Thanks to the efforts of the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), Defenders of Wildlife, and the National Audubon Society, management of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore is subject to a consent decree rather than the judgment of the National Park Service. As a result of that, there is a widespread belief that the beaches there are closed. In reality, large portions of the beach are closed for extensive periods but, so far at least, they have not been totally closed permanently.
While there is often confusion, it is important to recall that Cape Hatteras National Seashore is a National Park, owned by the citizens of the United States. One of its purposes in existence is recreation. One mission goal of the National Park Service is to extend the benefits of resource conservation and outdoor recreation throughout this country
CORE has been making an annual Halloween trip to the beaches in North Carolina since 2004 (OBX), 2003 at Carolina Beach. This year, we’ve made two trips: one in the spring and one for Halloween . One thing we’ve discovered is that there is as much to enjoy in small groups or individually as there is to enjoy as the whole traveling group.
Having the ability to drive on the beach, relax under the sun, enjoy the surf, renew friendships and make new ones, is a wonderful experience. Let’s hope it always stays that way.
For this year’s Halloween trip, we had:
- Mike and Donna
- Jeff and Marissa
- Keith and Betty
- Reggie, Cathy, Reggie Jr. and Susie (Cathy is Marissa’s sister)
This part of the story will share Keith and Betty’s adventures on the way and at the Banx:
We left home on Monday with stops in Williamsburg VA on Monday night. We then went to Jamestown to see the displays at the early settlement and took the Island Road through the swamps and the Jamestown-Surry VA ferry to the south side of the James River over to Virginia Beach.
On Wednesday, we left Virginia Beach and headed to the northern beaches of the Outer Banks, having not visited that portion of the OBX in close to 10 years. We spent some time wandering around the streets of Carova Beach, NC. This area is unique in several ways. One of the most noticeable is that the area is called the four wheel drive area because there are no paved roads. Once you reach the end of pavement, you go directly onto the beach for about 11 miles north to the Virginia State line.
Back over the dune line to the west, there are streets (hard packed sand for the most part) and houses. So the town flourishes without paved streets. Almost every house has a four wheel drive as does the fire department. But on a weekday, you’ll see delivery vehicles and the mailman making their rounds. There are scrub pine forests and the remains of an older forest which was covered by the island’s migration westward and then back east.
Driving along the beach, we discovered a channel marker buoy only feet from the water’s edge. It had broken loose from somewhere and was now firmly planted in the sand. We went to the state line (where a fence marks the boundary) and back among the houses where we saw two pairs of the wild horses the area is known for. http://www.carovabeach.info/history
We headed back to pavement and stopped at the Currituck Lighthouse and the Whalehead Club. The Currituck light is distinctive red brick. The Whalehead Club is a “hunting cottage” of some 21,000 square feet (that’s half an acre) which has seen service as a private vacation residence, a Coast Guard facility during WWII, a private summer camp in the early 1960’s and then sat vacant for 25 years until restoration and preservation started. It is now open for tours. http://www.whaleheadclub.org
In early afternoon, we turned south towards our reservations in Buxton but not without stopping at the Dunes Restaurant in Nags Head, one of our past favorites. There we found the interior remodeled and the menu updated a bit but our favorites were still there and as satisfying as ever. We checked into the Comfort Inn a bit after sunset.
Our group would be arriving over the next two days. We were staying in different places based on personal preference and the acceptance of our four-legged children. Reservations had been made at the Cape Pines Motel, the Comfort Inn and at the Croatoan (formerly the Falcon).
The Croatoan has been removed from my personal recommendation list. The place had always had some rooms that were nicer than others, actually the newer rooms in the back building furthest from the highway. When Jeff and Marissa arrived on Friday evening, they were put into the older rooms nearer the front but found they were just too dilapidated to stay. They were able to move into the Comfort Inn across the street. As we started this story, I remarked how the Consent Decree closures had hurt the local economy but it seems the Croatoan is unwilling or unable to maintain their rooms in an acceptable fashion. Truly their loss.
On Thursday, Betty and Keith decided to head over to Ocracoke Island for a little shopping and sightseeing on our own. We had lunch at Howard’s where the food and service were great. A couple of fisherman in the parking lot had a comment or two regarding Keith’s “In two years…” political bumper sticker. Since I know we don’t all share the same political views, we’ll leave them out.
After lunch we headed to Cape Point. I had in mind to try to drive all the way back to the ferry via the beach. The access road had several low spots that were covered by water. We could see signs of repairs in progress but the road was closed on Saturday when the others made it to this area.
We drove all the way out to the point. There were quite a few fishermen and we saw the dredge working the channel into the harbor at Ocracoke. When we headed north, we were stopped by signs indicating that the beach was not open to traffic all the way to the next ramp so headed back out to the pavement. All but two of the ramps had closures in between them which prevented us driving all the way on the beach but the weather was great, the view terrific and the breezes soft. We did get out on the point north of the ferry landing so we drove at both ends of the island, even though we had to hit pavement in the middle.
Mike and Donna arrived Thursday evening and joined us for dinner and conversation afterwards. Bruce arrived fairly late Thursday and joined us for breakfast on Friday morning. Bruce had friends to visit and the other four of us headed to the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station. http://www.chicamacomico.net We joined up for lunch at Island Perks. (How did we miss this place before this spring? The food is good, prices reasonable and the bakery is to die for.)
We located Jeff and Marissa as we finished up and decided to visit the beach by the Hatteras lighthouse. Still seeing quite a few fishermen on the beach. As we rode along, I starting hearing noises from under the Colorado which weren’t good. We were approaching the soft sand near the Hatteras light for ramp 43 when the truck came to a sudden stop, just like you had jammed the brakes. In 4wd (hi or lo), it wouldn’t move more than a foot or two and making a horrible racket from the vicinity of the front diff (passenger side).
Put it in 2wd and made a run for the ramp but the deep soft sand was too much. Bruce’s Ranger wasn’t big enough to pull me through and some guy in an F250 finally snatched me onto the hard surfaces. Got it to the parking lot and hit the OnStar button. I was frustrated to begin with and they sure did nothing to alleviate that but that’s another story. Bottom line, it seemed to be okay in 2wd so we headed back to the motel and encouraged the others to head on to the Hatteras Point.
Messed with the truck a bit and decided to get up early on Saturday morning to drive the 60 miles to the nearest Chevy dealer. They took a look and drove it some and said it was u-joints but would be safe to drive in 2wd. I said since u-joints are a simple job, why don’t you just change them? Oh, yeah. 5 minutes later they came out and said wasn’t u-joints, was either diff or tcase but still safe to drive in 2wd. Less confident with their prognosis but since it agreed with ours, we left.
We got back to Buxton in time to see the others headed for Ocracoke. As we were suffering from sleep deprivation we headed back to the room while they headed to Ocracoke. On Saturday night (Halloween), we all ate dinner together at the Sandbar where the food was good but the company was even better. Had a few troubles along the way but it’s still true that a bad day at the beach (or off pavement) is better than a good day at work!
Mike V fills in part of this story with details of the group’s travels on the beaches of Cape Hatteras. Late Friday afternoon, after Keith’s Colorado was knocked out of commission, I led Jeff and Marisa back out on the beach, each driving his & hers Jeeps. We entered the beach access at the Cape Hatteras light house. From here we proceeded many miles down the beach. I watched to my left as the sun cast a beautiful sunset and the night set in on the fisherman. It was a special site to see. We continued for several miles, turned around and called a night for the beach driving adventures.
Saturday morning while the Holman’s headed north to have the Colorado checked out at the dealership, the rest of the crew packed up and took the ferry to Ocracoke Island. We boarded the ferry at the south end Cape Hatteras Island. The ferry is free ride that is provided by the state of North Carolina. Technically the ferry route is part of state road 12 hence no charge for the ride. We arrive at the north end of Ocracoke Island and from here we proceeded about 12 miles on the road. At the edge of the town of Ocracoke we entered a beach access.
We drove south along the beach until we hit the beach closure markers. He we parked and spent the next hour or so simply enjoying the surf and each other’s company. The youngsters hand a wonderful time frolicking in the sand and surf. Many a sea shells were collected.
We continued our beach exploration by heading north. At one point Jeff noticed that the ABS light turned on in his Jeep. We speculated that sand probably got caught up in the ABS tone ring and that a simple washing of the brake ASB components would clear up the problem.
After a while we decided to have lunch at Howards Pub. As Keith commented earlier this is a great place in Ocracoke to have a nice lunch. The food and service were wonderful. After lunch we went and visited the Ocracoke light house. It takes a bit to find the light house as it is small and not visible until you drive right to it. Getting to the light house requires that you navigate the residential streets in Oracoke. We got there and the crew explored the grounds of the area.
This wrapped up our visit to Ocracoke Island. From here we headed back north on route 12 and caught the ferry back to Cape Hatteras Island. We caught up with Keith, Betty and Bruce and had a good meal and good company at the Sandbar restaurant.
I have been coming to Cape Hatteras for several years now. I never was much of a beach person. However, on each visit I am reminded how special a place this is. Having the ability to drive on the beach, relax under the sun, enjoy the surf, renew friendships and make new ones, is a wonderful experience. Let’s hope it always stays that way.
Trail report written by Keith Holman and Mike Vincenty. Pictures courtesy of Keith Holman and Mike Vincenty.