Here’s the most incredible thing that happened during one of our family summer vacation weeks spent on Chincoteague Island, Va. We were driving off the island one afternoon and pulled over onto the shoulder to watch a resupply rocket take off from NASA’s nearby Wallops Flight Facility, bound for the International Space Station.
Now, I know that rockets routinely carry men and women into outer space. But seeing it happen was something else again. I thought it would be neat. It was magnificent, awe-inspiring.
A rocket blasting off into space! This is not trivial.
There’s much to inspire awe on and around Chincoteague: Deep woods, swelling seas. There’s also much to inspire idleness, long naps, meandering strolls and a general sense of summer purposelessness that is, in my world, better than gold.
Here’s how we do nothing at Chincoteague. We play miniature golf (poorly) and then eat ice cream at one of several competing gourmet ice cream joints. We stroll along the few blocks that make up downtown. We ride bikes: It’s a small town and there isn’t much traffic.
Adjacent to Chincoteague is Assateague Island National Seashore, where there is blissfully even less to do. We lie on the sand, swim in the ocean and wade in the sound looking at marine life. We walk in the woods. The next day, we do pretty much the same thing.
Our family ended up at Chincoteague because our friend Tom is restless and good with his hands. He bought an old bungalow on the island and spent a few years stripping it down and putting it back together. He dubbed it “Terrapin Station” and now rents it out through Island Getaways, one of several real estate operations on the island that specialize in booking local properties for the tourist trade.
The island has been winning hearts for many decades, ever since the 1947 publication of “Misty of Chincoteague,” Marguerite Henry’s novel about a local family’s efforts to raise a wild horse. Misty’s spirit still dominates here, with stuffed ponies for sale alongside plentiful copies of the book and its sequels.
Her body resides here, too: Stuffed, she’s a star attraction at the Museum of Chincoteague. Yes, there’s a museum of local history, as well as a diverse range of other attractions for those who absolutely insist on doing something.
There are ample bike rental shops on the island, as well as boat rental operations. Various companies offer boat tours, including fishing cruises, nature tours and sunset outings. There are kayak tours and rentals available, and pony tours, too, of course.
Ponies roam free on Assateague and can be viewed in their meadows, though usually from some distance. Extensive walking trails crisscross the island, and it’s only a short walk from the parking lot to the lighthouse, which is open to visitors. With the beach on one side and the sound on the other, families can choose to frolic in the crashing surf or wade among the more laconic horseshoe crabs.
Each summer, the authorities round up ponies off the island and swim them to Chincoteague, where they are put up for sale. Thousands of spectators come out for the event, which this year is set for July 26, in the midst of a weeklong series of related happenings.
Chincoteague’s small-but-charming main street offers a few blocks of small-but-charming mainstays: Bookstores, coffee shops, galleries, tchotchkes. We’ll hop from store to store to wait out an afternoon rain shower. I can resist the garden gnomes but always end up buying a book.
One local institution merits special mention: BYOC, Build Your Own Cookie. They run it out of a trailer by the side of the road and there’s always a line because, well, it’s awesome.
Sadly, efforts are underway to destroy this lovely little gem of an island. TripAdvisor had the audacity to name it one of the Top 10 islands for travelers in 2014 and again in 2016. Fully expect the hateful hordes to descend.
Until then I plan to play another round of mini-golf, lie out on the beach, and just do a whole lot of nothing … until the next rocket launch.
Adam Stone is an Annapolis-based freelance writer.
Photos courtesy of chincoteaguechamber.com
Read more May Travel stories:
- Iceland in February — A Great Spot for Geology Geeks
- Find yourself…in the Poconos
- Fruits, Labor and the Language of Love in Italy
- Journey to the Heart of Africa
- Costa Rica’s Charms
- Pristine Beaches, Walkabouts and Charm Await on Nantucket
- An American in (Jewish) Paris
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