We've gone to Carolina, December 1997
Jen and I had a few days off around Christmas, so we decided to take one of our patented "What the Hell" trips. Our friends and family asked why we were going and we told them, "for the hell of it." We left on Christmas day and headed for the Research Triangle area.
The next day we headed east toward the Outer Banks. It was a fabulous day with the sun shining and sixty degree temperatures. The ride to the coast was about as nice as it could be.
Probably the biggest benefit for visiting this time of year was the absolute lack of crowds. We spent the evening in Nags Head, taking a stroll on the giant moving sand dune of Jockey's Ridge State Park and chowing down on seafood at the "Black Pelican."
I was anticipating another fine day and I even rose early so I could sit on the beach and watch the sunrise. I opened the door to our room and it was pouring down rain outside. I went promptly back to bed.
A couple hours later we got up and it was still miserable outside. But, this was our last day on the Outer Banks, so we had to make it count. I was going to see the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, hurricane or no hurricane.
We headed south though the gale and into Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The winds were strong enough to be felt just by driving the car and the rain was pretty hard at times. Some parts of the road were under big puddles that encouraged hydroplaning. Despite the weather, this part of the coast was a beautiful contrast to the jam-packed summer beach houses of Nags Head and Kitty Hawk. Along Route 12, there are long stretches of empty shore with big sand dune embankments. We stopped at a beach along the way, but didn't stay long as Jen's umbrella acted more like a sail than protection. In the distance, a lighthouse was visible. Back into the car and a short time later we arrived at the Bodie Island Lighthouse. Interestingly, this lighthouse is located relatively far from the Atlantic coast...it was found on the west side of the highway. The rain was really coming down hard at that point so one quick snapshot and we hit the road again.
We headed further south, through more rain and a couple of tiny Outer Banks communities. Finally, out of the haze, fog, and clouds, the famous tower with the candy-cane paint job showed itself. The rainfall slowed down and became more of a mist. Despite the miserable day, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse had a fair group of visitors.
I fished the camera and tripod out of the trunk and headed up over the sand dunes to take some shots of the landmark we'd driven 700 miles to see. Jen held the umbrella while I tried to compose the perfect shot. Here's the result:
The camera does not convey the weather...maybe a few drops on the lens would've helped. But the wind and rain had an exciting and unique effect as well. I could easily imagine myself on a ship out in the gale, trying to navigate the "graveyard of the Atlantic," straining in the binoculars to see if the Cape Hatteras light would pierce the gloom. Kinda cool.
We left the beach and walked over to the house on the grounds, now serving as a mini-museum and a gift shop. There were interesting items from the lighthouse's history. I was really intrigued by a display about lifesaving crews who would take tiny boats out into fierce storms and bring back the shipwrecked sailors. Gutsy and dedicated people. Another cool display was about the German U-Boats that spent a good deal of WW II right off the Outer Banks, sending ship after ship into the "graveyard."
After seeing the lighthouse, it was time to head north again, back into the relative civilization of Kill Devil Hills. We stopped for lunch at an interesting barbecue place known as Pigman's. Pretty good stuff. Inside, he had a VCR playing all of his weird TV ads and an fairly large aquarium, overstocked with huge fish.
One more stop to go before we had to begin the long trip back to Ohio. Right next to the highway is the famous historical site where the Wright Brothers made their first powered flight in 1903. The location is now a National Monument. We checked out the museum which contained bits and pieces from their flight research, including wind tunnels and letters. The also had replicas of one of the Wright's gliders and the powered plane. Just outside the visitor's center was the "airstrip" where the powered flights were made. Since it was raining, we were lazy and drove around to the monument located atop Big Kill Devil Hill. The monument is a giant granite monolith with a wing pattern molded into it. The hill afforded us a nice view of the area, but the cold winds told us not to stay long.
So we hopped back into the car and headed back north, leaving the sea behind, but not the miserable weather. A snowstorm convinced us to spend the night in Charlottesville, Virginia before we drove home the next day.
We're looking forward to going back someday when we can spend more time down there with a little more sun, but the same sized crowds.
Links of interest:
- Jockey's Ridge State Park
- Cape Hatteras National Seashore
- The Pigman
- Wright Brothers National Monument