Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Saying Goodbye

This is just a notice to all friends and family who didn’t receive any post cards from Carl and I during the month we’ve been camp hosting here in MD. I don’t want you to feel left out. We didn’t send any cards to anyone so, you see, I didn’t forget you. And now it’s time to say farewell to all the things we love about Assateague. Goodbye to the Decatur Diner with all of it’s menu items which are large enough to serve two, each entrée with home made potato chips. And goodbye to the Dumser’s Ice Cream Stand where they make 15 flavors on site, each even tastier than the one previously enjoyed. And goodbye to countless pizza places, all making thin crust pies and some even fired in real brick ovens. I must say goodbye to the dozens of White Tail and Sika Deer who have given us hours of pleasure as we’ve watched them browse throughout the campground. A fond farewell to the hundreds of rabbits hopping in and out of the bushes along the sides of the road, some have even played tag with our golf cart.

It’s been a pleasure to spend an entire month in one location. We can comfortably find the locations of    Laundromats, barbers, liquor stores, the tastiest restaurants, seafood markets and even the local Wal-Mart. Gas stations, Arby’s, RV Repair shops and a dozen or so “Sun-sation” locations where they sell super cheap souvenirs of Ocean City made in China and even cheaper made tee-shirts made in Sri Lanka or Pakistan are now common stops. We haven’t left yet and I’m already looking ahead to when we can return.

Sadly, this means I also have to say goodbye to the resident bands of horses we’ve had the pleasure to observe during the month. There’s the chestnut stallion and his 3 mares that call the Bayside campground  and surrounding marsh home. We’ve also watched a beautiful sorrel stallion, 2 chestnut mares, 1 bay mare and one of my favorite brown and white pinto mares, with a waving flag on her left side, who roam near the Over Sand Vehicle Path at the end of the paved roads. It’s been fun to keep our eye on a solitary bay stallion trying to stay out of trouble while actually squatting on the border belonging to the two dominant stallions and their mares. In time, he’ll mature, steal a mare or two and fight to carve out a piece of the island to call his own. A small territory near the ranger’s station has been claimed by a chestnut stallion and mare. The marshy area that includes the state park campground is grazed by a bay and white pinto stallion with a map of Georgia on his left side, 3 chestnut mares and that darling 5 month old tri colored filly. If it were possible, I would have followed her all day long. I’m really looking forward to watching her as she matures. And finally, grazing rights just before the Verrazano Bridge belong to a beautiful chestnut stallion, a brown and white mare and a white and brown two year old. Last year we watched this same youngster sitting like a puppy dog while the rest of the band munched on marsh grass in the afternoon sunlight.

And last but by no means least, we have to say so long to the staff of Assateague Island National Seashore Park Rangers who were very tolerant of us beginners. We hope to see you next year, Dick, Ethan, Mike and Cari. Gee, I hope I haven’t forgotten anyone.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Things We Did

Lists Of Things We Did This Week: Chased campers off their sites after checkout time, reminded campers to watch their fires during high winds, Insisted campers go register, told campers to restrict tents to the proper number per site-3, warned campers about improper storage of food and how destructive horses can be, informed campers these horses are still wild in spite their being more or less tolerant of our presence, yelled at idiots to roll up their vehicle windows while horses are attempting to reach in to search for food, policed the roadways convincing motorists to pull out of the lane of travel while snapping photos of wild horses, collected abandoned firewood from vacant sites in hopes we will have at least one campfire before we go home, laundry and dishes as needed, dug a few mussels to have with our stuffed shells and contributed to the dietary needs of the Rangers by leaving them a ½ pound of Harman’s Really Aged Cheddar and a stick of Ridgeway Venison Sausage with Jalapeño and Cheddar. They enjoyed the gesture and I’m hoping for a few more mail order customers.

Things We Didn’t Do This Week: Kayak around the island due to high winds, have 2 consecutive days without rain, fish because the water temperature is still too cold, travel over the sand to the VA line and have that camp fire to roast hot dogs ( the only thing I’ve really wanted to do.)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Campground Life

April 18, 2014

On Thursday, we had the morning shift for both campgrounds. Our golf cart allows us to travel easily through all three loops of Bayside and two loops of Oceanside. What it doesn’t do is help us to patrol the 60 plus walk in sites sprinkled throughout the dunes. That takes endurance and a good sense of direction which is where Carl and I make a pretty good team. His endurance walking in deep sand and my general ability to read a map kept up heading in the right direction. Carl thought since we were headed out there to make sure certain sites had been vacated, we should check on people and their sites in general. This made us late for turning our morning paperwork over to the noon shift and the exertion in the sand cause my blood sugar to plummet.

Today there was a bit of excitement in Bayside Campground. Some of you may have heard about “bear jams” in Yellowstone and other National Parks. We are subject to “horse jams” here at Assateague. All it takes is 4 horses grazing and a few people in cars to notice. Before we knew it, we had about 15 cars parked all over the place, people getting way too close and horses mooching from picnic tables where families were having lunch just moments earlier. Carl headed out to help with people control while I went in a different direction to answer questions, get cars off the grass and keep my eye on the feisty stallion and his mares. I even had to order a guy to roll up his windows because one of the horses was checking out his seat cushions. Or perhaps he was looking for an afternoon snack. Eventually the horses drifted out into the marsh and the crowd slowly broke up. All that’s left now is a bit of excitement between us camp hosts.

The photo is of Bottle Trees taken on the way to Chincoteague Wildlife Refuge.


Today, the big decision ended up being what we were planning for our days off on Monday and Tuesday. Being so close to Washington, DC during Cherry Blossom time is tantalizing but the weather forecast for Tuesday is dismal not to mention the prospect of driving three hours to find no parking spot available. There’s that inherent difficulty in getting around a city full of one way streets crawling with thousands of tourists who also don’t have a clue where they are headed. And then the three hour drive home.

Our other option is to take a drive to the VA end of the island to visit the Chincoteague half of the herd. Recently the volunteer fire department held their annual spring round up to collect the horses who have had free range of the entire Virginia end of the island for the winter. The round up allows for a wellness check, inoculations and a head count of foals born during the nine months since the Pony Penning Days held in July. Perhaps we’ll be fortunate to see some of those foals although any horses seen are a plus.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Mother Nature Holds All The Cards

Why does the weatherman always get it right when I need better light for my photos?  Those of you who have followed my blogs know the weather always seems to work against us. During our epic 24 state trip to Alaska, we were plagued with rain at several stops. People in Texas were begging us to head their way and give them relief from their drought conditions. And this assignment has been no different with the worst of the weather on our days off.

Our Monday decision was to head to Chincoteague in Virginia because our blue sky morning was not going to last. Hindsight is 20/20 and we should have chosen Washington DC and Cherry Blossoms. From everything I’ve read, they were at peak. I guess my decision making process needs a review.

We have never seen many horses when we visit the home of Marguerite Henry’s classic, Misty and Monday was no exception. There were about 15 horses in the distance, to far for my lens, grazing on the marsh grass. We only saw one mare up close on the walking path around the swan pool. It is our belief she either escaped the Spring Roundup or wasn’t included because of her apparent age.

In either case, we did have one bright spot. The Assateague Light, resplendent with a fresh coat of paint, was a jewel sitting high above the sandy shoreline on it’s promontory. The classic wide red and white bands showed no stress and the ironworks around the now electrified navigational aid appeared pristine. The lighthouse stands 142 feet tall, is owned by Fish and Wildlife but maintained by Chincoteague Wildlife Refuge, and can be seen 19 miles out to sea.

Friday, April 11, 2014


After three days of morning, afternoon and evening foal patrols, we finally found her this evening. And believe me when I say the wait was worth it. She is an absolute cutie. She was born the later part of December, late by anyone’s timetable, into the marsh band we spent so much time observing last April. Her sire is an impressive Tobiano dark brown and white Pinto with my perception of what a “map of Georgia” might look like on his left side, 4 black leggings and a mixed mane and tail. Her dam is a solid chestnut with white socks although the thick marsh mud makes it difficult to tell for sure. The filly is a complete mixture, dark brown on her front quarter, chestnut on her rear with an irregular white band around her middle. Her mane will eventually be black and white while the stubby paddle which serves as her tail will be brown and black. Now, I just need to find out what her name is.

Most of our meals are fixed at the camper but we have gone out to eat twice. Without turning this into a food blog, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention both places. Last week we stopped at J & J’s Oven Fired Pizza on Rte 113 in Berlin, MD which was pretty good. I consider myself somewhat of a pizza aficionado and am fond of saying there is no such thing as bad pizza. I have been proven wrong from time to time but if you get a chance to eat at J & J’s, you wont be sorry. Today’s lunch was at the Decatur Diner on Rte 611 in Berlin, MD. I enjoyed a huge Chicken BLT served on a pretzel roll and home made potato chips while Carl enjoyed a Cheddar Bacon Burger with hand cut French Fries. We came away from the Diner completely filled for around $20.00 which included a soft drink.

It’s hard to believe we’ve been here for almost two weeks and are still finding new things to observe each day. Both Carl and I have noticed in those two weeks how quickly the grass is greening and every day there are new flowering shrubs erupting in color. A few days ago it was the forsythia and today these trees loaded with white blossoms are everywhere. I just don’t recognize the variety. Help, anyone?

We are consistently seeing 21 horses, many recognizable from the last time we were here. What is a bit surprising to me is the loose family structure currently defining the bands. Stallions are allowing their harem mares a much wider latitude, members of bands are mixing and grazing territories are not as clearly defined as they were in August. I did expect to find the two year old stallions who are too old to stay with their dams but not old enough to establish their own bands out roaming on their own. There are many horses we have yet to find reinforcing the apparent need for full waders or a 4 wheel drive over sand vehicle to reach most of the terrain. We are working on this.      

Monday, April 7, 2014

Campground Chores

Monday and Tuesday are our days off and we had big plans but Mother Nature threw the rain card which trumps hiking and photo taking any day. At least it does for me so we’ll have to come up with Plan B. The rain doesn’t seem to dampen the spirits of the inhabitants of the island. Our campsite is alive with birds of all description although the ones capturing my attention are the Cardinals, little splashes of red flitting from branch to branch. I’ve never seen so many at one time. Across the way, Sika deer and rabbits graze on the quickly greening grass. There are three horses, on site 15, backed up to a bunch of thick bushes trying to find shelter from the wind. They don’t seem to mind the rain at all.

I spent the morning putting my domestic engineering skills to work. We had morning coffee and blueberry pancakes followed by a heavy dose of vacuuming. It may not seem like a tough job but you have to literally move everything twice to get at those pesky 3 square yards of carpet.

Part of our job here is to make sure that every camper has an enjoyable experience while adhering to the rules and regulations of the park. Most of the time camper contact consists of reminding them to keep vehicles on the paved pads, have all of their food under cover, never feed or approach the horses and to register at the office in the morning if they arrived after hours. After the first friendly reminder, we get to call in the Law Enforcement Officer on duty.

On Friday afternoon, 3 campsites were occupied by a large group of college aged guys, drinking, playing games and generally being guys. Saturday morning we reminded them to register at the office by 9:00 AM. With 18 guys drinking and rough housing for two nights and a day, Carl and I were concerned about the condition of the sites once they vacated them. We needn’t have worried. Theirs were amongst the cleanest on Sunday morning. I picked up a small plastic wrapper and an partially eaten apple.

Morning shifts are proving to be the busiest. We arrive at the Ranger Office around 8 to collect our  paperwork. On this Campground Patrol Sheet we record which sites will have people staying over and who will be leaving that morning. On our first round, we remind unregistered campers to do so. As we travel in our golf cart, we also chat with early risers, record already vacated sites and keep an eye out for any other infractions. By 11:00AM, all departing campers should be gone and we check each site, cleaning up any trash, dousing smoldering fires and collecting any firewood left behind. We get to keep that!        

Friday, April 4, 2014

A Little Knowledge With Many Opportunities

We are now official volunteers for the National Parks And Recreation Department. After our 3 hour Orientation and a bite of lunch, the new kids on the block got busy and went out armed with our shovels, trash claws and trusty golf cart to make our Bayside Campground ready for the weekend influx of visitors. We’ve been warned to enjoy these first two weeks while it’s quiet. On the 15th, reservation taking will begin and traffic in the part will grow exponentially each month until October.

We met with our Oceanside Campground counterparts; Tom and Reenie and Mike and Cindi who have been campground hosting for a number of years. They seem like a fun loving bunch of people. Mike was a warden at a Correctional Facility. He had Carl should have a lot to chat about.

While out in the golf cart, which has a whopping top speed of about 8 mph, we happen to get a chance to photograph a male Cardinal while feeding in a small grove of softwood trees. There are breeding pairs flitting all over the place and before we leave, I hope to have a salable photo but for now the photo posted will have to do for all those red bird lovers.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Along The Flyway

April 1-2, 2014
After the gale force winds and driving rains of this past weekend, there’s been nothing but cool crisp sunshine and while the thermometer may say near 60, those brisk ocean breezes are keeping our jackets nearby. But, oh the stars at night are breathtaking. We have so little light pollution here, it’s as if you can see all the way to Alpha Centauri. Today our chore was to find the RV repair place in Salisbury, MD for bulbs for the dining room light and a cap to cover the vent for the gray water tank. We wouldn’t want perfectly good rainwater to mix with our dirty old dishwater, would we?

The rhythm of this island changes with the seasons and so does the opportunity to see all manner of wildlife and waterfowl. Just this morning I watched a rabbit trying to sneak up on a pair of Mallard Ducks. Everywhere we hear the songs of Baltimore Orioles and Red Winged Blackbirds. And dare I say, I’ve seen bright flashes of red from Cardinals hunting for seeds under the Loblolly Pines. Right now, I’m looking out the window and a White Tailed Deer is grazing his or her way through the campground. We’ve seen more Sika and White Tailed Deer these past couple of days than we have horses. It was just the opposite when we were here last August. Carl and I figure the shy deer stay well out of the way during high traffic summer months and are a bit more brazen during the quiet spring.

This afternoon, we took a walk after lunch down to the picnic area on the bay side of the island. During the summer, they rent bicycles and kayaks from this location but it’s also the beginning or ending of the “life of the Marsh trail”. The shallow waters of Sinepuxent Bay were on our right as we made our way along the sandy tide line. Waterfowl of all shapes and colors flew overhead searching for that perfect place to rest, refuel or to set up housekeeping. We watched a pair of Mallards check out a brackish pond before waddling out on shore to preen feathers.

And even though we won’t be officially trained until the 3rd, we have already had several interactions with the public. One of the rangers told us the public will knock on our door at all hours of the night over the littlest of things. As it happens, we did have a knock on our door last evening about 8:15. A fellow was watching the sunset from the Bayside boat launch and when he decided to leave his vehicle wouldn’t start. Not having any jumper cables, I called the ranger station with no response so I recommended the man check with our neighbor hosts, Larry and Gwen. They had cables to loan the fellow and he was happy and off in minutes. I have since found out I could have called 911 which, as it turns out, isn’t always just for emergencies here on the island. The dispatcher would have located a Law Enforcement officer and sent him to help the man.