Thursday, February 7, 2019

Maryland - Day 5 - Berlin, Assateague and Ocean City

Pocomoke River State Park
Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Happy Chinese New Year!  Year of the Pig, symbolizing optimism and hard work, they say.  I'd say that summarizes my last year.

Last week while the dogs were at day care, after I'd done the laundry I put clean sheets on my bed.  While I was doing that, I stepped back off the bed onto the stool Anna gave me, only the stool wasn't there and I lost my balance and fell, hitting the left side of my back against the refrigerator cabinet.  It was hard enough that I lost my breath for a minute or two - a little weird - but then I was okay.  I knew I wasn't likely to have any bruises because of all the Vitamin C I get through oranges, and in fact none have appeared.

But on the inside, I did get bruised and am finding that bruising getting more painful over time.  I notice it every time I take a deep breath, for instance, and I especially notice it when I'm walking the dogs and Dexter starts pulling hard on the leash.

On both walks this morning, the dogs saw or sensed deer and got started pulling really hard.  Gracie settled down fairly quickly but Dexter wouldn't give up and kept trying to chase them.  It caused so much pain and made it hard enough to breathe that I had to take them back early from the walk.  I can't seem to explain it to them convincingly enough to stop.

It wasn't so bad for the first 4 or 5 days, and I imagine it'll start getting better in another few days, but in the meantime it's a real nuisance.  Especially because I'm going through all the drawbacks of having bruises without having the satisfaction of actually seeing them.

today's route
This place reminded me of an upscale Mayberry - if Mayberry was lower middle class, then Berlin is middle middle class.  Most of the houses look like they were built between 1880 and 1940, all with a decent amount of yard between them.  I didn't know there was any place like that left.

Downtown is mostly red brick - I think there was a fire in the 1880s and it all got rebuilt in fire-safe brick.  Very attractive in a solid kind of way.  Berlin bills itself as the Coolest Small Town in America - no false modesty here.  For a little local interest, here's the town's account of itself.  It explains its bouts with movie stardom.
this square and hotel were in Runaway Bride

internet photo of downtown

Berlin's claiming about 4,500 residents now and, given that it's 15 miles from the beach and prosperous in a comfortable sort of way, I don't doubt it.

On the outskirts of town I started to see newer houses and there may well be crowds of them on the other side of town than where I was.  But what I saw was so charming I'm still a little stunned by it.

Assateague Island
Assateague State Park and Assateague Island National Seashore are immediately next to each other, 2 management agencies and one island, which seems to work well.  Both charge an entrance fee, though Maryland doesn't seem to care much during the off-season.  The feds, though, now that they're back at work after the shutdown, are collecting fees from all cars.  Luckily, the Golden Age pass got me in for free - this country's best bargain at $10 for a lifetime of free and discounted entry for seniors.

The state park beach was completely deserted when we got there, and I thought we'd have a nice time on the beach, but Gracie proved me wrong again.

You can see there was considerable wave activity, and the breakers made quite the roaring sound.  Of course, Gracie freaked out and refused to go play with Dexter on the beach and tried hard to get back over the walkway again.  I don't always indulge her in these phobias, but this was supposed to be fun for them, which she was clearly not going to be able to have.  Too bad.  Lovely beach all to ourselves.

they do try to warn people - these signs are everywhere
Instead we walked around the parking area, where the wave sound was buffered by the sand dunes.  We saw plenty of sign that horses had been there but, fortunately, no horses.  I was afraid if we saw the famous ponies that both dogs would go as berserk as they've done before when they saw horses.  I wanted to see them for myself but wanted to do it from the RV with the dogs penned in.

We ate lunch there in the parking lot, and watched a load of people come, making me glad we got to see the beach when we did.

From there we turned into the national seashore area and - yea! - found the ponies.

The group I saw had 5 adults and 1 young 'un.  The park ranger at the front gate told me they had 79 of them "right now."  I thought that was an odd way to phrase it till I read this Wikipedia article about them.  It also explains why they're on Assateague Island if they're Chincoteague Island ponies.

The ranger told me the ponies are usually found on the Chincoteague Bay side of the island during the winter, but these were on the ocean side and within plain sight, as you can see.  Some idiot tourists were getting closer and closer when I left, risking the horses kicking some sense into them.  There were signs saying the park staff can't make the horses move out of the way - and I had a mental image of people trying to stake out a place on the beach and the horses wouldn't go away.

Chincoteague Bay
There's evidence of the horses' presence all over the island.  There's a nice bike path but you'd never get to look at the scenery - you'd have to spend all your time dodging piles of horse pucky.

The Chincoteague Bay side is lovely as well, as you can see here.

The campground is closed for the season, I'm sorry to say, and it's probably packed when it's open.  But this time of year, with a reduced tourist burden, the area is lovely.

Ocean City
Ocean City claims to be America's Finest Family Resort.  Maybe it is.  The main street in town is lined with hotels, restaurants, amusement parks, and parking lots.  There's nothing else on that street, and there's miles of it.  It runs the length of the island all the way up to Fenwick Island, DE.

I passed a B&B called Atlantic House that was really attractive.  Their website says the house was built in 1927 and it's one of the few remaining 1920s Victorian beach houses.  But mostly the accommodations I saw were mid-century and later.

I saw a small hotel called The Barefoot Mailman (closed for the season).

This is an internet photo.  I tried to stop and take one for myself but could find no parking that I would be able to get out of without an accident.  I was sure I'd find one online and, sure enough, here it is. 

This boardwalk is 3 miles long and, even at this time of year, quite popular.  But a local I talked to said the town is dead from October until Memorial Day, which seems a long time to leave a seaside town to itself. 

The drive back
I crossed a bridge over Assawoman Bay (such an odd name - it begins in Delaware and runs south to this bridge) and saw what I think was a raft of gulls.  But it was absolutely enormous.  It looked like it ran an eighth of a mile and was quite thick.  One solid mass of gulls all floating in the bay together.  I've seen other birds do this, but always seabirds - ducks and such.  I just don't think of gulls doing it, but apparently they do.  I really wanted to get a photo but there was no possible way to stop on the bridge.

I drove through a small village called Powellville and have never seen such a decrepit place.  Almost every one of the buildings had pieces of lumber propping up porches or the building was sagging to the side or all the paint had peeled off or something.  Really.  I saw only 2 or 3 buildings that were in decent repair.  Something sad must have happened to this town.

All along the drive back I saw more fields and more chicken-growing places, separated by tree buffer zones.  At one point I could see a mile away, the land was so flat and cleared.

And then back in Snow Hill I saw a series of loaded logging trucks.  I don't know where the trees were coming from or where they were going, but the cut trees were all very long and very straight.  Maybe a tree farm somewhere around.

It was a nice day and seeing the ponies left me with a long-term smile on my face.

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