you can just point your camera and find something beautiful. The landscape is like a watercolor painting, full of brush and grasses creeping up the dunes, pines struggling to grow upright, and the gigantic sky full of towering clouds. You can see forever here, in almost any direction.
How I managed to leave the area without one of these towels is beyond me.
This was my coffee spot in the morning, just me and a bunch of gulls. Completely quiet and peaceful, the sun shining down on everything around.
This guy was the only one who stayed where he was - the others kept taking off and then landing farther down the railing, only to take off when I got close again.
On the way home i drove to Chincoteague, where there is a statue of Misty. Chincoteague felt very much like a town recovering from tourist season - a little bit exhausted. I bought a bottle of wine to share with friends and made my way back down the road again.