The Graveyard of Ships is a haunting nickname, reminiscent of the not so distant past on Hatteras Island. The treacherous stretch of water gave rise to the need for the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Designed with a distinctive black and white candy cane pattern, this is “not a happy lighthouse.” The tallest light house in the world, its light beams for twenty miles, warning ships to stay away. Today, visitors can experience the view of this lighthouse for themselves, as I did during a recent visit to the Outer Banks. We climbed to the top of the lighthouse, a great workout at 257 steps including the steps outside, stopping along the way to peer out the windows and learn the history of the lighthouse. This is the second lighthouse to be built and as the island shifted over time, the lighthouse moved closer to the ocean. In 1999, a massive project was taken to move the lighthouse 2900 feet inland. The lighthouse is generally open from around Easter until mid-October, but the view from the top is worth the climb!
Nearby stands the Bodie Island Light Station, with its distinctive black and white horizontal stripes. This lighthouse is smaller, checking in at 156 feet with 214 steps. Thanks to an extensive restoration project, visitors can once again climb to the top during the open season, usually beginning in April and ending mid-October. This light house is the third in Bodie Island’s history, with the first two succumbing to the elements and the forces of the Civil War. The third lighthouse was finally completed in 1871. Today the Keeper’s House is used as a Ranger’s Office and Visitors Center. Be sure to stop in and check out the display showing the 3000 ships that have been lost in the surrounding area.
Because of the massive amount of shipwrecks in the area, in an era before the Coast Guard, something had to be done to rescue the sailors. Thus, the early predecessor to the Coast Guard was born, Life Saving Stations. We stopped by the Chicamacomico Life Saving Station and were treated to a glimpse into the past. The Life Saving Station was manned by experienced seamen, called Surfmen, who patrolled the shores for five miles in search of ships in distress. To ensure the seamen completed their missions they were given a token to swap with another seaman whose border met their own. The preferred method to rescue sailors involved shooting a hawser line to a stranded ship. Sailors were then loaded into a life car and hauled to shore one at a time. While visiting the station, be sure to climb to the top of the station and check out the beautiful view. Be sure to watch your head as you climb as there are low lying rails.
After our adventures through history, it was time for a walk on the beach at nearby Pea Island Wildlife Refuge. Established in 1937 as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife, this is a perfect place to view the natural wildlife, including over 350 bird species, pick up shells or take a walk through the wetlands. I was surprised to find we were able to walk on the dunes, something I had never been allowed to do at a beach before! Although busiest during the summer months, the Refuge offers opportunities to explore year round.
There’s nothing I enjoy more than seeing history brought to life and we found that and more at Roanoke Island Festival Park. This 25 acre interactive park representing the first English settlement attempt in 1585. Our guide, James, walked us through the reconstructed Native American village and the English Settlement. Along the way we were able to attempt to speak the Algonquin language, dig out a canoe, build a Native American lodge and be locked in the stocks. The costumed workers have taken names from the original settlers and remain in character, answering questions and demonstrating skills used during the time period. Our tour continued onto a replica of the Elizabeth II, a 16th century representative ship and the hands-on Roanoke Adventure Museum, a favorite among children.
Have you visited the Outer Banks, North Carolina? What is your favorite activity?
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