Assateague Island (“ASSA-teak”) is a barrier island that extends from Maryland south into Virginia. On the Southern end, the island is very close to Chincoteague Island, Va. (“CHINKA-teak”) which is privately owned and includes the town of Chincoteague complete with motels, bed and breakfasts, restaurants and shops.
People are friendly, helpful and outgoing. Assateague is connected by bridge to the mainland in Maryland, and again by bridge to Chincoteague Island in Virginia. Chincoteague is then connected to mainland Virginia by bridge. We travel down from Pennsylvania, and usually stay in Delaware along the coast between Rehoboth and Ocean City. Although Assateague seems just a stone’s throw from Ocean City, one must travel south through some beautiful Maryland countryside to access the bridge that takes you over to the barrier island.
My desire to return to the island of the ponies has started to niggle at me as it always does this time of year. Never forget that the ponies always have the right of way. Never get too close; they may seem tame, but they are wild animals and you wouldn’t want to get kicked or bitten, believe me. There are folks who patrol in summer to make sure tourists and ponies stay safe.
Fred, put your turn signal on!
We once took a boat ride from the southernmost tip of Ocean City to tour Assateague and the surrounding area. If you have time it’s well worth spending an afternoon. The tour guide seemed knowledgeable and eagerly answered questions. Accessing the area by boat gives a unique peek into the lives of the ponies, who look like they’re all spoiling for a horse show.
Young stallion; no mares... yet
First and foremost if you’re going there, be sure to have ample supply of bug repellent. Mosquitos there are very nasty; there are also ticks in the brushy vegetation.
Sika deer love the marsh; so do mosquitos
The beach on Assateague is on the list of the top ten East Coast Beaches and it is absolutely beautiful. We’ve made it there a few times to see the sunrise. Looking up or down the deserted beach, the mist from the pounding surf reflected the golden color of sunrise and just takes one’s breath away. The water appears to be quite deep right offshore and there are always strong currents. Of course, there are lifeguards in summer, ever vigilant.
Pounding Assateague surf
It’s a family spot for sure. Even when the ponies are elsewhere, the ever present mounds of “briquettes” on the sand reminds you of how special this place is.
There are a few campgrounds on the Maryland side, both campers and tent camping. On the landward side we saw folks wind surfing in the shallow bays. If you’re adventurous, there are hiking paths.
Bug juice applied, ready for adventure
There are gorgeous dunes and pine trees shaped by ocean winds as well as tall evergreen forests and a lot of brushy scrub, complete with marshes, both brackish and fresh.
The National Seashore is accessible from the Maryland side. The National Seashore extends for over 20 miles along deserted beaches and empty dunes and forest. You must have a permit and a 4 wheel drive vehicle equipped for travel on sand as well as a certain list of equipment. You can camp and fish right on the beach, complete with bonfire, as long as you take with you everything you’ve brought in. Bring your own wood for campfires.
Chincoteague has a quaint fishing village atmosphere.
Fishing fleet, Chincoteague
There are places on the island that have ponies in their paddocks. Chincoteague conducts their famous pony swim every July. This year, the swim “will be held on July 28, 2010 – the last Wednesday of July. The exact time is not mentioned until the day prior to the event (due to tidal conditions).” Ponies are herded into the water off Assateague Island for the swim over to Chincoteague, where select babies are sold at auction. They are very intelligent, gentle and trainable and have been used by their new owners to ride English or Western. If you plan to go to the pony swim, be aware that thousands of folks (over 40,000!) converge on the island. It coincides with the local Fire Dept carnival, complete with barbeques and entertainment. Most of the proceeds go to the Fire Dept for equipment. It has become a nationally known tradition. Any reservations to stay on the island must be made the season before. You can always plan on staying on the mainland somewhere within striking distance of Chincoteague. The drive there from anywhere is just wonderful, so don’t despair if you can’t get a room too close.
The Virginia side of the island has a great visitor’s center that is entirely “green” and I believe it is self sufficient. There you will find exhibits on all the wildlife that inhabits the island. Assateague Island lies on the coastal flyway, and autumn is the main time to see migrating shore birds by the thousands. You can also readily spot the residents; snowy egrets hunting in the marshes right next to the ponies, gulls, even osprey who may disappear beneath the waves for s second or two before emerging with a fish to feed their hungry nestlings.
I see you
There are sika deer that are at home up to their shoulders in fresh water marshy areas. Besides the fresh marshes there are salt marshes, grassy areas, forests, and ponies, lots of ponies. Having said that, there have been times we’ve been there when the ponies are deep in the brush, or way out in the shallow bays away from the heat and bugs of summer. Be patient, be persistent, and eventually you can usually find at least a few, if not herds of the famous ponies. To find the ponies you sometimes have to think like they do.
Tiny turtle on the beach
The Virginia end has a beautiful beach, but Maryland’s beach is the real gem. We were told that in the spring time on the southern end, a certain kind of small shark (maybe sand shark?) comes in to the shallow bay near the beach area by the thousands to spawn. During those times the water appears to boil with all the moving, jostling, spawning fish. That must make the heart race and I’d love to see it.
Virginia also boasts a beautiful picturesque lighthouse. Ponies often cooperate and pose nice just so you can get a nice picture for your desktop.
Famous Chincoteague Lighthouse
Nearby, on the Virginia mainland, is Wallops NASA flight facility open to the public for a small fee. The exhibits are interesting and it’s very close to Chincoteague. Besides, how often can you buy a t-shirt, hat, visor and other stuff with the NASA logo on it? I wouldn’t go again, but once is definetly worth the hour or two it takes to see the place.
when I grow up, I wanna be...
I used most of my favorite pics in my first post on Assateague, which was written this past January. I tried to fill this one with images as well. Although there are no prize winners, at least they can give a taste of the particular salty flavor of Assateague. The place is magical; its northern Maryland end stands a stone’s throw from one of the most obnoxious beach towns ever spawned, Ocean City. It stands in mute contrast, beckoning to the curious traveler. The southernmost tip in Virginia offers it’s migrating birds, spawning fish and pony swim. You never know who you’ll meet around the very next bend in the path.
Momma and baby in 95 degree heat
What on earth are you waiting for? It will be a trip you’ll remember always. Who knows, you just may get hooked like we are and go back again and again, pining for the place in between trips.
(click on pics to see larger size)
(note: all photographs taken by either Roy or I)
'Ground control to Major Tom...'