Monday, November 01, 2010

North Carolina's Outer Banks


 As we started our drive along North Carolina's outer banks and I studied the map on the iPad, I realized that I was geographically challenged again this trip.  I knew that there were barrier islands off the North Carolina shore, but I didn't realize how far out they curved from the mainland. To my defense, when you are looking at a big United States map, that set of islands is so small as to be virtually invisible.  Earlier in the trip, Henry and I had noted that we had never seen the Outer Banks and put that in our mind as a possibility for this trip.  

At this point in the journey, the Great Smokies with their fall foliage, beautiful mountains, and rocky streams had begun its pull.  But we kept to our plan to see the Outer Banks, an exploratory trip so we could better plan an extended trip later.  

We entered the Outer Banks from the north where it is really a narrow strip of land with good sized dunes and lots of houses.  We stopped briefly at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. They had references to otters - my mind immediately thought sea otters, but no, in the freshwater ponds there are river otters. We were at the refuge in the middle of the day with too much of an agenda to be able to do more than get the information and promise ourselves another visit.

By the time you get to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, you have a wild natural area that is lovely.  

We started our day at the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge. It is a long way to Cape Hatteras.  

We checked out the ferry schedules, hoping that we could take one of the 2-3 hour ferries to get back to the mainland. The Ocracoke Island-Cape Hatteras Ferry departs regularly throughout the day with a 40 minute ride.  However, to get back to the mainland,  there are two different North Carolina Ferry Routes.

The Cedar Island-Ocracoke runs six times a day from May until November, but when I called to make reservations, the schedule was full.  The Swan Quarter-Ocracoke  runs four times a day, but it was also full.  We had lunch and made it all the way to Cape Hatteras. It was interesting to see the old location for the lighthouse and how far they moved it.  

Looking at how long it took us to drive to Cape Hatteras and how long the ferries were to get back to the mainland, gave me a new perspective at how difficult it must be to evacuate this area when a hurricane threatens.   The protective dunes are large with many sand fences to keep the sand in place. 

There are warnings everywhere about staying on the boardwalks crossing the dunes to protect the fragile dune plants. 


Sometimes it helps me to have several days in a location to figure out what time of day and how to photograph it to bring out the natural beauty.  The beaches are wide and featureless and peaceful - the iconic images here include the rustic sand fences. I knew I didn't have time to wait for the right time of day or to study where would be the most interesting composition here on the Outer Banks - so I settled for some "snapshots," with the hope that some day we'll be back.

My first impressions were that this would be a great place to come and relax - to sit on the beach and read a book. There is also some great kayaking, bird watching and fishing.  There are areas where you can drive the beach in your own jeep or dune buggy or rented ones.  We were there in the quiet season, but I can picture these beaches crowded with people during the summer months.

But for this trip, the call of the Great Smokies and fall photography was now very strong, so we headed back up the islands and took the first bridge to the mainland.

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