Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreation Area (October 2018)

Each year, we try to gather a group of friends and/or family and head down to the Outer Banks for some fun, fellowship and food. Usually, everyone who comes has a 4wd or AWD vehicle so that our fun includes some time riding the beaches of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and north to the Currituck County beaches beyond Corolla. Our trip has expanded to five nights to take advantage of an off-season special rate at the Cape Pines Motel in Buxton.

This year, thanks to an error in judgment, my truck was disabled and in the shop so all the vehicles were AWD Subarus!

Friend Bruce (North Carolina) and his friend were driving his 2017 Outback, Neighbor Paul (Maryland) and his friend were driving his 2016 Forester and Betty and I were in her 2017 Impreza sedan. It should be noted that Betty made it quite clear that her Impreza would NOT be going on the beach, a wise call. The Outback and Forester have the X-mode for better off highway traction plus the Impreza just does not have the ground clearance for when the sand gets soft and deep.

We left home around 9:00 Wednesday morning and the traffic was surprisingly light with Paul and Carol following. We stopped, as usual, at the Waffle House in Ruther Glen, VA for breakfast. As we neared the 295 turnoff around Richmond, Paul followed the wrong red car off the exit ramp. We recovered and were back together by the time we got to I-64. A minor chuckle moment with no real consequences.

The drive across the Monitor-Merrimac Bridge tunnel (I-664) was bright and sunny making for great views of the Hampton Roads harbor and the convergence of the James, Elizabeth and Nansemond Rivers. The bridge tunnel is named for the first ironclad ships which fought nearby in the Battle of Hampton Roads in 1862 as the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia (which had been rebuilt from the wreckage of the Merrimac). Local lore had once said that the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, Hampton Roads Tunnel and Monitor-Merrimac Bridge Tunnel were built as tunnels so that an attack on the bridges would be unable to bottle up the significant Navy Fleet at Norfolk in port. Considering the size of the fleet (both numbers and individual ship size), drawbridges or very tall bridges would be disruptive to any hopes of road traffic or a security threat to the ships themselves as they passed under.

We continued on past Suffolk, Portsmouth and Chesapeake reaching our next scheduled stop at the Border Station. Border Station is located on the state border between VA and NC, taking advantage of tobacco sales taxes in NC and lottery ticket sales in both states. Its also a good stop for reasonably priced gas and to stretch our legs.

We crossed over the Currituck Sound on the Wright Memorial Bridge into Kitty Hawk blending with the Wednesday afternoon traffic rush. Some sights to see along the way, including the Wright Brothers Memorial statue marking the site of their 1903 flight, the old Putt-putt Golf castle poking its head up at Jockey Ridge, Bodie Island Light and arriving at the Oregon Inlet Bridge where the new bridge (to open in January 2019) looked substantially complete although some work still remained. This weekend would be our last time crossing the old 1963 bridge which is beyond its 30 year expected lifespan but survived throughout the numerous court challenges to its replacement.

Just south of the Oregon Inlet Bridge is the Oregon Inlet Lifesaving Station at the north end of Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, a portion of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Recreation Area. We continued south through the tri-villages of Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo on Rt. 12 which follows the barrier island of Hatteras and eventually transits to Ocracoke via the ferry. Between the villages, low dunes lie to the east separating us from the ocean and scrub forests lie to the west separating us from the sound. DSCF7636We pass Canadian Hole, so named for the Canadians who trek down for a long weekend kite-surfing and parasailing. We finally arrive in Buxton around 5:00 and find our accommodations at my favorite local motel, Cape Pines. Shortly after getting checked in and settled, we hear from Bruce who has arrived with his guest at the rental house in Frisco, just a bit further south on the island and located right on the sound.

After we got those logistics, we met at the Diamond Shoals Restaurant in Buxton for our first get-together with introductions and food sampling. Based on the amounts eaten, sampling is probably not the right word but real fresh local seafood is a treat too long withheld. While not exactly a foodie roadtrip, a big part of our adventure is the consumption of much food and I’ll try to include the names of the restaurants.

After a hearty meal and a couple of drinks, we all headed back to our respective lodgings with plans to meet at Diamond Shoals for breakfast before heading towards Ocracoke for the day. CHNS requires purchase of vehicle passes to drive on the beach which all had purchased before arrival.

The trip to Ocracoke requires a ride on the free ferry from Hatteras although a passenger-only pay ferry is due to come online soon. This time of year, the ferry leaves each half-hour for the 75 minute ride to the northeast ferry terminal on Ocracoke Island. Depending on volume, you may have to wait for a while. DSCF7515DSCF7516This particular Thursday morning saw us waiting for the second ferry to leave but the weather and the company were pretty nice for conversation while we waited. Part of the abnormally high traffic for that time of day and year is related to the Blackbeard Pirate Jamboree in Ocracoke that coming weekend.

DSCF7520The ferry crew directs you on based on their optimal loading so we got split with Paul to port and Bruce to starboard. After the ferry gets moving, you can wander around and up to the passenger lounge for a better view. DSCF7522 Every time we looked around, Bruce was still sitting in his car talking (Surprise! Not really.) We enjoyed the ride and off-loaded in Ocracoke (to wait for a pilot car to take us through the hurricane dune and road reconstruction zone). But no Bruce? There’s nowhere to get off, where is he? In a few minutes, the crew walks over to his car and lifts the hood and he drives out to meet us. Turns out he was in the car talking because he’d gotten boxed in too tightly to get out of the car and so left the key on to listen to the radio – which also left his auto headlights on and pulled his battery down just a bit too much to restart. He’s always having adventures of some sort!DSCF7534

Reunited, we headed southwest for lunch to Howard’s Pub, just past the airstrip. Howard’s is another favorite must-stop spot when visiting Ocracoke. In addition to great food and a wide beer selection, they have a second level open air deck to view the lower end of the island. The ladies went up to see the view while the guys tended to airing down and other things with the vehicles.DSCF7541

After lunch, we turned across Hwy 12 to Ramp 72 to ride out to Southpoint, one of our favorite spots on the island. Southpoint Road is just under 2 miles of mostly graded dirt and sand which leads to the beach. An off-road permit is required for this area leading down to the beach. At the end of the Southpoint Road, you pass the dunes and the vista opens to the beach and the ocean. Breathtaking! You turn right towards the point and drive past the fishermen and beachgoers through soft sand and hard pack. The soft sand here is why the Impreza stayed at the motel.DSCF7543

But the view! We drove to the southern-most part of the point and parked. The view included boats coming and going, Portsmouth Island and the taller buildings in the village, fishermen, pelicans and other sea birds. Carol had never been to the Outer Banks and spent some of her time collecting shells which were plentiful following the recent storms. One of the boats we saw going by was a US Army Corps of Engineers Dredge. DSCF7544DSCF7545DSCF7553DSCF7559DSCF7567DSCF7572DSCF7582After a couple of hours just enjoying ourselves in the sunshine and breezes, we loaded back up with plans to cross back to Hatteras. Communications (and Bruce’s Adventurous streak?) led to the Forester heading into town while Bruce’s Outback headed towards the ferry. Since we were in town, we passed some of the Pirate Festival folk who remained in character, questioning what manner of witchcraft Carol was using in that (iPhone-shaped) box she kept pointing at them. We also swung by the Ocracoke Light which we had seen from the point.DSCF7585DSCF7594

We ended up on two different ferries and decided to just meet up in the morning. Paul, Carol, Betty and I decided it was a good night to dine at the Sandbar and Grille in Buxton. They went for the prime rib (over a pound!) split between the two of them. As we neared the end of the season, the beer selection was somewhat limited from their usual variety but it was more than adequate.

Friday’s forecast had been for rain since before we left home and was getting worse every time it was refreshed. We started with breakfast at the Captain’s Table in Buxton. A favorite dinner spot but first time we had tried them for breakfast. Not bad, just not memorable. We’ll stick to going there for dinner. The predicted rain had not yet started so we detoured by Flambeau Road to get a quick look at the shipwreck there. As sometimes happens, the sand had pretty much covered the entire thing and only one spike showing through a couple of inches.DSCF7596DSCF7597DSCF7598

We had decided this would be a good day to visit the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, an eclectic collection chronicling the reign of Blackbeard, original settlement of the area, the involvement in early European settlement of North America, and participation in the War of 1812, the Civil War, and the two World Wars. The area has a history of sportfishing, commercial fishing, and hunting going back 100 years and more. This is in addition to the long history as Graveyard of the Atlantic for the many shipwrecks around the Diamond Shoals which stretch out into the Gulf Stream. DSCF7601

As you walk in the front door, the overwhelming display is a partial Fresnel lens from the Cape Hatteras light. During the Civil War, the light was disassembled and hidden in various places around the island to prevent its capture by invading troops.

Other displays include several canvasback duck decoys. Wood was scarce on the islands so the locals developed a method of building hunting decoys using recycled canvas. While we were there, an artisan craftsman was working on making one and we got to watch him for a bit.

German U-Boat activity is well-presented in one display as are numerous bits of equipment and discussion of various diving systems and a display on the lighthouses.DSCF7600

The local sportfishing industry is presented with several record catches and a bit of the history on the developing industry.

Admission to the museum is by donation ($5 is suggested) and includes a gift shop. Also at the information desk that day was Mary Ellen Riddle, the Museum’s Education Curator and Volunteer Coordinator who answered some questions about a particular shipwreck we had spotted. She also has a book on that subject, Outer Banks Shipwreck: Graveyard of the Atlantic. Signed copies were available in the gift shop.

We were all invited to the beach house for dinner that night, provided we helped prepare so the remainder of the day was spent shopping and prepping under the watchful of one of the Carols. Delicious salad, spaghetti with a choice of meat sauce or a vegetarian sauce with garlic bread, Key Lime pie and a selection of wines severely blunted the effects of the cold rain blowing outside the windows. We were joined at dinner by friends, Richard and Becky, she’s a local wildlife rehabilitator and he is involved with the local rescue squad’s communications systems.DSCF7603

The wind-whipped rain did make the drive back to our motel exciting though.

Saturday morning dawned dry but still cloudy, a fine day for touring by car. Bruce and friend decided to spend their time clearing out the beach house while the rest of us decided to take the tour option.

We started out at the Cape Hatteras Light, Cape Point and the old Ligthouse beach. DSCF7607DSCF7609DSCF7611DSCF7613DSCF7614

Next, we headed back by the museum and went out Ramp 55 towards the point. We looked for the Ramp 55 wreck (several theories but no conclusive decision on what it was or when it wrecked) which is sometimes visible in the narrow beach between the dunes and the ocean. DSCF7624 We managed to find it back behind the first row of dunes, not sure whether the dunes had moved or if it had. In any event, it was very much exposed and visible. DSCF7626We got out and walked around and took pictures and more pictures. It was exciting for us, with the part we’d asked Riddle about clearly evident. DSCF7627DSCF7630DSCF7631

Back in the car we cut back to the pole road which follows the powerline poles leading to Ocracoke off the end of the island. We wound up at the tip of the island and noted the road ended sooner compared to previous years (as did the island) with less shallow sandbar extending into the inlet.

We turned north and drove back up to the Canadian Hole to watch the kite-surfing for a while. As we watched them setting up, we discovered that the kites’ frames are blown up like a balloon or inner tube. They stiffen the frames by increasing the pressure. So we learned something as well as being entertained for a bit.DSCF7634DSCF7635DSCF7636DSCF7637DSCF7645

Moving further north, we hit the oceanside beach and rode to the visible part of the wreck of the Pocoantas just offshore. The Pocohontas was a Federal ship involved in the transport of horses for the army fighting the Civil War. Reports vary whether she carried 90 or 110 horses belonging to the Rhode Island Reserves. The Pocohontas was in poor repair and had been battered by the rough seas. In danger of foundering, the captain and crew deliberately beached the wounded vessel after having jettisoned many of the horses at sea. Twenty-four of the horses survived the trip ashore and arrived at Hatteras Inlet the following day with five of the crew. Still visible today is part of the metal supporting structure for the side wheel above the water. The ship is also known as the Richmond.DSCF7653

We traveled further north looking for signs of the G.A. Kohler which is sometimes visible above the surfline. The Kohler went aground in a storm in 1933. She was beached above the normal high tide line where she sat for 10 years. The Kohler was a popular gathering spot for the locals, hosting parties and dances on her decks. In the 1940s, the Kohler was burned to enable salvaging the metal for the war effort. The lowest parts of the ship are sometimes exposed but nothing to be seen today.

We traveled back to Hwy 12 and continued north through the Pea Island Refuge and over the Bonner Bridge and Oregon Inlet to Ramp 4. The area at Ramp 4 is the northern side of the Oregon Inlet channel and is popular with fisherman and beachgoers coming from outside the National Seashore. DSCF7658DSCF7659DSCF7661DSCF7674This particular day, there were several fishermen but the area was not crowded at all. We rode around to a spot almost under the double bridges, the new and the old Bonner Bridge. After some time there, it was time to head south for dinner and back to the motel for the night.

On Sunday after breakfast at Diamond Shoals in Buxton, we made our way north to the Bodie Island Light next to Oregon Inlet. Although the light was not open for climbing this late in the year, the bright sunshine made for some excellent views.DSCF7678

Next we are headed far north to the beach at Carova. We stopped at Uncle Ike’s for lunch and then onto the beaches of Currituck.

These beaches are not part of the National Seashore. A separate parking pass is required (from Currituck County) to ride these beaches during the summer season but we were late in the year for that. The pass is a new requirement (2018) and is supposed to account for the additional costs to patrol the area and cut down on some of the traffic during summer season. The pass system fees have ontributed to a convenient (and effective) airing station at the old Corolla site next to Currituck Light. (In the past, you either brought your own and risked feeding quarters into ineffective gas station filling machines.) The new restrictions also incude signs that Four Wheel Drive is required as is airing down tires (as opposed to recommended in the National Seashore).

In this area, the beach is the main (only) access road to the houses north of where the pavement ends. In the 1960s, the development was laid out to eventually connect to Sandbridge VA via a paved road along the coast which never materialized. The road would have needed to go through the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Today, a permanent fence line runs along the boundary of the NWR into the ocean to ensure that vehicles and horses do not pass between the two areas.

Oh, did I forget to explain the horses? Historically, the horses likely came to the Outer Banks as shipwreck survivors or as freight to help the Europeans colonize the Atlantic Seaboard. They are feral now after generations and limited to the 1800 acres between the fences at Corolla and at the NC/VA stateline. They are protected by law and supported by the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, a non-profit. Protections for the horses include legal minimum distances (sound like a restraining order?) and prohibitions on feeding. While horses may like people food, it doesn’t like them. There are also commercial tours to see the horses running from Corolla.

The beach runs from the end of the pavement for around 10 miles. Compared to past years, the beach was narrower between the dunes and oceans and the houses were closer to the water. DSCF7683DSCF7690 DSCF7686We eventually worked our way up to the stateline fence where we got out and stretched and looked around.DSCF7689 We hadn’t seen any horses yet, not unusual for the cooler weather but we did see something we’d not seen before. Coming south along the water from the direction of Sandbridge VA were 3 bicycles! They stopped just north of the fence and the lead rider, a young man, walked through the fence and said in a heavily accented voice. “Can I ask question? Are we in North Carolina?”

We assured him he was in North Carolina as soon as he had come through the gate. The young man was with his family, a boy about 9-10, a girl around 5-6 who had been on the bike with the man, and a woman. It turns out they had ridden down from where they left their car in Sandbridge, a distance of 10-11 miles. The little girl pointed out the “crab hole” to us in her accented second-language English.

The man asked about the trail and looked as to whether it would be an easier route back north but decided the beach, while softer, was flatter and probably shorter. The man asked about a nearby restaurant where they could feed the kids but we informed him the next town was Corolla, about the same distance as returning to Sandbridge. We didn’t have anything to share but I was concerned about their ability to make it before dark so gave them a pocket LED flashlight. The little girl offered me a potato chip in return, which I accepted. I asked if I could take a picture of them and they were a bit reluctant, asking why and such but consented. I debated sharing the picture here with their faces blurred but decided it was more in keeping with their wishes to just save it for my personal collection.

After wishing the biking family well on their travels, we headed off the beach into the houses to see if we could show Carol some horses. They wander about the houses and can often be found near the Carova Beach Townhall and Fire Department building. We passed the firehouse and no horses. DSCF7694 (2)Just beyond that though we hit pay dirt. Well, we only found two but it was enough to say we had found them.DSCF7695 (2)

We headed back out to the beach and south. Along the way, we passed the stumps of the old maritime forest. The barrier islands are constantly moving. Some years ago the sand drifted over the forest and killed the trees. As the island continues moving, it exposed the stumps of the old forest on the beach.DSCF7696

DSCF7698We connected again with the pavement and made our way to the Historic Corolla Village to air up and decided to visit the open Currituck Light. Not enough time to climb before closing but Carol and Paul did go inside and look at the cast iron stairway and some of the fixtures.DSCF7703 DSCF7707We also walked around the lake and checked out the Whalehead Club from the water.DSCF7704

Traveling south into the National Seashore and through the underbrush at dusk, the local deer population was active with several sightings along the way darting back and forth. We managed to avoid any direct contact and stopped for dinner at Oceano’s Bistro in Avon before returning to the Cape Pines in Buxton.

Monday morning arrived too early and it was time to head for home after breakfast at Oceano’s again. Our trip home included the mandatory traditional stops at Border Station and also at Pearce’s Pit BBQ in Williamsburg.
More photos online here

It had been another great trip with familiar and new friends. Now to wait for spring when we do it again.

Columbus Day: Starting off Ugly and Staying out of the rain

Monday, October 8:

The federal recognition of Christopher Columbus’ landing in the Caribbean occurs on a Monday making for a 3 day weekend for those whose work recognizes this as a holiday. We were lucky that both Ryan’s and Keith’s employers considered it a day off.

We cleared the room and checked out. Had a few more things we wanted to see and we needed to get home. First stop was the Orange Blossom Cafe  to procure a legendary Apple Ugly. Sweets for breakfast wasn’t really going to be enough so next stop was Diamond Shoals Restaurant  for a real breakfast involving eggs and bacon and we were headed north.

.Today’s plans include a trip up to Carova at the northern end of the barrier islands to hopefully find the wild horses. Betty and Keith’s last trip had been particularly productive in that regard and we hoped to share with Ryan.

The ride up Hatteras Island was more scenic than it had been coming in (since it was daylight and sunny!). We got to see the parasails in Canadian Hole and stopped to take a look at the renovations at Bodie Island Light. After we got to Nags Head, we shifted over to the beach road to find some recognizable landmarks from Ryan’s last trip (1993?). We had stayed at the Sea Oatel then (long gone) and the Holiday Inn Express (still there) and had really enjoyed the Keeper’s Galley restaurant (also gone, now a Sushi place).

Somewhere along the way, it started to rain. When we got to Corolla, we took a short hop over to the beach access on Albacore St. to visit another beached shipwreck we had discovered on a previous trip. We drove down a little ways to see what we’d come to see and then proceeded to go back the way we came.

A drift had built up on the Albacore Street ramp which had been no big deal on the way down to the beach but in going up the ramp, we found ourselves high-centered and blocking the ramp. We tried several things to get the truck loose and were in the process of digging as it appeared our only hope was to eliminate the sand drift that had high centered us. The winch didn’t help as it wasn’t functioning correctly and there was nothing to anchor to. (Note to self: Investigate pull pal.)

While we were digging, we saw a white pickup top the ramp and give us a short blast on the siren. In it were two young men who walked over and took a look and then told us they were headed down to the next ramp and would be back in a few to help get us out.

I continued digging while they circled around and came down the beach from another ramp. We hooked my tow strap to their truck and a gentle pull had us moving again.

Recognizing the insignia on the truck as being Corolla Ocean Rescue  I asked if there was a charge for the tow or even a suggested donation which they declined. Told me they were just doing their job of keeping the ramp clear for emergency use. Not quite sure I totally buy that but I sure appreciated their appearance and their help. Ryan noted the wardrobe of sweatsuits and bare feet.

Maybe they figured they’d have to haul this old guy to the hospital (or worse) if they let him keep digging. In any event, in my mind this is worthy of a shout out and much appreciated.

After we got down on the beach again, we headed north to the next ramp (why hadn’t I thought of that before getting stuck?) and headed back into Corolla for a restroom, place to change my wet jeans and maybe some lunch as the hour was advancing. We found it in the form of Dunkin Donuts.

We then headed on in the rain seeking the wild horses. We got a look at the Currituck Light as we drove by.

We rode all the way up to the VA/NC line and saw none. OK, now what? Sometimes you see a few in the vicinity of the Post Office and Fire Department so we head over that way. More rain and no horses. Oh well, we tried. Time to throw in the towel and head for home.

As we pull past the town hall building, Betty spies something over there in the woods. We back up and sure enough, there is ONE horse huddled under a tree to stay out of the rain. At least someone has sense to come in out of the rain. That was not someone inside the truck. We snap a couple of wet and blurry pics and head towards home. We do make a quick stop for a couple of souvenirs and for gas and we’re off. By the time we got to the Border Station in Moyock, it was pouring rain which made it fun to get in and out and to refill the tires to regular pressure. I will commend their coin-op air for tires as being one of the best I’ve run into, sufficient pressure to be effective and it runs long enough to get to all four tires. Border Station is located on the VA/NC line with parts of the store in one state and part in the other. Some things are treated differently tax wise in one state over the other so the gas pumps are in VA and the cigarettes and fast food are in NC.

Much less traffic and a much quicker trip home than it had been down. We stopped at a Waffle House in Newport News for dinner. Wish we had been earlier to allow for some sightseeing there or to hit up Pitts BBQ in Williamsburg but it didn’t work out that way. We made it home around 11:00. We didn’t get quite as much rest and relaxation as we usually do on our OBX runs but it was still an enjoyable trip where we got to see our favorite beach and some great friends.

Next time, we’ll plan a little longer stay.

Catching a few sights

Sunday, October 7: Sunday morning found us meeting at the Diamond Shoals for breakfast and some entertaining conversations. After that, Bruce was off to other tasks for the day and the others headed in the general direction of Ocracoke with an intermediate stop in Hatteras Village.

No trip to the Outer Banks would be complete without a visit to the famous Hatteras Light. We visited the old lighthouse site and the circle of stones marking its location. From there, it was easy to see just how far they had to move the gigantic structure. We also went up to the current location and the ladies cruised the gift shop and the keeper’s house.

Betty and Keith have come to depend upon the Flambeau Rd.shipwreck to be our “go to” example of a Graveyard of the Atlantic visual aid and it didn’t disappoint. While not as exposed as it had been during our last visit, there was a sufficient exposure to satisfy. Nearby, we found a lane prepared for an unhatched sea turtle nest.

From there, another peaceful ride on the ferry not unlike the day before followed by lunch at Howard’s Pub in Ocracoke. In our multiple crossings, Sarah pointed out that the ferries now each wore the colors of  one of the colleges or universities in the NC State system.

We made it to Sarah’s ferry to the mainland with time to spare for a bit more conversation and promises to get back together soon.

On our way back north, we stopped and explored the beach around the Hatteras landing including a trip down the Pole Rd to spend a little time watching the ferries and other traffic in the channel from the sound side. The shifts in the channel brought the marine traffic very close to the shore there and allowed for some fun pictures.

We left the Pole Rd and headed back to Avon where dinner was at Dirty Dick’s. Although we had tried, we didn’t manage to get Ryan tired of shrimp this trip. Hopefully we’ll get another chance in the future.

Back to our room at the Cape Pines for showers and an early bedtime after another great day on the Banks.

“Quick” Trip to Hatteras with Family and Friends

Friday, Oct. 5 Worked all day but kept going because I knew the beach was beckoning. We pulled away from Ryan’s place on schedule around 6:00. Destination: Three days in Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreation Area. We’d made reservations at the Cape Pines Motel  which had been recommended for years from folks staying there but was somehow never our chosen landing base camp. During the shoulder season, their office closes at 10:00 pm so we knew we’d need to call ahead to have them leave the light on for us.

We figured a slow trip but had no idea just how much traffic there could be on 95 on the Friday evening of a three day (for many) weekend. We’d managed to avoid that particular trap with planning before. About 9:00 (3 hours into the trip), we called Cape Pines from Stafford and told them we expected to get there around 2:00. They left us instructions for getting in and we were to come down Saturday morning and take care of the registration details. It turned out to be about 3:30. One of our longest times for that trip. But it was worth it!

We hoped to meet Ryan’s friend and former roommate Sarah in Ocracoke over the weekend and also our friend Bruce who would be staying at the Cape Pines.

Saturday, Oct. 6 : The alarm went off promptly at 8:00. Darn it! Using the cell phone alarm made it an unusual noise and not an automatic reach out and slap it so we were up.

It was a beautiful morning despite the rapidity with which it arrived. We got all checked in and then met Bruce over at Diamond Shoals for breakfast and headed towards Ocracoke to meet Sarah.

We had heard there was a bit of a backup on the Hatteras to Ocracoke ferry because of shoaling and the need to run smaller ferries at slower speeds. During the day, departures are still every 30 minutes so the wait wasn’t that long.  There were a couple of large vehicles (a motorhome towing a vehicle and a gasoline tanker) so we feared being delayed but turned out not to be a problem as the tanker was going later.

The ferry was crowded and we slowed in a couple of spots to clear the dredge and the returning ferry in the narrow channel.  It was a new experience for Ryan and we enjoyed the time in the sun. After disembarking at the northern end of Ocracoke, we headed to the south end of the island through the village to meet Sarah where the big ferry had dropped her as she left her car on the mainland.

She reported the ride was pleasant but not well-suited for reading as she had just too much motion going on to be comfortable. We left the trucks and started walking the street. Our obligatory stop at Mermaid’s Folly  was fruitful with a new skirt joining us. Bruce and Keith left the ladies to move the trucks from the one hour parking zone.  We rejoined the ladies on Howard Street at the Village Craftsmen.  Managed to spot an old graveyard inside someone’s yard.  Also managed to spy a 1940 Buick looking all spiffy and well-preserved. Somehow, the ladies had managed to avoid seeing the dead snake in the road which was a good thing.

It had been a while since breakfast and lunch was in order. We decided to try Dajio  which had been recommended but never tried. We had been missing a treat. Various sandwiches and the bisque were delectable and just the right amount of food for our hungry group. For reference, the ladies room is apparently interesting as well. We spotted numerous rental golf carts and scooters and discussed those as ways to get about on the island.

We headed back to the trucks to go take care of the paying of the toll (or whatever you call the fee to drive on the beach now) and then off in the general direction of the beach with a stop by the Ocracoke Lighthouse  . and then to Keith’s favorite part of Ocracoke, Southpoint and the beaches.

There had been chatter in the truck about this and that but as we cleared the dune line, it got real quiet and then we heard from the backseat just one word, “Wow.”  We rode down to the point and got out to walk about a bit. This is heaven. Pictures do a better job than words but don’t adequately capture it.

After a bit, we got back in the truck (with someone unknowingly leaving his “nice” flip flops setting on the front bumper) and drove north as far as the closure for a turtle nest and then back to the pavement by way of the airport  and then north to the pony pens. Today there were a few out in the enclosure but none near to the observation platform.

Then it was back to the Hatteras Ferry where we shared the ride with the gasoline tanker we had seen earlier. The combination of its weight with the shoaling channel and the smaller ferry left us with empty spaces as the sun began to set.

Dinner was next on the agenda and Rusty’s was the place.  A big breakfast and lunch left Betty and Keith not finishing but the sea air had awakened Ryan’s appetite. We’ll just leave it that Rusty’s crew did not disappoint and there were no empty plates!

Our next stop was the Hatteras Island Inn  where Ryan and Sarah were staying the night. Worth mentioning is that the long-awaited freshening seems to have gotten started inside the rooms with fresh paint and a generally cheerier appearance. The planned improvements in amenities and outside freshening aren’t there yet but there’s hope. The ladies reported satisfaction with their accommodations when we met for breakfast next morning.

The remaining three of us headed to the Cape Pines and fairly quickly called it a night. Apparently little sleep and sea air brought the sandman quickly.


Getting An Ugly, Moving off the main roads

There seems to be a pattern to our visits to Buxton. We’ve done it a couple of times before and did again this time. We make the reservations with a day to be home before returning to work and then extend for the extra night. While it doesn’t allow for the day of rest from the trip before returning to work, the extra day of chillin’ at the shore tends to even it all out. The weather was warm and sunny and near perfect beach weather.

After telling the front desk we’d be here another night, we went to the much talked about Orange Blossom Bakery to finally taste the famous Apple Ugly. While I’ve heard lots of folks discuss them, I’ve never really heard anyone say exactly what they are. We were clued in at the party last night that it’s a deep-fried pastry with a sugar glaze that sounded a bit like what we would call an apple fritter. I think what actually convinced us to try them was a recommendation that their coffee was terrific! And sure enough, it was! We recommend the morning blend coffee when you go in for your apple ugly!

Much of the time in our visits has been spent going from place to place, primarily along the beach (when that was an option) or else along Hwy. 12. Recognizing that there was much of the villages that was not along the main highway, we did some exploring back into the residential areas. We started into Buxton Woods where we discovered the elementary school and a new residential facility (perhaps this is the one being built for teacher housing?). We also discovered some of the low hills that make Buxton one of the high spots on the island. We wandered on up to Brigand’s Bay and just beyond in the soundside residential areas.

We crossed over to the beach at Blly Mitchell (Ramp 49) where once again, we found the path along the beach limited to only one in and out with a retrace necessary. Heading further north, we stopped for lunch at the Atlantic Coast Cafe (again) by the Avon pier. Last night’s dinner was not a fluke, lunch was also quite good. We looked through the shop at the Avon pier and then moved north along the beach some more and stopped to see the Kinnakeet Life Saving station which has been undergoing restoration for a couple of years now. We went on past it to the sound side where we stopped to watch the windsurfers get underway. It looked a bit like this may have been the conclusion of a class where one of the surfers was doing his solo run. After watching them get going and snapping a few pics, we went into the residential area of Avon and stopped to see the sailboarders zipping back and forth.

We spent some time catching up on the blog and pictures and then went to dinner at the Diamond Shoals where Betty had the Tomato Basil Crab Bisque with nice chunks of crab. Keith went for the salad bar with the gilled shrimp. We finished off with the high chocolate and peanut butter pie! The Diamond Shoals has added a sushi bar and done away with the aquariums. We had heard the large eel had died this past winter.

Back to the room. It appears there are about 5 rooms occupied tonight. We settled in to watch some tv and further typing and picture editing. Looks like we’re headed for home on Monday.

Ocracoke, New Folks and a Hot Idea

The morning started out with a light misty rain which would continue most of the day but the day would end with some new sights and meeting some new people.

We started out with Breakfast at the Hatteras Island Inn and decided to head for Ocracoke. We wanted to do some shopping and look around some in the village where we hadn’t before.

We arrived at the ferry dock at about 20 past the hour, not sure what the schedule was today since we had watched the crossings on Friday being more frequent than the advertised on the hour sailings. As it turned out, they are still on the hour but will put a second boat in service when the need makes itself known. We were to ride the Croatoan, one of the newer, larger ferries with the portion of the deck that’s covered. Sharing the ride with us were some of the folks who are in town for Bike Week in the OBX, the motorcycle kind.

The ferry was to be packed. The motorcycles were not all one big group when they got on but when the crew saw the second contingent of bikes, they had two of the cars back out from under the cover to allow all the motorcycles to be sheltered. Sure it took a few extra minutes but it demonstrates putting your guests’ comfort first with just a little extra effort. Good show!

When we arrived on Ocracoke Island, the rain continued and the line stretched from the dock around the curve, past the visitor parking area. A significant part of the line was motorcycles and their riders waiting in the rain. Well, truth be told, a significant part of the line was motorcycles and their drivers as their passengers stood under the shelter out of the rain. I heard one of the riders relating how she had asked about the priority system which allows residents to jump to the head of the line and why those folks riding motorcycles in the rain didn’t qualify as priority. The story was told with some good nature so let’s give credit. Of course, she hadn’t yet gotten to experience the ferry crew making a space under the cover for the motorcycles and their riders.

We stopped at Howard’s for lunch as per usual, along with many many motorcyclists. Although we usually chow down hearty, we decided to go a bit lighter this time and got a “small” pizza. Small wasn’t especially and their crusts are thick so it filled more than we expected. It was tasty as Howard’s food usually is.

We next went into town to shop at Mermaid’s Folly which seems to be the only place we can find a particular maker of skirt but they had none in the right size this time.

Our next stop was a ride out to the beach and to see the area around the South Point. Plenty of strings and signs and a few fisherman were braving the rain. The rough waters didn’t seem to be helping them at all. We turned and headed north to what I believe may be the only place in the entire Recreation Area where you can ride from one ramp to the next on the beach, that being between ramps 70 and 72. The beach was blocked just north of 70. Cruising up the highway later, it appeared you might be able to enter and exit at ramp 67 as well but you wouldn’t be able to get to the next ramp. Supposedly, under the new ORV plan, the Park Service may add a few ramps to allow some spots where you can enter through one ramp and exit at the next one instead of doubling the traffic as you enter then backtrack to the same point to exit. Time will tell, I guess.

We went back into the village to see some of the backstreets. We went past the school, several inns and shops but none that seemed worth a special stop. So it was back to the ferry and ride over to Hatteras again.

We swung by the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum which was about to close so we skipped i(hours are 10-4, Monday through Saturday). Next we decided to try again to find the Ramp 55 wreck. Per the latitude and longitude coordinates, we sat on top of the spot but saw nothing.

Net we drove out the pole road and reached the soundside where it became clear how close the channel has shifted to shore. Repeated dredging when you can’t/don’t move the sand any significant distance just doesn’t hold long.

Back to the Hatteras Island Inn and gave a call to Rob Schonk. We had been trying to get together for a face-tot-face this weekend and finally managed to join he and his wife Linda for dinner at the Atlantic Coast Cafe in Avon. Betty had the grilled shrimp and Keith had the special which was crab cake, coconut shrimp and herbed mahi-mahi. We think this may qualify as the best meal we’ve had so far this trip.

After dinner, we horned in on an invitation to meet JAM and some of the folks from the OBC forums at JAM’s place. As I’m horrible with names, I won’t try to name all the folks we met there but will speak highly of the great hospitality and some interesting folks. We are appreciative both for the hospitality and the invite.

Keith was particularly taken by the bonfire keg which is a stainless steel keg which has had one end removed and vent holes. Very efficient burner and clever idea. Conveniently its also sized right for the grill and lid from a weber. Keith is now on the search for a stainless steel keg for himself.

Considerable discussion of life on Hatteras Island and the ongoing issues with the NPS including the Congressional hearings relative to HR 4094 and a companion bill in the Senate.

Then it was back to the hotel to settle in for the evening.

Transition South, Another Wreck, a Different Beach

Friday was a transition day moving from the northern beaches around Corolla down south to Hatteras Island and our reservations in Buxton.
We started our morning with breakfast at the Hampton and got underway about 10:30 or so. We took the bypass until the KMart and then cut over to the beach road with plans to stop at the Croatan Surf Club in search of another wreck which sometimes appears on the beach there. We parked at the Albemarle Public Access and walked along the beach to the beach of the Croatan but found nothing to indicate our missing wreck. Sometimes the tide and erosion work for you, sometimes they don’t.
We moved on down the beach and through Nags Head to come out on Highway 12. Our next stop was the Bodie Island Light where renovations have recommenced after stopping last year when the NPS reached the extent of their budget.
Next stop was the top of the Bonner Bridge. Ongoing construction work there results is a section of one lane road on the aging span controlled by a temporary traffic light. Too early for our check-in, we meandered onto the Hatteras Deli for lunch. The fresh yellowfin tuna salad sandwich and the open faced “Matey” (thin sliced roast beef and melted cheese) were delicious and just right for lunch. Our next stop was a repeat visit to the beached wreck off Flambeau Rd.

Since we knew that driving on the beach was in our plans, we went to the ORV Permit office to pay our $50 for a weekly pass and view the 7 minute indoctrination film. The only folks there were the two NPS employees and us. One employee directed us to filling out the form, compared the registration and driver’s license and started the DVD player. She also escorted us into the third room where a second employee took our cash, printed a receipt and handed us our pass. He also instructed us to keep the paperwork in the vehicle.
Next stop was the Hatteras Inn Buxton (formerly the Comfort Inn) to check in. Then we headed back to Coquina Beach (on the north side of Oregon Inlet) to try once again to find the wreck of the Laura Barnes. We had seen it in about 1996 when we visited and it was marked by the highway and was located between the double row of dunes and was largely visible. Nowadays, the dune line has shifted westward and a section about 3 feet in length is visible on the sea side of the first row of dunes. Maybe not an exciting find to others, but significant to us.

Dinner at Rusty’s was up next. We both had the bay scallops broiled. Betty had coleslaw and red potatoes, Keith had mashers and collards. A very tasty dinner indeed which left no room for dessert. Back to the room and settle in for the night.

A Different Beach and An Anniversary

Thursday April 26 found us traveling around Currituck County and Corolla at the northern end of the Outer Banks. It also marked the occasion of our 32nd wedding anniversary. Congratulations to us!

We were staying at the Hampton Inn in Corolla. It’s located beachfront and we were in a “partial view” room. Partial view means you are on the side of the building. Currently, Hampton Inn has vacant land on both sides so it’s really a pretty good view of undeveloped Outer Banks with low scrub growth, the dune line and the water. Since the National Audubon Society decided (after years of paying the lower conservation area tax rate) that the land donated to them had no value as conservation, they decided a couple of years ago to sell it off for future development and $25 million. Seems a little underhanded to me as they were suing to shut down public access to much of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreation Area just 20-30 miles south but there was apparently nothing illegal about the transaction. The development called Pine Island will fill in the area to the north and south of the Hampton soon as construction is currently underway.

After breakfast, we decided to head to the beach for a walk. The Hampton has a boardwalk over the dunes and we headed that way then north along the shore. It was a glorious day. We appreciated our jackets and met another couple walking along the shore. We continued as far the first few houses. Individual homes had boardwalks over the dune line. As the wind moves the sand, the boardwalks get covered and homeowners build new ones, sometimes on top of the old one! It makes for an interesting sight with the double decker boardwalk with the lower level being only a few feet below the new one.

In our investigations, we had discovered there was another shipwreck sometimes visible next to the dune line in Corolla. Since our adventures last year, we have sort of “gotten into” finding the wrecks on the Outer Banks. With the shifts in sand due to the storms and just routine erosion by wind and water, what’s visible today may be buried tomorrow and vice versa.

Armed with an address for the house in front of the wreckage, we drove to Corolla where the Metropolis site is marked with an historic marker alongside Hwy. 12. We also discovered that Corolla has no on street parking. It looked like we would park n the shopping center and walk the half mile to the beach but we discovered a public access (including vehicle) at the end of the street. Carefully reading the sign, we discover that Currituck County allows driving on the beach from October 1 to April 30! Score! We drive the truck over the ramp to discover the beach is pretty much hard pack, similar to the beach at Daytona. While I wouldn’t recommend it in 2wd, it’s potentially doable.

The description we’d seen of the Metropolis indicated it was visible depending on the tides, erosion and the amount of digging the kids (primarily) had done on the beach and sometimes gave off the aroma of turpentine (pine). From the marker, we learned it was a steamer that had wrecked in 1878 and lost 85 lives. As a result of the tragedy, changes were made in the Coast Guard policies regarding beach rescue. We walked around a bit and took a few pictures and decided to drive along and see what the beaches there were like.

The hard pack continued north all the way to the fence which separates the “4wd area” at the north edge of Corolla. The fence is primarily to keep the wild ponies out of town. There is a walk through gate (unlocked) with enough of a turn to keep the horses from walking through. There is a also a drive through gate which is locked and limited to “authorized vehicles” only. We took a couple of pictures and headed back south. The beach was pretty sparsely populated. We did see one or two other vehicles with a fisherman and all his gear and some tracks from earlier in the day. We headed back south just a short distance to the first off ramp which came out by the Corolla Lighthouse and turned north into the 4wd area.

The local news is abuzz with the Currituck County Commission considering adding a fee for a permit for the 4wd area beaches. In the past year, the tour companies which conduct the wild horse tours getting attention due to the amount of traffic they generate in the residential areas as well as a number fo folks not giving the horses the distance the rules require. On past trips, we had seen a few of the horses but always back behind the dunes in the residential areas. On this trip, we saw the horse on the beach. We were seeing more horses than we ever had seen anywhere and they were all on the beach. By the time we had gone north to the Virginia state line and back, we counted 44! For the most part, they were in groups of 5 or 6 but there was one by itself. We just couldn’t believe it. 44 horses sighted over a period of around two hours!

The one horse by itself was at the foot of the dunes and eating the sea oat plants. I guess this is near the embodiment of the question: What am I supposed to do if I see an endangered animal eating an endangered plant? Neither comes under the category of endangered but both are protected.

One group of 3 or 4 were in the dunes next to another discovery for us, a life saving station! We had visited several on the Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands but not one that far north. It turns out that this one, Wash Woods, had been in service until the 1950s and was restored in 1999. It is currently in use as the Twiddy Real Estate office for the area. Parked outside was a neat bus that had been restored as well for touring the 4wd area.

As we came off the beach, we were in search of the deli where we had those terrific sandwiches on an earlier trip with friends Donna and Mike. We found the building but it was obviously in the process of changing tenants. Across the parking lot was the OBX Deli and Cheesesteaks which we hoped was the same establishment in a new location. As it turned out, it was another new business with a phenomenal selection of fudge and other candies but the deli sandwich was nothing special. It was good but disappointing after psyching ourselves up for the other place.

After lunch, we ventured over to the shops around the lighthouse for a couple of souvenirs and then went back onto the beach to see where we came out if we headed south. We continued south past the Hampton and the houses of Pine Island. Just offshore, maybe 20 years, we discovered a previously unknown to us piece of wreckage sticking up out of the water. There were three pieces to it, 2 looked as if they could have been most anything, but the third was definitely machinery. It was shaped somewhat like an engine connecting rod (its the part that moves up and down and transmits the rotational motion of an engine’s crankshaft to up and down motion of a piston). I did a little internet research afterwards and found another reference to its existence but no help with identification. A gentleman walking along the beach also pointed out that there was a piece of wood further along the beach that could easily be wreckage as well. So we continued along to find a strong straight piece of wood with the rusty iron spikes common to the wrecks to be found in this area.

We continued along into Duck. The beaches in Duck are also open to drive but there is no public access from the town. It appears the only accesses are on private property or from the beach, as we entered and exited. As we got into Duck, the sand was softer and I was beginning to regret not lowering the tire pressure more when we had entered the beach. The beach also was getting narrower as it got softer so we turned around within sight of the Research Pier.

We traveled back north and exited the beach where we had entered in Corolla. We treated the truck to a full tank and went back to the hotel with plans for dinner at the Rt. 12 Steak and Seafood. As we were standing outside the doors, we ran into one of those fellows who is able to see the virtually invisible mark our family carries that apparently says “Talk to me”. He proceeded to share that business in America should be conducted more standing by the tailgate of a pickup truck than in an office or over the exchange of documents. After telling us how he had just worked out the details of the plumbing for his construction there, he launched into his political leanings and his opinion of the current occupant of the White House. Not generally a conversation one gets into with someone you just saw (but haven’t yet met) but apparently it worked for him.

Dinner was Shrimp Aristotle and Broiled shrimp. The Shrimp Aristotle was a combination of a cheesy garlic sauce with olives and was quite tasty. The broiled shrimp also pleased the palate. The vegetable medley (green beans, tomato and carrots) was just a bit too close to raw for our tastes but complemented the meal well. After dinner, we walked the shops which were mostly closed and then headed back to the Hampton and eventually to bed where the day’s activities in the sunshine and fresh air lead to a peaceful sleep.

Important numbers from today:
44 horses
32 years
3 new to us shipwrecks
1 new life saving station.
1 new beach where we could ride and enjoy the sights.


Headed for the Beach

For several years now, we’re gone to the Outer Banks of North Carolina in the spring and the fall. This year due to a combination of schedules and uncertainty about what portion of the beaches would be open, we make the trip with just Betty and Keith.

Wednesday was devoted primarily to finishing the packing and hitting the road. We got rolling about 11:15!

First stop was the Aunt Sarah’s at Exit 104. Our first surprise was that Aunt Sarah’s was closed! Looks like some renovation and refurb are in progress so we went to the Waffle House instead.

Waffle House originally became a favorite of mine due to a very fluffy omelet. Alas, over the years they seem to be less and less fluffy until recently. Has corporate become aware or is it the luck of the draw? Whichever it is, my omelet was very fluffy and tasty and most welcome.

Next stop was the Border Station at the state line between Virginia and North Carolina. We pulled into the Hampton Inn at Corolla around 6:00.

Dinner was at some place new for us, the Paper Canoe in Duck. Food was good but some of the details just didn’t seem to click. They had no sweet tea, the bread was not warm but was hard. The entrees were good. Keith had the Backyard Shrimp, similar to Patio Cassoulet with shrimp instead of chicken. Betty had the scallops. They were huge and included a sauce with a vegetable side garnish. They were good, they were not the usual fare but seemed to lack something. Paper Canoe would be an okay choice for a repeat visit but not something we would seek out.

At Hampton Inn, our room has been upgraded to a “partial view” at no additional charge. Partial view means we face down the beach and not directly toward the ocean but the view is good.

Halloween at the Beach: Part 5 – Have to head home

Although its been great fun, it must come to an end.

Monday morning we woke up relatively early and were checked out and on the move about 9:00. We stopped in Kill Devil Hills to fill the truck. The Shell station had an interesting layout. There were 6 or 8 pumps on 3 or 4 parallel islands. Traffic was so that everyone came in from the same side of the corner and then went to the islands. Cash or credit didn’t matter, just pump and go. With the traffic pattern, everyone went out by passing the cashier sitting in a drive up booth. The lines were orderly and not having to prepay cut the lines and time to accomplish your business and move along.

We decided to follow the GPS to see what way they would send us around or through Norfolk this time. The routing got us off the 168 toll road expressway and on a surface street that took us into Virginia Beach via the Centerville Parkway. This was a new one to us. We got onto I64 a few miles before the Hampton tunnel.

Our next stop was lunch at Pierce’s Pitt BBQ in Lightfoot near Williamsburg. That’s a frequent stop for us as the food is good, the prices reasonable and the in and out relatively easy.

Although it threatened rain, it never hit us and we made good time to the Springfield interchange about 4:30. Traffic wasn’t as bad as we figured and the new configuration for the I66 interchange kept the backup limited to the right two lanes allowing us to continue on to slow at the Tyson’s Corner construction. With two of us, we were able to use the HOV lanes on I270 and made it home about 5:30 which was ahead of the trick or treaters.

This trip and the one in the spring are highlights for me and recharging the internal batteries. Unfortunately, Tuesday meant back to work.