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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Tower Defense, Crabs, and Delaware Bay Ferry

Leaving the wild horses of Assateague behind, we drove north to Lewes, Delaware to catch the ferry across to Cape May, New Jersey. With plenty of time before our 5:15 departure, we elected to explore Cape Henlopen State Park. Formerly a military installation protecting the entrance to Delaware Bay, the park now has beaches, picnic areas, and interesting trails. Our first stop was at Fort Meyers where a watch tower has been preserved and is open to the public. Originally accessed by ladders, the state installed spiral stairs making it easy and safe to get to the top.

According to Waymark, "Construction of these towers took place from 1939 - 1942, with the intention of the buildings having a 20-year lifespan. Quite a few of these buildings remain over 60 years later. 11 stand on the Delaware shore and 2 remain near Cape May, New Jersey."

Barracks and dining facilities at Fort Meyers were very basic. It was hot here in May, so summers were probably brutal, though the ocean was just down the hill if troops were overheated.
Multiple towers along the shoreline allowed spotters to triangulate ships positions. This view is from the top of the tower.

Here's a view from inside the tower. There wasn't much, other than rebar, holding the top of the tower to the bottom!

Two sixteen-inch guns were placed here during World War II. At the time, these were two of the largest artillery pieces in the world. Although the same size, this is not the actual gun that was here. It was salvaged from the battleship USS Missouri.

Sand dunes and a lighthouse mark the harbor of refuge just inside the entrance to the bay.

Horseshoe crabs were coming ashore to lay eggs. Though most abundant during a full moon, there were plenty of crabs rolling up on the beach in the middle of the day during our visit.

Part of the beach was off-limits to people and pets. The birds seemed to understand where the line is and were abundant on their side.

This active coast guard control tower and lighthouse combination sits on a bluff in the park. Looking very much like an air traffic control tower, it is used to coordinate ship traffic moving through the Delaware Bay.

Pilot boats for the Delaware Bay are stationed beside the ferry terminal. These boats take pilots out to large ships to take command as they enter the crowded bay from the open waters of the Atlantic ocean.

Everyone was asked to be in line 30 minutes prior to departure to allow for inspection. Cars were "sniff-tested" by a german shepherd prior to being allowed to board. We only needed to turn the propane switch off in preparation for the voyage.

The last truck boarding for the 13.8 mile ferry trip departing from Lewes, Delaware.

Here's the route across the bay based on the track we recorded with Garmin's BlueChart iPhone app. Cape Henlopen State Park is the point of land at the bottom of the chart.
Our captain gently piloted the big ferry out of the dock using controls on the wing bridge so he had an unobstructed view. There were plenty of obstacles, including tugboats and recreational vessels moving around the harbor.

Looks like ice moved the green daymark at the entrance to the harbor.

Leaving the harbor of refuge area we wondered what the string of low, square, structures were in the bay. Referencing NOAA charts on my phone, it turns out they are ice breakers.

Though we had reservations, they weren't really necessary as there were plenty of spots on the ferry. It was probably only one third full. We were almost on the bow and had a great view with only one small car between us and the water. Two decks above the vehicles were open to passengers and had great views. Seating inside and outside gave people a choice of air conditioning or sun and a breeze.

Large ramps made it easy to drive off the ship. The ramps are long enough that vehicles shouldn't bottom out, even at low tide.

Crossing the bay by ferry was a fun, and low stress, alternative to driving through Baltimore and Philadelphia on I-95.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Bridges, Tunnels, and Horses

Heading to a Pleasure-way camper van rally in NJ, we decided to leave a few days early and camp at Assateague Island on Maryland's eastern shore. Getting there from North Carolina provided the opportunity to cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. The twenty-three mile bridge, trestle, and tunnel route across the mouth of the bay is an interesting driving experience. The tunnels are there so ships from the largest naval staton in the world, in Hampton Roads, can't be blocked if the bridge were to be bombed! Stopping for lunch on the man made island in the middle of the bay was fun.  Fishing is allowed from the pier and overnight parking is allowed for anyone fishing. We carry a rod just in case it is ever needed. Several van campers we know have spent the night here with a view of the water. It is a unique spot where we watched a freighter cross directly in front of us while munching sandwiches in the comfort of the van.

NOTE:  The Sea Gull Fishing Pier, and all other island amenities, will be closing to the public on October 1, 2017 to allow for the construction of the Parallel Thimble Shoal Tunnel.

Another option for a free overnight stop is the rest area at the north end of the bridge, on your right, immediately after you make landfall heading north.

Just after the rest area is a turn-out for the National Wildlife Refuge. The visitor's center has nice facilities, displays, and helpful rangers. Hiking trails from the center to the water were soaked from recent rains, so we elected to drive the short distance to the bay where we found World War II defenses. Eight-hundred soldiers were stationed here manning big guns and controlling mines protecting Chesapeake Bay.

Back of the Bunker

Seriously Large Shell

View from the Gun
Heading north on 13 we made a stop at the Blue Crab Bay Company. They are a Harvest Host site where members can camp overnight in their parking lot. While just in an industrial park, they are very convenient for heading north or south. We weren't staying overnight, but still picked up some crab soup and a couple of sea life inspired towels for the van.

Our destination was Assateague State Park. Located on a barrier island, the park is known for the herd of wild horses that wander freely across the island. Because we were arriving the day after Memorial Day, we had reserved a site on-line. It was the last site available in a loop with electricity. Because of a tremendously wet weekend, there were plenty of empty sites when we arrived. 

Only a sand dune stood between us and the beach. With unseasonably mild temperatures we listened to the sound of the waves through the open, but screened, windows.

Horses wandered into our camping loop at dinner time. They ignored us and campers maintained a distance from them, except for a few times when horses wandered right into campsites. 

You can see why the park recommends you keep all food secured inside your van.

The Coast Guard ran helicopter patrols up and down the beach both evenings of our visit.

During the day we jumped on our bicycles and rode across the street in the National Seashore. Roads and paths made for easy riding on this very level barrier island. We ran into a few more horses and enjoyed visiting the restored lifesaving museum.

Wading birds were great fun to watch in the surf. Despite an almost full campground, there are miles of beaches where one can get away from the crowds.

While eating dinner, we watched a gentleman walk up the steps to the crest of the dune behind our camper van carrying a large bag. The bag had pipes attached and we were treated to a recital backed by the sound of breaking waves.

 We thoroughly endorse the campground. The bath houses are modern and clean, rangers are friendly, and the proximity to the National Seashore is great. The choice between this and the National Park, next door is based on how much you desire facilities. National seashore has only pit toilets and outdoor showers, but both have access to the same environment. We met a couple who has been coming every summer for over twenty years! We can see why people keep coming back.

The sun sets over the bay illuminating the vans and trailers of happy campers.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Jordan Lake State Recreation Area

Sometimes you discover jewels in your own backyard. Jordan Lake State Park is one of those jewels. We've sailed small boats here for years, but had never visited a campground or the dam. A get-together of the NC Roadtrekkers and Friends group gave us an excuse to remedy that situation. With over 1,000 sites to chose from spread among four areas, we chose Poplar Point Campground for our first experience.

Many sites have water views and some even have sandy beaches where you could launch a kayak or canoe. The campground has a boat launch facility and a beach which are limited to campers use, so they aren't as crowded as the larger beaches and boat launches locations in the park.

I walked the Poplar Point trail while Beth relaxed with a book. Passing through areas of the campground that weren't yet open for the season, it was easy to see why. Unusually high water had low lying roads covered with logs and debris. It will take some serious manpower to have all the campsites open by Memorial Day. Beth joined me later in the morning for some bicycling around the loops that are open.

A short distance away is the Dam that formed the lake. Friends mentioned that bald eagles often feed on fish at the spillway, so we decided to drive over. The dam is run by the Corp of Engineers, has a visitor's center, observation platform, picnic tables, and several miles of trails. We didn't see any eagles, but osprey and great blue herons were fishing upstream of the dam.

Fishermen by our campsite

Walkway from the bathhouse


Shower facilities are minimal

Easy to Follow Trail Markers

Logs had Washed onto a Trail Bridge

Tree Blocking Poplar Point Trail
Osprey and Bald Eagles are Permanent Residents

Spring Flooding Blocked Road

Swallowtail Butterfly

Spillway from the top of the dam

Viewing Platform at Visitor's Center

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