Nothing says summer like the great American road trip

wild ponies
At Assateague State Park and National Seashore, ponies can be seen walking down the shoreline. (Julie Geiss photo)

The first cutting of hay was baled and sold. The garden was tilled and planted. Books were returned to school in exchange for a report card. There was a warm breeze in the air and afternoon sunshine as the boys walked the dog down to the creek. Alarm clocks were turned off and board games continued way past bedtime.

It was the beginning of summer with seemingly endless weeks to fill with bucket list ideas. Treasured traditions and new activities would soon fill our expanse of time, starting with the great American road trip.

We loaded up the car and camper with all the essentials; well-loved blankets and stuffed animals were snuck in under the radar. The packing list was still too long. The kitchen sink didn’t fit, but there was room for the Instant Pot.

Road trip

Our trip began on the Pennsylvania Turnpike; the hills were familiar but the winding curves still demanded our attention. Surprisingly, we were not delayed by typical road construction.

The kids started their quest to spot all 50 license plates. Just past Breezewood, we searched the valley for cattle and then saw the white church steeple we remembered from previous trips.

Early morning haze hung on the hilltops. Johnny Cash serenaded us as we rolled across the line into Maryland, following alongside the C&O Byway Canal. As the kids added more states to their license plate lists, the scenery eventually changed from hardwood trees to coastal marshes.


Rest stops took too long and snacks didn’t satisfy; the end was near but still too far away. Five miles seemed to take five hours, but then we saw our exit sign. Assateague State Park and National Seashore was up ahead.

Just when we couldn’t take another minute of traveling, wild ponies were seen grazing in the salt marshes of the coastal bay. After finding our campsite, the kids quickly ran over the dunes to dip their toes in the Atlantic Ocean.

They were serenely ecstatic when several ponies walked in the surf down the coastline right in front of them. In the evening, the ponies drifted back into the campground munching on sand dune grasses and rose hips.

We took a bike ride to the salt marsh and saw a horseshoe crab in the brackish water. Nearby, the chirping of a clapper rail was heard but not seen among the grasses.

North Carolina

Our trip continued as we packed up our camper again and headed south. We took the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel south on our way to the barrier islands that make up the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We enjoyed one night at the Oregon Inlet, watching fishing boats traverse between the Pamlico Sound and the Atlantic Ocean on a mission to catch blue marlin and yellow-fin tuna.

We spent many evenings enjoying the calmer side of Hatteras Island, the Pamlico Sound in Frisco, North Carolina. From our campsite on the saltwater lagoon, we were able to watch windsurfers and kiteboarders zip their way back and forth across the Pamlico Sound which stretches 80 miles long and 15-20 miles wide.

The shallow depth of the sound allowed the boys to wander far out in the water, using their poles to catch palm-sized pinfish. Later, they found more success with a casting net. A great egret proved itself more efficient at snatching minnows than my boys, jabbing quickly into the water obtaining a silver sliver. Clam rakes and wiggly toes were used to locate clams just barely buried under sand and water.

Close to shore, the girls were busy filling buckets with hermit crabs. Shrieking, they jumped out of the water when they saw an American eel being dragged by a water snake.

For our last night, the sun dipped low on the horizon coloring the sky in ombre shades of salmon, coral, and streaks of purple. I smiled at the silhouettes of my boys, still out enjoying the water in the dusky light.

Soon the scrubby Maritime forests of North Carolina’s eastern shore made us think fondly of the oaks and maples in our yard. A dog jumping in the water reminded us of our sweet dog back at home.

Our hearts happy and our souls satisfied, we were ready to once again load up the car and camper. Maryland and North Carolina were captivating, but there’s no place like home. Now, if only the kids could spot the elusive Hawaii and Alaska license plates, our road trip would be complete.


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Julie Geiss lives with her husband and four children in Unity Township, Ohio. Faith and family are first in her life, but she also loves hiking, biking and camping. You can contact Julie at



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