Anne Arundel County and the DelMarVa Peninsula

Anne Arundel County is my favorite county in Maryland.  It sits on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay, south of Baltimore (and Baltimore County), and east of the counties in the D.C. area.  Many people are surprised that I have a favorite county in Maryland.  But, I feel like Anne Arundel County provides visitors with an experience that seems quintessentially Maryland to me.  It’s primary city, Annapolis, is characterized by the colonial development style that makes these early colonies on the eastern seaboard distinct from much of the rest of the nation.  However, much of the rest of the county is suburban in nature, which is really what much of the populated part of Maryland is like today.  With it containing a shoreline on the western banks of the Chesapeake, many of the boating activities synonymous with Maryland culture have a significant presence in this county.

In my experience here, which is quite extensive, as I have an Aunt and Uncle who used to live here, and good friends that still do (whom I am visiting this weekend), it seems as though this part of Maryland is not as politically charged as the counties to the west, adjacent to D.C.  Those areas actually feel more like an extension of D.C. than really Maryland, the same way Arlington and Alexandria seem more like a D.C. extension than Virginia.  Both of these areas are significantly different culturally from the rest of their respective states, and therefore a visit to Silver Spring is no more of a “Maryland experience” than a visit to Arlington is a “Virginia experience”.

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I have some amount of destain for politics and politicians at this time.  It is not that politics is not an interesting topic of conversation and not significant.  It is just that the way we practice and discuss politics in this nation at this time has this strange way of bringing out the worst in people.  Right now, I view Washington D.C. as a group of people who generally view themselves as way more important than they are/ should be, and therefore I had no desire to pass through this city at this time.  So, I went around on the “beltway” to get to Anne Arundel County.

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My friends live in a row house in Millersville, MD.  The section of houses they live in is not too uncommon for this part of the country.  It is crowded and the houses actually connect to one another.  Saturday was a housewarming party, and my contribution was a bottle of Bourbon I had picked up on the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky on Wednesday.  It is Bourbon Cream from Buffalo Trace.  It tastes like Bailey’s, only better.  It went over well at the party, and I would recommend it!

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On Sunday we took a drive over the Bay Bridge over the Chesapeake Bay to an area referred to as Maryland’s “Eastern Shore”.  The Bay Bridge is a really neat bridge.  It is a classic for those that love bridges.  The main marvel of engineering on this bridge is how long the bridge is, 4.3 miles.  It is a testament to the amazing engineers that we have in this country that I, along with millions of drivers each year, cross this bridge, over 150 feet above the water’s surface for this long of a span of time and distance without feeling nervous about the integrity of the bridge.  I think more people complain about the toll than anything.

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Traveling through Maryland’s eastern shore, first on U.S. 301, then on state route 300, I am quite surprised by the scenery I encounter.  After the first few miles off the bridge, where the same shoreline features that are common in Anne Arundel County seem prevalent, I actually encounter farmland that reminds me of the midwest a bit.  Not as many trees have been leveled here to make way for farmland as have been in northern and central Illinois, and the trees are a bit denser in the non leveled places.  But, many of the crops are the same.  And, I surprisingly encounter some irrigation devices too.

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Our destination is Dover Downs, a “racino” (which refers to a racetrack that is also a casino).  Unlike many of the other racinos I have been to, this particular one has both a horse racing track and a NASCAR track.  NASCAR hosts a couple of races here each year.  I headed into the club box, where all of the rich people would sit during these races, as well as their horse races, which occur more frequently.  But, there were no races, for cars or horses, today.

The other thing that differentiates this place from other racinos I have been to is that the casino part of the facility is a full casino, and offers you a casino experience equivalent to visiting a standard casino.  By this I mean that every table game, from the common black jack and craps, to games like pai gow poker, can be found here.  Also, there are no alternate rules that change the experience, such as no alcohol sales or the requirement of a “rake” at the black jack tables.  At Canterbury Park in Minnesota, for example, every $10 black jack bet requires the player to chip in a 50 cent “rake” that the casino just takes.  This makes it nearly impossible to win, and not a great place to gamble.  No such restriction exists at Dover Downs, and I appreciate that.

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After the racino, we head back into Maryland, but not quite back over the Bay Bridge.  This was so that I could take part in an activity that I have always closely associated with Maryland; eating crab.  In fact, I can barely remember the last time I came to Maryland without going out for crab.  There is really nothing like eating seafood when it is fresh, and being that I currently live in land-locked Colorado, it was imperative that I have a seafood meal while in Maryland.  The restaurant I was taken to is called Harris Crab House, and it is right along the shore of the Chesapeake.  There is nothing better than eating crab while staring right at the body of water the crab was just caught from. It is beautiful in two ways.  The views here not only make me think of both the tranquility and adventure that can be achieved on water, but also reassure me of the freshness of my food while serving as a reminder of how connected the culture of this region is to the water.

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Not only did I get to see the sun set over the bay, something that is possible because we are east of the bay, but the stairs of the restaurant also had a marker marking the high point of the water during Hurricane Isabel.

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Apparently hurricanes Irene and Sandy did not bring water as high in the Chesapeake as Isabel, a 2003 North Carolina landfall.  The marking labeled here reminded me how much coastal storms are also a part of life here.  I saw plenty of boats on the water, both out in the open and docked.  Many of these boats would be submerged if this event were to repeat itself.  I also imagine these boats being battered by the wind, in this hurricane, the two more recent ones, as well as the dozen or so “Nor-Easters” that occur in these parts every winter.

Maryland has other parts, including Baltimore city, the D.C. influenced suburbs of Montgomery and Prince George Counties and western Maryland’s mountains.  However, for some reason, when I think of Maryland, and the things Maryland is most known for, I think primarily of the places and I activities I have seen here in this part of the state.  It may be a while before I have another crab meal like the one I had today.  In fact, I was too preoccupied with eating to take any pictures.  So, I am quite glad to have had a good Maryland experience this weekend.

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