Chincoteague and Assateague (Ap. 18)

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

One of the first things we did the morning after the strange nighttime noises on Janes Island was to ask someone in the Camp Store if he knew what that could have been.

It wasn’t one of the rangers minding the shop when Jack went over there, but someone who’s local who (possibly?) volunteers or has a retirement job. He said it was probably foxes, and that time was in the past when there was a fella’ who went over there and trapped the foxes for their pelts. But that doesn’t happen any longer, and he’s sure there are foxes living over there.

I, of course, haven’t been over to the island, but I’d think it would be difficult for foxes to create dens in the marsh. But what do I know? Maybe that forest over there stands on higher ground than I’m imagining. Still, I cannot think of anything else from which those sounds might have come. Mother foxes, calling their newly-emerged young, and teaching them to hunt, is my guess. The calls were different strengths and pitches and spread over a pretty large area.

I’m getting ahead of myself here, but the next night we didn’t hear anything like it. And we certainly didn’t recall hearing anything like it before Monday night.

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Anyway, today was our scheduled day to head over the Chincoteague and Assateague Islands, so we loaded up the car and headed south. We drove through parts of Wallops Island (NASA) on our way, and were quite impressed with the “listening equipment” that is in evidence behind a chain link fence on one of the parts of Wallops Isl. Across from this amazing site that has huge dishes and other weird-looking stuff to watch the skies and galaxies and stars and planets, was a visitor center that we hoped to stop at on our way back to Janes Isl.

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We crossed into Chincoteague proper and were quite surprised at how built up and busy (and generally unattractive) it is. I had imagined it as being much more “remote” than what we saw. Very much like Virginia Beach at its worst, about 50 years ago, and most definitely not anywhere we wanted to cycle. The roads were pot-holed, narrow, and shoulder-less, and there were no sidewalks either.

We kept driving around until we got to Maddox Blvd., the causeway to Assateague, where we found more bicycle-friendly amenities, plus some nicer restaurants, in addition to the tropical-themed putt-putt golf “adventures.”

Across the causeway, we found the jewel that is the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and the Assateague National Seashore. We have a senior citizens lifetime pass to our national parks and treasures, so we didn’t have to pay a parking fee, and once inside, we rode the hiking/biking trails and the roads to our heart’s content.

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We saw lots and lots of birds, and apart from the huge numbers of tourists, we were very pleased to be there. At Tom’s Cove Visitor Center we stoped inside and walked some of the board walks with info boards along the way, and then rode toward where all the parking on the sand is located, and peeped over the dune to see scads of people actually frolicking in the ocean, despite the fact that it was incredibly windy (and it was quite a cold wind, too) and only in the 60s.

A trail marked “Woodland Trail” was obviously under construction but there were folks walking around, and it was paved, so we headed in. The surprise was how few “woodlands” appeared to be left alive. We were unsure if the tall, dead trees and deadfall and cut-down trees had all succumbed to a storm (Hurricane Sandy, perhaps?) or if they had been killed off by the pine bark beetle scourge that has beset so many of our pine forests, and then many (but not all) were taken down by storms. It was truly sad to see so many dead trees, some standing tall and others wrecked and cut and fallen.

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And of course, we saw some of the wild ponies.

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Riding some more, we circled a “snow goose pool” at which we saw no snow geese (probably they had moved north by now), and found a gravel road that said it was appropriate for bicycles but indicated that cars beyond staff vehicles and those that were equipped as Over Sand Vehicles (OSVs) were not permitted. So we rode out there for a bit, and found our own piece of beautiful ocean-side beach with not a soul anywhere, and took a selfie. These pix are my only photos of the Atlantic Ocean for this trip, as this was as near as we’d get.

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While we only clocked a little over 16 miles, and our average speed was just under 11 MPH, we had a grand time and it was an excellent warm-down ride to work the kinks from yesterday out of our bones. Even though it was surprisingly cold all day. I’d say the high was about 62 and with the wind chill it would have a “feel like” temp of about 58.

Here are some other random photos we caught while riding around.

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An egret in the foreground of the Tom’s Cove Visitor Center.

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Heron roost.

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Assateague Lighthouse.
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Tom’s Cove Visitor Center and public beaches (with parking right on the beach).

Unfortunately, by the time we left the National Park and passed through Wallops Island again, the NASA visitor center was closed. So we headed on back north to Janes Isl., stopping for a few essentials, and had a dinner made up of leftovers and goodies to make a salad topped with shrimp. Yum.

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