A Travellerspoint blog

Day 79 (11.19.07) - A Day at the Beach, or beaches

We visited Du Pont Nature Preserve, Slaughter Beach, Lewes historic district, Zwaanendael site, and Cape Henlopen - all on the coast of Delaware



Miles Driven - 73 (In a circle, of course)
Weather - Heavy rain and wind during the night, Overcast, Cool, occasional wind
Camped at G & R RV campground (full services) about 10 miles east of Wal-mart we were at last night. (Read story at end...)


Oh yes, before we go to the beach I have to share this. Somebody back home asked us about how crowded Delaware is and whether there was any open space in it (we WA Staters don't always know much about the east coast). It is crowed by our standards, 7 times more densely populated than the national average (New Jersey, at 13 x nat'l avg is the most densely populated). However, most of the population is concentrated in the northern portion of the state. As we drove further south, we saw quite a few farms and portions of the coast are now protected wetlands. This was one of the prettier farm vista's we saw. So there you have it, Delaware farmland.


I suggested we go to the beach today, thinking we'd drive straight there on the highway and finish up the Delaware coast. Mom agreed, but wanted to head east to the coast first, then south via back roads. We agreed to try this and headed off. We weren't exactly sure where to go on the eastern coast of Delaware, but she saw a "Mispillion Light" indicated on the map and thought it might be a lighthouse. It used to be a lighthouse, but it's long gone.

What we found was a place called the Du Pont Nature Center. This is located where the Mispillion River empties into the Delaware Bay. It is in the center of a large amount of wetlands which supports a lot of shorebirds. The Nature Center opened May 23, 2007 - so again our timing was very good. In fact, the best view of the center is from a photograph they used on the invitations for their opening (they could put their camera across the canal and get a better shot than I could).


Of course Mom wanted to go inside, this side trip was her idea - and it wasn't raining this morning...


The manager of the Nature Center is Dawn Webb. She was quite proud of the many programs they put on, including educational talks, kayak trips and so forth. She thought our trip was a pretty cool idea (as do we), but I'm afraid I talked her ear off a bit, must be a by-product of locking myself up in the RV all day yesterday (other then the occasional hunting expedition for provisions at the host Wal-mart). At least she didn't toss me into the channel however.


I checked out some seagulls and a cormorant through the binoculars. She also told us about a bird called an Oystercatcher that frequents the area when the tide is out. Unfortunately, they didn't show up for us - from the picture boards, it looks like a really pretty bird.


Inside the Nature Center (where it was warm, out of the wind, and Mom's favorite spot) there were a lot of sign boards about the area, it's history, and various types of shore life. One of the local animal kingdom celebrities is the Horseshoe Crab. This isn't a crab at all but kind of looks like one, so was misnamed and it stuck. These are very strange looking creatures and Delaware Bay is one of the places they congregate. The Center had a small aquarium with a couple of small Horseshoe Crabs in it, this is probably more fun then my trying to describe these critters.

After checking out the Center and some of the exhibits, we needed to move on. The manager, Dawn, told us that just down the road at Slaughter Beach it was possible to pick up rocks with fossels in them (she even gave Mom one in case we couldn't find any). We thought that sounded interesting, so off we went. It was cold, but here is the intrepid fossel hunter on the prowl.


I did pick up some rocks that looked interesting, one looks like it has a fosselized shell in it. The seaweed was also really weird. This was just a small clump, but I couldn't figure out what that cream colored thing was - it didn't seem to be man made.


There is a lot of organic material (or something) in the surf that is darker then the water or sand, almost black in fact. There is enough that it makes the waves look black - which gave them a very unusual look. I learned later that this is probably peat that washes out of the wetlands if it breaks down. At any rate, I thought the black waves were pretty unusual looking.


Slaughter Beach was very cold however. Mom did get out and picked up a few small rocks but got cold and went back to the RV. So when I got back and we rechecked the map, we both agreed to go back to the main highway and get to the more southern beaches a little faster.

We saw a bunch of brown signs about museums and historic stuff so pulled off in Lewes. The town was shelled by the British during the war of 1812 for twenty-two hours. As many as 800 projectiles were fired into the town, damaging many buildings.

This is also where the Dutch first landed in 1631 to form a permanent European settlement, Zwaanendael (Valley of the Swans). The local town has erected a Zwaanendael Museum in honor of the first settlement. The museum was closed when we were there, so I don't know if it was any good or not, but the building was certainly interesting. (Thumbnails, click to enlarge)


Immediately next to the museum is the Lewes Visitors Center. This is located in the Fisher-Martin House, a farmhouse built in about 1730. the exterior has been carefully restored. Inside,
the main rooms are pretty full with stuff you normally find in a visitors center, but one side room is still pretty clear, making it easier to see the older characteristics of the building.


The lady at the visitors center gave us a map where she marked the location of the 1631 site. She also suggested we visit the Cape Henlopen State Park, which was nearby and which we had never heard of.

First we headed off to find Zwaanendael (the site, not the Museum). There isn't much to see there, the state has erected a monument, I'm guessing the flat area may have been part of the location as well. (Tourist opportunity here - develop the site a bit more, add signage on how to get there, put out some brochures, maybe build a replica fort or exhibits on how the Dutch settler's might have lived, I'm guessing it's a little different then the British at Plymouth Colony?)


There is an interpretive sign that explains a little more about what happened. In 1631, the Dutch West India Company sent out 28 men to build a permanent settlement on the site to be a center for farming, ranching, trading and whaling. Five more men joined the group from New Amsterdam (now New York). When they landed, they set a pole in the ground with a tin plate with the arms of Holland painted on it (see painting below). Some time later, a local indian chief took the tin plate to make tobacco pipes. When the Dutch found out, they made such a fuss about it that some other local indians went off and killed the chief who'd taken the tin. The murdered chief's friends were so upset about this that they killed the Dutch settler's in revenge and burned their buildings (one did manage to escape and made it back to New York). So the first 'permanent' settlement in Delaware didn't even last a year. It wasn't always easy being a colonist and Zwaanendael wasn't the only new settlement that didn't survive. However, Delare still recognizes it as the first European settlement in the Delaware.


After visiting Zwaanendael, we started towards the State Park. On the way was an old Lightship that the town of Lewes had saved as part of their maritime exhibits. This was built in 1939 as one of the last lightships that were built. Lightships could be positioned where fixed structures were impractical and they could also be relocated as needed. As time progressed, unmanned bouy's were probably much cheaper to operate and the lightships became obsolete. Too bad, I think it might have been kind of fun to serve on one, for a few days anyway. This one remained in service off Boston and Long Island until 1973 when it was retired and donated to the Lewes Historical Society.


From there, it wasn't too much farther to Cape Henlopen State Park.

Cape: a piece of land jutting into a body of water beyond the rest of the coastline, a headland, a promentory. A headland that dramatically affects currents is often called a Cape.

William Penn actually designated this area be set aside for public use as far back as 1682. It is where the Delaware Bay ends and the Atlantic Ocean begins and is an ever changing coastline. On Cape May on the New Jersey side, the point is eroding. On Cape Henlopen in Delaware, the point has been extending out further, over a mile in the past 170 years.

In addition to being a major seashore, Cape Henlopen hosted a U.S. Army base during World War II, Camp Miles. We had learned in NJ that German U-Boats frequently patrolled off the New Jersey coast and into Delaware Bay, so coastline fortificatons were constructed to try to spot them (as well as any other enemy warships) and defend the coast. These coastal fortifications became obsolete with the advent of long range missiles later however and Fort Miles has been turned over to the State Park.


Now the clever reader might be wondering how I got a picture of Fort Miles from above like this? (Unless of course they are from Delaware). Part of the forts defenses were Observation Towers. These were built to last 20 years, so many are now in various states of disrepair, however one is still maintained so people can climb it (which of course I did).


There isn't much else to do at Fort Miles yet, the state is still working on what they want to do with it, so we drove on to the Cape itself, which is really what we came to see. The sand dunes are fragile and we could only drive out a short way, but it was enough to see the point: Delaware Bay in foreground, Atlantic Ocean beyond point.


The red lighthouse is the "Delaware Breakwater East End Lighthouse". This one is on the Delaware Bay side of Cape Henlopen, it is 56' tall and 22' across at the base. The Coast Guard closed the lighthouse in 1996 and it is now owned and maintained by the non-profit group, "Delaware River and Bay Lighthouse Foundation". The white lighthouse is the "Harbor of Refuge Light" and is on the Atlantic Ocean side of the Cape (notice wilder wave action?). It was built in 1926 of cast iron after previous lighthouse structures were destroyed by storms. It is 76' tall and had a lighthouse keeper until 1973 when it was automated. It is now also owned by the same non-profit group. both lighthouses had fourth order Fresnel lenses.


It was starting to get late and cold, but Cape Henlopen was such a special place that I encouraged Mom to get out and give it a look. Every place we'd stopped in Delaware up to this point, she'd ask if the water was the Delaware Bay or Atlantic Ocean, as there wasn't much wave action. Now we know. She didn't stay out long, but was glad to see the sand dunes. I'm pretty sure I also saw an Osprey (kind of late in the season), but he dove down before I could get the camera set up - must have caught whatever he was diving for since he didn't come back up while we were there.


We still had a couple of things we wanted to see in Dover, so decided to head back up in that direction. Just as we were leaving Lewes, we saw more snow geese:



Hmm, its interesting how quickly I seem to get tired of shopping malls and big cities - but never seem to get tired of simple birds, seascapes and scenery? There's something to analyze here, but not today...

When we drove through downtown Milford, I just spotted this harrier on a sign at an intersection. It was getting fairly dim, so the shot is a little blurry, but had to share it. I only managed to get a couple shots off before he flew off (I stayed back and hid behind the corner of the RV, so I don't think I scared him off?)


Tonight we decided to give Walmart a break and go to the G & R campground a little west of Milford (10 miles from where we started out this morning). When we got there, the office was closed and had a sign on the door to pick a site & register in the morning. No problem, we've done that before, so we found a nice spot and got all plugged in and had a good night sleep. In the morning, I took some time (belatedly perhaps) to research & call campgrounds so we could decide where to head next. We knew we still wanted to check out a couple of things in Dover, but we also need to be moving on. So after doing that and some regular housekeeping, we didn't hit the road until about 11. The campground office was closed, no note on the door this time - just locked up.

What to do? I left a note on the door saying who we were and what site we'd stayed in, that I'd call later to make arrangements to pay (usually leave a credit card number). The G & R Campground operator finally got ahold of us (Rodney I believe?) and we made all the necessary payment arrangements, when he asked me about my Mom again (she had answered the phone). When he found out that we were on this big RV trip and she was 80 years old, he gave us the night at the campground for free! He said he it was a birthday present since he hadn't been able to attend the big party she told him about.

So if you're ever in need of an RV campground in the Dover/Milford area, this guy deserves your business. And if sometimes all the grumpy people in the news start to get you down, remember the kind lady in Hartford who led us across town when we were lost, or the G & R campground operator who helped us out with a night at a nice campground! Or all the other wonderful & helpful people we've met along the way... Maybe we should fire me and take one of them along instead!

Posted by jl98584 20:33 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents

Be the first to comment on this entry.

This blog requires you to be a logged in member of Travellerspoint to place comments.