Getting off the beaten track Ride to Ocean City offers many interesting side trips

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The afternoon is hot and the traffic reports tell you the backup is seven miles long at the Bay Bridge. So, what do you do? Get in line and sit for hours in the heat?

An alternative is to get off the well-traveled roads to the ocean beaches and discover a little bit of Delmarva. Not far off the three main routes to the beaches, there are car ferries and river boats that take you out on Delmarva waters, museums packed " with history and parks and wildlife sanctuaries that let you experience nature close up.

Most beach-goers take the same old route to the ocean, weekend after weekend, never knowing that just a few minutes off the highway they can still have some afternoon fun when rain chases them home early or a back-up or accident stalls them on the road.

U.S. 50, the most popular road to Ocean City, offers quite a few enticing side trips.

Cross the Bay Bridge and take the first exit onto Route 8 north and you land in Stevensville, a little country town that got a much needed face lift a few years ago. Today, Stevensville has antique shops and an authentic country store, an art gallery that shows and sells the works of Eastern Shore artists and the Cray House, a post and plank house built in the early 18th century and preserved as an example of the common man's home of that era.

Further down U.S. 50 at Wye Mills, (turn south on Route 213), and you'll find the same Wye Grist Mill that helped feed Gen. Washington's troops at Valley Forge grinding wheat again for visitors. The 200-year-old mill is just a short distance down the road from the largest white oak tree in America, the Wye Oak, whose huge canopy shades the road and is well worth the side trip just to stare at for a few minutes.

If you have an extra two hours and yearn for the slow pace of days gone by, then get off U.S. 50 at Easton and head to Oxford where the oldest privately-owned ferry, operating without a cable, crosses the Tred Avon River, as it has since its establishment in 1760.

For a reasonable fee, the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry carries cars, bikers and people across the river, from dawn to dusk.

Less known are the two free car ferries that cross the Wicomico River on cables below Salisbury. You can make a round trip by taking Route 529 across Upper Ferry, then heading south to Whitehaven Ferry and crossing the river again by ferry.

For a better look at the Wicomico River, and a little lunch or dinner, try the Maryland Lady, a reproduction paddle-wheel boat that docks south of U.S. 50 on the Wicomico River in Salisbury. The boat makes scheduled cruises up and down the river.

If the kids are restless, the Salisbury Zoo, considered one of the finest small zoos in the country, and the city's adjoining creek-side park is a nice place to picnic, pet the llamas and pose with the wild birds. It's one block off U.S. 50 on Snow Hill Road.

Art lovers will appreciate the North American Wildfowl Art Museum and the Ward Foundation, housed in Holloway Hall at the Salisbury State University on Camden Avenue, south of U.S. 50 in Salisbury. The museum has one of America's finest collections of antique decoys, arranged chronologically so visitors can explore the development of this unique American art form.

And if you're looking for a completely different experience on the Shore, there's Furnace Town, south of Salisbury on Millville Road, off Route 12. Furnace Town is an authentic 19th century iron-manufacturing town, the only bog ore furnace of its kind on the shore. The huge old furnace has been preserved and a 19th century town has been reconstructed so visitors walking around the wooded site can get a feeling for what life was like in a furnace town 100 or more years ago.

In nearby Snow Hill, Tillie the Tug offers cruises up and down the Pocomoke, one of Maryland's most scenic rivers.

Finally, antique lovers will enjoy browsing the shops in Berlin, just 5 miles west of Ocean City.

Ocean-goers who take Route 404 through Caroline County to the beach can chose their week's vegetables from a number of roadside stands that have cropped up like wildflowers along this beach route. You know the tomatoes, sweet corn and cantaloupes are fresh picked because the fields around the stands are usually full of vegetables.

Known as the Green County, Caroline has several parks that let you enjoy nature. Martinak State Park, south of Denton off Route 404 on Deep Shore Road, has a beautiful oak and pine forest overlooking the Choptank River. This is a good place to picnic and take a quiet walk on the way home after a noisy stay in Ocean City.

Likewise, Tuckahoe State Park, a few miles west of Route 404 near Queen Anne, has 3,400 acres of open space, including a lake and miles of wild creek, best explored in a canoe.

Tuckahoe also has the Adkins Arboretum, a 500-acre display of all the trees, plants and shrubs indigenous to Maryland.

Most ocean-bound travelers who use Route 404 cross over Route 13 and continue east to Route 113. But if you detour down the peninsula on Route 13 a few miles, you can cross the Nanticoke River on the cable-run car ferry at Woodland. The ferry is free and takes only a few minutes, but offers a beautiful view of the undeveloped upper reaches of this narrow, deep river, which originates at the Chesapeake Bay.

The ferry began operation in 1793, making it one of the oldest ferries still in operation in the country. To reach the ferry, turn off Route 13 at Seaford, taking Route 20 to Reliance, then head southeast on Route 577.

Ocean-bound vacationers who live in the counties north of Baltimore and take the northern route to the beach across the C & D Canal should stop in Chesapeake City and see just how this canal was built and operated in the 19th century.

The C & D Canal Museum is on Route 213 in South Chesapeake City. After visiting the museum, take a few minutes to browse through the town shops and eat in a canal-front restaurant, where you can watch the ships and tugboats pass by your window.

To get back on the road to Ocean City, take Route 286 through some pretty horse country, to Route 301 which carries you back to Route 13.

There are a number of museums worth exploring along this highway, including the State Museum Complex in Dover at 316 South Governors Ave., and the Johnson Memorial Building, a museum in Dover that celebrates the man who invented the phonograph.

Most of these little detours don't take much time, but they give ocean-goers a change from the sun and surf and a better appreciation of Delmarva, which really has quite a bit of history, adventure and pretty countryside tucked in between the twin spans on the Bay Bridges and the ocean coast.

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