Kill Devil Hills NC to Ocracoke NC (1575 miles so far)

I walked down to the beach this morning to photograph our last sunrise in the Kill Devil Hills area. It wasn’t a spectacular sunrise — there were just too many clouds to make a real pretty sunrise like we’d seen yesterday in Corolla — but I did enjoy watching the birds gathering food from whatever had washed up on the shore.

The other thing I saw were the pelicans. I had no idea that pelicans flew in formation, much like Canadian geese. That was cool to see, and I was in awe of the beautiful majesty of these avian giants as they flew overhead from one end of the beach to the other. Truly beautiful.

I returned to the hotel room and woke Darla. We got ready, packed, checked out, and headed off for breakfast. We’d seen a place yesterday called Bob’s Grill, whose motto was “Eat and Get the Hell Out”. We figured we couldn’t pass up an opportunity like that, so we stopped in for some huge blueberry pancakes and coffee that could’ve stood up and walked on its own. Still, a good start for the day. We ate, and got the hell out.

On the slate today was a visit to the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, and possibly the Ocracoke Lighthouse if our schedule worked out. Agressive, but doable.

We drove south on Highway 12, and stopped along the way at the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. This is an immense area of land that is Atlantic Ocean shores on the east side, and just a few hundred yards west becomes a marshland that is incredibly full of life — birds, turtles, snakes… you name it, they had it. Darla and I walked along the beach, looking at seashells, and watching a huge bunch of birds floating on the water farther up the beach. We walked up toward them, shoes in hand, and photographed as it seemed necessary.

For me, the most impressive part of this place were the pelicans. These giant birds were flying just inches above the ocean froth, in the troughs between waves. Dipping and diving, they were amazing to watch as they flew, almost on patrol, up and down the coastline. I could’ve watched them for hours.

We discovered that the Kuralt Trail has been set up through the outer banks to immortalize the memory of Charles Kuralt. He was a journalist for CBS, and was host of CBS’ Sunday Morning for many, many years. He was one of my favorites, and I really enjoyed his broadcasts and books. It’s nice to see him remembered in this way.

We pulled ourselves away from the teeming life in Pea Island NWR, and continued down Highway 12 toward Hatteras. Of course, all that fresh air made us hungry, and we started watching for someplace to have lunch. This stretch of drive is pretty desolate from a human perspective, so the places were few and far between. We finally ran across a place called the Down Under Restaurant and Bar in Rodanthe. It looked to be an Aussie joint, and had some of the best sweet tea we found on the trip. (Which, BTW, was a terrific perk on this trip — no one looked at you strange when you ordered sweet tea, and you didn’t have too many places that only served unsweetened tea, and told you the sugar was on the table. Sweet tea is its own amazing combination of ingredients, and no amount of unsweetened tea and table sweetener can come close to duplicating it.) I opted for a Roo Burger — yup, marsupial on a bun. Good, somewhat drier, kinda like buffalo meat, and supposedly a lot less fat. A little thinner than I would’ve liked — especially for $10 — but I can now put one more animal on my personal endangered species list! 🙂

We also stopped in Frisco at Scotch Bonnet Candies. This was a huge shop with every rubber snake known to man, but what will stick in my memory is the fudge. They have incredible fudge, made right there…. soft, moist…. wonderful stuff! In fact, it’s so good that it was recently featured on the Food Network’s Food Finds show. Apparently, this exposure has been keeping them a little busy, but they still seemed to have time to chat with us and make us feel real welcome.

We drove on down Highway 12 to the well-known Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. This is a massive lighthouse, recently moved from it’s original location due to coastal erosion. We walked around the grounds, and had kinda decided not to climb it, as Becky was still a little under the weather. The more we talked about it though, the more I wanted to climb the 250+ steps up the interior. I bought my ticket and started climbing. The first couple of landings were easy. By halfway, I was huffing and puffing, and a couple of landings from the top, I had to take a rest — fortunately, the temperature was about 65 inside, so that wasn’t too brutal. I climbed the rest of the steps, and emerged onto the viewing platform. What a view! You could see both the Atlantic Ocean and Pamlico Sound, as well as the town of Hatteras. The wind was blowing strongly at the top, which made things a little chilly, but that felt great after ascending 200 feet vertically. I am thrilled that I hiked up this lighthouse! Much like we did with one of the pyramids in Mexico, I turned, waved to Darla on the ground, and we took each other’s pictures, and then began the much easier descent.

We drove to the old site of the lighthouse (before its move), but I still had jelly legs from the climb. Darla got out, and shot the old site, as well as shooting the lighthouse as viewed from there. I drank tons of water, and we headed south again.

Near the tip of the island, we came to our first ferry ride, a 40-minute jaunt between Hatteras and Ocracoke Island. All the way, the gulls followed us — dozens of them! At times they would get so close you could almost touch them. Great opportunity for taking a few closeup photos.

Once we got to Ocracoke Island, we drove a bit, and stopped to see the Banker Ponies. These are part of a wild herd that could be the descendants of horses brought from Spain in the 16th century. When the ships would get in trouble, the first thing to be tossed over to lighten the load was the livestock. I guess the theory is that the ponies swam to shore, and started their new, wilder lives. The herd is restricted in size, and where we stopped, we were able to look at them pretty close up.

Driving on down Highway 12, we finally got to the little hamlet of Ocracoke. This was a tiny little place, and kinda felt like you’d been tossed back in time forty years. Almost everyone was walking or riding bikes from place to place on tiny roads that were barely big enough for a couple of cars to pass each other.

We found our hotel, the Bluff Shoal Motel. This was a little throwback strip-like hotel with a dozen or so rooms, filled with the quaintness that this village exuded — a small bed, a tiny fridge and tv, a window air conditioner, panelling on the walls, and a phone stand next to the bed. It was like stepping back into the 1960s!

We asked the desk clerk where we could get a nice dinner, and she suggested the Pony Island Restaurant. We drove the really long five minute drive up to the restaurant and were seated quickly. I kinda felt a little like an outsider, as everyone seemed to know everyone else — lotsa conversations crossing between tables.

We listened to the waitress answer questions about property values in Ocracoke. She has a little piece of land, with a single-wide on it. The trailer was worth almost nothing, but the land value was over $350k! She was talking about how the property taxes are out of sight in Ocracoke — with land values like that, I can see why. We kinda figured that the only way you could have a place down there, and work as a seasonal worker, or shop cashier, or waitress was that your family gave you the land for your home.

After some good grub, we drove to the Ocracoke Lighthouse, which was being lit up by a early evening setting sun. This one has a little strip of land that gives you access to it, while being surrounded by old homes. The lighthouse isn’t terribly remarkable, but it was fun to add another one to our list.

I thought that sunset might be pretty, so we drove to the ferry landing to see what we could see. I really thought the clouds were gonna be like the clouds we photographed at sunrise in Corolla, but they were too thick, so the sun simply disappeared behind them. Oh well! It was still nice — although a little chilly for Darla.

We drove back to the hotel, and ran to the hotel’s dock to look at the lighthouse across the bay, and enjoy the simple pleasures of a quiet night in a quiet hamlet.