Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Light Houses
Every time I think, man it can’t get much better than this, our country just says wait a moment, check this out.
So, it’s with that in mind that we left the Smokies having had a nice visit but batting 0 on our quest to see wildlife, well, in the wild. After a short one night in Greensboro where we hooked up with our friends Val and Gary for dinner, we headed out towards this skinny stretch of islands known as the outer banks.
First let’s set the stage, NC is beautiful and has many diverse landscapes that we enjoyed as we headed east towards the sea. As we drove down US 64 to NC 12 we passed our first bridge which lead to another, and yet another. Then once arriving at Nags Head we took a right and headed down, over yet 3 more bridges, which took us to the Cape Hatteras Outer Banks KOA, our home for the next 6 nights.
This KOA is a very nice resort style RV camp with a monster pool and was right on the beach! A sand dune separates you from the Atlantic Ocean and with the way the winds blow down there I was very glad to have them.
We got there late on Sunday, so we set up camp and decided on Monday we wanted to drive up and check out the horses and I wanted to drive on the beach. So normally we would have researched all this stuff before but the information we had was not very clear. So let me set up this section to help you guys who are going to go down there and may not know this.
Some of the beautiful views from our drives on the beaches
First, you can drive on the beaches of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, but you need to have a permit for the week you're there from the park service site, recreation.gov. No big deal, let me just pop on and purchase it. Um, sold out for this week, what! Luckily, I figured out a way to get an ORV pass and support the Park Service, so I bought the yearly pass. Oh well, I can drive on the beaches now.
Wreck of the Oriental (Know as the Boiler Wreck) off of Pea Island
On our first beach drive we decided to stay close, so we did the National Shoreline on our island. We de aired our tires, something else we learned in our failed attempt the day before, down to 20 psi and ventured onto the sand. I’ll admit I was a little worried at first about getting stuck, but Jeep Jeep did great, and we drove down the sand with the waves crashing right next to us. And really, they were crashing. Remember I told you about the sand dunes? Well turns out they are there for a reason. The wind was fierce and blowing like crazy. You can quickly see why so many ships have wrecked here. I can’t remember the exact number, but I remember it was over 2000 ships that had met their fates, thus earning the area the name the graveyard of the Atlantic. Funny story about that, we went to the Shipwreck Museum down in Cape Hatteras, but unfortunately it was closed for renovations (note to self, call before you do a 1-hour
Cape Hatteras Light Bodie Light Corolla Light
Click to Expand Image
But we still had a great time riding up and down the shore and would do so several times that week. We also got to see three very nice lighthouses. Along with the famous Cape Hatteras light, we also saw the Bodie island light, pronounced body for some reason, and the Corolla light. Having been boaters we have always enjoyed the lights. An interesting story about the Cape Hatteras light was that it was moved to its current location. Here’s a little history for you, this light protects what we know is a very dangerous stretch of coastline where thousands of ships have run aground in storms. The first lighthouse was lit in October of 1803.
Unfortunately, the light did not do a good job of warning the ships as it was too short. A new lighthouse was built and was lit on December 16, 1870. The 1803 lighthouse was demolished in February of 1871. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse received the famous black and white stripe daymark pattern in 1873. The Lighthouse Board assigned each lighthouse a distinctive paint pattern (daymark) and light sequence (nightmark) to allow mariners to recognize it from all others during the day and night as they sailed along the coast.
Due to erosion the light had to be moved. In 1999, after years of study and debate, the Cape Hatteras Light Station was moved to its present location. The lighthouse was then moved 2,900 feet in 23 days and now lies 1,500 feet from the seashore, its original distance from the sea. The Double Keepers’ Quarters, the Principal Keeper’s Quarters, the dwelling cisterns, and the oil house were all relocated with the lighthouse.
Here’s a picture of the light being moved. Picture courtesy of the US Park service.
There’s just something about the ocean. Jan and I have always been drawn to the water; I don’t see that changing.
Alligator River Wildlife Refuge
Click to expand image
Part of this area, just before you take the bridge over to Nag’s Head, is a wonderful refuge that is home to the biggest population of black bears on the east coast. Yeah, BucketQuestRV had found more Bears!! Jan is going to go into more detail on the bears, but this quickly became our go to spot in the evenings, which is when they are most active.
Jan mentioned that we had lost our wildlife Mojo back in the Smokies, well, it came back with a vengeance. We saw a lot of bears and other animals Including what I thought was a dinosaur but was really the biggest beaver I’ve ever seen crossing the road!! Seriously, this thing was huge! Also saw Turtles, Otters, and more. But mostly there were bears!!!
The Wild Horses of Corolla
For those of you who have been following our travels you know that we will drive for hours to go see wild horses. Seeing them in the wild in their family groups and interacting always gives us a thrill, and I love Jan’s photography as we look back on our interactions.
We tried to go see them on our first day there, but we ran into another issue.
In her research Jan saw where the county had a beach parking permit you had to get to park on this beach. But it was confusing. We were not going to park and sit all day, we wanted to drive, take pictures, and pretty much find horses. So, we figured let’s just go.
Well just as you pull onto the beach there is a big sign, you must have a beach parking permit. Crud, I went out to the website and sure enough all parking permits were sold for the time we were there. Now totally confused, we decided not to chance it and went home.
We were not about to come all this way and not see these beautiful animals, so we booked a tour for Thursday evening. We filled our time the next two days visiting lighthouses, driving on the National Seashore, and learning about sea turtles. Oh, and of course going to see the bears!!!
Thursday afternoon comes quickly, and we meet up with the tour and headed out. It was so cool. It was not long before we saw the first of what we believe were about 20 wild horses in the area. These pictures are just a sample of what we saw, and the video that I’ll post soon, I hope will also show you just how great this experience was.
But just as importantly we learned that yes, you need the permit, but only if you’re going to park on the beach and stay for the day. You did not need one to drive on the beach! As we headed home to the RV, we hatched our plan for Friday. We wanted to visit the Wright Brothers Memorial which I’ll cover next and do some self-beach driving and exploring.
Wright Brothers Memorial
Over the course of my career, I have flown millions of miles, including several trips around the globe. In all honesty, you just take it for granted that it’s just part of life. It’s hard to fathom that just over 120 years ago, flying was something only birds could do, and people would never fly.
That’s before two brothers from Dayton Ohio, bicycle shop owners and designers, decided they were going to be the first to accomplish powered flight. They needed a place to test their prototypes that had wind, steady wind, and they decided on a stretch of sand in the sleepy little corner of the outer banks called Kitty Hawk, North Carolina where, after four years of scientific experimentation, they achieved the first successful airplane flights on December 17, 1903.
A coin toss would determine who would have the chance to make history, should they succeed. Though history tells us Orville made the first successful flight on December 17, 1903, Wilbur had won the coin toss on December 14 for who would get to make the first attempt to fly. However, Wilbur's attempt to fly on the 14th was unsuccessful, so when they were ready to try again on December 17, it was Orville's turn.
On December 17, 1903, making two flights each from level ground into a freezing headwind gusting to 27 miles per hour.
The first flight, by Orville at 10:35 am, of 120 feet in 12 seconds, at a speed of only 6.8 miles per hour over the ground, was recorded in a famous photograph shown here.
Photo of first flight
The next two flights covered approximately 175 and 200 feet, by Wilbur and Orville respectively. Their altitude was about 10 feet above the ground. The following is Orville Wright's account of the final flight of the day as quoted in the national archive:
Wilbur started the fourth and last flight at just about 12 o'clock. The first few hundred feet were up and down, as before, but by the time three hundred ft had been covered, the machine was under much better control. The course for the next four or five hundred feet had but little undulation. However, when out about eight hundred feet the machine began pitching again, and, on one of its darts downward, struck the ground. The distance over the ground was measured to be 852 feet; the time of the flight was 59 seconds.
From these humble beginnings man stepped forward into the age of flight, and eventually space. As we travel, you know we always look for wildlife, but we also look for history to better understand how we got to where we are today.
Having taken in the memorial, it was time to tackle the north beach and see if we could find the horses on our own. Once again, I de aired the tires, and with the confidence of driving the other beaches for a few days before, we ventured onto the sand where we spent 3 hours finding the horses on our own. It was a magical end to a great week. We will be back to see the bears and horses, and once again ride on the sands!
Jan’s Take on Things
Wild Horses, Wolfs??, Bears…Oh My
The Outer Banks wasn’t even on our radar until I took a photography class and was told there are wild horses on the beach and one of the largest population of bears on the east coast. I was sold! Once I told Frank about it, he was also on board. That’s what I love about Frank, he is always game for almost anything.
I really didn’t know what to expect but it was so much more than I ever imagined. I love wildlife, nature, being by the water and sunsets. (I would add sunrises to that list, but I never seem to be able to get up early enough to see one.)
Needless to say, the Outer Banks has it all. The RV Park we’re staying at on Rodanthe is awesome, we can walk up a sand dune and be on the Atlantic for the beautiful beaches and sunrises. At night, we just have to cross the street to the Sound to watch the sunset. We are 1.5 hours from the wild horses and 1 hour from the bears. I’m in heaven!
Most people when on vacation, sit back, relax, maybe read a book or sleep on the beach, that’s not us. First thing we do when we get to a place we’ve never been before is go to the visitor center and find out what interesting things are around us. Then we plan our stay. There is so much on the Outer Banks to see and do there’s no way to do it all in 6 days.
Our main goal was wild horses and bears. Once we got here Frank added a few cool things to the list like riding our jeep on the beach (me shelling) and going to the Wright Brothers Museum. Needless to say, there’s no time for books or even a campfire. By the time we got back every night, we were ready to go to bed.
When looking for bears, we got an added bonus, we saw a red wolf (which we hear is very rare). Another photographer was riding by when we were taking pictures and he said he’s been coming here for years, and this was a first for him. (WE GOT OUR MOJO BACK!).
I wrote the above part before our last day. On the last day, we packed it all in. First, we went to see the horses one last time, then went to the bears. While at the wildlife refuge, the fish and wildlife service were having a talk on the red wolves since they are so close to extinction, there are only 11 adults and 5 pups left in the wild. So, they want to educate as many people as possible. Our bubble was burst when we found out they color code the collar’s they put on the wolves. The wolves have orange collars so hunters will know not to shoot them, and coyotes have black collars letting the hunters know they are fair game. Unfortunately, our red wolf had a black collar. Oh well, we still got some good shots of the coyote. (And we still feel we got our MoJo back)
As we’re traveling around our country, we’re making a list of places we want to revisit, this will definitely be one of them.
Outer Banks Video
And with that we say goodbye, for now, to the beautiful Outer Banks. Our next stop is West Virginia and then Canton Ohio.
Please let us know what you think or any suggestions by emailing us.