Monday, April 23, 2018

Cape Hatteras National Seashore on the Outer Banks

A persnickety spring has us in shorts one day, then back to bundling up the next. It’s a cold, rainy day such as today that has me dreaming of summer beach weather, which I have no doubt will arrive and have me begging for the cooler temperatures we’re presently shuffling through. Whether it is the thought of warm sunshine and ocean surf, or because this week is National Park Week, it is Cape Hatteras National Seashore that is calling to me today; this is one of a couple more posts to wrap up the North Carolina series after which I’ll turn my attention back to the Upstate & a few more Florida adventures.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore preserves 70 miles of shoreline on the Outer Banks, from Bodie Island to Ocracoke Island. Easily accessible thanks to the Virginia Dare Memorial Bridge, the north end of the National Seashore is just across Roanoke Sound from Roanoke Island (home of Fort Raleigh) and south of the Wright Brothers National Memorial and Jockey Ridge. The Bodie Island section is home to the Whalebone Junction information station, Coquina Beach, the Oregon Inlet camping area, a marina, and the Bodie Island Lighthouse and Visitor Center.

The black and white striped lighthouse that stands on Bodie Island is familiar to many, and photographs of the photogenic icon are often found in coffee table books about lighthouses and the outer banks. Construction on a first lighthouse in this location began in 1847, but the structure was shortly abandoned after major structural issues resulted in a leaning lighthouse. A second lighthouse was destroyed two years after its construction by Confederate soldiers during the Civil War, but the third lighthouse had what it takes to survive the elements on the Outer Banks, and still shines out on the Atlantic today.

The third incarnation of the Bodie Island Light was located further inland and to the north from its predecessors, and was almost twice as tall as the previous two at 156 feet; this translates to 214 steps to the top. With a First Order Fresnel Lens the lighthouse can shine its beam 19 miles offshore. A lighthouse keepers' structure was also constructed (which today houses the ranger station and Visitor Center), and the lighthouse was operational by 1872, fully automated in 1932, and came under the care of the National Park Service in 1953. Today the lighthouse and grounds are open to visitors; for more information and hours, please visit the National Park Service website.

The Bodie Island Lighthouse is surrounded by marshes, maritime forests and small saltwater ponds, making it a popular destination for bird watching. Hundreds of migratory bird species pass through annually, due in part to the location of Pea Island Wildlife Refuge south of Bodie Island. Be sure to stop in the Fish & Wildlife Service Visitor Center on your way south.

South of the Refuge are the towns of Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo. The enormous house that was featured in the movie Nights in Rodanthe was formerly located just south of Pea Island NWR, but multiple storms and a shifting coastline resulted in the structure being condemned. Two superfans of the Richard Gere-Diane Lane tear-jerker purchased it and moved it to a safer spot in 2010, and today the Inn at Rodanthe is a vacation rental.

Inn at Rodanthe: source here

Further south is Little Kinnakeet, the Historic US Life Saving Service Station. The original station building was among the first seven constructed on the Outer Banks, and the site remained active under the U.S. Coast Guard until 1954. Continuing south you’ll reach the Hatteras Island Visitor Center and the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse; the nearby town of Buxton features numerous vacation rentals as well as campgrounds, bathhouse facilities and even an airstrip in the town of Frisco.

The last island in the series is Ocracoke. With its own Visitor Center, the Ocracoke Lighthouse and additional campgrounds, the island is a popular destination despite being only accessible by ferry. A free shuttle runs daily between Hatteras and Ocracoke; visit NC Dept. of Transportation website for more info. Southwest of Ocracoke is another National Seashore, Cape Lookout. However, travel to the mainland or Cedar Island involves a 2.5 hour toll ferry.

Portions of Cape Hatteras National Seashore are open to off-road vehicles, with ramps providing access to the beach. In other places boardwalks take visitors to the water, but regardless how you access the shore, there are 70 miles of sandy beaches to explore. Go for a hike or shelling, or just choose a spot to relax, picnic and build sand castles. The constant winds coming off the ocean provide ideal kite-flying weather, and beach fires are allowed with a free beach fire permit, allowing visitors to stay late and enjoy the starry night sky. Whether you are enjoying the beach, kayaking the sound, or climbing the Bodie Island Lighthouse, Cape Hatteras National Seashore is a highlight of an Outer Banks visit that will be sure to provide memories plenty for beach daydreams until the next visit. Happy Earth Day, and happy National Park Week!

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