Lightkeepers of the Outer Banks

Unfortunately most of our time spent in the Outer Banks was a bust weather-wise, bringing blustery winds and cold rains.  Planned bike rides and walks on the beach were scrapped most days, so instead we turned our attention to visiting the lightkeepers of the Outer Banksthose lone sentinels with piercing gaze, standing guard over the dangerous channels and shoals, always at the ready to guide mariners to safety.

The entire stretch of coastline along the Outer Banks has been nicknamed the “Graveyard of the Atlantic”, given the 1000+ ships that have succumbed to a watery grave here since record keeping began in 1526.  The cold waters of the Labrador Current crash into the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream, resulting in severe weather, strong currents and thick fog.

We visited five towering lighthouses along the coastline, although many would say only four actually stand within the Outer Banks’ boundaries.  The southernmost light station at Cape Lookout resides in the Core Banks, immediately south of the Outer Banks, although there is much discussion about exactly where the Outer Banks begin and end.  Regardless, we found each of these stately brick lighthouses to be fascinating, each with their own unique designs and light patterns to act as location markers for seagoing vessels.

1)  Currituck Beach Lighthouse

Currituck Beach Lighthouse is the northernmost lighthouse, in Corolla, NC.  Prior to constructing this light station, there was an 80-mile navigational void along this stretch of land where many vessels languished.  Standing 158 feet tall, this unusual unpainted brick beacon began flashing its 1st-order Fresnel lens on December 1, 1875.  Its light rotates in 20 second increments and can be seen 18 miles out to sea.  The lighthouse’s 220 steps are  open to the public for climbing, giving a wonderful panoramic view of the Currituck Sound and the Atlantic Ocean.

2)  Bodie Island Lighthouse

Bodie Island Lighthouse (pronounced ‘body’) stands just south of Nags Head and is the third beacon built along this stretch of coastline.  The first was abandoned due to a poor foundation and the second obliterated by Confederate troops.  The present-day structure was completed in 1872 and stands in an atypical setting of tall pines and marshland.  Standing 150 feet tall, it is said to be the architectural twin of Currituck Beach, but is not open to the public for climbing.  Bodie carries the familiar black and white horizontal stripes common to many lighthouses, casting its 1st-order Fresnel lens 19 miles over the ocean.

3)  Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Known as “America’s Lighthouse”, Cape Hatteras is the tallest brick lighthouse in the country, standing 208 feet tall.  Its familiar black and white spiral-striped tower guards one of the most dangerous stretches of the Outer Banks, 12 miles of shifting sandbars sitting off Cape Hatteras, known as the Diamond Shoals.  The present-day beacon was completed in December 1870 and today uses two 1000-watt lamps to guide mariners, throwing its light 20 miles out to sea.

In 1999 the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was moved inland one-half mile to save it from the ravages of the intruding Atlantic.  It was cut from its base, lifted onto steel beams and transported via railroad tracks to its current location.  The interior 269 steps are open to the public; however, we determined its beauty was best seen from afar as we watched a large bus full of pre-teens standing in line to tackle the climb. 😉

4)  Ocracoke Lighthouse

Ocracoke Lighthouse is North Carolina’s oldest operating lighthouse.  The present-day structure, built in 1822, is the third, with the first two being replaced due to shifting inlet sands.  Standing 75 feet tall, it shines its constant fixed beam 14 miles out to sea.  It is not open to the public for climbing and if you want to see her, you must access the free ferry over to Ocracoke Island.  Fair warning, be prepared to wait in long lines to get onto the ferry.  We waited 2 1/2 hours and peak season was not yet upon us.

5)  Cape Lookout Lighthouse

Cape Lookout Lighthouse, whose structure is very similar to that of Bodie and Currituck, stands 163 feet in height, with 207 interior spiraling steps that can be traversed during summer months.  Not unlike Ocracoke, it must be accessed by small ferry from Harker’s Island, and if you are lucky on the ride over, you may spot the wild ponies of Shackleford Banks.

As is true of most of the beacons in the Outer Banks, the present-day lighthouse is not the first.  The original structure was not tall enough to spot before many navigators ran into the Lookout Shoals, nicknamed the “Horrible Headland”.  Today’s beacon reaches 20 miles out to sea thanks to two 1000-watt electric bulbs.  An underwater cable running from Harker’s Island supplies electricity to the lighthouse.

What makes Cape Lookout truly unique is her black and white diamond pattern, unlike any other in the Outer Banks.  The black diamonds face north/south, while the white face east/west, a great daytime navigational aid.

Our time in the Outer Banks has ended and we now point our rig towards our nation’s capitol, specifically Greenbelt, MD, where we will be camp host volunteers for the summer at Greenbelt Park.

We look forward to new adventures and already know we have a treat waiting for us when we arrive.  More to come on that. 🙂

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78 thoughts on “Lightkeepers of the Outer Banks

  • I very much enjoyed visiting the Outer Banks lighthouses through your blog. Your pictures are lovely. We hope to visit there next year, so thank you for the preview!

  • I love lighthouses!! You gave us some very interesting history about these lighthouses. I would like to have seen the moving of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse. What a feat! I can just imagine how much some of the sand must erode. What a task to keep them standing erect. Thanks Lu for this post. Now you have me curious about your treat awaiting you.

  • I’ve always found lighthouses quite fascinating, LuAnn; seems you had an enjoyable time investigating yourself.! 😉
    ‘Camp hosts’ – now that should produce some interesting tales..!

    • We find lighthouses to be quite fascinating as well. Our summer experience should be interesting and will afford us lots of time to explore Washington DC and surrounding areas. 🙂

  • Checked out your campground since we hope to visit you this summer. Thought you’d be interested in one comment on the first page…Tick Alert
    Greenbelt Park has issued a tick alert. Ticks have been spotted on park staff and visitors. Please use precautions such as tick repellant. Click the following for more information on Ticks and tick prevention. You might want to check it out considering Terry’s last experience, ha. Be Prepared.
    See you later.

    • We would love to have you visit us this summer! As for the tick alert, we are aware of it and plan to do tick checks daily if we feel it necessary. I have already been reading up on more natural tick repellants and we plan to stay on paved roads and paths for the most part. Let us know when your summer plans are firmed up.

  • Well goodness, I KNOW you wrote this post JUST for me!! Fabulous, fabulous. I can’t believe we missed all these lighthouses on our East Coast tour (we just weren’t lighthouse nuts back then). LOVE the post!!
    Nina
    P.S. You experimenting w/ a new blog format? I like it…very simple and sleek!

    • I thought about you often as I wrote this post Nina. Because of you I have become somewhat addicted to lighthouses. As for the blog format, I was needing a change. It is still a work in progress, kinda like me. 😉

  • I find light houses such fascinating beacons of safety… have visited a few on our coast line and even climbed to the top of some… the views are amazing and their stories always fascinate me… I love the differing patterns in which these have been painted… specially the diamond one with its orientation aid… wonderful share…

  • Love this post. We often travel miles out of our way just to visit a lighthouse. We visited the Outer Banks in 2001 (before we got the RV). It was only a couple of years after they moved the Hatteras Lighthouse and the displays about how it was done were fascinating. Enjoy your summer in Maryland!

  • Sorry your weather was less than favorable for your visit to the OB. The spring on the east coast can be miserable. There were times we didn’t even ride our motorcycle until late May because of the weather.

    What very neat lighthouses! I especially like the Cape Lookout Lighthouse and its diamond pattern. Very unusual. Sounds like a great alternate tourist idea if you can’t get out to enjoy the beach.

    A surprise is waiting?? Hum! Can’t wait to see what it is!

  • Ocracoke is one of my favorite places in the world! Hopefully you’ll be able to go back when the weather is better. Thanks for sharing and reminding me of such an awesome place. Hopefully you got to talk with some true ‘Ocracokers’ they have more of an Australian accent than southern.

    • We didn’t get to spend much time there Beth, given how long it took us to get on the ferry. The wind was picking up as another storm was on its way and we didn’t want to be caught on the island. We will just have to go back for a visit. 🙂

  • Interesting story, LuAnn. Your Greenbelt gig really sounds like a fun and interesting adventure. Enjoy Washington DC, so many historical and interesting times for the two of you. Had a goodbye potluck last night for Pete and Patty. They mentioned that they would be seeing the two of you later this year. SE is getting busy.

    • We are anxious to explore DC this summer but must admit to wishing we were in SE again. The call of the west is just too strong for us. 🙂 Terry has been communicating with Pete, so we look forward to seeing them as they head back to NC.

  • Great photos, as always, LuAnn. The lighthouses are interesting and beautiful — love those black and white patterns! We would like climbing up for the views, but I agree that you made a good call to not be trapped in a lighthouse stairway with a busload of preteens. Hope better weather is on the way for you. 😉

    • Once we got beyond the panhandle and further south this winter, we were loving the weather in FL, so we had gotten a bit spoiled. We know early spring on the east coast can be dicey so we will just have to be patient. 🙂

  • As many times as we have been along the Atlantic coast I have never heard it be called Graveyard of the Atlantic. Very interesting

    We visited many light houses along the Pacific coast. Oregon and Washington have some beautiful ones.

    We are going to go down the latest East Coast this fall. Hopefully, I will get to visit some of these lighthouses. They all look lovely.

    • We have become somewhat addicted to lighthouses Marsha, so I admit to being a bit biased. I do love to read the stories about the history of the lighthouses and spend time in the maritime museums. Hopefully your OH weather has been improving and Paul is making headway on the home remodeling. I am behind on my blog reading so I will be popping over soon to catch up.

  • I know you are disappointed that you had bad weather so didn’t get to do the things you planned but I enjoyed your lighthouse tour so much that I am thankful for that bad weather.

    • Thanks Ardythe. Actually, going to the lighthouses was not a difficult task as I love the history behind them, not to mention the exercise going up the staircases. 🙂

  • Out of your five lighthouse captures we have seen only two. Glad to hear that these lighthouses at least made up for some bad weather in the area, and look at that Terry wide smile ! And I know the treat you are alluding too, and you got the best bike tour guide in the area 🙂

    • Terry’s smile was brought on by the high winds pulling the skin back on his face (lol)! As for my treat, the rains put an end to the bike riding (flash floods in effect here) but it was still very much a treat for us. Hope you two are safe. The weather in the midwest and south has been terrible.

      • Yup, weather is really bad here, it began last night and another severe thunderstorm is hammering us right now. We postponed our departure today as there are tornadoes east of Montgomery where our next destination was suppose to be. Thanks we are hunkering down and are now Weather Channel junkies.

      • Thank goodness you can just stay put until the storms clear out. I cannot believe how quickly tornado season has kicked into high gear.

  • Lighthouses are great, they conjure up stories of Gothic horror stories and big storms…I would have loved to experience that, the storm not the horror in which I am inevitably the first to go because of my inability to avoid cliché.

    • Love how that mind of yours works Ste J and hope all is well. I am, as usual, playing catch up with blog reading, so will be popping over for a visit soon. 🙂

      • I am doing as well as usual, apologies for putting so much up on my blog, I do go on a bit, don’t feel any pressure to keep up with me, it’s all good whenever you come over.

      • I will be over shortly and happy to do so. I’ve had a few family issues to distract me and some friends have come to call.

  • LuAnn, beautiful photos! I love the horses and the shot of you! The lighthouses are gorgeous; the diamond pattern for directional purposes is pretty darn smart. Sorry, yawl experienced bad weather; however, I think it is pretty much everywhere! We are having extreme high winds.

    Travel safe and enjoy your time in MD! I look forward to posts from there.

    • Thanks Sheila. I got to fly with Orville Wright, or at least daydream about it. Actually, it was very chilly and windy that day so it was darn cold lying on that metal wing. 🙂

      Honestly, most of our weather since full-timing has been pretty darn good so I really can’t complain.

    • When it wasn’t grey and rainy, the wind was an issue. Soon enough I will be carrying on about how hot and muggy it is! The girl is never satisfied. 😉

  • Great write up again! You always have a few bits of great information that we had not heard of or known. Travel safe to DC and I look forward to hearing your write up of Greenbelt NP. The reviews on park reviews was not very kind. Maybe you guys can turn things around!

    • Thanks! We are in Greenbelt now and waiting out a couple of days of heavy storms. Thank goodness we got in before the rains or we may not have gotten into our site with such soggy ground. We know others who have volunteered here so we knew what to expect. For the most part this is a park that brings in families who are wanting to experience DC without spending a fortune. Our biggest challenge will be staying tick-free. 🙂

  • So many lovely lighthouses, LuAnn. I think the Cape Hatteras is my favorite, and against that gorgeous sky, it’s a winner. Those ponies on the sand-flats, and the pic of you with Orville, really made me smile. Safe travels. xx

  • Sorry the weather wasn’t agreeable but that last photo of the group of tulips made me jealous. Certain flowers just don’t do well at higher elevations and I miss them. Happy trails and I look forward to your up coming adventures 🙂

      • Sorry to hear. We had the craziest weather here in GJ yesterday…..jacket on, jacket off, then snow, then warm sunshine, lots of wind, no wind. Mother Nature was having a bi-polar moment but I’ll take my Colorado weather any day over anything back east. And yes, speaking from experience!

      • Having lived in Colorado as well, I would definitely take your weather over the east coast weather, having lived in both places myself. 😉

  • Nice lighthouse tour! 🙂
    We have a lighthouse nearby that offers tours. We’ve been in this area for 16 years & have never gone. I am going to make it a point to go there sometime this summer.

  • I didn’t know that about the Gulf Stream and Labrador Current LuAnn. Given this and the hammering that the Outer Banks endure during Hurricane season (which starts in one month I might add), I would not want to set up shop there permanently. And as you know, we have our own little lighthouse here on SSI, and it’s a replacement as well. The original was torched by the skedaddling Confederate Army. ~James

  • Gorgeous lighthouses. Your photo brought the majesty of these lighthouses. Enjoyed the tour and reading the background information.

  • They really do have different design from each other. OUTSTANDING contrasts and layers on that last pic. I knew you were experiencing rain as well like Mona did too. Happy and safe travels, Lu. It’s okay not to rush to things. We’re here to wait. 😀 😉

    • We had 5″ of rain within 24 hours. When you live in a tin can that you pull down the road, it is all about keeping track of the weather where you are and where you are going. 🙂

  • Fabulous post! There is just something about light houses! I loved all your photos of them. AND… I am quite jealous of how many you have gotten to see! Yea…FOR YOU!!

  • Beautiful photos despite the weather! And what a wonderful variety of lighthouses! Have you changed your theme again LuAnn? Looks different somehow, I like the colours and fonts.

    • Thanks Madhu and yes, I have changed my theme and still not sure this one is a keeper. You know what they say…”It’s a women’s prerogative to change her mind.”
      😉

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