Saturday, April 12, 2014

Following the Blue Crab Byway

We had never heard of "Delmarva" until we crossed over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and landed on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Delmarva is the peninsula that Maryland shares with Virginia and Delaware on the eastern side of Chesapeake Bay and it took us a while to realize that the name comes from the three states. It is mostly a land that modernity has left behind, full of farms, 300-year-old buildings and folks who make their living from the sea. Delmarva also boasts the Blue Crab Scenic Byway, 15 state parks, 9 National Wildlife Refuges, the Assateague National Sea Shore, dozens of wildlife areas, museums, state forests, heritage sites and a handful of charming villages.

In Maryland we ate crab cakes nearly every day, starting  with a lunch shared with Gretchen Krampf, an Orcas colleague of Liz’s who grew up in the area and met us at Holly’s, an iconic diner just over the bridge. We were ready for a treat after the harrowing experience of driving across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, which is over four miles long and, at the highest point, 200 feet above the bay. The side rails are remarkably low and the winds are remarkably high, making driving over the bridge in a motor home not for the faint of heart. 

The next day we drove to St. Michael’s, a tiny historic fishing village down the coast of Maryland, where we visited the Chesapeake Maritime Museum. This impressive museum sprawls out over several acres and covers all sorts of human interactions with the bay from early oyster harvesting to hydroplanes, sailing, lighthouses and ecological restoration.

We camped at Pocomoke State Park, one of a dozen Maryland parks that host aviaries and nature centers.  Liz greatly enjoyed an “Owl Prowl” at the nature center which shelters birds of prey and reptiles that cannot be released into the wild. After meeting the resident owls she happily marched into the dark woods with a ranger, calling and listening for wild birds. (This ongoing program is called “Scales and Tales” for anyone interested in knowing more.)Then we headed to the eastern seaboard and Assateague Island.

The Virginia (southern) end of the island contains a feisty tourist village called Chincoteague as well as Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge which is home to the famous Chincoteague feral horses. Officially managed by the Volunteer Fire Department, the herd is rounded up and swum over to the mainland for veterinary treatment and the annual horse auction, thus keeping the herd to a manageable number. We left there, drove back to the mainland, and around to the other end of the island to see another herd of this same bloodline that lives on the northern end of the island (Maryland) and is managed by the National Park Service. There the mares are injected with contraceptives and allowed only one foal per lifetime. The animals are totally wild (even the injections are done from a distance) and are maintained much like the native white-tailed deer. There are also introduced Sitka elk on the island, and both the deer and elk are managed through a hunting program that is open only to wheel chair hunters and disabled veterans.
Note the separate bridge for pedestrians and bikers on the right!
The National Park Service hosts a spectacular visitors’ center which explores the quandary of protecting a fragile shifting landscape while preserving the historical herds. We enjoyed immersing ourselves in the wonder of wild horses at Assateague National Seacoast including watching them from LilyPad’s windows, as they roamed around in the campground.

We left Delmarva via the Lewes (Delaware)-Cape May (New Jersey) ferry, an 85 minute ride across 17 miles of Delaware Bay. The night before, we very much enjoyed a stay at Cape Henlopen State Park, a magnificent park with miles of waterfront and bike paths. It borders a vital urban area that includes several incorporated communities including affluent Rehoboth Beach.

On the New Jersey side, we were greeted by the Victorian effusion that is Cape May, touted as the first seaside resort in America. The whole of downtown is recognized on the Historic Register and must be seen to be believed. There are probably more B&B’s per acre here than anywhere else in the United States. Each building vies with the next for spectacular Victorian architecture, decoration and gingerbread. We enjoyed the historic homes trolley tour and twice bought fresh seafood from the Lobster House Fish Market, as good as anything one can find in the Northwest.

We are slowly heading north, still ahead of warm weather and crowded campgrounds, still avoiding the interstates, still eating local food and still counting our blessings.

1 comment:

  1. Your adventure sounds so fun that I hate to look forward to your return. But I do. Looking forward to working with you on WOHP and other fun stuff--whenever.