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.


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