Wild Ponies, Good Friends & A Rocket Launch – Assateague Island, MD
When we changed our fall travel plans to drive down the East coast one thing I knew I really, really wanted to see was the wild ponies of Assateague Island.
You see I’ve always been a horse girl at heart, despite the fact that I grew up in dense Asian cities. As a kid all my books were about horses, and as soon as I was old enough I begged my parents to learn to ride. It was touch and go too. When I was learning to ride in Hong Kong the only horses available were ex-racehorses all of which were rather crazy from their time on the tracks.
So my mom sat through interminable hours of horse lessons, while I in turn endured my fair share of horse accidents. I got kicked, bucked off, bitten and even had a horse gallop straight over me breaking my arm clean in 2 places. Despite all that I never lost my love of these beautiful creatures, and to this day I’m still a horse girl through and through.
But I digress….
A Relaxing Ferry Trip & Arrival To A Near-Empty Campground
The point is I was excited, very excited to be seeing the ponies. So, it was with much anticipation that we drove south from Jersey City, loaded “the beast” on a very pleasant ~90-min ferry ride from Cape May, New Jersey to Lewes, Delaware (which was way more spacious than the ferries we took on the West Coast in WA in 2014) and headed out to the 37-mile barrier island that is Assateague Island.
We arrived at the State Park early afternoon to an almost entirely empty campground (it did fill-up on the week-end, but it was fabulously empty mid-week) and took doggie for her first long walk on the beautiful, white-sand deserted beach. It was gorgeous and serene. Oh yeah I could get used to this!
We Meet-Up With Good Friends
But there was more goodness to come. We’d plotted this whole trip to coincide with good friends of ours Chris and Cherie (Technomadia) who are driving south and boat-hunting for their new life adventure. They motored their vintage bus into camp just down the loop only hours after we arrived, and we all joined in a big group hug and evening meal.
There’s something comforting about connecting with RV friends that you know and mesh with well. Not only do you pick up your friendship like you never parted ways, but you know each others likes, quirks and habits so well that travel is easy. This eliminates a lot of the (sometimes) uncomfortable first steps of figuring out how you’re going to get along on the road.
We’ll actually be caravanning down with them, on and off, all the way to Florida so expect to see many more pics of their smiling faces and sexy bus on the blog.
We Catch the Wild(ish) Ponies
The ponies were soon to follow. Assateague Island is a long, skinny thing that crosses 2 states (Maryland & Virginia) each of which have their very own horse population (separated by a fence) and each of which manages their pony population quite differently.
Only the MD part has camping right on the Island and (more importantly for us) only the MD part allows dogs, so that’s where we planted our “beastly” butts for the week.
In total there are around 300 wild ponies on Assateague which either arrived when a Spanish galleon ship sank offshore, or were brought in by early colonial settlers (their exact origins are not known). They roam around in small herds of 5-10 and feed on sea and sand dune grasses, rosehips, bayberry twigs, and persimmon….oh, and left-over camp food.
You see despite large signs absolutely everywhere instructing campers to not touch or approach the wild ponies (the rangers WILL fine you -> we saw it happen), and very specific check-in instructions not to leave ANY food outside, lots of people do. And the ponies have become so used to this arrangement that they regularly walk right up to people, meander through camp, trash coolers and leave large piles of horse poop as friendly souvenirs. Suffice to say these ponies are wildish, rather than truly wild and the image I had in my minds eye of feral herds galloping along the beach did not quite fit the reality.
Still, they are gorgeous creatures nonetheless and the upside of all this is that you’d be hard pressed to come to Assateague and NOT see the ponies. They are literally everywhere and so easily approachable even a disposable camera would get you close enough for good shots. Plus, how often do you get to enjoy the company of wildish ponies at your campsite?
We Grab a Brew In Berlin
Just 9 miles inland from Assateague lies “America’s Coolest Small Town ” (as voted by Budget Travels in 2014). It’s a teeny little ~5-block place that packs in over 50 retail shops and 10 dining spots, most of which occupy one of the no less than 47 historic structures listed the National Historic Register. There’s old-time East Coast atmosphere here, but more importantly (for us) there’s a dog-friendly brewery too.
On one of our lazier afternoons we loaded Polly in the car and drove on over to Burley Oak Brewery, an airy yet cozy spot just outside of town that welcomes both kids and dogs inside the building. They have quite an extensive selection of Sours (I particularly liked their Bluberry “Fruits of Our Labor”) as well as some very nice IPA, Session & Saison offerings (Paul was immediately hooked on their lemongrass basil saison, rather superbly named “Golden Sex Panther”). They pride themselves on their use of local ingredients too. A seriously cool spot!
We followed our little tasting by a walk through historic downtown, and although we didn’t try any of the eateries they all looked enticingly good. A recommended stop if you come to the area!
We Bike, Beach-Bum & See A Rocket Launch
The rest of our time we literally just hung out at camp with our buddies. We didn’t make it to nearby Ocean City (oh well), but we did take Polly on long walks on the dog beach at Assateague, had a blast biking the many miles of bike trails from the bridge through the end of the National Seashore (on MD side) and finished our stay in the most dramatic way possible by seeing a real, live rocket launch.
Just after sunset on Monday night (Oct 17th) we enjoyed the launch of an Orbital ATK Antares 230 rocket carrying 5,100 lbs of NASA cargo. Although the launch itself was done ~20 miles away at the NASA flight facility on Wallops Island, the bright light and subsequent rumble was quite clear from our campsite beach lookout. It was my first (ever) live launch and I can honestly say it totally rocked LOL!
And We Head South….
We could easily have stayed in Assateague much longer. Weather was near-perfect while we were there (sunny mid-70’s almost all week), the ocean breeze kept most of the mosquitoes away (we definitely encountered some, but it honestly wasn’t as bad as I expected) and mid-week (when practically no-one else was around) the campground was super-relaxing. We had an AWESOME time here and enjoyed not the only the wildish company, but the company of our friends too.
Alas, the nomadic traveler never rests. Our fall travel time is ticking away and another set of barrier islands (and a few sweet lighthouses) are calling our name further south. Stay tuned and perhaps we’ll see you there…
Coming Up Next -> Assateague State Park Campground review
Post-Post Note: Didn’t You Mention A Podcast?
If you managed to make it the whole way through my last post on Taggart, you might have seen a passing mention about a Podcast at the very bottom. While we were in NYC, we had the honor of being interviewed by the lovely Heath Padgett for his RV Entrepeneur Series (click HERE for our particular interview). If you haven’t had a chance to check out his Podcast, I absolutely recommend you do. He’s interviewed some cool young (well, let’s call it “ish” in our case) RVers, all of whom are making it work pre-retirement on the road. Not only does he have a great interview style, but he gets into some deep stuff in each of his Podcasts. So, if you’ve ever wanted to discover the nitty gritty of how other folks do it, load him up for your next road-trip and you’ll enjoy many hours of entertaining listening.
Useful External Links:
- Assateague Island State Park -> Click HERE for official website
- Assateague Island National Seashore -> Click HERE for official website and HERE for visitor site
- Berlin “America’s Coolest Small Town” -> Click HERE and HERE for visitor sites
- Burley Oak Brewery -> Click HERE. And yes, it’s dog-friendly!!
- NASA Wallops Flight Facility & Launch Schedule -> Click HERE