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. 🙂

Wild Horses and a Chance Meeting ~ Cape Lookout National Seashore

“Wild, wild horses, couldn’t drag me away.  Wild, wild horses, we’ll ride them someday.”  ~ The Rolling Stones

Jutting out into the Atlantic, off the coast of North Carolina, runs a low, narrow ribbon of sand, dunes, seagrass, and dense vegetation known as the Outer Banks.  At the southernmost end of this strand of barrier islands sits Cape Lookout National Seashore, running 56 miles in length, and consisting of three barrier islands, Shackleford Banks, North Core Bank, and South Core Bank.

Shackleford Banks is nine miles in length and one mile across and is home to more than 110 wild horses, the Banker Horses.  Smaller in stature than other similar breeds, most likely due to the limited nutrients in their diet, many refer to them as the Banker Ponies.   Researchers believe the Bankers came over from Spain, via Hispaniola (located between Cuba and Puerto Rico) in the early 16th century.  We are on a quest for these wild beauties.

Hopping on a ferry to Shackleford, we were told not many horses had been seen recently but I was determined to see just one, that’s all I wanted.  Well ok, what I secretly desired watching an entire herd racing along the beach, sand and spray following in their wake.  A girl can dream, can’t she?

While others hopped off the ferry with beach gear in hand, we headed to the interior, hoping to find horses in a sheltered part of the island.  Cresting a sand dune an hour later, our search was over.  A band of eight grazed in the grassy meadow below us.  Not wanting to spook them, we sat down in the grass to watch, not the most intelligent decision we made that day, but more about that later.  These little beauties allowed us to share their space for 30 minutes…ahh, life is good.

What started as a beautiful day observing wild horses ended with Terry in Urgent Care a couple of days later, with a series of events in between that were just meant to happen (no coincidences here).

The next day found us scrambling to change our plans to take our RV, via ferry, to Ocracoke, thanks to a poorly constructed temporary bridge we happened to cross, one very rickety wooden, steeply pitched bridge that looked impossible to traverse without getting our home stuck.  And we had to cross this bridge to get to Cedar Island to pick up the ferry. 😦

Terry’s thoughtful decision to let the campground manager know about the bridge construction allowed us to meet a lovely couple from Maine the next afternoon, and a very lucky meeting it was to be.

Terry surprised me that morning by announcing he needed help ridding himself of not one, but three ticks, and guess where he most likely picked up these creepy little bacteria/disease ridden arachnids.  Yep, sitting in the grass at Shackleford.  Two of them were content to stop feasting on hubby but one was determined to stay.   Tweezers and some patience disrupted his plans but a part of me was still a bit nervous as we didn’t know how long they had been attached and they were teeny, tiny, not easy to identity.

Enter Richard and Sigrid, the lovely couple from Maine, who stopped by to discuss the bridge situation as this was also their planned route to Ocracoke. The conversation moved on to the subject of ticks, with them being quite knowledgeable, having spent their lives in Maine.  One look and they said “you need to have that looked at” and within the next few minutes we were headed to Urgent Care.

Yep, those tiny little ticks were what we had feared, deer ticks, potential carriers of Lyme disease, and they had been attached most likely in excess of 48 hours.  Before we had gotten to the doctor, a “halo” had formed around one of the bite areas.  A round of antibiotics and Terry should be good to go.  He was happy to surrender his halo, even though it would most likely be the only one he would ever have. 😉  Our many thanks to Richard and Sigrid who urged Terry towards the doctor, a place he, like so many, is reluctant to go.

We continue our exploration northward in the Outer Banks.  Brrr, what happened to spring?

Point Reyes National Seashore ~ Marin County, CA

Rugged Point Reyes coastline

Point Reyes National Seashore is a peninsula of much – treacherous headlands, stunning coastline, impenetrable fog, howling winds, lush forests, wind-blown hillsides, historic dairy farms, mammals and birds galore, and a lighthouse, which to be seen up-close will certainly give your legs and lungs a workout.  It is the windiest place on the Pacific coast and the second foggiest place in North America.

We had been to Point Reyes before but not during the summer.  Our first visit, we recalled, was on a very blustery, foggy day and we seemed to be the only two around, with both visitor center and lighthouse locked up tight.  Thankfully the gods were smiling on us for our second visit, rewarding us with sunshine and mild breezes.

The peninsula’s land mass covers ~71,000 acres, with many hiking trails, three visitor centers and some funky little towns begging to be explored.   While we did spend some time in Point Reyes Station (more about that later), our focus was to get to the lighthouse while the sun was still shining.

Little cabin on Tomales Bay
Just add water.

This year marks the 50th anniversary  that Point Reyes National Seashore has been in the National  Park Service system.  Established relatively recently on September 13, 1962 by President John F. Kennedy, her history extends back thousands of years, with the first inhabitants being the Coast Miwok Indians roughly 5000 years ago.  Being hunter-gatherers, theirs was a good life here, with both land and sea offering up her bounties to this peaceful people for thousands of years.

Point Reyes map, compliments of Google maps

A long and rich maritime history is the story of Point Reyes.  Spanish explorers navigated these waters with their treasures from the Orient, while gold miners, lumbermen, and dairy farmers relied on the transport of their goods through these straits.  Historic dairy farms, still operating today, dot the roadside leading out to the lighthouse.

Point Reyes Lighthouse

Point Reyes Lighthouse had her debut on December 1, 1870, as a result of many shipwrecks in these coastal waters, the first in California history being that of the San Augustin, a Spanish galleon.  Her fate of a watery grave took place in 1595, off of Drakes Bay, but was only the first in a long line of such tragedies.  This lighthouse guided mariners for 105 years, until 1975, but unfortunately ships continued to have fateful endings despite all efforts.  All total, 50 ships have been lost at sea here, due to the treacherous cliffs, howling winds, and dense fog.  Even today, nearly every year a small vessel meets a tragic end on this rugged shoreline.  Jutting 10 miles out to sea, Point Reyes Headlands pose a serious threat to ships entering and leaving the San Francisco Bay.

Although the lighthouse itself is no longer working, a fog signal is still sounded and an automated light replaced the original “first order” Fresnel lens that still sits in the lighthouse.  The National Park Service is now responsible for the maintenance of the lighthouse and if you are lucky, as we were, an NPS employee may be there to give you some history on this magnificent light.

Much to our delight an immature gray whale spouted off the shoreline, highly unusual for this time of year.  They have normally made their migration south by this time.  Other great animal sightings, we are told, are the elephant seals to be seen just north of the point and the Tule elk, endemic only to California, at Tomales Bay.

Can you see me?

Time to migrate north, as in hoof it up the 300+ steps back to the roadway, as the fog is now settling  in for the night at Point Reyes National Seashore.

Salt pruning at its finest!

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