ROAD TRIP: MARYLAND'S EASTERN SHORE
Crabbing Along Maryland's Eastern Shore
On Maryland's Eastern Shore, the fun doesn't stop when the road ends—there's usually a ferry bound for more crab shacks and woodsy landscapes.
The entrance to Maryland's Eastern Shore is hard to miss. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge, a four-and-a-half-mile marvel that spans the bay's northern end, connects the state's eastern half to Annapolis and points west. There's a portion of the bridge that dips so low that my friend Kathie and I seriously think for a split second that we're about to become one with the bay.
Five miles east of the bridge isHolly's Restaurant, a wood-paneled, family-run diner that's been serving locals and passersby for 52 years. I spy scrapple on the menu, and Kathie flashes a daring smile. The brown blob--a mush of cornmeal and pork scraps--arrives so sizzling hot it shakes on the plate. I look up at our waitress, dismayed. "Honey," she jokes, "your whole-wheat toast is about the healthiest thing you're going to get in this place."
Refueled with grease and caffeine, we hit the road, keeping an eye out for any intriguing stops. A few miles along, we veer right onto a local street and discoverOld Wye Mill, billed as the state's oldest working mill. No other visitors are around, so we get a private tour of the one-room, 325-year-old gristmill and hear the brief history of the town that used to thrive around it. Now it's just a few houses and the stump of what was supposedly Maryland's oldest tree; lightning took it down a few years ago.
Snaking south on various scenic byways, we learn that while the area's crabs are world famous, the Eastern Shore is really for the birds. Perdue trucks barrel by, hauling feed to chicken farms. All sorts of birds are constantly darting across and along the narrow roadway.
Then there'sThe Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art. In an unexpected modernist building, the peculiar museum is devoted to hunters' decoys. "I like that the carvers call themselves wildlife counterfeiters," Kathie says. One exhibit re-creates the wood shop of Lem and Steve Ward, local brothers (and the museum's namesakes) who pioneered the craft as an art form in the 1930s. Another room is devoted to decoys as art. The $28,000 price tag of one hulking, abstract piece leaves me blinking. I snag a stuffed toy bird--Tufted Titmouse, the tag reads--from the gift shop. We dub him Teddy and perch him on the dashboard.
Lisa, an old friend living nearby who will meet us for dinner later, tipped us off to theSalisbury Zoo. The sanctuary was created in the 1950s when folks began dropping off birds, deer, and other animals in the surrounding park. We stroll past monkeys, ocelots, and a pack of llamas soaking in a pond. A group of flamingos stand so still we think they're fake at first. Kids tromp around and squeal at a capybara, the world's largest rodent, which whistles and barks in return. Two river otters, Hurricane Katrina refugees, splash about in a pool. "Look, it's otter men!" says a young girl. "Get it? Ottoman?" Kathie and I exchange impressed looks.
During its 197-year life, theWhitehaven Hotel, our B&B for the night, has housed a general store, a post office, a saloon, and a private residence. The wraparound porch looks out onto the Wicomico River and a small three-car ferry. Innkeeper Cindy Curran shows us to our cozy ground-floor room and points out the sealed door along one wall, explaining that it was used during the hotel's speakeasy days. We borrow bikes and take a quick trip around town, which consists of 30 or so houses surrounded by marshy fields.
The bird theme continues atThe Red Roostrestaurant. The airy all-you-can-eat joint is a renovated chicken coop deep in the woods, decorated with tin roosters on the walls and crab-bushel-basket chandeliers. Rolls of paper towels and plastic garbage cans bookend communal tables covered in brown paper. "I almost had my wedding rehearsal dinner here," says Lisa with a laugh. "But they were closed because it wasn't crab hunting season." Stuffed on onion rings and snow crabs, Kathie and I return to Whitehaven and lie on the hotel's small dock, drinking wine and stargazing.
- Whitehaven Hotel2685 Whitehaven Rd., 877/809-8296, whitehavenhotel.com, from $110
- Holly's Restaurant 108 Jackson Creek Rd., Grasonville, 410/827-8711, hollysrest.com
- The Red Roost 2670 Clara Rd., Whitehaven, 410/546-5443, theredroost.com, chicken-and-crab platter $18
- Old Wye Mill14296 Old Wye Mills Rd., 410/827-3850, $2
- Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art909 S. Schumaker Dr., Salisbury, 410/742-4988, wardmuseum.org, $7
- Salisbury Zoo755 S. Park Dr., 410/548-3188, salisburyzoo.org, free
A steady drizzle greets us in the morning. As we cross the Wicomico on theWhitehaven Car Ferry, the chatty ferryman points out an osprey nest on the riverbank.