Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Outer Banks

We're home! We've just returned from a week long stay at Hatteras National Seashore in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. As you can see from the map above, the Outer Banks (OBX) is a mile wide, one hundred twenty mile long stretch of barrier islands off the coast of NC. If you hadn't heard of the OBX already, you may have seen it on the weather channel recently as that's pretty much where Tropical Storm Hanna came to shore.

The soft, quartz sand beaches are amazingly pristine--voted America's number one best in the 2007 "America's Best Beaches" and the weather was nothing short of perfect right up until Hanna arrived.

That's the Cape Hatteras lighthouse in the background.

Hanna gave us some rough surf (fun waves) all week. Enlarge the picture below to see the expressions of glee.

Here are the boys enjoying the frothy surf while looking for sand fleas, ghost crabs, and clams with a National Park Ranger as part of the requirements to earn their Cape Hatteras Junior Ranger badges and patches. This is the third National Junior Rangers program we have completed in three years. Last year the boys earned Assateague National Seashore badges and the Cape Cod National Seashore badges the year before that. I cannot recommend these programs highly enough. The classes, activities, and tours are absolutely fascinating and National Parks Rangers are some of the best people you'll ever meet.

They are dedicated public servants, enthusiastic teachers, and defenders of America's natural treasures. "Explore, Learn, Protect!" is the Junior Ranger motto and the Park Rangers, with their captivating presentations and personal attention, inspire families to learn together, to appreciate the world around them, and foster a desire to preserve our national heritage for future generations. This one Ranger spent the whole morning exploring the coast with just our family explaining many things we saw, teaching the boys about the animals we found and answering questions.

Even if you aren't able to visit a National Park, you can now become a Junior Ranger by completing the Web Rangers program found here.

This was a big year for sea turtles on the Carolina beaches and the egg laying season was slowing, but not yet over when we arrived. Though it doesn't look like much, that heap of sand on the right in the picture above is the nest of an endangered Loggerhead sea turtle. The area is roped off to protect the eggs, and eventually hatchlings, so we didn't get closer than this. We did, however, find the papery remains of other sea turtle eggs at other nesting sites that had hatched in the weeks before.

And we did see this guy at the aquarium. You can follow the path of the Loggerhead sea turtles via satellite transmitters as part of the NC rehabilitation programs at Turtle Trails.

We took the Ferry to Okracoke Island one day, home to the tallest brick lighthouse in the world, the Okracoke Banker ponies, and more amazing beaches.

Okracoke was also a favored landing for pirates during the Golden Age of Piracy. Edward Teach--notoriously known as Blackbeard-- made Okracoke his hideout in 1718. Though we never made it to Teach's Hole Pyrate Shoppe on Okracoke (we were too busy enjoying those amazing beaches) we plan to return there someday. Simeon sure makes that dead guy look silly with bunny ears, and Alex is holding his er...that's not really a hand.

These guys are much cuter. Nick and Zach in new hats.

The OBX is also home to the Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kittyhawk where Orville and Wilbur Wright solved the problems of flight one principle at a time until they succeeded.

Here's a replica of one of their early planes.

The museum points out that it was only 66 years after the Orvilles' flight at Kittyhawk that man landed on the moon. Amazing.

Big mouths at the aquarium.

The OBX has as many miles of sound side beaches as oceanside and the vast, shallow, still, salt water makes for fantastic snorkeling. The boys took full advantage of all snorkel opportunities.

The last night of our stay, after filling up on Smores, Simeon and his father took a golf cart to the beach and used flashlights to go Ghost crabbing. This was the catch they brought home to show us before returning to the shore to release them.

Then Hanna made her appearance cutting our vacation 10 hours short (not bad). That's the Bodie Island lighthouse pictured through the rain above.

We did so much, but there was much we didn't do while visiting the Outer Banks. Besides the pirate shop there were presentations on the many wrecks off the shores of the Outer Banks that we missed--including one on the USS Monitor that rests off the shore of Okracoke Island. There is civil war and world war history and markers, Brittish graves and stories of heroism and daring rescue missions. There is a play about the lost colony of Roanoke we'd like to see, too. And there is bird watching on Pea Island--refuge to over 360 species of birds, local art shops, fishing piers and more...

We'll just have to go back.

...but for now it's back to school.