Virginia Eastern Shore: Antiques, Wildlife, The Railroad
An Easy Ride Down a Straigt Road
The 70 or so miles from the Maryland/Virginia border down US 13 to the northern end of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel can be a very long 70 miles. The road is straight, the land is flat, the development very ordinary it is not the kind of drive one would take unless you had to. Look a little deeper than the obvious and the scene changes. A recent article in the WB&A chapter of the toy Train Collectors Society (TCA) newsletter provided the look. The article described 2 Train museums.
Rail fanning is one of my hobbies, bird watching is another. I been to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and knew it was a great birding spot, but had never been to the Virginia Eastern Shore refuge that is on the tip of Cape Charles. Ebay is another of my hobbies, and I found that there are several antique malls and flea markets on Rt 13, and CapeCharles city itself was looking like a very attractive place to visit. A weekend trip down Rt. 13 seemed to be order. I made the trip, it was great.
If the trip is intended to be both a "saleing" trip and a tour on a weekend it would be best to leave most of the touring to Sunday. On Saturday the Antique malls, flea markets and yard sales will be in full operation and it will take most of Saturday to do the saleing. The refuges and railroad stops are available on Sundays. A GPS would be very helpful, if you do not have one, get one they are a lot of fun and helpful.
Antique Malls and Flea Markets
All along Rt. US 13 there are antique stores and antique malls. They are quite large and a day can be spent exploring their treasures. Some have flea market tables on the property where less formal sellers vend their wares and the deals can be found. Keep an eye out for signs and billboards, most are on Rt 13 but not all. The one in Exmore is off 13 in the city.
Saturday is the day for saleing, the yard sales are in operation that day. These will be off the beaten path so watch carefully for the traditional hand made signs.
Cape Charles (city)
Cape Charles fits in the same urban category as Cape May New Jersey. It is a quaint, picturesque town that is a calm and interesting adult kind of place. On the road leading into the city is a funky water tower decorated like a lighthouse, there is a rail yard, the restored railroad station and the power house that has been converted into a museum. The museum is staffed by a delightful lady who is more than willing to share her knowledge of CapeCharles. The main business street is lined by vintage buildings on one side which are occupied by various stores, offices, restaurants and a theater. There is a hardware store which appears to be a local meeting place, there were a dozen or more people sitting in front of the store. On the other side of the street is a rail yard which staged freight cars for the barge ride across the Chesapeake Bay to Norfolk. The service is currently suspended pending the solving an insurance problem. (As of 2012 the bardge is back in operation, state of Virginia came up with the bucks to save the company).The city also has a beach and a fishing pier. Several electric golf carts were in evidence, which underline the laid back atmosphere of the town.
Chincoteague; The refuge, the city
The combination of Chincoteague city and the Chincoteague Wildlife Refuge make the resort high spot of the Cape. The refuge in a nature wonderland with nature trails, wetlands, woodlands and wild ponies. Chincoteague is the home of Misty, the famous pony and the annual pony roundup and swim. There is a great variety of birdlife on the refuge as well as interesting mammals. For the beach oriented the refuge has a terrific ocean beach which offers both swimming and surf fishing. The visitor center has interesting displays and programs.
The city of Chincoteague has several motels, a campground, restaurants and the expected complement of gift shops and rental places. It is not tacky; the atmosphere is like Ocracoke on the North Carolina Outer Banks or a New England ocean side town rather than the typical east coast ocean side resort.
Eastern Shore of Virginia NWR
The Eastern Shore of Virginia wildlife refuge has a much different flavor than Chincoteague. There are nature trails and wetlands but the birdlife is not in abundance as in Chincoteague and the road tour not nearly as interesting. The visitor center is terrific and has great displays and there are facilities to launch kayaks and motor boats. The refuge is a former military site that guarded the mouth of Chesapeake bay, a 16 inch gun bunker can be visited (the gun is gone). I am glad I visited, I saw my first Bobwhite of the year.
Railroad Complex at Exmore Va.
A visit to Exmore is an opportunity to add to your Railroad photo collection. What is pictured above is what there is in Exmore for the railfan. The station is in the process of being refurbished, maybe in a few months there will be more to see. Exmore is not far off 13 so a stop is not a great time taker and the antique mall is down the street.
Railroad Complex at Parksley Va.
The railroad complex at Parksley is well worth a stop. There are several passenger cars that can be toured (if the museum staff is willing to escort you), the depot is refurbished as it was when in operation and it will be opened by the staff and the little crossing guard shanty makes for a nice picture. The museum itself is in a former vegetable warehouse/depot, it is small but has very interesting displays, an extensive library and sells RR gift items. The museum staff person is very pleasant and knowledgeable and is certainly willing to share her knowledge.
Railroad Scenes at Cape Charles Va.
For the railfan the railroad facilities at CapeCharles are fascinating. On entering the city there are large flat cars with 4 sets of trucks sitting in the rail yard. Nearby there is the museum which has a Nickel Plate Railroad caboose on display along with an RF&P passenger (REA) car. More railroad delights wait in the city.
Cape Charles is the northern end of a ferry/barge route across the Chesapeake Bay. It is operated by the Bay Coast Railroad. Unfortunately the service has been suspended, hopefully to be restored shortly, seeing a railroad barge being loaded would be an exciting treat. The barge loading pier can be visited and the trackage leading to the water is interesting. There also are brightly painted BCR locomotives, passenger cars and rolling stock. Near the rail yard is a channel with interesting boats tied to the docks. The CapeCharles rail yard is a pleasant end/beginning to a railfanning trip on the Virginia eastern shore.
Places to Stay, Places to Eat
Scattered up and down US 13 are motels, camp grounds and restaurants. There certainly are several of each in the immediate Cape Charles area. Bed and Breakfast places are very popular and there are the traditional modern box type motels. The Rittenhouse Motor Lodge on US 13 a little south of the turn-off to Cape Charles offers a unique experience. It is an older motel nestled in the midst of a botanical garden. It is surrounded by giant trees, there are walking paths through the gardens which have bridges crossing small streams, the owner has taken great pride in cultivating a green masterpiece. It is quite nice sitting on the porch having a drink before bed while enjoying the solitude of the woods and the same is true in the morning while having that first cup of coffee. Be sure to visit the office. There is a wonderful collection of depression glass displayed in a decorative (not museum like) manner.
Several of the Cape Charles locals recommended Stingrays as the place to eat and it must be quite good. The place was very crowded, noisy and very informal, too informal for the price of the food. It is located on US 13 a few miles south of the Cape Charles turnoff. In the city of Cape Charles itself the Firehouse was recommended as was Kelly’s Pub. The pub is located is a restored bank building (you can eat where the vault used to be). The food was excellent and the wait staff efficient and informative. They had a folder of pictures that show the restaurant prior to its restoration. On US 13 can be found the normal complement of plastic chain restaurants.
Most of the pictures in this hub were taken with a Nikon D80 digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera. The D80 is discontinued and replace by the D90 which is very similar and has some significant improvements. There is also the D5000 and D3000 which are similar just not so involved. Involved, elaborate are words quite applicable to the D90 camera. If you want a way to expand your traveling enjoyment get a DSLR camera a whole new hobby will open up. The camera can be used in a point and shoot mode, but also in a full manual mode with many options. In fact the camera has more buttons, knobs and controls than a toad has warts. Learning about the camera is an experience all to itself, it is fun.