The Outer Banks of North Carolina, also referred to as OBX, were very surprising. For starters, in a week’s time we encountered many weather changes: windy, warm, cool, calm, super windy, rainy, cloudy, and sunny. Hector bought a stunt kite and embraced the wind.
On some maps of North Carolina you can barely see this string of narrow barrier islands, which lie as far as 30 miles out to sea at points, with the Atlantic on the east and Pamlico Sound on the west. The gulf stream current gets very close to shore and creates a complicated set of tides, land, water and air currents that drive unusual ecosystems.
It’s a very vulnerable location; the bad news, they do get frequent hurricanes, the good news, there is not enough infrastructure on the islands to hold a hurricane on top of them for very long. And a storm surge can go right over the slender islands of OBX. But the frequency of changes in weather result in sands shifting constantly and changing the landscape of the islands. Pretty fascinating.
So we went into a little bit of vacation mode in order to see more of the sights. My favorites: the lighthouses, the Wright Brothers National Memorial, the town of Duck, the town of Ocracoke and of course the beaches.
The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, built in 1870, is the second tallest lighthouse in the world and the largest one in the U.S. What I found most fascinating about this lighthouse is that in 1999, it was moved a half mile inland to protect it from the encroaching Atlantic. Yes, they moved the tallest lighthouse in the U.S.! “The Lighthouse was cut from the original base, hydraulically lifted onto steel beams and traveled along railroad tracks over the course of 23 days. It’s now as far from the ocean as when it was originally constructed.” There is a movie about this incredible feat in their museum. While there, we were not able to climb it, as they were doing some maintenance.
But we did get to see firsthand a little piece of the National Parks’ Junior Ranger program. In this program, kids 5-12 are invited to explore and learn about a park and how they can protect these special places. The kids and their families complete an activity book which allows them see the park at their own pace but also direct them to things of special interest to their age group. When they complete the pages for their age group, they receive a patch or a badge and a certificate for that National Park. We overheard a ranger conduct a “swearing in” of two tiny tots and it was so charming how much energy the ranger put into administering the oath.
The second lighthouse we visited, Bodie Island Lighthouse, was originally built in 1847, but was rebuilt in 1859 because the original had a poor foundation. Thus new lighthouse was then blown up by retreating Confederate troops.
The current lighthouse was completed in 1872, and contains some materials leftover from the construction of the current Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Restoration of the lighthouse was completed this year and the lighthouse was re-opened to the public.
Well, we were on a roll, because this lighthouse only allows people to climb during scheduled times, and the scheduled time they had available didn’t work for us. The interior of this lighthouse is supposed to be particularly striking. Oh, well, we’ll see it next time.
We visited a third lighthouse, the Ocracoke Lighthouse, which we’ll cover in an upcoming post. These are three of four lighthouses located in the Outer Banks. Why so many? Well, this area was called the “Graveyard of the Atlantic”. The combination of complicated tides, shoals etc. made for very treacherous sailing. In fact, there is a museum that contains information and artifacts related to the many shipwrecks that dot this area. This area is also the site of many pirate shenanigans with looting and pillaging and burying of treasure etc. Blackbeard was captured on nearby Ocracoke Island.
Leaving the Outer Banks briefly, we crossed the bridge to the next island and kayaked in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, another beautiful river. When we’d spoken to one of the rangers from the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge on the Outer Banks a few days earlier about this plan, he’d asked us if we wanted to see alligators! I almost laughed! Anyway, there was also a slim possibility of spotting bear on the river, so we were pretty excited, but no luck!
Back on the Outer Banks, we visited the town of Duck on the northern end of the islands. This is a beautiful town that has built a great boardwalk. On the way, we drove through Nags Head, and I found the area around the main drag to be overbuilt with some random architecture. But I’m sure that it has pretty areas as well.
On Nags Head, one of the main piers has been rebuilt multiple times and the most recent pier is a one of a kind educational ocean fishing pier which is operated by the North Carolina Aquariums and offers educational programs meeting facilities, a snack, gift and tackle shops and more. Jennette’s Pier is an enormous concrete structure and provides fishermen/women with nice benches, bait cutting and fish cleaning tables: all spotless. If I fished, I would definitely have spent some time here.
Oh yes and the beaches… throughout the islands, there were many golden, dune-covered beaches. We also saw lots of other piers, some very rustic and several showing past hurricane damage. Definitely not in the Jennette’s Pier category but scenic just the same.