Chincoteague, Virginia: Summers of Sand and Horses
Four or five times every summer, we bypass the closer beaches of Ocean City, Bethany, and Rehoboth and head out through the farmland and poultry processing centers to reach Chincoteague, a beach town built adjacent to Assateague Island. Every horse-loving child knows Chincoteague as the setting for the Misty series, and yes, the Beebe ranch is still there as are all the wild ponies which are still rounded up every July and roam free around Assateague all year round.
It's an extra hour of driving, but we love the laid-back town, the lack of nightlife, the nature preserve, the beach-boardwalk separation. There is no commercialism, no beer bong t-shirts, no creepy Ripley's Believe it or Not. When we're on the beach, there is nothing else around the beach except a few port-o-potties and a nature center with a please-touch tank filled with horseshoe crabs and whelk. The town is not there for the tourists but for the residents, with a cozy library and old coveted opera house theater, and a fantastic Vietnamese restaurant that caters to the NASA workers who come over from nearby Wallops Island (though we're equally as likely to go to Famous Pizza or Mr. Baldy's). While there are chain hotels close to the harbour in town, most of the places to stay are family-owned businesses such as the Refuge Innoperated by the Leonard family.
I seriously wish I could take all of you with me the next time we go.
Chincoteague is sleepy. It's the sort of place where you'll read three times the amount of books that you get through on any other vacation. A wild night out is to one of the two ice cream shops on the island. The main excitement of the day is when they open the wildlife refuge to car traffic in the afternoon, and we can loop through looking for deer or horses since the kids are still too little to ride the loop on bikes. Our day consists of plopping down on the sand in the morning and then leaving late in the afternoon to clean up for dinner. And in between, the kids build sandcastles and ride the waves and lie on the beach blanket staring up at the clouds. The next day, we do it all over again.
Every year in late July, the saltwater cowboys round up the horses and drive them across the Assateague Channel for the Pony Penning Festival, and it will take place this year on July 25th. We've never been, mostly because we're not looking to purchase a wild pony, but part of me wants to brave the crowds and see the sunrise parade down the beach before the swim.
Many people on the island keep their own ponies, and the twins spend every trip visiting their favourite ponies and bringing them treats. Or crooning to the wild horses we see on Assateague, promising them that they'll do a great job taking care of them...if they'll just follow us home.
Photo Credits: Melissa Ford.