It's spring! We've been missing the New Mexico sunshine this winter and spring, so we decided to head towards the ocean for a few days during spring break.
We stayed in a hotel on the fabulous island of Chincoteague, off the coast of Virginia. The island of Assateague is just across from Chincoteague. They are connected by a short bridge. Assateague is a National Seashore and wildlife sanctuary area that stretches from Virginia north into Maryland. It's a barrier island, so it's very similar to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Wild horses live on the island, and there are wetlands filled with wildlife as well as long stretches of sandy beaches. (Assateague is green on the map below.)
I read the book Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry when I was about Charlie's age, and I've wanted to visit Chincoteague and Assateague ever since. It's a true story about a brother and sister who wanted to have a pony of their own. They lived on Chincoteague, and often visited Assateague with their grandfather. Misty is the name of the foal who becomes theirs, and her mother was called The Phantom because she'd never been caught.
The book explains how the wild ponies of Assateague are rounded up every summer and made to swim across the water to Chincoteague. Some of the colts are sold, and then the wild horses are sent back to Assateague and released. The proceeds from Pony Penning Day benefit the volunteer fire department of Chincoteague, and it has happened annually since 1924.
Seeing the wild ponies of Assateague has always been on my bucket list. I was not a horse-loving girl, but I was a book-loving girl, and this one was a classic favorite. I re-read the book before our trip, and the boys listened to it as an audiobook during our drive.
It was a beautiful sunny day when we arrived, a bit chilly and windy, but gloriously sunny. Our hotel faced the mainland, with lovely views of the water and the sunset.
We dropped our luggage in the room and immediately went out looking for ponies. Luckily, a ranger check of the ponies on the southern end of Assateague had just happened the day before we arrived, so it was not too difficult to find them. This was the first one I saw. It was very far away, but I was so excited!
With one photo of one pony accomplished, we drove the short distance across the narrow island to the East facing beach. The boys were so happy to see the ocean! It's been a little over two years since the last time they splashed in the Atlantic. We hadn't brought swimming suits or towels with us, because it was quite chilly. Rookie parenting mistake! I should have known that boys at the beach WILL get wet. They had a great time, and the hotel was less than 10 minutes away, so we let them play.
We headed back to the hotel so the boys could shower and warm up. We had some dinner and then got a good night of sleep. We brought along an aerobed for Charlie, and it made a huge difference for him. He and Tommy usually share a bed when we travel, but I think they're just getting too old and too tall to continue doing this comfortably.
We headed back over to Assateague early the next morning. We did a little hike to a pony viewing area, and also discovered a whole bunch of ponies gathered near the road. The fencing doesn't really form an enclosure, as far as I know. It's just there to keep them away from the road to the beach. I had my big camera and zoom lens with me, so I was able to get some great photos. This was the closest we got to the ponies the whole vacation.
I was super excited to see this pony with marking sort of similar to the book description of the Phantom.
"Was the Phantom real? Sometimes he wondered. She had never been captured, and the roundup men did sometimes tell tall tales. Some had said she was a dark creature, dark and mysterious, like the pine trees. And some said she was the color of copper, with splashes of silver in her mane and tail. And some spoke of a strange white marking that began at her withers and spread out like a white map of the United States."
After our hike and pony viewing expedition, the boys were ready to SWIM. We had some lunch, and picked up some touristy beach towels and a new kite. We had not packed for actual beach swimming because I'd assumed it would be too cold the whole time! It was super chilly - around 65 degrees and windy - but the boys had tons of fun swimming. David flew his kite, and I read in the sand chair. It was a great afternoon.
David's mother and his brother's family arrived that evening. They decided to join us on our epic pony adventure, although I'm not sure that any of them knew about the ponies until after we mentioned our spring break plans. It's always nice for David to have time with his family. They're great people.
We spent the next couple of days together, just relaxing and seeing the sights. We ate at some nice restaurants and played some board games. We showed them the horses. I let Riley take pictures with my camera. We took some walks and saw the Assateague lighthouse. We also spent hours on the beach together. It was cold! None of the boys seemed to mind. The boys started out fully clothed both days, but ended up changing into their suits and swimming with their cousin Riley. David and his brother had lots of time to talk together while flying their kites. It did get a bit warmer each consecutive day, but it never really warmed up to true summer beach weather. Poor Sylvia and Amy were chilled though each time we went to the beach. I hope they weren't too miserable. I didn't mind the chill, because it was absolutely beautiful, and I'd rather have cool ocean breezes than sunburns and mosquitoes!
We also spent a few hours looking at the displays and rockets at the NASA Wallops flight facility, which is just right there near Chincoteague. David was very intrigued by the facility. He'd love to live near the beach, and his background could potentially qualify him for a job there. I'm not quite as interested in living there as he is! While we were at Wallops, Riley (who is 6) took a great family photo of us. He's a natural photographer!
For reference, I'm 5'2" and David is 6'4". The boys are getting tall!
It was a fun spring break trip, and I'm so glad we went.