Visiting Block Island
Small but beautiful, Block Island is a major destination during New England’s warmer months of the year. It’s believed that the island was discovered by Europeans who thought it resembled the island of Rhodes in Greece, later naming the entire state Rhode Island. Outside of New England, Block Island isn’t well known. Even though I had been to Rhode Island on previous trips, I didn’t know Block Island even existed until I later discovered it online. The majority of visitors to Block Island will take a short ferry ride from the mainland. I decided to take a flight, simply because I wanted to see what the island looked like from above. These are two photos I took right before we landed. In the photo above you can see a large inlet of water called the Salt Pond. Below shows what much of the island looks like, green and sparsely populated.
I’m definitely glad I took the flight into Block Island, but the ferry would probably have been a fun experience as well. The photo above shows one of the massive ferries pulling into the island’s main harbor. In the photo below is the National Hotel, the largest hotel on the island and one of the nicest places to stay.
Since Rhode Island is so far north, I always felt like it’d be too cold to do any of the normal beach activities. The water is definitely on the colder side, but Block Island still has everything you’d expect from a beach destination. Jet skis, volleyball, swimming, sailing, building sand castles, or just soaking up the sun.
While I biked around the island I actually felt pretty hot at times, but for me personally the water was too cold to swim. A handful of people did jump in, but for the most part it was shore side activities. Notice that these guys with the jet skis have to wear wet-suits during August!
Somehow I had missed photographing the most lively part of the island which was New Shoreham. In another area, I at least caught some point and shoot shots of this music festival. I’m not sure if this was a special event or a place where they hold live music every weekend, but they seemed to have attracted a reasonable crowd.
The live music came with lots of food, and it seemed mandatory that everyone had to order a giant lobster along with a giant cob of corn.
I had rented a bike in New Shoreham and seriously rode across the entire island. I wanted to be able to say that there are more bikes than cars here, but sadly that is not the case. Regardless though, getting around by bike is a popular way to get around. Mostly the island is flat and easy riding, but a few places have steep hills and warning signs for blind spots.
Maybe another option would be getting around by small boats. Block Island also has plenty of small inlets and channels that seem to crisscross the entire island. I wouldn’t be surprised if you could get to most points of interest in a kayak.
While biking around the island, I don’t think I saw a single generic building here. All the houses, inns, and restaurants are all designed with typical New England architecture. The two photos above and below show an inn and a restaurant.
In these two photos above and below you can see two examples of Block Island homes. The great thing about Block Island is there are many small houses that you can rent out in the middle of nowhere. You’ll practically have your own private beach and are just a bike ride away from going out to a nice restaurant if you choose to!
Something else I couldn’t help but notice while on my bike were the occasional cemeteries I’d pass by. Some of these date back hundreds of years before the United States was a country. To my knowledge, the oldest grave dates back from a settler who was born in England in the early 1600’s and passed away here in 1683. I didn’t read all the dates at this cemetery, but it seemed to be a more recent one with most of the dates from the early 19th century.
Block Island is home to two historic lighthouses on opposite sides of the island. You might not think it, but the waters here can actually be pretty dangerous for ships. There are literally hundreds of shipwrecks that have occurred here, and so these lighthouses were essential for sailors. The lighthouse photographed above is known as the Southeast Lighthouse and is very close to the Mohegan Bluffs which is mentioned further below. Because of the bluffs that continue to erode, the lighthouse actually had to be moved a few hundred feet back from its original location!
This photo shows the North Lighthouse, which is built at the very northern tip of the island. The Southeast Lighthouse offers a $10 tour that takes you into the light tower, while the North Lighthouse is a museum and only costs you three bucks.
To me the most interesting part of the museum was learning about all the shipwrecks here. It was so bad that there was once even a dedicated rescue team that lived on Block Island. The photo above shows one of the rescue teams and some of their rescue gear. When a ship was stranded, they would sail out in a storm, fire a harpoon over the ship’s bow, and tow them back to safety!
These last two photos from the museum show one of the old sailing ships in Block Island above, with an other ship’s log below. The 19th century log was collected after the ship had wrecked. It had traveled all the way from Montevideo, Uruguay only to become a victim to Block Island.
Just a short walk from the North Lighthouse is the northern most point of the island. You’ll have to briefly walk through some coastal sand dunes and pass the ‘Shack’ below. No explanation for the shack, I assume someone built it with drift wood for fun!
After the short walk from the lighthouse you’ll see the tip of the island photographed above. You can actually watch the waves coming from both the west and east side of the island collide together.
The photo of the actual tip looks a bit deceptive. It looks a bit barren, but just over the first coastal sand dune you’ll find another sea of grass.
Normally when I hike along beaches I find some washed up sea life like the crab here. This is more common than not, but this weird spiky fish tail below was definitely different. I found him at the northern tip of the island along with a few other strange things. I suppose the way the currents collide here the area acts as a sort of trap. The body of the spiky tail animal was pretty decomposed, so that wasn’t worth photographing. It looked like it probably belonged to some type of giant sucker fish!
On the other side of the island, I did a short hike on this trail that led to the coast. There was a place to leave your bike at the trail head so luckily I didn’t have to drag it down the steep hills.
There weren’t many trees along the trail, but the vegetation was so thick that I couldn’t see but a meter past the trail. Along the hike, I passed by lots of flowers, insects, and at one point I could even smell honey suckles! About halfway down I got this great view of the ocean.
When I first went down the hiking trial, there seemed to be a lot of people coming up from the shore. I expected the beach area to have a lot of people, but instead I nearly had the whole place to myself. This area is known as Mohegan Bluffs which extend for several miles along Block Island’s southwestern coast.
I walked along the shore for a while in both directions from the trailhead. Going east took me to some sandy beaches that had lots of sunbathers. Going west was more rocky with all kinds of beautiful water polished stones. Some were more like giant boulders while others were small and colorful.
The bluffs sometimes get as high as 150 feet (46 meters) and make some dramatic scenery. The coastline is actually slowly eroding as the ocean waves wash out terrain. In the past century, the bluffs have receded over a 100 feet (30 meters) and as I mentioned earlier the lighthouse even had to be relocated!
This beautiful coast won’t last forever, but while it does I’d say it’s definitely the most scenic place on the island, and maybe even the entire state! As someone who grew up in Virginia, I’m used to flat coastal areas and having to travel to places like California or Oregon for some more interesting terrain. It’s definitely hard to imagine that this place is on the east coast!
Block Island so far has been a major highland to New England for me. Most of my trips to this region have involved suffering in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, but here I was able to relax and not worry about things like frost bite and white outs. My mini adventure here had a perfect ending. I boarded the tiny plane to find out that I was the sole passenger on the flight back to the mainland. The sun was setting and the skies were absolutely beautiful. It was too loud in the prop plane to talk to the pilot, but he motioned to me that he’d do a flyby so I could see the entire island on my way home.