The East End – Montauk Point

Well, after a several month hiatus from traveling around the United States, Louise and I are back on the road again. The impetus for our latest trip was the wedding of my cousin Jeanne’s son, Michael and his lovely bride Emily. Since all the family was gathering at familial homes, we decided take the RV, to allow is the maximum flexibility with, and the least impact on, our wonderful relatives.

brideThe wedding was wonderful. The bride was beautiful, the groom was handsome, all my relatives looked stunningly attractive, the party was great, the band was terrific, the dancing was awesome, the food and the wine were delicious and plentiful. The event was one of those place markers in your life that you measure things before and after from. After the ceremony, we caught up with a number of cousins that we had not seen in a long time, and then afterwards, politely left to explore the East End of Long Island. I have been coming out to the East End of Long Island during the summer since I was born. I attended college at what was then Southampton College of Long Island University, and we’ve continued to visit family with my wife and kids since that time. I can’t remember an August when we didn’t visit the East End of Long Island. Those visits however, have always been a time for family and not for exploration. Louise and I both have free time now, and we decided that this would be a great time to see places we haven’t seen in many years.

When I was in college I worked for local summer advertising newspaper called Dan’s Papers. It provided me with both money for college, and the opportunity to see places on the East End of Long Island, I otherwise would not have seen. Delivering those papers took me to places on the East End I never knew existed, and somehow can’t locate today. Louise and I, and our girls, visited East Hampton on a few occasions, but it’s been at least 10 years since the last time we drove through the town. There have been plenty of changes, and the place is more touristy, but overall the passing through vibe is pretty much the same as it always was.

The further east you travel on the south fork of Long Island, the less developed, i.e. screwed up, the island is. In order live east of East Hampton, you have to have REAL money, and those people seem to have kept the riffraff out. There is an area between Amagansett and Montauk called Napeague, an area composed of low scrubby black pine, Bayberry bushes, blackberry scrub and other assorted East End stuff.  If things have really changed, you can’t tell it from the road, simply because everyone treasures their privacy and they don’t want you to know that they are there.

Montauk used to be a sleepy little fishing village almost into the 1970s. If you look into the back corners of the town, and in lonely undisturbed places, and put your rose-colored glasses on, you can still see the remnants of that sleepy little fishing village, which is very nice. Route 27 runs from Southampton meandering out to Montauk. In the vicinity of Montauk there is a section of highway called Old Montauk Highway. Both my dad, and my grandfather, would occasionally take a drive out to Montauk just for the heck of it. They would pack all the kids, cousins, grandkids, and anybody who was getting in the way, and take an hour-long ride out to Montauk. The best part of the trip was the old Montauk Highway section which bore an amazing resemblance to a roller coaster ride. Both my dad and my granddad knew how to hit the crest of the hills just at the right speed and just how to hit the brakes so we floated through the air over those bumps. I’m sure they were breaking a million motor vehicle rules and regulations, but we’re all now in our 50s and 60s, so I guess no harm no foul. I tried a little floating action in the RV, but it wasn’t quite the same.

We had no real plan at the beginning of the day, one idea was to go to a County Park in East Hampton, and the other one was to camp at Hither Hills State Park out by Montauk. My cousin in the know told us that the East Hampton Park was well removed from the water, and I knew the Hither Hills was right next to the ocean, so Hither Hills was the one we chose. We pulled into the campground kiosk, and as anticipated there was no one in the Park, because it’s well after Labor Day, and definitely the off-season. A very lovely lady came out to assist me in getting a campsite, and she started to check me in. I asked her what the nightly rate was, and she asked me whether I was from New York, or from out of state. I told her I was from New Jersey, and she said that out-of-state rates are double the in-state rate. I smiled at her, and said “Gee, I kind of feel like get the bleep out; you’re not from New York”. She said “Well, neither am I, I’m from New Jersey, but it’s a job and I needed one, so here I am. The rate is $58 a night”.

parkI had to think a minute or two. We’ve been to well over 100 different campsites, all throughout the United States. A quick recollection brings to mind the most expensive campground we ever stayed at, just outside Charleston North Carolina, a beautiful place, with water, electricity, and sewer right at the campsite, with beautiful vegetation, privacy, a pool, a bike rental, transportation to downtown Charleston and back, for less than $55 a night. Hither Hills State Park has a picnic table, and grass. No water, no electricity, no sewer hookup, and the section the dump station is located in is closed, and you to have to ask where it is, in order to get to it. I reminded myself that fun should have no cost attached to it, so I said ‘Sure, sign us up for a night’.

We took a look at the site, had some lunch, and took a walk down the beach. It was beautiful. They were two fishermen about a quarter of a mile west of us on the beach, and no one was visible to the East. The waves are about a foot tall and breaking west to east. I decided that it was worth the price. We popped back into the RV, and took off for the Montauk lighthouse. We drove through the town of Montauk, which is still pretty cool, even though everybody has to make their money during the summer, to pay for everything for the rest of the year, so there is a lot of touristy stuff in town. The good news is, there is still a bunch of bars and restaurants that appear to have been there since back in the 60s, in pretty much the same state they were in then, which in my mind is a good thing.

mapThe hills of Montauk are beautiful, the leaves were just starting to change as it’s late fall, and we pulled into the Overlook for the Oyster Pond, near Montauk Point. Someone had erected or really large map of all of Montauk Point with little dots and diagrams illustrating all the really cool things that were to see out at the point. I took a picture so I would be able to refer to it later and we continued on to the point. montaukWe saw the lighthouse, and it was beautifully painted, looking crisp and clean in a coat of new paint, with manicured lawns, and a large bronze seafaring monument, near the tip of the point. We also saw a large sign that said parking weekends and holidays, eight dollars, admission to the lighthouse is extra ($10 for adults $9 for seniors), and not included in the parking fee. For some reason, I felt like an ATM for the State of New York, but fortunately it wasn’t the weekend, and it’s just my holiday not theirs, so I didn’t have to pay.

statueThe first stop was the mandatory stop anywhere we go, the gift shop. I’m a sucker for buying my wife little enameled pins for every place we visit, so it’s not really her, it’s me. We had a lucky day, there was a beautiful little pin, and the price was right, so we marched away with another pin for the collection. I remembered a trail that led down to the water near the point, and no one has decided to move it yet, so was still there. Imagine that, 50 years in progress hasn’t come and moved a good thing. The ocean was as I remembered it, rocky, with all the large boulders covered with seaweed. With the exception of some seaweed floating around close to shore, the water was crystal clear.

fishThe lighthouse loomed above us to our right, and directly ahead, off the point, was a circling mass of gulls or terns feeding on bait fish, and they in turn were being circled by a number of boats, trying to catch the large fish feeding on the baitfish. It seemed as if the birds were the winners in this proposition. While we were gaping and gawking at the view, we spotted a seal on several occasions, he popped his head up, took a look around, and went looking for food. It was the first time I’ve seen a seal at Montauk Point. It was really neat.

fishermenThere were number surf casting fisherman wandering around the rocks looking for a good spot to catch that really big fish that could keep, as the limit for striped bass is 28 inches, so anything under that size goes right back in. Everyone I spoke to, and I speak to everyone, told me that it was a great day for fishing but not a good day for catching. If you want to pick a good place to fish were catching wasn’t important, I can’t think of very many places on the entire planet, that would be better than Montauk Point. We returned to the RV in the hope of being able to drive down North Road, because on the huge map we’d seen at the Overlook, there was supposed to be a place with a seal blind, so we could watch the seals after they hauled themselves out of the ocean.

Well, it turns out that North Road isn’t open to traffic, at least not RVs or cars. If you if you travel North Rd, you need a 4 x 4, and a permit to drive down the road. North Road suddenly was out of our afternoon list of activities. As we passed the Overlook again, we stopped in and took a look at the big sign to see where we went wrong. It turns out that you have to park in the parking lot that charges eight dollars weekends and holidays, and then walk about a mile and a quarter one way to the seal blind, however, there is no sign, or trail sign, or indication at the parking lot that charges eight dollars weekends and holidays, of where the seal blind is. I felt like a little kid at a carnival throwing that darn ball at those old milk bottles that a major league pitcher wouldn’t be able to knock over.

Always having the philosophy that fun is to be had around the corner, we headed off for Gin Beach, so named because during prohibition that’s the beach where the gin came in. Montauk was a very lonely place at that time, way at the East End of Long Island, and everyone knew everyone else, all 12 of them, so smuggling in gin wasn’t that hard. Gin Beach is on the eastern side of the inlet for Montauk Harbor. On the opposite side of Gin Beach, across the inlet, is what was known as Star Island. The island had a drawbridge, back in prohibition, and when the necessity arose, the bridge was raised making the only access to the island by boat. All the locals had boats, all the out-of-towners did not, so make your own conclusion. Did I mention that the restaurant on Star Island was always reported to be a speakeasy, go figure.
sunsetWe drove around the large circle in downtown Montauk in front of the large skyscraper built by Fisher, who also developed Miami Beach. He met far less success in Montauk. We found an IGA, and we met success getting a little of this and a little of that we had forgotten when we left. We returned to the campsite, enjoyed a spectacular sunset and our sundowners and reflected on the day. We had a great dinner of pot roast, noodles, and broccoli. After dinner we took our beach chairs off to the beach in the last light of the day, in hopes of seeing a space launch from Wallops Island in Virginia. We never saw the rocket,  but we were compensated by watching the space station pass overhead. It was much brighter than any of the stars out, and kind of spectacular. We took in the stars and the ocean and reflected on what great day it was in and went back to the RV ‘cause it was getting cool. All in all, a great day exploring a place that always been close to a place I considered home, but seldom visited. I’m glad we’re here.