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Assateague Island National Seashore, MD

I like driving Route 13 up the eastern seashore. The road is smooth, level, and lightly trafficked. All through the tow the Nissan hummed steadily as it tugged the Airstream through quiet green countryside up into Maryland.

We made one important stop, at The Great Machipongo Clam Shack, to stock the freezer and buy seafood sandwiches for lunch. I say “important” because we know the place and love the food, but also because it has fast wi-fi which reaches across their roomy parking lot. Twenty-seven huge emails had piled up over the last few weeks which I have been unable to download efficiently over my cellular Internet connection. All of them downloaded quickly while Eleanor was inside ordering lunch.


Assateague National Seashore looks at first a lot like the Outer Banks: a barrier island, lots of sand, sea oats, and other salt-adapted plants. But it has one significant element that other barrier islands don’t have, namely wild ponies. They have been living here for centuries, perhaps survivors of a Spanish ship that sank off shore, and they are a major tourist attraction.

assateague-manure.jpgWe have yet seen them, but their signs are everywhere. Hoof prints are in the sand by our campsite, and horse manure is scattered along the narrow campground roads. In backing up the Airstream I was forced to drive right through a nice heap of manure, which is the first time that’s happened in our travels.

If you come here, note that there are two campgrounds adjacent to each other on the barrier island. One is state park, and the other is national park. The national park sites are $20 per night (versus $30 for the state park) and have the same services: nothing. But the national park requires a $15 per vehicle entrance fee, so for a single night it’s cheaper to take the state park unless you have a national parks pass.

We ended up in the state park because of site availability. There, you’ll find a huge variation in the length of campsites. It’s impossible for longer trailers like ours to back into a site without the tow vehicle driving on the sand (and maybe manure) at least a little. The registration desk has a book listing all the site lengths and it’s a good idea to check it before you pick one. We needed a huge site to fit all three vehicles (remember the Honda?).

It’s beautiful on the island, but I can’t help the sense of “We just did this.” One barrier island is much like another. The wind this afternoon was like the Outer Banks at their worst, whistling and howling and throwing sand in our faces. We tried to walk to the beach but the tiny particles stung our legs and wriggled into our eyes. I’m afraid that means we won’t be able to properly investigate the place with the time we have.

We would stay several nights, but Memorial Day weekend begins tomorrow, and both the state and national park sites on the island are completely booked. We anticipated this. We could have allowed more nights here if we had left the Outer Banks a day or two earlier, or driven right through instead of stopping at Koptopeke last night. There’s always a compromise somewhere, and in this case Assateague got the short end of the stick. We will have to leave in the morning.

We could have made reservations for this weekend, but that would have required us to nail down our exact trip plan weeks ago. Instead, we left it open, trusting that some sort of plan would emerge, and one did: we are going to spend the weekend courtesy parking at the home of fellow Washington DC Unit (WBCCI) members Star & Peter, up in New Hope PA.

That’s ideal, since they have hookups on their property, don’t mind us coming or going whenever we want, and by courtesy parking we are saving money too. Their house is near Philadelphia so I expect at some point we’ll make a day trip in to the city.

Assateague will be on our “return” list to visit again someday when we have time to explore it. I’d like to be able to photograph the wild ponies, ride the bike trails, and drive down the 4WD section of beach. See, even full-timers don’t always have time to do everything they want. It’s a big country and a lifetime is barely enough time to explore it.

Our coordinates tonight:   38 °13’58.15″N   75 ° 8’28.59″W

4 Responses to “Assateague Island National Seashore, MD”

  1. terry Says:

    Rich, do they still have “Pony Penning Day” on the island?

  2. Jeff Cook Says:

    Pony Penning Day is on Chincoteague Island, just inland from Assateague and sharing the same ponies. Chincoteague is allowed to sell 150 ponies a year in June/July to fund the local fire department, so the firemen are real “gumboot cowboys”. There’s a wonderful video (which I edited, if I say so myself) at some of the shops & visitor’s centers, called “Chincoteague: Virginia’s Island Treasure”. It also appears occasionally on local PBS stations, if you can catch it. Beautiful places indeed.

  3. F. M. Cox Says:

    Are you aware of the books by Margarett Henry about the wild horses of Assitigue and Chinquitigue? They are titled “Misty of Chinquitigue”, Misty’s Fold Blaze” and one other I can’t remember. Your daughter may like to read them as my grandaughter did. They are about a little boy and little girl that went to visit their grandparents on the island in the late 1940’s and became involved with the wild horses. I am sure that they are available at any guift store in the area.


    F. M. Cox

  4. T.M. Pooley Says:

    We have been camping at Assateague Island State Park for the past 20 years. For the past 9 years we have enjoyed it even more in our classic 1975 Airstream Sovereign. This year we are adding a second Airstream to our two campsites, a vintage 1955 Safari. We enjoy kayaking on the bay, swimming in the ocean, the salty breeze, great seafood, and of course, the wild ponies and other wildlife that surrounds you.