Monday, June 30, 2014

Exploring Connecticut: Rocky Neck State Park

Aaron and I have agreed that we always need to live on the coast. Even though we’re now about forty-five minutes away from the beach, it does my heart good to know that a short drive can still bring us to the ocean. Ultimately we’d live right on the ocean, but we’ll be content with a coastal state.

There’s something magical about the beach; spending time by the waves is always a soul-cleansing experience for me. My thoughts untangle and my mind opens to the vastness of a world so much larger than me. I love the sun and the heat and the sand and the sound of the waves. In college, I felt like I had arrived when I could track sand all around my dorm room after a few hours at Butterfly Beach. I prided myself on the everlasting presence of sand in the car in Santa Barbara.

Well, our Subaru didn't see sand until this past weekend, but at last, we were able to journey to the beach! On Sunday morning, we woke up, packed a bag of snacks and a backpack of books, and hopped in the car. We drove for about fifty minutes until we arrived at Rocky Neck State Park in Niantic, Connecticut.

Visitors can also go hiking at Rocky Neck, and can camp there. We spent all our time being lazy beached whales, but the surrounding area did look quite beautiful.

Everyone warned me that East Coast beaches are different from West Coast beaches, but I was pleasantly surprised by Rocky Neck. It was very sandy (a high compliment in my book), and although the waves were teeny tiny, the water was warm and I enjoyed wading far out from the shore; the water wasn't very deep, especially as the tide went out.

There were a few noteworthy differences, however. We had to pay thirteen dollars to park. True, people were supposed to pay to park at East Beach back in Santa Barbara, but that was a super touristy beach, and we only went there if we had walked from State Street. The beaches closer to our house were all free, and if they had started charging, we would have just parked in nearby neighborhoods. The entrance to Rocky Neck was not close to any neighborhoods (although we saw some once we walked further along the beach), and after paying at the booth, we drove for probably a mile before we reached the parking lot.

Second, the beach was absolutely packed. There were so many people! It reminded me of Lake Tahoe on the Fourth of July. There, limited personal space receives new definition, as hundreds of people pack in a tiny space to watch the fireworks. Rocky Neck wasn't quite as packed, but it was still far more crowded than the beaches we frequented in California, which were mainly local beaches off the beaten tourist path.

Third, the wildlife was different. This was a fun culture shock; people were actively hunting for crabs! Most families had a net to use! I even saw a few crabs. There were also several tiny schools of fish that I saw while I was wading, and unfortunately, I have no idea what kind of fish they were. The plants were different too; the park was packed with trees until a grassy plain brought us to a bridge, beyond which we saw the sand for the first time. We didn't see the sand until we were standing on it.

Even with such slight beach culture shock, we had an absolutely lovely time. We managed to find a corner of the beach that wasn't quite as crowded, and spent the next few hours unknowingly working on some sunburns (we did apply sunscreen, but not enough!), eating chips, salsa, and apricots, and finishing the books we brought. Aaron is currently blazing through some Terry Pratchett novels, and I finished Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck. It felt so healthy to soak up the sun after logging so many hours indoors over the winter. I felt physically and mentally free. Lying in the sun felt so decadent!

Overall, we really enjoyed our beach day! We always did our best to never take the beach for granted in Santa Barbara, but there was a small part of us that definitely did. Beach trips are more rare now, and all the more wonderful when they happen. I’m looking forward to experiencing more Connecticut beaches, with perhaps some Rhode Island and Massachusetts beaches thrown in the mix!

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