Sunday, October 25: I’m prone to making sweeping generalizations, and one I commonly make is that “It’s always gorgeous on my birthday.” I rarely worry when making plans to travel on my birthday, especially in Virginia, as the end of October (almost) always has perfect weather. By perfect, I mean cool (in the 50s or 60s F), with a nice breeze and crisp, dry air. Everyone who knows me knows I dislike humidity and heat; after having lived in Oman for two years and Nanning, China for one year, I’ve had it with hot and/or humid weather.
On top of having beautiful weather, the autumn leaf color is usually at its peak and the world seems vibrant and festive. I feel so lucky to have been born at the end of October, which is also, coincidentally, my favorite time of year.
This time, I’m wrong. This Sunday morning, on my actual birthday, it’s cloudy, rather humid and near 80 degrees. At least it’s not raining, not at the outset anyway. It’s a little disappointing as I’m used to getting my way weather-wise. Oh well, it will have to do as we have lots of activities planned while we’re here at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge today. We’re not going to let uncomfortable weather ruin our day.
We start our morning in the Channel Bass Inn with an amazing breakfast of cheese and onion quiche, yogurt and fruit parfait, and zucchini bread. Innkeeper Barbara also makes a variety of delectable scones, including her special ginger scones, which she instructs us to open with our fingers, not a knife! The breakfast is a community breakfast; as only three couples are staying at the Inn, all six of us share breakfast together.
After our filling breakfast and social hour, we head out by car to explore the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Our first stop is the Lighthouse Trail.
The first Assateague Lighthouse was constructed in 1833 to warn ships of the dangerous shoals offshore. In 1860, construction began on a taller and more powerfully illuminated lighthouse, but its completion was delayed by the Civil War. After the war, work resumed and the lighthouse was completed in 1867. The light was also upgraded that year, to a first order Fresnel lens, according to Chincoteague: History.
In 2004, the U.S. Coast Guard transferred ownership of the lighthouse to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. While the U.S. Coast Guard maintains the light as an active navigational aid, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge is responsible for preserving the lighthouse. The Assateague Island lighthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (Chincoteague: History).
We climb to the top of the lighthouse where we have sweeping views of the Wildlife Refuge and Chincoteague Bay. It’s pretty overcast at this hour of the day, around 11:00 a.m., so the views are pretty gray.
Below us to the south, we can see the assistant keeper’s house that was constructed in 1910. In 1929, the keeper staff was reduced. In 1933, the lighthouse’s oil lamps were replaced by an electric lamp, and the original keeper’s house was removed. Today the 1910 assistant keeper’s house is used as seasonal staff residence (Chincoteague: History).
After leaving the Lighthouse Trail, we drive to the Woodland Trail, where we stroll around a 1.6 mile loop. Because we’re surrounded by forest, it’s quite humid and, surprisingly, mosquitoes are ravenously sucking my blood. During the entire walk, I’m swatting the mosquitoes and splattering my blood from their feast all over my clothes. I’m wearing long pants and long sleeves, including a sweater over a long-sleeve shirt, and they’re biting me through all those layers! For some reason, I’m the meal of choice; Mike hardly gets bitten at all.
The maritime forests are the parts of the island that have been stable for the longest time. These forests are important to the survival of the endangered Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel and of forest dwelling wildlife, such as the white-tailed deer, exotic sika elk, raccoons, and many others (Chincoteague: Habitats).
I have to admit I’m not the biggest fan of lowland forest walks because you can’t see any grand sweeping views. I do love the forest in the mountains, when the leaves are changing color or when the leaves have fallen off the trees, so there are views aplenty. I’m not a fan of walking through the forest in heat and humidity and getting devoured by mosquitoes!
I do love the sea grasses along the trail.
On the edge of the forest, where the woods meet the marshland, the trees seem to be rioting.
Finally, we leave the Woodland Trail after what seems like an eternity. I’ve removed a layer of clothing and am scratching all over. I’m looking forward to getting into the open areas of the refuge. We head next to the beach and to the Tom’s Cove Visitor Center, and then take a drive around the park.