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.

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.


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.

Halloween at the Beach Part 4: Tying Up Loose Ends

Sunday the skies were sunny but the wind was still whipping albeit with less force than on Saturday and the temps were in the 50s. Janet and Bruce called from the Diamond Shoals where we joined them for breakfast before they headed for home. (Jeremy and Rosemary had left earlier.)  After farewell wishes for a safe journey, Betty and Keith decided to go back to Ocracoke to further the pursuit of known shipwrecks.

The ferry was just finishing loading and we were the last car onboard. The ride over was less exciting than either trip the day before. As happens seemingly too often, Keith was mistaken for someone else and we were approached by fellow travelers who believed Keith was an old high school chum but it lead to a friendly conversation included a look at the strangers wind screen contraption made from 2×2’s about 6 feet long with silt fence stretched between to block the blowing sand. He indicated it worked fairly well on the sand but still allowed too much wind to keep really warm.

We entered the beach at the northern most Ocracoke ramp and turned towards the north point. The island has grown since last spring with this area covering more territory. The texture was the hard damp sand we had seen on the southern end on Saturday. We scoped it out then turned south towards a wreck believed to be about ½ mile north of the Ocracoke Pony Pens. At the GPS-designated point, we noted nothing indicative of a shipwreck although we were adjacent to an area of dunes that had been replenished since Irene. The beach was relatively narrow here and we found we were very very close to the highway as well.

We turned back to the ramp and headed into the town of Ocracoke for quick trip to the welcome center gift shop and then off to Ramp 72 to try once again for the shipwreck noted to be there. Since today’s weather was better, we were able (willing) to walk across the dunes to search. We never made it to the west side shore of the point but sighted something n the marshgrass but we weren’t prepared to walk/wade to get close up.

There was more loose sand making small dunes and large ripples on this section of the beach so that staying back from the water resembled a roller coaster.

We turned north on the beach to check for more shipwrecks and condition of the shore. There were a few fishermen and others enjoying the beach. We even saw a couple of folks trying to surf but the waves weren’t really cooperating.

As we passed Ramp 67, there was no indication that there was not another ramp ahead but we eventually reached the end of the open to vehicles part of the beach and turned around to leave at Ramp 67.

There was one more shipwreck indicated on Ocracoke Island just north of the pony pens so we stopped at the crossover there. Several of the ponies were out in the pen so we walked over and took a few pictures. We also learned a few things that made the Ocracoke ponies unique including two fewer vertebrae than other horses, fewer ribs and denser bones.
We then headed up the beach on foot in search of one more but it eluded us as well. Total for our long weekend had us finding two confirmed sightings on Hatteras Island and one maybe on Ocracoke. It later occurred to us that several previous trips had a goal which we had not met because of ferry schedules or darkness or hunger but this time, without trying, we had managed to cover ALL of the drivable ocean side of Ocracoke Island!

We caught the ferry back to Hatteras. We had ridden the ferry 4 times this weekend and not ridden the same one twice. This time we were onboard the Chicamacomico which was pictured on the postcard back to the folks at home.

One place we had missed in our travels that is always part of our trip was a ride out to the point and past the Cape Hatteras Light. The approach by the campground and where Ramps 43 and 44 meet the pavement was underwater as we had learned before arriving. It’s on National Park Service property but for some reason doesn’t drain and hasn’t for a while. One can’t help but think it contributes to the mosquito population that plagued the island after Hurricane Irene. This beach had obviously had more traffic than any other beach we had been to this weekend. We drove out to the point and around but would have needed to drive across water if we hadn’t turned back. We made our way back to the pavement and off to dinner.

Dinner was at Rusty’s, one of our favorites and tonight didn’t disappoint. Broiled bay scallops for Betty and a Caribbean-spiced snapper for Keith followed by New York style cheesecake (not too dry) and with a light glaze on the plate of raspberry and mango gels with coffee for a near-perfect finish for the meal and our weekend.

We aired up the tires on the truck and made fresh coffee to fill the thermos bottles for the trip home and we were set after returning to shower and off to bed. We head home on Monday.

Halloween at the Beach: Part 3 Visiting the Moonscape

Saturday morning we headed over to the Red Drum for a headlight and a tire gage as I discovered the digital gage in the console had a dead battery. While there, I met Mr. John Couch of OBPA and internet fame. He is president of the OBPA, one of the organizations fighting to maintain access for pedestrians, sportsmen and other folks who use the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreation Area for recreation. In conversations with Rob Schonk, the principal in the Robert and Jean Schonk Foundation, Rob recommended that I make the time to make Mr. Couch’s acquaintance. After installing the new headlight, we headed to Frisco and Wave Hopper to gather Bruce, Jeremy and Rosemary for some time on the beach.

We headed over to Ocracoke in spite of the weather forecast. The day was to be windy and the forecast was accurate on that account. The predicted rain held off however. The wind was strong off the sound and made the landing of the ferry somewhat exciting with the captain using the pilings to bounce his way into the slip.

We headed to Howard’s Pub, one of our favorite lunch spots. Bruce had the chowder, Betty had grilled shrimp, Keith had marinated tuna steak, Jeremy had the tuna steak sandwich and Rosemary had the grilled tuna salad. The food was excellent as usual. After lunch, we headed into town to do a little shopping and found our way to Mermaid’s Folly and Craftsmen Paradise on Howard Street. It was a successful trip. Everyone found something to their liking and connected on some items which we couldn’t find.

Next we headed for the beach, more particularly the South Point. It was a surreal sort of moonscape actually having been flattened with only the occasional small dune still there. The wet sand was pretty hard requiring the four wheel drive rarely. Looking over the inlet to Portsmouth Island you could see shafts of sunlight coming through.

The loose sand was blowing across the hard wet sand making interesting patterns and beginning to form ridges and small dunes.

As we headed back towards the ramp off the beach, we noticed a pair in a pickup that seemed to be making more downward progress than forward. It was a pair of fisherman whose four wheel drive was malfunctioning. After lending them a shovel which wasn’t enough to get them out, a tug on our towstrap got them back over to the hard surface and on their way. As we got to the ramp, Bruce saw Jeremy and Rosemary headed up the ramp and began to follow them off the beach and back towards the ferry on Highway 12. Keith and Betty lost sight of him but decided that was the direction he was headed. Of course, Keith and Betty also had Jeremy and Rosemary in the rearview mirror. After failing to see Bruce, we gave him a call to inform him that he was lost as we did not know where he was. It turns out that Bruce was following a different dark-colored F150. But as it was getting time to head back to Hatteras Island, it worked out for the best.

We commented earlier about the difficulties getting the ferry into the dock but the weather had worsened and the docking of the ferry to take us back was quite a spectacle. One gets torn between fascination with the difficulty in putting the ferry where it belongs and admiration to the captain for doing so in spite of the conditions. At one point, the ferry was perpendicular to the slip and hard against all three pilings and the engines roaring at near full throttle with little effect. Eventually the ferry came into the slip and we pulled out only a few minutes after our scheduled 5:30 departure. We found out Sunday that the ferry had stopped running with the 6:30 departure Saturday evening. Had we stayed on Ocracoke for dinner, we may have stayed the night or whenever the schedule resumed.

The five of us had dinner at Diamond Shoals Restaurant in Buxton and bade our farewells to our friends. Across the street to our hotel and the nightly computer checks, tv, shower and bed.

Halloween at the Beach: Part 2 Hunting for Shipwrecks and the Aftermath of Irene


Friday, Betty and Keith had breakfast at the Hatteras Island Inn (formerly the Comfort Inn) and then set about our day which included a stop at the Really, Really Free Market in Salvo. Friends at home had filled two storage containers with needed and requested items. We had a piece of carpet and some clothing to contribute as well. The carpet remnant, we were told, was being set aside for a local 80 year old woman who had been through this ordeal without insurance and was putting things at home back together.

Betty and Keith had set out to locate some of the many shipwrecks for which we had found GPS coordinates. After finding one last spring, that seemed like it would make for fun.

As we headed north from Salvo, we took a bit more time to check off the main highway for remaining damage. The KOA campground was open for business. They had cleared the portion near the ocean and were working their way back toward the highway. The camping cabins (basically shell sheds with built-in bunk beds) looked to be basically undamaged but had been floated off their footings. The ones that appeared undamaged had water damage to worry about but were structurally sound. The bathhouses all had siding taken away to allow drying out.

The Chicomacomico Lifesaving Station was closed. Reports on the interwebs had indicated there was much cleanup to be done as well as resetting on footers.

We drove again over the new bridge and stopped to get some pictures by walking through the dune line to the beach and coming around. The speed with which the current moved through the inlet was impressive. I’ve tried to get some pictures but am not sure they really convey the current. It makes one wonder how much more the inlet will open in the unfortified sections with time. We stopped at the Coquina Beach day use area to see if we could find the remains of the shipwreck there. Like most of the wrecks, changing sand profiles will expose or cover from season to season. We didn’t find it this time.

Next we headed further north to Nags Head for lunch. Having heard so much about Sam and Omie’s across from the new pier. They were busy and we had about a 20 minute wait. The food was good, the clientele and food were local as well. Betty had the mushroom and crab soup and an order of onion rings. Keith had the scallop cake Sam-wich, think crab cakes make with scallop bits. If we lived nearby, they would be on our regular rotation for lunch but don’t qualify for driving 50 miles just to eat there. Good and repeatable but not a special treat to work for. When we came out, it had started to rain lightly.

We turned south again to the Bodie Island Lighthouse. Bodie Island Light was/is under a major renovation. When the funding ran out, they took down the scaffolding until more funding allows them to continue the work. The light is removed from the structure for now and will be replaced when the renovations resume.

Next stop is the Oregon Inlet fishing pier. During Irene, all the fishing boats left for less exposed locations. The flooding damaged the piers which delayed the reopening and return of the fleet. Now with new piers installed, life appears to be near normal again.

Before leaving home, we had entered the GPS coordinates for several known shipwrecks which are sometimes visible from the beach. As we passed Salvo, we noted three showed on our track as being nearby. We entered the beach access ramp 23. The GPS coordinates revealed three near to the ramp. The first was just as you entered the beach. According to the coordinates, we were literally right on top of it. If the coordinates were correct, this particular wreck wasn’t visible at this time but there were two others in the vicinity. As we drove north on the beach, we saw what looked like it could be a buoy that had blown up on the beach similar to one we had seen on a past trip to Carova. As we got closer, we realized that we had found the remains of a sidewheeler that had wrecked on the beach in 1862. It was just offshore, inside the breakers. The pieces we saw were iron and probably the remains of part of the propulsion machinery. We were 1 for 4.

We moved further down the island and decided that timing was such we could probably hit the shopping area at the ferry landing and move on to another wreck site that we had seen last spring. The remains of an unidentified ship, probably a schooner, can be found at the end of Flambeau Road in Hatteras Village. We parked and walked over the low dune line on a boardwalk. Considerably more of the wreck was visible than had been in either of our spring visits. We then joined Jeremy and Rosemary, Bruce, and Janet for dinner at the rented house, Wave Hopper. As we pulled in the carport, we noticed a nail lying on the concrete. As we looked around, we noticed a few more, and then a few more. By the time we had arrived at the top floor, we had picked up easily two dozen or more ranging from roofing nails to siding nails to 10 penny galvanized nails. Apparently a roofer had been doing some patchwork after the hurricane and been less than meticulous about picking up loose nails. To the best of our knowledge, no one’s tires helped us pick them up. Our delicious dinner was a cooperative effort on their part and included salad, red potatoes and individual shrimp and scallop casseroles. Accompanying our dinner was a Chilean grape merlot which had been bottled by Jeremy. For dessert, Rosemary had made a sweet potato pie. We enjoyed our meal and some fine company afterwards.

We headed for the hotel around 9:30. It’s about a 6 mile drive and midway we met a Dare County Sheriff’s Deputy coming the other way. Just as we pull even with him, he flashes the blue lights and pulls a u-turn after we pass. Assuming he is responding to an emergency call, we slow down and move over to let him pass but he just stays right behind us with the blues flashing. We pull over and turn on the interior lights while waiting for him to walk up and introduce himself and state his business. It turns out we have blown a headlight and he is concerned for our safety since the local deer population has been rather active. In fact, we had observed a pack of raccoons the previous night.

After asking where we were going and where we had been, he advises us of an auto parts store near our hotel and asks if I’d had anything to drink. I honestly replied that I’d had a glass of wine with dinner several hours earlier. He asks for my license and goes back to his car. When he returns, he has the mobile breathalyzer and asks for a sample. He goes back to the car and returns a few minutes later and informs me that I’m not impaired. While a number of things pass through my mind, the only thing out of my mouth (thankfully the filter was working) was thank you and have a good night.

We head back to the hotel, check email, and get ready for bed.

Halloween at the Beach: Part 1

We got underway around 10:00 Thursday morning. This trip is somewhat traditional for us as we have headed to the beach on Halloween weekend for several years. The trip has had several labels, including the S10 trip, CORE and Friends and now Keith and Friends as the attendee list varies from year to year although the numbers have dwindled. I think this may be among our lowest turnout for the October trip as there are six of us: Betty and Keith, Jeremy and Rosemary, Bruce and Janet. But the numbers aren’t as important as the people themselves and the trip itself.

Because of the devastation wreaked on the northern end of Hatteras Island by Hurricane Irene, the trip itself had been in doubt but NC DOT managed to get the temporary bridge across New New Inlet, the break in Pea Island which had cut off access from the islands to go north on Route 12. The only access for some time was via an emergency ferry for residents only, then later access was available via a 2.5 hour ferry ride from Swan Quarter to Ocracoke Island and then the 45 minute ferry from Ocracoke Island to Hatteras Village at the lower end of Hatteras Island. The temporary bridge opened about two weeks ago and all access has been restored to the Islands. You can still see significant damage to the northern villages of Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo. Some of the best coverage and photographs of the current state and the damages can be seen at

We stopped at the Aunt Sarah’s pancake house at Exit 104 which has become a staple for us. We arrived at Buxton about 6:30 (a little later than we had planned) and gave Janet and Bruce a call after we got checked in. They turned out to be a little bit behind us and we made arrangements to meet at the Captain’s Table for dinner. Jeremy and Rosemary also came up from Frisco (they had arrived earlier) and joined us. It was good to do some catching up as well as enjoy the excellent food and service. After dinner, we decided to join them at Wave Hopper (the house they rented) for some more conversation and Bruce shared some great music with us. Jeremy, especially since retiring from USN after 21 years earlier this month, had been making some wine which he shared. Excellent! Bruce had also stopped in Raleigh and delivered a couple of internet purchases I was making. We headed back to the motel with plans to get together Friday for dinner at the house.