Outer Banks

Picture of jockey_ridge The Outer Banks is a commonly used term to describe a series of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina (and technically Virginia as well). The exact borders of the Outer Banks seems to depend on who you might be talking to. The center of the area is Roanoke Island, site of the first English colony in North America. The Roanoke colony later disappeared without a trace, although you can watch a dramatized version of it all on Roanoke Island today. Roanoke Island connects the oceanfront town of Nags Head to the mainland of North Carolina. Nags Head, Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills run together into a sort of mini-urban sprawl along the coast. In this area you'll find this location, at Jockey Ridge State Park.
Picture of sand_trout Jockey Ridge features some of the largest dunes on the east coast of the United States. As a result it also features one of the largest hang-gliding schools on the east coast of the United States. More impressive than the height of the dunes (around 80ft/25m) is the expansive of sand with no vegetation. This park is on the sound side of the island (aka not the ocean side). Trout, who was privileged enough to join us on this trip is a sand connisseur and tells us this is some of the finest sand on the Atlantic coast.
Picture of wb_memorial Kitty Hawk is best known as the birthplace of aviation. Ignoring for the moment the Montgolfier Brothers and earlier attempts, it is the site of the first successful flight by Orville and Wilbur Wright. This is the hill they used as a take-off location (presumably before someone stuck a granite monument on it). Some nearby markers designate the spot where each of their first three flights landed.
Picture of wb_monument In 1903, the Wright Brothers brought their craft here from Dayton, Ohio. The wings were wrapped in muslin bought from a company that made women's undergarments. It's unclear if they added "airplanes" to their resume after the flight. A coin toss victory for Wilbur led to the first attempt and top billing on this monument. The flight was a failure and three days later Orville actually piloted the "first manned sustained powered flight". He landed 120 feet (37m) away. Most likely his luggage ended up in Detroit.
Picture of kittyhawk The monument does provide a very nice view of the surrounding area. Both the ocean (in the background here) and the sound can be easily seen. There are not many high-rise hotels like a lot of the US Atlantic beach areas feature. Instead three story homes, often with decks on the roof, populate the area. The dunes protecting the beach (or what is left of the beach) rise high enough to force all the homes to be that tall if they want a view of the ocean.
Picture of heads It was a hot day and apparently the sun got to us before we took this picture. This is a profile of (from left to right), Orville, Wilbur, Melanie and Trout.
Picture of corolla North of the Kitty Hawk area a long thin peninsula juts out towards the Virginia border. This features the towns of Duck, Corolla and a few others. This area is mostly expensive vacation homes. Near the northern end of the road is the Currituck Lighthouse, seen here. For a mere $6 you can climb to the top. We could think of better things to do with $12.
Picture of lighthouse2 South of the Kitty Hawk area is Cape Hatteras National Seashore. This is the vast expanse of wind-swept dunes that one expects (or at least we expected) from the Outer Banks. There are sporadic towns set amongst the protected areas. Oddly enough, while you cannot drive on the beaches in the towns during the summer months, you can drive on the beaches in Pea Island Wildlife Reserve and Cape Hatteras Seashore. The beaches themselves are nice, but not as deserted as you might expect, especially given the fact that anyone with four-wheel drive can come drive by and set up a few fishing rods. This is the most famous lighthouse in the Outer Banks, and also the tallest on the east coast of the US. Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was moved nearly a quarter of a mile (0.4km) in 1999 due to beach erosion which had left it stranded in the ocean. Its original location at the end of the 19th century was also about this far inland, showing just how fast the outer banks are destroyed and re-created by the ocean. They are of course nothing more than extra-large sandbars.
Picture of rodanthe Towns like Rodanthe are built right up to the edge of the dunes, amplifying the erosion problems that the hurricane-prone area has. There are select areas along Cape Hatteras for parking and driving onto the beach. Naturally, quite a few people ignore these and park along the main road (the only road really), walking across the dunes to get to the beach. For what it's worth we saw no enforcement whatsoever that would actually encourage people to park where they're supposed to. We always find this sort of behavior to be the most discouraging aspect of any visit to a National Park.
Picture of engelhard On our way back, we followed the rarely-used road that parallels the Outer Banks along the mainland of North Carolina. This area, which is not part of a wilderness reserve, is far more wilderness than some of the areas which are. Except for the tiny fishing village of Stumpy Point there are no inhabited areas until the town of Engelhard (shown here). The little fishing towns that do exist invariably have a processing center for the shrimp, crabs and mussels farmed in the nearby waters.

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