Wednesday, June 20, 2018

OBX - Outer Banks, NC

Bode Island Lighthouse

May was a tough month, since I was sick for almost three weeks, and three different doctors and antibiotics seemed to make little difference. We had reservations at the Outer Banks, and the last doctor said that leaving the Ohio Valley would probably do as much good as anything. He was right.

I've seen those little oval bumper stickers with OBX for years, and it took quite a while for me to figure out what it meant. The Outer Banks (is there an Inner Banks anywhere?) are the barrier islands along the Atlantic Coast of North Carolina, also known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic because so many ships ran aground there.
There are seven lighthouses still operating along the Outer Banks. We visited two which are almost identical except for the paint job on one, Currituck and Bodie Island. In the old days, lighthouse keepers lived in isolation, since the islands weren't developed then. Their families lived somewhere else so kids could go to school. They would climb to the top of the lighthouse several times a day, lugging cans of fuel for the lights, and polishing the lenses, as well as watching for ships on stormy nights. There were also life saving stations along the coast, not necessarily associated with the lighthouses. The timing of the flashes told ships which light they were seeing.

 In fact, we climbed to the top of 162 foot tall Currituck Lighthouse early in our stay, and it took almost a week before I could go up or down stairs normally again, so I have great admiration for the endurance of the lighthouse keepers. The steps did not spiral around the entire inside of the tower, but only on one side, with a platform to rest on between the flights. Going down was actually harder since it was difficult to see where one step ended and the next began in the open iron work of the steps.

Barrier islands are large moving sand dunes. The entire sound on the inside has only one inlet/outlet to the ocean now, and they have to keep dredging it to keep it from filling in. Parts of the islands are very narrow and protected by the Hatteras National Seashore. After storms, they have to clear the sand off the road again.
Jockey's Ridge State Park
JOCKEY'S RIDGE is the tallest natural sand dune system in the Eastern United States, reaching up to 100 feet high. Located in Nags Head, it looks like he Sahara Desert until you reach the top where you can see the sound on the other side. Climbing the shifting sands is much harder than climbing the lighthouse steps! People like to fly kites from the top (although the constant sea breeze makes kite flying easy any where), and you can take hang gliding lessons there as well. Be careful not to get lost though! The state park was formed by residents trying to protect the dune from developers.
Duck, NC boardwalk
We stayed in the little town of Duck, NC, on the north end of the Outer Banks. We were closer to the remaining bits of maritime forest, and there were nice trees and vegetation between all the houses, and sidewalks for walkers and bikers, of which there are many. The town built a pleasant boardwalk along the sound, and shops stay open in the evening. Much of the Outer Banks, lacks this vegetation, yet developers build houses right next to each other and as close to the beach as possible. I have no sympathy for anyone who lose their house to a hurricane here. The residents know to live on the other side of the island.  I was surprised that we saw no "hurricane evacuation route" signs. But when a storm comes, there is only one road and one bridge to go the the mainland.
Coast Guard maneuvers
We found a sailing boat and got a private trip, since no one else signed up for the afternoon cruise. We watched a Coast Guard helicopter practicing life saving techniques out in the sound. That big bird stayed virtually motionless in the air for at least an hour. Since no one else was aboard, they let us take turns piloting the boat, which is actually harder than you would think. Water in the sound runs from 5 - 11 feet deep. So many rivers dump into it, and there is only one inlet to the ocean, that is not salty or tidal. Is the OBX a birder's paradise? More in the next post.

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