Archive | March 2016

Virginia 2015: Chincoteague and A Pony Tour

Day 11: Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The last destination of our Virginia trip was Chincoteague Island. I had grown up reading the Misty of Chincoteague stories, had my collection of Breyer horse Misty and her foals, and wanted to see where the real life Misty had come from.

If you aren’t familiar with Misty, she was a real live Chincoteague pony who has purchased by children’s author Marguerite Henry. Misty and her family were the subject of several of Henry’s books, detailing her fictional life on Chincoteague Island with a young boy and girl and their family in the 1940s. For this girl who grew up horse-crazy, to see the island where Misty came it was the stuff of dreams come true. And now, we were there and I was going to see ponies!

The town park has a cute statue of baby Misty and her feathered friends.

The town park has a cute statue of baby Misty and her feathered friends.

The ponies live on Assateague Island, which is one of the barrier islands off mainland Virginia. It is uninhabited, with the people living on nearby Chincoteague Island. There are a couple different explanations about how the ponies got there, but each story has some supporting evidence and which one is true is unknown.

A palomino stallion on Assateague Island.

A palomino stallion on Assateague Island.

  1. The inhabitants of Chincoteague Island and the mainland placed their horses out on Assateague Island in order to get out of paying taxes on them. Over the years, some went wild, or were forgotten, and there they remain.
  2. In the 17th century, a Spanish galleon wrecked off the coast of Virginia, and some of its cargo of horses were able to swim to Assateague Island, where they remain.

The Chincoteague ponies are actually horses, but a couple hundred years of living on a salt marsh island, subsisting on poor quality forage, as well as years of inbreeding has created animals with a smaller stature and more pony-like characteristics. The pot bellies that are evident on many of the ponies are also a trait that has developed due to their poor quality diet.

A pinto mare on Assateague Island.

A pinto mare on Assateague Island.

There are two herds of ponies, separated by a fence that divides the Virginia side of Assateague Island from the Maryland side. The Virginia side is Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, and although they allow the ponies to live there, the refuge management has enforced a limit on their numbers.

Every year in July, there is an pony penning on the Virginia side of the island, where the ponies are technically “owned” by the Chincoteague Island Volunteer Fire Department. The ponies are swum across the short distance between the islands (it is a really short distance, and very small foals are given a lift), given veterinary care, and some of the foals are auctioned off, both to earn money for the Fire Department and to control the population. The official annual event began in 1924, and features the usual festival accoutrements, lots of food, a carnival, and fireworks.

American Oystercatchers on Assateague Island with a background of ponies!

American Oystercatchers on Assateague Island with a background of ponies!

On the Maryland side of Assateague Island, the second herd of ponies are considered wildlife by the National Park Service. Other than contraceptive darts, these ponies are given no medical care, and live their lives as truly wild animals.  Aside from all the tourists that undoubtedly feed them tons of junk food – you can get a fine for it, but that never seems to stop dumb people.

And now I was finally there, and even though it wasn’t during the annual festival, I was going to get to see the ponies. I booked a tour on a “pony boat,” my term for the small boat that was scheduled to take us around the island to see the ponies from the water. And in the afternoon, we were going to visit the Wildlife Refuge on Assateague Island to see them from a different view.

A bald eagle soaring above Assateague Island.

A bald eagle soaring above Assateague Island.

That morning I woke up early and took a stroll around Chincoteague Island to see what there was to see. It was pretty quiet on a Thursday in October. It was nice to see the pink light of the sunrise reflecting off the water, even if the sunrise itself was blocked by houses.

Seagulls enjoying the sunrise on Chincoteague Island

Seagulls enjoying the sunrise on Chincoteague Island


They had those giant chairs! Of course there was no one around to take my picture sitting in one...

They had those giant chairs! Of course there was no one around to take my picture sitting in one…

We met Captain Dan at the dock to commence our “pony boat” excursion. There were two other couples on the boat with us, so it certainly wasn’t crowded at all. And off we went. Captain Dan grew up on the island, and shared lots of interesting information about the history of the island, the patterns of erosion of the sandbars, the nearby military facilities, and the wildlife. And of course, the ponies.

Captain Dan had a book with photos of all the ponies that live on the island, complete with their birth dates and parentage (if known). He knew which stallions had bands consisting of which mares, and where each group liked to hang out. He told stories of various ponies and their lives.

Two pinto mares on Assateague Island.

Two pinto mares on Assateague Island.

While I wouldn’t say it was a banner day for pony spotting, we saw about 8-10 ponies over the course of our three hours on the boat. We had plenty of time to observe the ones that we saw. We also got great views of the lighthouse on the island, two bald eagles, and a tri-colored heron! The weather and the scenery were fantastic and it was wonderful to be able to relax for a couple of hours out on the water.

The Assateague Lighthouse - built in 1867.

The Assateague Lighthouse – built in 1867.


A Tri-Colored Heron - he was gorgeous!

A Tri-Colored Heron – he was gorgeous!

If you are visiting, I would highly recommend Captain Dan’s tour – I loved it!  We finished off our morning tour with lunch at the Jackspot restaurant again; I couldn’t get enough of those oysters that we had the day before. And at $1 per oyster, who could go wrong!

My fish tacos at Jackspot

My fish tacos at Jackspot

August Hill Winery Vignoles

My Aunt and Uncle were kind enough to see me a bottle of wine for Christmas, from a state that I had not yet tried.  Illinois!  It is the Vignoles from August Hill Winery.

August Hill was founded in 2000 by two friends, although one friend has since stepped back from the winery’s operations.  Vignoles is a semi-dry, light-bodied grape – a French-American hybrid grape that is known for tasting similar to a Riesling.  This one has aromas of tropical fruit with a hint of caramel.  On the palate, it tastes of pineapple and sweet caramel.

August Hill Winery Vignoles

August Hill Winery Vignoles

Overall, it is a nice sweet wine, perfect for a relaxing evening after a weekend of yard work.  It even has an awesome label!  Cheers, and Happy Sunday!


Harbor Sunset…

I have had a couple long, difficult weeks, and haven’t really had the time or energy to blog much.  I’ll be back at it soon, I’m sure, but in the meanwhile, I hope you enjoy this photo of the sunset from my walk at the harbor the other night.  It’s peaceful.


Virginia 2015: Yorktown

Day 11: Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Near Jamestowne is another site that is part of the Colonial National Historical Park, best known for being where the United States won her independence.  Yorktown was where the Revolutionary War ended!

Yorktown was a prosperous trading port during the 17th century; it shipped tobacco and other trade goods back to England.  Incoming freight included household goods, wine and liquor, firearms, and slaves.  The town has a lower section near the water, where warehouses and shops were built, and an upper portion at the top of the bluff where residents established fine homes.

A sailing ship at Yorktown

A sailing ship at Yorktown

It continued to prosper until 1781, when George Washington and Comte de Rochambeau with a combination of American and French troops, chose Yorktown as the site of their now famous siege of the British troops, led by General Charles Cornwallis.  Washington planned diversionary tactics to make it look like the Americans were planning their siege on New York, and then moved troops down to Virginia to get ready for the siege at Yorktown.  Meanwhile, Washington coordinated with Comte de Grasse of the French Army to provide a naval blockade of the Chesapeake Bay, to block Cornwallis’ escape.

A trench and cannon at Yorktown

A trench and cannon at Yorktown

The American and French troops began to surround Yorktown on September 28, 1781.  While they were establishing their positions, the British kept up a strong bombardment of the positions, trying to prevent the Americans from becoming entrenched.  The siege began on October 14, 1781, and the American and French troops built a series of trenches from which to bombard Yorktown, progressively moving their lines closer to the town.  The siege didn’t last long – on October 19, 1781, Cornwallis could see that he was out of options and surrendered to Washington.

Casualties numbered 88 killed and 301 wounded for the American and French forces; the British had 156 killed, 326 wounded and 70 missing.  Ultimately, Cornwallis surrendered 7,087 troops in Yorktown and another 804 British sailors.

Interestingly, the American government authorized a monument to be built commemorating the siege at Yorktown right after it ended, but the money to pay for the monument wasn’t appropriated for another 100 years.  This sounds familiar!

The monument at Yorktown - erected 1881.

The monument at Yorktown – erected 1881.


A pretty bird at Yorktown - I have no idea what kind.

A pretty bird at Yorktown – I have no idea what kind.

We wandered around the site and checked out the historic homes that remain from the period; there are some original homes and some that have been reconstructed.  There are typically signs outside that mark which are which.  We were able to tour the Nelson house, which was built around 1730.  Thomas Nelson, Jr., who owned the home during the Revolutionary War, was in the Continental Army and participated in the siege of Yorktown.  It is believed that he ordered the bombardment of his own house during the siege!  The Nelson House is mostly original, with period and reproduction furniture inside.

The Nelson House - built 1730 - Georgian Architectural Style

The Nelson House – built 1730 – Georgian Architectural Style

Yorktown was also the site of fighting during the Peninsula Campaign of the Civil War, and a National Cemetery was established there in 1866; there are a total of 2204 burials there, of which 1,436 are unknown.

The Medical Shop at Yorktown

The Medical Shop at Yorktown

We were getting tired though at that point, and still had a drive ahead of us, so we elected not visit the lower town area or the cemetery.  We crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge – wow, that is an impressive structure!  For those of you who haven’t been on it, it is a 23 mile span of both bridge and tunnel that connects Virginia Beach to the Eastern Shore of Virginia.  It was long!  At the very end of the bridge, as we were getting close to the mainland of the Eastern Shore, I saw two dolphins playing in the water!  I didn’t get pics, but it was awesome to see!

We reached our next destination, Chincoteague Island, a little after sunset and checked into our hotel.  We were tired, and decided to only venture next door for dinner.  We went to the Jackspot restaurant, where we split a half dozen oysters on the half shell – four Salts and two Sewansecotts.  The Sewansecotts were my favorite!  I had the Rockfish with a glass of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, and Jon had the Swordfish with an El Guapo Virginia IPA.  Our meals were delicious, and the presentation was beautiful!

My Rockfish at Jackspot - so delicious!

My Rockfish at Jackspot – so delicious!

Before turning in for the night, we sat on the balcony of our hotel room listening to the crickets, waves and wind through the seagrass.  It was a great end to a good day.

Driving Distance for Day 11: 161 miles – Williamsburg, VA – Historic Jamestowne – Yorktown Battlefield – Chincoteague Island, VA

Entrance Fee:  Yorktown Battlefield is free with your receipt from Historic Jamestowne ($7), or free if you have a National Parks Pass.

Hotel for the night: The Fairfield Inn on Chincoteague Island – excellent!

Virginia 2015: Historic Jamestowne

Day 11: Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Jamestowne was the first permanent English settlement in North America; it was established in 1607; a town was constructed around the fort in 1619.  It is located Jamestowne Island, on the James River, just off of the Coast of Virginia.  It was designated as a National Historic Site on December 18, 1940, and is a part of Colonial National Historical Park.

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The monument at Jamestowne.

The first couple of years brought cooperation between the colonists and the Native Americans, who taught them how to plant crops and farm.  However, the relationship went south, and most of the Native Americans were wiped out by warfare.  The colonists had a difficult several years, and about 80% of them were wiped out by starvation and disease.

The second group of colonists included Polish and German artisans who set up a glass factory; glassware was one of the first export products from the colony.  There were also a couple of women – the first European women to join the settlement.

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One of the modern glassmakers at Jamestowne

Some of the “household” names associated with Jamestowne include Captain John Smith – a colorful character who went from murdering his master in England to mapping the river system near Jamestowne, learning the native language, and being elected the first Governor of colonial Virginia.  John Rolfe brought tobacco seeds from Bermuda, one of the first successful export crops, and married the daughter of a local Native American chief, Pocohontas.

The town was deliberately burned during Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676, but was rebuilt.  In 1699, when the capitol of the Virginia colony was moved from Jamestowne to Williamsburg, the settlement was abandoned, although there were some plantations on the island into the 1800s.

It was a beautiful sunny day when Jon and I visited; we arrived about 10 am and watched the orientation film in a cool theater with seats all around – the movie is projected on the wall above the seating.  We did a brief tour through the museum and then headed out to the site.

I was surprised at how swampy the site was – we walked across a raised walkway over the swamp, home to several turtles!  They were so cute!  Once we were on the island, we checked out the fort site first.  There are a few reconstructed buildings and some archaeological sites to check out, as well as the grave sites of several of the original colonists.


The swamp at Jamestowne



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An archaeological dig at Jamestowne

We also saw the ruin of the Jamestowne Church – it was built in 1639 (although I believe it was the fourth church on the site) – the nave was built to commemorate the 300th anniversary in Jamestowne in 1907.  The day we were there, there was a drone on site – we found out later that it was shooting footage down the chimney of the church to assess its stability.

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Jamestowne Church – the ruined tower was built in 1639.

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A drone at Jamestowne! Not historic…

We wandered around the rest of the site and checked out the plantation house ruin, as well as the reconstructed foundations of various buildings at the site.  We also relaxed for a bit near the James River, enjoying the view and the float plane that was landing on the river.

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The frame of a Mud and Stud House – Jon couldn’t stop laughing at the architectural style name.


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A float plane landed on the James River

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The Ambler House – built in the 1750s. It was burned and rebuilt in two wars, and was abandoned in 1895 after a third fire.

We also toured the Voorhees Archaearium, the museum on the site that contains historical artifacts from the settlement.  They also have two skeletons from the site and the stories from how they died.  One died from a gunshot in the leg; the other skeleton was a captain at the fort.

Most interestingly, the museum had an exhibit on Jane; she was a fourteen year old girl who died and was cannibalized, most likely during the “starving time”.  There were a few of her bones on exhibit that showed evidence of the cut marks that indicate the cannibalization.  It was an interesting exhibit, and I appreciated their candid way of dealing with such a sensitive subject.

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A doe at Jamestowne – she would never have survived the starving time.

Then we headed over to the cafe for a delicious lunch, probably the best museum cafe food we had on the trip.  I had the U.S. Grant wrap with dried cranberries, turkey, walnuts and blue cheese spread with a side of orzo pasta and a slice of wonderful key lime pie.  Jon had the Union – a hummus veggie wrap with cole slaw and a Legend Brown Ale from a Richmond, VA brewery.

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An unidentified bird at Jamestowne

Although there is very little of the original site visible, it was fascinating to see the site where colonial history in North American really began.






Virginia 2015: Menokin

Day 10: Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Our last stop for the day was further down the Northern Neck, at a historic home called Menokin. Home is kind of a misnomer, as it is actually a historic ruin. But Menokin is a very unusual ruin, with an intriguing story of historic preservation.


The sign at Menokin

Menokin was the home of Francis Lightfoot Lee, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and his wife Rebecca Tayloe Lee. Rebecca grew up on a plantation nearby called Mount Airy; her father, John Tayloe II, gave the Lee’s the plantation and had the home built as a wedding gift (ahhh, to be rich, and get a house and land for your wedding…).

At any rate, Menokin was built in 1769, with Georgian architectural styling and a lot of Neo Palladian influence. The Lees lived there until their deaths in 1797, and then the home fell to a couple of relatives, before being sold out of the family. It changed hands numerous times between 1820 and 1935, when it was in serious decline and vacant.


The side of Menokin

Here’s where it gets interesting. In 1940, the Historic American Building Survey (HABS), thoroughly documented the vacant home in drawings and photographs. They also issued reports on the home, and its status as an endangered historic landmark. Unfortunately, the owners at the time were unwilling to sell it to a preservation society, so it continued its decline.

By the 1960s, the home had fallen further into ruin and the owners took the drastic step of removing as much of the original wood building material as they could, to put it into storage where it could be protected from the elements. Woodwork was removed and catalogued, including mantels, doorways, windows, flooring, molding and staircases. About 80% of the building materials have been saved.


The fireplace mantle of Menokin

In 1995, the last private owner of Menokin gifted it to the Menokin Foundation, along with all of the original woodwork that had been in storage since 1968. The home at that time was a complete ruin, and a tree had fallen into one corner of the house.


The door of Menokin, in storage

The Menokin Foundation is not planning to restore the house to its former glory. Their plan is far more interesting. They are going to preserve the home in its current state of decay, with glass walls and floors that will allow a visitor to travel through the home and envision what it would have been like it its day. Once the home is stabilized and protected, select woodwork will be returned to the home, to give visitors a sense of its former grandeur. Imagine walking through a glass historic house!

Our visit to Menokin was at the very end of the day – we got there just ten minutes before the Visitor’s Center closed for the day. The Visitor’s Center is really the office for the Foundation, nothing fancy at all, but the staff there were warm and friendly and insisted on having us watch the video of their dream, and they also took us on a tour of the wood room, where all the original wood from the home is catalogued and stored. It was remarkable, and I love that they are trying to do something radically different than the traditional restored historic home concept. They stayed way past their closing time, and were genuinely interested in how we had heard of Menokin and the fact that we had come from so far away to visit.

After the Visitor’s Center, we headed over to the site, to see the home. As it is not stabilized, you cannot enter, but you can walk all around for good views of the home. It was neat to imagine in person their vision of what it will be when it is completed.


The front of Menokin

Menokin was truly one of the outstanding gems of this trip – a little out of the way, but truly a fabulous place. If you are in the Northern Neck, and can visit, do! Here’s their website for more information on the unique vision for Menokin.


One of the fireplaces at Menokin

Our last task for the day was to finish our drive to Williamsburg, Virginia.  We checked into our hotel and walked down to the grocery store and liquor store for some wine and hotel room dinner. Jon wanted to try a Trump wine (I believe the winery is owned by Donald Trump’s son), just to say he had – it was actually pretty decent.  I got a bottle of the Barboursville Riesling; it was ok – fine, but not really memorable for me.  It was a long day, but we got to see some really great things!


Driving Distance for Day 10: 134 miles – Fredericksburg, VA – George Washington Birthplace NM – Stratford Hall – Menokin – Williamsburg, VA

Hotel for the night: The Fairfield Inn in Williamsburg – excellent!