Close to Home: Volume II
Volume II - Assateague Island
Just off the coast of Maryland lies a stretch of island 37-miles long. Beautiful beaches, warm sand, and shell glore making it a popular destination for hikers, campers, and those who are searching for a sunkissed paradise. Gabe and I have heard the legend of this island from tales of friendly travelers and from the children’s book about its sister island, “Misty of Chincoteague” by Marguerite Henry.
The island that I am talking about is Assateague Island: the home of the wild horses!
Having been descendants of domesticated horses who were survivors of a shipwreck off the coast, the horses of Assateague now use the sandy dunes as a playground for their small herd. They can easily be spotted munching grasses or throttling across the waterfront. People come from far and wide to catch a glimpse of these horses and they are beloved by the locals. With the adventure of spotting some of these stunning creatures in mind, Gabe and I knew Assateague Island was going to be our next “Close to Home” excursion.
We awoke at 6am once more to pack the car and get ourselves ready for the 2 hour drive east to the entrance of the island. With our cameras and granola bars, we hit the road happy that this trip wasn’t plagued by the rainstorms we usually run into while traveling. Miles of farmland lead up to the bridge of the island and, if it weren’t for the colorfully painted boat shops sprinkled sporadically through the fields, you would never know you are heading close to a coastal landmark.
When you arrive at Assateague Island, you have two options. The first option is to head into Assateague State Park. The other is to head onto the National Seashore. From what I saw through my research prior to visiting, there really isn’t much of a difference between the two.
It seemed both are beautiful locations for a beach stroll, but it was the appeal of the bayside trail heads of the National Seashore that caught my attention. With that in mind, Gabe and I turned right to the seashore and began our search for the wild horses.
It did take us a bit to find them. We parked at the first lot we came to because my impatient self wanted to run to the waves as soon as possible. This must have been the thoughts of many other guests as little children with buckets and couples walking dogs were everywhere! The only problem this phased was that too many people means no wild horses.
So Gabe and I got back into the car and cruised our way further down the coast to the parking entrances of another trailhead. This trail was the “Life of the Forest”. A ½ mile loop trail, “Life of the Forest” was centered around the wooden structure that led you through winding paths of trees and marshland. Birds played in the pines and elders, but still no sight of the horses I so wished to see. Still determined to find them, we headed back towards the car to continue further down the island.
Exiting the trail, I saw something large walking in the distance.
“Is that a horse?”, I asked Gabe in excitement.
“Yes it is!” he said, matching my tone.
We each pulled out our cameras and began taking photos of the magnificent animals before us. As we continued to walk, we spotted another horse then another. They seemed to congregate together for a midday snack. Their manes blew in the breeze as they looked at us with pure curiosity.
Gabe and I made sure we kept our distance from the horses so as to not scare them, but we stopped to see them patrol the beach with the poise of their ancestors before them. Time passed by as the two of us just watched the wild horses explore the sand. It was a level of contentment that I had never before reached.
Having taken our fair share of photos, Gabe and I headed to the car knowing we still had a lot of land to cover if we wanted to explore Assateague to its full capacity. Just then, a herd of photographers rushed in and scooped up any free space near our four-legged friends.
(Please don’t do that. The horses of Assateague need their space. They are wild creatures who can and will bite if they feel they are threatened. Respect them as if they were your fellow beach-goers.)
Although that was our first interaction with the horses, Gabe and I came to see around 11 total on our expeditions across the island. We managed to explore every trailhead of Assateague National Seashore as well as the lengths of Assateague State Park collecting a number of shells to add to Gabe’s ever-growing collection.
Assateague was a perfect getaway from the suburban surroundings of Glen Burnie and I can’t wait to go back and visit the horses another day soon.