Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Outer Banks

After leaving Williamsburg, we drove through the armpit of Virginia - Newport News, Hamilton, etc... We were trying to take scenic backroads again... All we saw was ports, railroads, and ghettos... We drove on 3 Martin Luther King, Jr. streets.... + side: We got to drive into a cool, long tunnel... We didn't know at the time it was a cool tunnel, just long.  Later that night we saw on news (it was a story about the horrible traffic, which we experienced) that the road goes on a bridge, then just disappears in the middle of the bay into a tunnel.  It was pretty cool!
We spent the night in Virginia Beach.  We LOVED it!  It was so different than any other beach we had ever been to.  The ocean and beach are lined with a boardwalk and the hotels and restaurants are on the edge of the boardwalk.  On the boardwalk was a HUGE statue of Poseidon.  We searched for a restaurant that had an open area to look at the water.  We found one that had a huge deck up top, so we sat right on the edge overlooking the beach and people watched (Kathryn's favorite!!). 
We left V.B. and drove all the way to the tip of VA (getting lost only once... NOT THE NAVIGATOR'S (Kathryn) FAULT... the roads literally were not labeled) to take a ferry to North Carolina.... or so we thought... after driving through miles and miles of fields and farms and huge farm houses and random cemetaries in people's yards (we saw this a lot!), we get to the ferry... to find out that it is closed!!  One of the ferrys broke, and it was taking a few hours to get a replacement up there.  SO... we re-routed and took the land through Virginia to the North Carolina Outer Banks (represented as OBX on everything). 
We stopped at Kill Devil Hills and visited the site of the Wright Brother's flights... it was really windy, and there were crazy sand cactuses everywhere (they had super long, sharp spikes like western cactuses, but they were tiny and hidden!). 
The OBX are beautiful!!  The road stretches through sand dunes with the ocean on either side.  At one point we stopped and climed a sand dune to explore the beach.  It was EMPTY!!... We couldn't see anyone/thing for miles!  We marked the spot where we entered the beach by noticing a shoe someone had left and some markings in the sand, and we took off down the beach collecting shells.  When we decided that we better head back, it took us much longer to get to the shoe and scribbling than we thought it should... Finally we climbed to the top of a dune to see where we were... and realized the car was about 1/2 mile behind us!  Apparently the tide had washed away the writing and shoe.  Oh, well, no big deal, and that was the one adventure for the day... NOT REALLY...
On the OBX you can drive on the beach... Pretty cool, right?  There are some rules to follow - let a certain amount of air out of your tires, stay in the tracks of other drivers, stay on the packed sand near the water, and you must be in a 4-wheel drive vehicle.  Pretty simple... Unless you 1. don't let enough air out of your tires 2. aren't at the packed sand yet and 3. don't have any tracks to follow in... all of which happened to us!  So it was an adventure to get un-stuck from the sand.  Luckily there was nobody around to see our drama.
We drove down Hattaras Island to Cape Hattaras and spent the night.  The island is full of cute little towns with icecream shops, seafood restaurants and cute little beach houses all separated by stretches of barren beach. 
The next morning we went to the Hattaras Island light house - the tallest one in North Carolina. It was beautiful!  All the light houses on the OBX are painted black and white.  This one had diagonal stripes, and the bottom was painted bright red.  The stairs going up were not very steep, so it was a pretty easy climb.  From the top you could see the sound, the ocean, the maritime forest, and the town.
After the lighthouse we took the free fairy over to Ocracoke Island.  It was a short ride and it was neat to see the spot where the ocean and sound meet.  The waves just stoppped suddenly.  Ocracoke is empty and all state park except for the village of Ocracoke, which was really neat... We wish we had more time to spend there.  You can walk or ride bikes all over; most people had golf carts.  There are small shops and restaurants all along the bay.  Ocracoke is the island that Blackbeard the pirate used as a hideout, and he was killed in the ocean just off the island... is there buried treasure there?! 
The ferry from Ocracoke to the mainland is a 2 1/2 hour reservations-required ferry.  We took the latest reservation 8:30 so that we would have a lot of time around town.  Since we had a while, we decided to drive on the beach again after eating supper (Where we had conch... you know, the huge twisty shells you find on the beach?... it was delicious!).  This time we let more air out of the tires and there were tracks to follow... simple, right?!  Ummm... NO!  The tracks were so deep and the SUV sat so low that it dragged on the sand between the tracks... and got stuck... for good!  Chris had to get out and pick up/push the car while Kathryn drove... He had said "Do not stop or slow down once the car gets unstuck"... SO... I did not stop when it got unstuck.... I took off down the beach, turned around when he hollerd at me to turn, and kept going full speed.  Chris tried to jump in, but that did not work.  After fearing that we would miss our ferry, we managed to make it in plenty of time.  We took the ferry over to the mainland and drove to New Bern where Jamie (Kathryn's sister) lives.
The OBX were lots of fun and beautiful.  We did not get to see some of the upper islands, so we are absolutely going back!

Poseidon statue on Virginia Beach boardwalk.

Virginia Beach

Our seats at the restaurant.

Fireworks from our balcony.

The 1st ferry we tried to take...

View of Kill Devil Hills (where the Wright Brothers flew) from the hill.  When the Brothers were here, the area was a barren desert wasteland for miles around this spot.

Wright Brothers memorial.  It is designed to look like a star from the air, and the top of the monument is a beacon for planes and ships.

Replicas of the Wright brothers' hanger (left) and shack (right).  These are in the exact spot where they were originally built.

Original running strip for the plane.

Flight #4 (the furthest one) site
Picture of Kill Devil Hills from the memorial.

The first block is where they took off, the next 4 are the different landing spots for their first flights!
These four blocks are the 4 landing spots.

Bridge connecting one Outer Banks island to another.

Duney beach we got lost on.

Long stretch of road surrounded by dunes... ocean on the left, bay sound on the right.

Getting stuck #1...

Tallest lighthouse in NC.

View from the top.  That is the sound.

The lighthouse was moved down this clearcut path because the beach where it was was eroding.

Waiting to get on the ferry.

Some HUGE houses... Houses like this were ALL OVER on Cape Hattaras.

Ferry ride

See where the ocean stops and the sound starts?  The waves just end.

Ocracoke Island

We wanted to walk to the end of the island where the ocean and sound meet, but we couldn't because there were birds nesting.

The ocean off Ocracoke Island where Blackbeard the pirate was captured and killed.

Ocracoke Village

Ocracoke Lighthouse.  You'd think the house was the lighthouse keeper's, rigth?... Nope!  It's a huge, beautiful private residence.  The lighthouse is still a functioning one... Imagine how bright that is!

Going onto the beach for failed attempt #2 to drive on it.

Ocracoke Island as we leave on the ferry.

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