Around the World... One Journey at a Time. Around the World... One Journey at a Time.

Across the U.S.: Day 31

by Kathy 20. August 2009 09:28

<< Day 30: Rock Hill to Cape Hatteras  | Day 32: Cape Hatteras >>

Cape Hatteras


Our RV spot on Hatteras Island was right next to the ocean.  A short walk up and over the dunes, and we were presented with a magnificent beach that stretched for miles and miles.  I, however, am not a "hang out at the beach all day" kind of person.  (Besides, I can hang out all I want on the beach near my home in California--I don't need to travel 3000 miles to do that.)  A couple of hours on the beach is generally nice, but I need to be moving on after that--hiking, bicycling, following an inviting path, venturing off to a new place.  There was plenty to explore on the Outer Banks.

This morning we left our campground and drove about 40 minutes south to the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, which is part of the Cape Hatteras National Shoreline.

The 2-lane road south followed the contour of the long, skinny island:

My dad at the lighthouse entrance:

Me and my mom:

Cape Hatteras lighthouse:

We stopped by the Visitor’s Center to get Jr. Ranger booklets for the children, who were both excited to be earning another badge.

Later in the day, Sebastian commented that he didn’t do the Jr. Ranger programs just for the badge. He said, “The purpose of Jr. Ranger is to learn all of the information—the badge is just an award for all of your new knowledge.” Bravo! Such insight.

Ranger Ben was giving a presentation on shipwrecks this morning, so we attended the program in the outdoor pavilion. He started by explaining that Cape Hatteras is part of the long thin line of barrier islands, called the Outer Banks, that protect the mainland of North Carolina from the energy of the Atlantic Ocean.

Here is Ranger Ben pointing to the narrow white line showing the sandy edges of the islands.

The Cape Hatteras National Shoreline stretches for 70 miles along the Outer Banks and was the first coastal area in the nation to be designated as a “national” shoreline.

The land is constantly changing, with the wind, powerful waves, and shifting sands.

Ranger Ben also explained that the shores have many “rip currents”, which some people mistakenly call “rip tides.”

The rip currents are caused by breaks in the sand bars near the shore; the waves crash into the shore, but when they recede, the sand bars act as little dams to prevent the water from moving back. When the water finds an opening in the sand bars, it is sucked back with an intense force. Ranger Ben instructed us to swim across the rip current, parallel to the shore, if we are ever caught up in one.

Ranger Ben then dove into the colorful "shipwreck" history of the Outer Banks.  This area of the coastline has been called the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” because of the high number of shipwrecks—500 confirmed wrecks, but the number of actual wrecks is estimated to be one to two thousand. Evidence of the wrecks is rarely found along the shore today, but 50 years ago the deteriorating carcasses of wrecked wooden boats were scattered along the sand.

Ranger Ben held up a piece of wreckage that had been found on the beach:

Off the shore of North Carolina, the warm water from the north-flowing Gulf Stream meets the cold water from the Labrado current that flows south. (My father was in the U.S. Navy for many years, and said that the sailors always dreaded entering this part of the ocean because of the huge waves created by the two currents coming together.)

The sailing vessels flowing south did not want to get caught up in the Gulf Stream, which would take them upwards and across the ocean to England, so they would hug the shore. At the tip of Cape Hatteras, there is a shallow shifting sand bar that extends 15 miles into the sea. Many ships have run aground on that bar and have been battered to pieces by the ocean waves.

A photo of one wreckage that was washed ashore:

One of the most famous shipwrecks here is that of the USS Monitor, which fought the Confederate ship CSS Virginia (aka the Merrimac). The Monitor was being towed south and sunk 12 miles off the coast in a storm.

In the 1870’s, the USS Huron sunk just a few hundred feet off of the coast near Nags Head, and over half of the crew drowned. Nags Head had a life-saving station, but it was only manned part time, and was closed at the time of the wreck. Several months later, another ship, the Metropolis, sunk only 20 miles north of the Huron; local people were aghast that no one was there to help the Metropolis sailors, except the ghosts of those from the Huron.

After those wrecks, a plan was implemented to prevent further loss of life. First, lighthouses were built every 40 miles, each with a unique paint pattern and light flashing pattern. Ranger Ben showed us the different lighthouse paint patterns:

Second, the U.S. Life Saving Service was created, with life-saving stations constructed every few miles.

The stations were staffed by local surfmen, and the success rate was 99%. Ships still ran aground, but the people on board were rescued before the pounding surf could destroy their vessels.

One historical tidbit of which I had previously been unaware is that in 1942, German U-boats sank more than 80 ships off of the shores of North Carolina. Hundreds of lives were lost, and the area was nicknamed “Torpedo Junction.” After 1942, the United States increased its patrol of the water, and the lighthouses were used to keep watch for the U-boats.

After the shipwreck presentation, we walked over to the lighthouse. We had tickets to climb to the top at a specific time this morning.

Here we are at the bottom:

The top stretched far above us.

Construction of the lighthouse began in 1868 and finished in 1870. At 198.5 feet in height, it is the tallest brick lighthouse in the United States.

We would be climbing to the observation deck at the top.

Ranger Jay gave us the safety rules.

Inside the lighthouse was a spiral of 257 cast-iron steps winding up and up and up to the top.

We climbed and climbed, and then climbed some more, around and around.

Looking up:

Looking down:

There were a couple of windows so that we could see our progress on the way up.

We finally reached the door at the top:

What a magnificent view!

In the distance to the northeast, we could see the sandy patch next to the ocean where the lighthouse originally stood.

In 1870, that area was 1600 feet west from the shoreline. However, the shape and outer edges of Hatteras Island are constantly changing, and the ocean gradually crept closer and closer.  In 1999, the shoreline was a mere 150 feet away. That year, through a tremendous engineering accomplishment, the lighthouse was moved inland 2900 feet on rollers, inch by slow inch, to its current position far from the shore.

The eastern view looked toward mainland North Carolina, which is 30 miles away.  Ranger Ben had told us this morning that visibility from the top of the lighthouse is only 20 to 25 miles and that we wouldn't be able to see the mainland.  He was right.  Down below were the park museum and administrative buildings. 

The people directly below looked like colorful ants.

Sebastian and Genevieve:

Sometimes Genevieve has some issues with heights. After looking briefly at the view, Genevieve decided that she felt much more comfortable away from the edge of the observation deck, sitting with her back pressed firmly against the solid lighthouse wall.

Looking up at the glass top:

After we spiraled our way back down the stairs, we wandered over to visit the museum to learn more about the area and to find the information that Genevieve and Sebastian needed for their Jr. Ranger booklets.

The museum porch had a line of gleaming white chairs.  The morning was still cool, however, and no one needed to rest in the shade.

One of the exhibits was a map with lines showing how the coast had eroded and changed over the years.

Sebastian learned more about the different patterns for each lighthouse in the area.

On the way back to the car, the children discovered this small lizard shape in the concrete sidewalk--it had apparently gotten trapped in the wet surface, and then its body had eroded away with time, leaving just its impression behind.

This afternoon, we spent some time playing in the Atlantic Ocean.

The water here is much warmer than the Pacific Ocean. The waves are also different, breaking close to the shore and burying our faces in the sand when we tried to body surf. Woo hoo!

Genevieve met a girl from Ottawa, Canada, who spoke French and not much English; Genevieve speaks no French. Yet they played happily together for a long time, building a large sand castle with moats and high walls. The girl’s parents said that this was their first trip to the Outer Banks; they were on their way to visit Savannah, Georgia, which they had heard was very beautiful.

The beach sand consists of tiny rocks, which are eventually ground into grains by the vigorous surf. When we peeled off our bathing suits back in the RV, enough small rocks fell off our bodies to fill a small bucket—yikes!

Sebastian rode his bike around the campground.

He also shared some explosive water balloon fun with a new friend.

After dinner tonight, we attended the “Night Lights” program, led by Ranger Zac. He has been a ranger for 3 months, and Hatteras National Shoreline is his first assignment.

The mosquitoes were out in full force tonight, so we sprayed ourselves with bug repellant. Even so, the mosquitoes kept landing in my hair around my face, so I had to give my hair an extra spray. We don’t have many (dare I say “any”?) mosquitoes where we live in California, and I’m so glad that I don’t have to include bug repellant in my daily routine.

We started the program at the original site of the Hatteras lighthouse. The ring of stones that formed the foundation still remains, with the names of the lighthouse keepers engraved along the base. Here is Sebastian sitting on top of the ring wall.

Ranger Zac educated us regarding why the darkness of the night sky is an important natural resource for plant and animal life. Artificial lights have consequences.

For example, migrating shore birds are very active at night, eating insects such as mosquitoes and lightning bugs; however, the bright light from lighthouses captivates them, and they will circle the light around and around and around, sometimes crashing into it. One lighthouse has even documented 6000 bird deaths in a one-year period.

Another animal that is affected by artificial light is the sea turtle, which needs dark beaches to lay its eggs. The hatchlings have a natural instinct to turn away from darkness and move toward the natural brightness of the ocean; however, when there are bright lights on the shore, the hatchlings get confused and either move toward those lights (away from the ocean) or move in circles on the sand. Either action leads to their death from predators or the moisture-sucking heat of the rising sun.

Humans, also, are affected by artificial lights. Those lights allow us to stay up much later than in the past, which often leads to severe sleep disorders, including insomnia and the inability to get up in the morning.

Ranger Zac told us that in 1994, after the Los Angeles earthquake had created a power outage, hundreds of people had called various government organizations (some in a panic) to report or complain about a “great silvery cloud” in the sky. That “cloud” was actually the Milky Way, which many people never see because city lights often create a “sky glow” that obscures most of the stars overhead.

The darkness of the night sky connects humans to the past because the sky is the same that others have seen for thousands of years. Our ancestors connected the dots in the sky and came up with various constellations and stories about the stars.

The Night Lights program was supposed to include some star-gazing, along with stories about the constellations. However, all but a few twinkles were covered by the broad expanse of clouds tonight.

Ranger Zac promoted the reduction of artificial light by turning off lights when we don’t need them, by replacing high-wattage lightbulbs with less intense bulbs, and by using light shields that prevent light from spreading up into the sky.  Each of these suggestions can be easily implemented and can have a cumulative huge impact on the night sky.

We returned to the campground satiated with today’s good times and new knowledge.


<< Day 30: Rock Hill to Cape Hatteras  | Day 32: Cape Hatteras >>

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Map of Our Journeys

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Our travel map

Places We’ve Been, w/Quick Links

   Bumthang Valley
   Gom Kora
   Paro Valley
   Punakha Dzong
   Sangdrup Jongkhar
   Wangdi Phrodrang

   Janko Marca
   La Paz
   Laguna Colorada
   Laguna Verde
   Salar de Coipasa
   Salar de Uyuni
   San Pablo
   Santa Rosa
   Sud Lipez
   World’s Most Dangerous Road

   Banff National Park
   Battle Hill Nat'l Hist. Site
   Boya Lake Prov. Park, BC
   Burns Lake Bike Park
   Canyon Sainte-Anne
   Dawson Creek
   Eastern Townships
   Fort Nelson
   Jasper National Park
   Kluane Lake, YK
   'Ksan Historical Village
   Lake Louise
   Liard Hot Springs
   Niagara Falls
   Quebec City
   Thousand Islands
   Vancouver Island
   Watson Lake

   Forbidden City
   Great Wall at Mutianyu
   Hong Kong
   Summer Palace
   Terracotta Warriors
   Tiananmen Square
   Yungang Caves

Costa Rica
   Arenal Volcano
   Finca Corsicana
   Hanging Bridges
   Manuel Antonio
   Poas Volcano
   Proyecto Asis
   Sky Trek Zip Lining
   Venado Caves


   Amazon Rainforest
   Chaquiñan Bicycle Trail
   La Mitad del Mundo
   Napo Wildlife Center
   Papallacta Hot Springs
   Proyecto DCR
   Yasuní National Park


   Baja California
   Frida Kahlo Museum
   Hierve el Agua
   Marietas Islands
   Mexico City
   Monte Alban
   Oaxaca City
   Puerto Angel
   Puerto Escondido
   Puerto Vallarta
   San Agustin
   San Martin Tilcajete
   Santa Fe de la Laguna
   Santa María el Tule
   Studio of Jacobo Angeles
   Teotitlán del Valle

   Dead Vlei
   Elondo Village
   Etosha Nat'l Park
   Hippo Pools Camp
   Hoba Meteorite
   Khowarib Camp
   Moose McGregor's Bakery
   Mowani Camp
   Ngepi Camp
   Nkasa Lupala
   n'Kwzi Camp
   River Dance Lodge
   Seisriem Camp
   Treesleeper Camp

   Cañón del Pato
   Cerro de Pasco
   La Oroya
   Machu Picchu
   Nuevo Jaén
   Tingo Maria
   Yungay Memorial


South Africa

   Rock of Gibraltar
   Santillana del Mar

United States National Parks
   Arches National Park, UT
   Badlands National Park, SD
   Bandelier National Monument, NM
   Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
   Cahokia Mounds (UNESCO site), IL
   Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM
   Canyon de Chelly Nat'l Monument, AZ
   Cape Hatteras National Shoreline, NC
   Capitol Reef National Park, UT
   Civil Rights Memorial, AL
   Death Valley National Park, CA
   Denali National Park, AK
   Devil’s Tower National Monument, WY
   El Morro National Monument, NM
   Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.
   Glacier National Park, MT
   Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
   Grand Tetons National Park, WY
   Great Basin National Park, NV
   Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI
   Joshua Tree National Park, CA
   Kaloko-Honokohau Nat'l Hist. Park, HI
   Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks, NM
   King's Canyon National Park, CA
   Martin Luther King Jr. Nat'l Hist. Site, GA
   Mesa Verde National Park, CO
   Montezuma's Castle Nat'l Monument, AZ
   Monticello, VA
   Mount Rushmore National Memorial, SD
   Mt. Rainier National Park, WA
   Olympic National Park, WA
   Petrified Wood National Park, AZ
   Pinnacles National Monument, CA
   Pu'uhonua o Honaunau Nat'l Hist Pk, HI
   Pu'ukohola Heiau Nat'l Historic Site, HI
   San Antonio Missions Nat'l Hist. Park, TX
   Tuzigoot National Monument, AZ
   Walnut Canyon National Monument, AZ
   Washington Monument
   White Sands National Monument, NM
   Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, AK
   Wright Brothers National Memorial in NC
   Yellowstone National Park, WY
   Yosemite National Park, CA

United States, Cities and Places
   The Alamo, TX
   Alaska Wildlife Conservation Cntr.
   Alpine Loop in CO
   Anchorage, AK
   Antares Junction, AZ
   Arctic Circle, AK
   Barrel Oak Winery in VA
   Biloxi, MS
   Bottle Tree Farm in CA
   Calico Ghost Town, CA
   Canfield Mountain Trail System, ID
   Cape St. Vincent, NY
   Carson City, NV
   Carter Caves State Park in KY
   Chappie-Shasta OHV Area, CA
   Child's Glacier, AK
   Circle B Chuckwagon Show in SD
   City Museum in MO
   Cody, WY
   Corn Palace in SD
   Crazy Horse Memorial in SD
   Custer State Park, SD
   Dalton Highway, AK
   Dinosaur Tracks in AZ
   Discovery Place in Charlotte, NC
   Dry Falls (Sun Lakes-Dry Falls), WA
   Fairbanks, AK
   Front Royal, VA
   Gallup, NM
   Goffs, CA
   Grand Canyon Caves, AZ
   Grand Canyon Skywalk, AZ
   Grave Digger Monster Truck in NC
   Great Salt Lake, UT
   Hackberry General Store in AZ
   Hannibal, MO
   Hatteras Island, NC
   Hawaii (Big Island)
   Hickison Petroglyphs, NV
   Holbrook, AZ
   Hole in the Rock, UT
   Homer, AK
   Honey Island Swamp Tour in LA
   Hoover Dam, NV
   Hyder, AK
   Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood Co. in AZ
   John’s Peak OHV Area, OR
   Kailua-Kona, HI
   Keepers of the Wild Nature Park in AZ
   Kennecott, AK
   Kennecott Copper Mine in UT
   Kingman, AZ
   Lake Havasu, AZ
   Lake Tahoe, NV
   Las Vegas, NV (winter 2010)
   Little Brown Church in IA
   London Bridge in AZ
   Loneliest Road in America, Hwy. 50, NV
   Los Angeles, CA
   Lost Colony Show on Roanoke Isl., NC
   Lowe’s Speedway in NC
   Mardi Gras World in LA
   Mark Twain Museum in MO
   Meteor Crater, AZ
   Million Dollar Highway, CO
   Minnesota Zoo
   Mitchell, SD
   Moab, UT
   Moab, UT (dirt biking)
   Montgomery, AL
   Montpelier, ID
   Navajo Nation, AZ
   Needles, CA
   Nevada Beach, NV
   Newberry Springs, CA
   New River Gorge, WV
   New Orleans, LA
   Niagara Falls 
   North Pole, AK
   Oatman, AZ
   Old Faithful Geyser in WY
   Omak Stampede, WA
   Painted Desert, AZ
   Park City, UT (summer)
   Plymouth, NC
   Portage Valley, AK
   Portland, OR
   Prospect OHV Trail System, OR
   Resaca, GA
   Riverside State Park, WA
   Rock City in TN
   Rosa Parks Library and Museum in AL
   Roswell, NM
   Russian River, AK
   Salt Lake City, UT
   San Antonio, TX
   San Diego, CA
   San Juan Islands, WA
   San Francisco, CA
   Santa Catalina Island, CA
   Seattle, WA
   Sedona, AZ
   Shoe Tree in CA
   Shoe Tree in NV
   Silverton, CO
   Sonora, TX
   St. Louis, MO
   St. Paul, MN
   Talkeetna, AK
   Telluride, CO
   Route 66
   Twin Knobs Recreation Area in KY
   Virginia Beach, VA
   Washington D.C.
   Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park in IL
   Williamsburg, VA
   Winom Frazier OHV Area, OR
   Winslow, AZ
   Zion National Park, UT

Planning Our Adventures

For us, each journey begins with the initial heart pangs to venture to a certain part of the world. Then the ideas start coming together . . . ahh, the possibilities . . . and the dream evolves gradually into an actual plan. But, oh, the joy of the dream!  Click here to learn more about how we plan and prepare for our journeys.

Where Are We Now?

Click here to discover where we are now, as well as our uncoming travel plans.

Words for the Heart

“. . . and then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Anais Nin