Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Assateague Island Part 2
Why, yes, thank you very much, I am going to subject you to days upon days of pictures from our trip. Because it was fun. And I took a lot of pictures. Killed the old camera batteries, I did. You can see here that our tent (technically the 'rents tent) is located directly next to the dune, which is located directly next to the ocean. The video in the Visitor's Center said it is the most easterly part of the North American continent which is very strange to think about.
Since we were so close to the beach, we could go whenever we pleased. This was our pre-breakfast walk.
The island is a long, narrow barrier island. Imagine splitting it in half, lengthwise. The state of Maryland owns the side toward the Atlantic and the bayside is a National Park. In the National Park, you can drive on the beach and have campfires on the beach. On the Maryland side, you can camp. The nice thing about the Maryland side is that aside from a public beach when you first arrive, the rest of the park is accessible only to campers. They give you a special code to get through the gate into the rest of the park.
On Chincoteague Island, the ponies are owned and managed by the fire department. Every summer, they swim the bay and sell off part of the herd. In Assateague, the ponies are owned by the state and are treated as wild animals. They 'live wild and die wild' with no supplemental feeding or veterinary care.
If you have read the book Misty of Chincoteague, you will remember the story of a Spanish ship crashing off the coast and the ponies swimming ashore. Sadly, this is a myth, but the truth is interesting too. Three hundred years ago, settlers used the island as a natural corral. They kept their horses there to graze and the island provided the natural barriers to keep them safe. Over time, horses were left on the island and it was no longer used for a corral. The ponies continued to mate, and occasionally other horses were left at the island as well.
The ponies grew in population and became well adapted to living on the island with its harsh conditions. They are not like the wild horses you see in pictures, especially the ones out West. These are considered ponies more than horses. They are not as small as many ponies, but not as tall as most horses. Clear as mud? They are also very stout and healthy looking, despite foraging for all they eat.
When we first arrived, of course we had our eyes peeled for ponies. When we went to the Ranger's Station to register, two of them walked right up the sidewalk! It was exciting, but I will admit it was kind of disappointing. They didn't seem wild to me and I wondered if they were tame from years of exposure to people.
After the initial disappointment, though, I realized that the horses may seem tame, but they are not. They just know they run the island and go wherever they darn well please. We did not see any running about in herds with their manes blowing in the wind. They mostly just grazed in the meadow areas and on the grassy shoulders of the road. I think this is why people think they are tame and therefore safe to approach. There are signs everywhere saying no feed, touching, etc. There is a park ranger who rides around on his bike and when he sees wild horses and people in the same vicinity, he hangs around to make sure no one does anything stupid.
The first day, we saw no horses near our campsite. Just dogs, hot dogs. The kids even roasted them for breakfast. Don't judge.
Our campsite was so close to the beach, away from the grassy meadows on the bay side. I thought maybe the horses didn't hang out there as much. Alas! What is that we spied? Why piles of road apples of course. So they do come here. But when?
We didn't spend too much time pondering this because there were s'mores to make and seashells to collect.
And sand to blow into every nook and cranny of our gear.
The second night, the wind blew like crazy. It blew 3 of the stakes out for the rain fly, and two stakes from the tent. I was hoping we didn't lift off, and also that the kids wouldn't wake up in the middle of it. During the night, with the wind blowing, I thought I heard the sound of horses. After mental debating whether it was worth it to risk waking up the kids to unzip the window and look out, I decided not to. Can you imagine being a kid, waking up in an unfamiliar place with the wind blowing like crazy inside a tent that feels like a plastic bag about ready to take off, with horses outside the window? Not exactly a recipe for success.
The next morning, our neighboring campers told me that the horses had come right past my tent TWICE in the night! So it was them! Which has nothing to do with this giant chicken. We saw it driving into the area and knew we had to come back. Have you hugged a chicken today? Do it! It'll make you feel better.
Or, have you made weird faces in front of a chicken while your kid gives you bunny ears? You should try that too. More so to make me feel like I am not the only crazy person in the world.
And this! I am not sure what in the world he was doing here, but all I can think of is the Incredible Doctor Pol saying 'We've got to push her YOUUUUUUterus back in!' in his cute Dutch accent.
Now that I've used the word 'uterus' on the blog, lets move along. Here some wild ponies eating their lunch. This is what they mainly eat, and they supplement their diet with food left out by careless campers. I'll take the fresh meadow grass with a side of Cheetos, please. Hey, it gives the seagulls some competition.
I love the one of the left. The coloring is so cool.
See how nice and shiny they are? I guess meadow grass and Cheetos are good for one's complexion.
And the last picture of the day, I promise. Spotted by the eagle-eyed Captain Squatchy, we saw a pod of dolphins swimming by. He initially confused them for sharks, and I had to do a double take but they were coming up out of the water in that rhythmic dolphin way. There were about a half dozen of them, swimming in pairs and it was so cool to watch. We later saw another group in the bay near Ocean City. Apparently dolphins in the water are a good sign: it means sharks are not present.
Stay tuned for one more day of pictures!