Chesapeake Bay Bridge/Tunnel & Jamestown, Virginia – Late Fall 2016 Road Trip – Day 5

Today is Election Day, but we had already voted, so we had the entire day to enjoy the scenery. As usual we were out and at it by dawn, stopping first at Kiptopeke State Park, a park at the very southern tip of the eastern peninsula of Virginia. The park offered a unique recreational area with a series of old ships serving as a reef to the Chesapeake Bay as well as an opportunity to see part of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel from the park.

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The Chesapeake Bay area is the largest estuary in North America and third largest in the world. An estuary is a body of water where fresh and salt water mix. This estuary is approximately 200 miles long and 30 miles wide. Fisherman Island is the southernmost island on the chain of barrier islands located at the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay where we began our crossing; the island is located within the Eastern Shore of the Virginia National Wildlife Refuge.

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From the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, we entered the Chesapeake Channel Tunnel which connects Island 4 to Island 3 beneath the bay. We popped up onto the Bay Bridge again and then followed into the South Thimble Channel Tunnel that connects Island 2 to Island 1. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge System consists of three bridges, two tunnels and four manmade islands spanning a distance of 17.6 miles from shore to shore at a cost of $25 as toll. Each tunnel is one mile long.

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Island 1 also known as Sea Gull Island is the southernmost location of the Bridge-Tunnel’s four manmade islands, 3-1/2 miles from Virginia Beach. The fishing pier on the island is 625 feet long and was busy with fishermen that had multiple lines cast.

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This island provided a place for us to stretch and to look back at the bridge and tunnel exits that we crossed. The island also had a cafe and gift shop that we visited.

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From Virginia Beach, we passed by Norfolk, an area rich in military naval influence, to cross another bridge and tunnel onto I-64 and onto Hampton, Virginia. We continued through the area of Newport News and into Williamsburg, Virginia to see the Jamestown Settlement.

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The Jamestown Settlement is a living history museum operated by the Commonwealth of Virginia. It includes a re-creation of the original James Fort of 1607 to 1614, a Powhatan Indian Village, indoor and outdoor displays, and replicas of the original settler’s ships the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and the Discovery.

The Powhatan native village demonstrated real life with instructors dressed in 17th century garb. A woman was working with leather making satchels with leather fringe. She crafted her bag with a handmade tool made of an antler or bone which she sharpened often. Deer hides hung between wooden sticks to facilitate the scraping of fur from the hide.

The village had native homes made into a wooden reed shaped modules. Bent limbs formed the concave skeleton of the structure covered in a woven mat surface. Inside a home were hides and personal items that the native tribe may have used. A vent was open on the roof to allow smoke from the fire inside to escape with a covering to close the vent when not needed. The village had free-range chickens and smoldering pits too.

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Our path led us to the replicas of the ships that brought the English settlers to the new world. We boarded the Susan Constant and the Discovery but the Godspeed was not docked for us to see. The largest ship, Susan Constant used five miles of rope to work the sails and maneuver the ship. The ship held cannons and weaponry of cannonballs and chain ball. We stepped down to the lower level of the ship to see cots on the floors and cots hung off the walls. The ship would have been tight quarters for the travelers.

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Further up the trail is a replica of the English fort, complete with the homes for the soldiers and the governor’s house.  Many of the homes as well as the church were made of stucco with thatched roofs. The governor’s house, however, was made of brick. Next to the church was an armory with muskets, pikes, swords, helmets, and shields, where the men in the armory were stoking a fire and pounding metal into weapons.

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Just down the road is Historic Jamestown, a cultural heritage site that was the actual location of the 1607 James Fort and later the 17th century city of Jamestown. It is located on Jamestown Island where evidence of the settlement existed.

Maintained by the National Park Service, we entered the grounds and made our way to the obelisk, a monument in tribute to the birthplace of the Commonwealth of Virginia and commemorating the 300th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement.

There a guide was dressed as John Rolfe, husband of Pocahontas. In character he gave an account of the life and history of the settlers as if they just arrived in 1614. His wardrobe of hand-sewn baggy pants with metal buttoned vest and white shirt was cloaked in a dark colored cape and a large brimmed hat with a feather. He sported a sword and scabbard and tall leather boots.

The guide talked about his life as John Rolfe, who was bound for Virginia in May 1609 with 500 new settlers.  In July, a massive hurricane scattered the fleet, and ran aground just off the Bermudas. Rolfe’s wife and daughter died on the island but from salvage he made a smaller ship that took him to the Chesapeake Bay later. At the colony, the colonists at the settlement had tried many ventures with no financial success to return profits to their sponsor, the Virginia Company.

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Eventually most of the settlers died of starvation or battles with the natives.  It was only after the arrival of the new governor, Lord De la Warr, and his supply ships that helped the colonists endure.

An assembly convened there on July 30, 1619. Construction on the current church tower began in 1639 taking 4 years to complete. The rest of the original church was destroyed after abandonment in 1750; artifacts such as nails from coffins, armor, pottery, tools, tobacco pipes, and jewelry were found at the site.

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We had a quick lunch of sandwiches at the Dale House Cafe on the grounds at Colonial National Historical Park before going into the archeology museum called Archaerium. Upon entering the building, foundation bricks of the original assembly house were seen through the glass floor tile of the lobby. Many of the 4000 artifacts dug at the James Fort site were displayed behind glass.  Indian-made clay pipes, pots, shell beads, arrow points, and bone and stone tools have been found and now exhibited. There were also colonial wine bottles, tools, bricks, skulls, glass, nails, and pottery.

The results of forensic research on the skeletal remains of a teen girl found among animal bones and food remains show evidence of the early settlers suspected of cannibalism during the starving year of 1609.  Facial reconstructions of some of the settlers themselves were displayed.

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We also learned about how these artifacts were found. A three-dimensional representation of a 1620s well showed armor and dozens of tools and household objects suspended within it the way they were archaeologically recovered from the brick-lined shaft. A partial reconstruction of a mud and stud building inside the museum shown early Jamestown’s architecture. The archaeology team was busy digging on site as we were leaving.

At the edge of the National Park are ruins of the colonial glasshouse. Bricks and stones left from the original kiln were protected behind a glass wall. A glassblower demonstrated the art of glass making selling his craft lined on shelves surrounding the newer glasshouse. Glass has been made for centuries from a mixture of sand, soda ash (burnt marsh plants), pot ash, lime, and oyster shells.

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The ferry named Pocahontas carried our car and us across the James River from Jamestown to Scotland, Virginia. The ferry service is an extension of Route 31. We drove through Norfolk, Virginia to see the city before going to the Best Western hotel.

Captain Groovy Seafood Restaurant provided a dinner of shrimp and a sandwich for us. Later we packed ourselves in for the night to watch the results as our country moved to make the movie Idiocracy from fiction to a documentary.

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Assateague and Chincoteague National Parks – Late Fall 2016 Road Trip – Day 4

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One of my favorite movies was one from the 1980s called Diner, set in Baltimore, so it was only appropriate since we were in the area that we find one for breakfast. The Double TT Diner is an iconic old-time diner that looked similar to an airstream RV with shiny chrome. Back in the 1950’s, two business partners named Thomas and Tony opened the first Double T restaurant that was named after the two T’s in their first names.

The restaurant had a look of the 1950’s with rows of booths and a small jukebox placed at the end of each table but instead of 45 rpm records it had an updated version of compact discs that also seemed outdated now. Our omelets were tasty and filling then we moved on travelling east across the Bay Bridge.

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The Chesapeake Bay Bridge spans the Chesapeake Bay, connecting Maryland’s rural Eastern Shore region with the urban Western Shore. The original span opened in 1952 with a length of 4.3 miles, and was the world’s longest continuous over-water steel structure. The bridge is part of U.S. Route 50 which connects the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area with Ocean City, Maryland. The long four-lane split bridge is high above the bay giving us a view of the shimmering water in the morning with freighters chugging by.

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 Ocean City, Maryland is a summer resort destination but it was nearly a ghost town void of people when we arrived. This town brought back memories from a 1970s vacation for one of us, which resulted us in searching for the Santa Maria motel where her family stayed on our vacation forty-two years ago. Ironically we found the location, but it had been torn down and a new upscale Courtyard Hotel was in its place, by far the best looking place on the boardwalk.

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Later we continued our walk down the boardwalk and onto the beach, with a stiff breeze blowing up a lot of sand and created choppy water that crashed onto the beach. We spent a few more minutes on the empty boardwalk with all of the shops closed up for winter.

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Da Dum, Da Dum, Da Dum, — the creepy music from the movie Jaws which generates the fear and anticipation of a shark in the water delivered that feeling when we stopped to see a recreational camp called Frontier Land that celebrated the Wild West with sets of cowboys, Indians, and can-can girls.

The camp was closed the day of our visit but rested at the front of the establishment was a 31-foot shark prop from the movie Jaws. The plaster-cast shark sits in a parking lot, straining to devour a rowboat always just beyond its reach. It is unknown whether the shark is an actual prop from the movie Jaws since so many others claim the same fame. It just seems wrongly placed in Frontier Land next to a statue of a cowboy holding an ice cream cone unless it were renamed Weird Land.

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Stopping briefly at the Assateague National Park Visitor Center to renew our annual National Parks, we promptly continued across the Verrazano Bridge into the park that is well known for its wild horses and birds on the 37-mile barrier island along Maryland and Virginia. The “wild” horses on Assateague are actually feral animals, meaning that they are descendants of domestic animals that have reverted to a wild state. Local folklore describes the Assateague horses as survivors of a shipwreck off the Virginia coast.

The most plausible explanation is that they are the descendants of horses that were brought to barrier islands like Assateague in the late 17th century by mainland owners to avoid fencing laws and taxation of livestock.

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The horses are split into two main herds, one on the Virginia side and one on the Maryland side of Assateague. They are separated by a fence at the Virginia/Maryland State line. These herds have divided themselves into bands of two to twelve animals and each band occupies a home range. The National Park Service manages the Maryland herd. The Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company owns and manages the Virginia herd, which is allowed to graze on Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, through a special use permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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The permit restricts the size of the herd to approximately 150 adult animals in order to protect the other natural resources of the wildlife refuge. It is the Virginia herd which is often referred to as the “Chincoteague” ponies. The feral horse population of Assateague Island is known as the Assateague horse in Maryland and the Chincoteague pony in Virginia. This distinction is based on the traditional definition of a horse or a pony as to whether the animal falls over or under 14.2 hands that is 58 inches. The equines on the island tend to be under 14.2, but have horse’s traits.  It is believed that their relatively small size is primarily due to environmental, rather than genetic conditions.

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Our arrival on the island soon allowed us to see the feral horses. As we drove toward the beach, we saw two horses grazing near the edge of the road. The areas beyond the road were sandy with spots of dense shrubs. Beyond the shrubs was a marsh of cord grass.

We hiked a trail to the beach and up a dune trying to spot more feral horses on this breezy day, coming upon horses corralled by a group of people who often brought their domestic horses to ride on the beach. They said that they sometimes encountered the feral horses when they rode.

A further walk up the beach a bit more without another human being around while watching the birds scamper at the water’s edge was delightful.

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Heading south to Chincoteague, we opted to do a driving tour first, where we had the opportunity to see more feral ponies. This time the ponies grazed in a marshy meadow under leafless trees. Two more pairs of ponies stood in the meadow.

We had planned to take a boat tour to see more ponies but decided against it due to the choppy water. Later when the winds calmed, we thought of the boat cruise again but would have to pay for a ghost rider as if there were three riders instead of two so that it would be worthwhile for the boat captain to sail.

Instead we continued our own tour stopping at different points to photograph a large variety of birds and some horses. We drove out to the end of the island where the marsh, the sand dunes, and the ocean met. It was exceptionally gusty but we saw gulls, herons, and other birds using the wind to their advantage. The birds just seem to float in the air without flapping their wings.

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Assateague Light is a 142-foot-tall lighthouse located on the southern end of Assateague Island off the coast of the Virginia Eastern Shore, a short one-quarter mile walk from the visitor center. The brick conical shaped lighthouse is at the top of a hill near the Coast Guard Station. The lighthouse is painted in alternate red and white horizontal stripes and built in 1867 to replace a much shorter lighthouse. This spot was a nice rest for us after our hike up the hill and a nice view also.

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We continued our drive of the Virginia Eastern Shore and noticed a number of contrails from jets above us. Seven separate vapor trails suspended above us against the blue sky. This continued as we drove on our way to Onancock. Not quite as good a name as a small town in Newfoundland, it was amusing enough to divert off the main road; it turned out to be a very quaint historic town.

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We landed at the Hampton Inn in Exmoor, Virginia for the night. There is not much in Exmoor so we had to drive back to the highway to get something to eat. We ate at El Maguey, where we had chorizo arroz and a chicken enchilada with rice. The Mexican restaurant was shabby looking but the food was good and the prices cheap.