Saturday, May 5, 2018

Corolla, North Carolina: Currituck Beach Light Station

When you drive as far as you can in the north direction along the Outer Banks, you run into... another lighthouse. OK, that wasn't a difficult one.

The Currituck Beach Light Station was the third of three such structures that we saw while touring the region. It has been up since 1875. It's interesting that there is no distinctive paint job on the building. That's to make it look different from the other regions, and you can see the 1,000,000 or so bricks nicely. The facility was fixed up in the later years of the 20th century, and looks nice now. You can indeed climb to the top for $10. It is 220 steps, so the top is 162 feet from the group.

Corolla is the end point for Highway 12. Eventually, you run into the Currituck Banks Reserve. That area does not allow the usual traffic, but tours do take visitors into that part of the island. The main attraction is the wild horses. Supposedly, some were washed up on shore when their ship wrecked a few hundred years ago. Their relatives are still running around the area.

The Outer Banks do stretch all the way into Virginia, but you'll have to go the long way to get there ... or do some swimming.

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Duck, North Carolina: Boardwalk

Duck, North Carolina is a little town located a handful of miles north of a bridge back to the mainline. That part of the Outer Banks is mostly for residential use, with plenty of nice home and a few businesses to service them.

The business area centers around the highway. It has a few cute shops, that are connected by - wait for it - a boardwalk in Currituck Sound. It runs for more than a half-mile, which frequent "exits" back to the commercial district. Therefore, people can walk over the water for a while, and then cross back on to land for a donut on a stick or some other treat.

There is a natural component to the shore in part. We found this site interesting enough to photography it. How many trees grow right out of the water like this? There probably is a good story attached, but I wasn't willing to swim out to it for investigation.

The Boardwalk itself looks better on video. So here it is:

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Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina: Wright Brothers National Memorial

First, we clear up a mystery. If the Wright Brothers famously flew the first "airplane" in Kitty Hawk in 1903, then why isn't the site of the event in Kitty Hawk?

It turns out that Kill Devil Hills didn't exist in 1903. There was nothing there. The nearest town was Kitty Hawk, so that's what it was called.

No matter what you call it, the National Memorial is an inspiring site. The Brothers Wright - who started as bicycle mechanics - worked for years on this project. They needed a good place to test their theories, and Kitty Hawk won because of its ocean breezes.

A large sand dune overlooks the meadow. The Wright Brothers worked out some of the details with a glider pushed off the top of that dune. Once that was out of the way, they worked in sheds on the meadow - with the help of the people of the town. The first flight was on Dec. 17, 1903 and lasted only 12 seconds over 120 feet, but the airplane flew. It was the start of a new age.

It's inspiring just to walk up to the top of the dune, which has a giant monument to the accomplishment. It's also fun to walk where the actual first flights took place. On the other side of the hill is a sculpture (several, actually) of the dramatic moment of the initial journey. It was unveiled in 2003, the 100th anniversary of the flight. Yes, the Wrights remembered to bring a cameraman as a witness.

As of the spring of 2018, the remodeling of the Visitors Center was still in place. When it is done in a few months, it will be an even better place for a visit. But everyone will enjoy this - and it wouldn't hurt to read David McCullough's book on the subject before you go.

Here's the story in video form:

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Nags Head, North Carolina: Jockey's Ridge State Park

Care to see the biggest sand dunes on the East Coast? Jockey's Ridge State Park is the place to go.

The dunes have been around nearly forever, of course, but it's only in the past 50 years or so that people realized exactly what they had. Erosion and development were starting to take a toll by then, so an effort began to preserve the area. The state park is the result of that effort, created in 1975. The biggest dune can be 80 to 100 feet, depending on the weather as the sand gets blown around.

There's no admission charge or parking fee, and there's a museum that explains what's going on in the park in terms of science. There are a couple of places for a hike. You can go for a walk up the largest of the sand dunes, shown here. However, we opted not to have sand in our shoes for the next three or four years, opting to take the photograph instead. It's right off U.S. 158, and doesn't take long to see.

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Salvo, North Carolina: Old Post Office

We're running out of reasons to visit the old post office in Salvo, North Carolina - which is relatively close (20 miles) to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.

I'm sure it served its purpose in the small town in its day. It was the second-smallest post office in the country, behind one in Florida. Apparently it was designed to be portable, so that the postmaster could move it to his property.

However, the post office - which is on the National Register of Historic Places - has been closed for some time. And now, the sigh identifying it has been taken down. That happened sometime in the past two years, according to Roadside America. Now it's just an odd looking building, easy to miss as you drive by on Highway 12.

You'd think such a place should get a second chance at life. Let's hope so.

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Hatteras, North Carolina: Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum

The highway - #12 - that goes through the Outer Banks comes to an end eventually. When it does, you can learn a little about the ocean around it by visiting the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum.

The best part might be in the lobby. The original lens from the Cape Hatteras lighthouse greets visitors; it dates back to 1854.

In a good-sized room nearby, there are a variety of displays on the subject of shipping in the area. The Civil War comes up a bit, as does material from shipwrecks from nearby the town. The museum also contains some items from World War II, as the Germans sank quick a few boats in this part of the world.

The building looks something like a boat from the outside. Admission is free, but donations ($5) are requested. We didn't linger too long, but those with a stronger interest in the subject no doubt will stay for a longer visit. It's also a short walk to the Atlantic beach, which is very nice.

By the way, this is No. 1,000 for items on this blog. Thanks for your interest. 

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Hatteras, NC: U.S. Weather Bureau Station

The sign on the main road of Hatteras said we needed to take a right turn in order to reach an historic site. So we did, and this was what we found - an old weather station.

Back around 1900, you just couldn't turn on the radar or take a look at the satellite images to figure out what was going on with the weather. Being there was crucial. Since Cape Hatteras was frequently a target for hurricanes and other storms, the Weather Bureau figured it ought to have a permanent building there to keep an eye on things. This is that building. Only 11 were built across the country.

It was restored by the National Park Service, and serves two functions. One is to give a quick history of the building, complete with photos. The other is to be a welcome center to Hatteras and the region. It's a small town, so anything that can help tourism is fine with me.

We figured that not many people stop by to see a old weather station - besides us. The exception, though, might be a weatherman. Sure enough, a TV meteorologist we know has indeed been there.

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Friday, May 4, 2018

Frisco, North Carolina: Futuro House

"Take me to your leader!"

No, no one came out of this structure to greet us during a drive through Frisco, North Carolina. This is the Futuro House, one of the ideas from the Sixties that didn't quite catch on.

The facility is a portable home, supposedly good in any environment. It's compact and thus cost-effective. But it was something of an eye-sore in rural locations, and the end of the space race probably didn't help its popularity either.

There are a few Futuro Houses scattered around the world. Here's the map of them.

This is a rather odd stop, since it's not exactly in a new housing development. You can walk up the steps and peek inside, but it's a storage area and a dirty one at that. No one will be beamed up in this structure anytime soon.

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Buxton, North Carolina: British Cemetery

If you take a trip to the Outer Banks, you can easily stand on British territory.

According to Roadside America, a British ship took seven torpedoes from a German U-boat in April 1942, and it sunk to the bottom. Several crew members died, and two of them were swept up on to the beach. They were buried here, and a ceremony is held each year to mark the occasion.  Technically, it is British territory.

The place is very close to the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, but not exactly on Main St. When coming out of the lighthouse parking lot, don't go right to go back to the main road. Go left down the access road, and a marker will be on the right side of the road. It's a short walk to see the graves. It's nice to see them remembered.

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Buxton, North Carolina: Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Is this America's most famous lighthouse? Well, it's at least in the argument.

It's the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, located in Buxton, North Carolina. For starters, it's America's tallest brick lighthouse at 198.5 feet - topped only by one in Poland.

It's also well known, particularly around hurricane season. Storms that come up the East Coast tend to bump into North Carolina because it sticks out a bit into the ocean. Therefore, visitors probably expect to see a hurricane coming in the distance during their trip. But as you can see, the weather was fine for our visit.

Happily, you can climb this historic structure. There are circular stairs inside, but there are landings after 31 steps. So it's easy to walk, rest a while, and climb again. Before you know it, you are on top - looking out of the area. This is a particularly dangerous part of the world for ships, so the lighthouse serves a valuable function.

If you visit, considered that the lighthouse was physically moved 2,900 feet in 1999. That's more than half a mile. It seems the facility was located in a great place when it was built, but erosion changed all that. The lighthouse would have become part of the ocean, and then destroyed, if it had stayed put. So, it was carried away from the shore. Remember, NASA used to move Saturn V rockets around, so this must have been easy - well, relatively easy.

What does it look like during a winter storm? Whew.

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Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, North Carolina

There's not room for much on Pea Island, part of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. You probably could hit a golf ball from one side of it to the other if you picked the right spot. There's sand, sand dune, road, and swamp.

It's rather stark but pretty in its own way, and the natives (in the form of wildlife) like it. If you want an explanation of what's out there, the Visitors Center has plenty of information. They do have talks and tours of the island for those who want to learn more.

The Visitors Center has an odd welcoming attraction, pictured here. This is a humpback whale scull. According to the sign, the whale was 31 feet high. Adults can grow to be 60 feet and weigh 40 tons. And you thought your kids ate a lot.

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Nags Head, North Carolina: Giant Blue Marlin

Say hello to the biggest blue marlin ever caught by a fisherman. This baby was reeled in 37 miles off the coast of Nags Head way back in 1974. If you blow up the photo by clicking on it, you'll find out that the fish weighed more than 1,100 pounds, and it took nearly three hours to get him to "captivity."

It was a difficult to find the critter. Those going down Route 12 out of downtown Nags Head will notice a marina right on the Oregon Inlet; there's a bridge (under construction as of this writing) just past the marina. The exhibit in question is down the sidewalk a bit from a general store of sorts. It doesn't look like the exhibit has received a good cleaning in a while, and it's tough to take a photo through the glass. But ... we found it, so you can see it.

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Nags Head, North Carolina: Bodie Island Lighthouse

Face it - it you go to the Outer Banks, you will see some lighthouses. Comes with the territory. They are historic and pretty.

But you've only heard of one of them. Let's see another one.

The Bodie Island Lighthouse is located, yes, on Bodie Island. That's just down the road from the southern bridge connecting the Outer Banks to the mainland.

This the third lighthouse in this part of the world, and it's the one that lasted. The first one began to lean a couple of years after construction, and the authorities decided to give up on it. The second one was blown up by Confederate forces in 1861.

It took a while, but three proved to be a charm. This lighthouse is still working, shining its light every night upon the area. The facility was restored in 2013.

It costs $5 to take a walk to the top and look around. Those less adventurous can stroll around the area and look around the Visitors Center.

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Manteo, North Carolina: Elizabethan Gardens

Manteo is a great place for a nice garden - on Roanoke Island, just inside the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

The Elizabethan Gardens qualify. The catch is that it is located within the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. But it appears to be a separate entity, and admission is charge to walk around. The place is run by the Garden Club of North Carolina.

The facility overlooks Albemarie Sound, and features a nice circular path. We turned up a little early in the growing season, so not everything was in bloom. But by May I'm sure it's quite wonderful.

As for the photo, you can't have the Elizabethan Gardens without Queen Elizabeth I. She gets a sculpture where the main road from the entrance turns into a circular trail. Walk to the right a bit, and you'll see a statue of Virginia Dare, the first English baby born in the New World. The catch is that Dare apparently died before the she reached the age of 2 or 3, and the statue has her as a fully developed adult. I use that adjective specifically because Dare is topless in the statue. As the woman at the entrance said, "Oh those Victorians!"

For the garden lovers out there, here's a video of the Gardens:


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Manteo, North Carolina: Fort Raleigh National Historic Site

The story sounds something out of one of those mystery shows that pop up on one of the cable channels that no one watches.

An expedition party from England lands in the New World for the first time in 1584. They land in what we call Roanoke Island in North Carolina. Sir Walter Raleigh establishes contact with the Native Americans in the process. (Imagine what they thought when the English arrived.) A year later, Raleigh sends seven ships to set up a permanent colony. The results are, at best, mixed. Most go back before the year end.

Then in 1587, a full group of 117 comes to Roanoke Island, including women and children. One of those women gives birth to a daughter - Virginia Dare, who is the first English child born in the New World. But the problems continue, and leader John White leaves much of the colony to get help. When he finally returns in 1790, the colony is gone without a trace.

And that, in short, is the story of "The Lost Colony."

You'll learn about that during a visit to Roanoke Island, located just inside of the Outer Banks. Visitors can see the monument shown above, which is mainly a tribute to Virginia Dare and was dedicated in 1896. There's an earthen fort that was dug out by archeologists. Interestingly, a theater sits on the waterfront. Every summer the play "The Last Colony" is presented there. It's been a long-running smash; President Roosevelt was even there.

Here's a longer look around at the place:


It's all tied together at the Visitors Center. You'll want to see the film about the Lost Colony while you are there. (It's always a good idea to watch the National Park Service's films.)

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Thursday, May 3, 2018

Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, North Carolina

The federal government certainly takes care of a lot of land in this country. Some of it isn't exactly on the main road, but it's still interesting when you bump into it.

The Pokosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge is one such place. It's located on the road from Raleigh to the Outer Banks (or vice-versa, depending on the direction of your trip). The Refuge is run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In other words, the place is more for the birds than people. But there are trails and boardwalks for human visitors.

By the way, there's a good visitors' center in Columbia. Feel free to stop in to get your Parks Passport stamps with an unusual destination.

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Zebulon, North Carolina: Baseball Water Tower

What do you do with a water tower that's located only several yards from a baseball stadium?

Make it look like a baseball, naturally.

That's what the good folks did in Zebulon, North Carolina. The tower overlooks Five County Stadium, the home of the Carolina Mudcats of the Carolina League. The Mudcats are owned by the Milwaukee Brewers. One of the employees of the team described the tower as iconic, and in minor-league baseball circles he's probably right.

The stadium here has a couple of decades under its belt, but it still looks very good. The seats right behind the plate are close enough to call balls and strikes, and the upper decks looks like a great place to watch the game too. The facility also has a huge video board, for those who like to watch TV with their ball games.

The tower and stadium are right off the highway, so baseball fans definitely should take the slight detour. 

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Raleigh, North Carolina: North Carolina Museum of History

Visiting a state capitol building is a must for some tourists when they are in a state capital. North Carolina, though, has added to the fun by setting up more attractions right across the street.

The state's Museum of History is one of them. You can probably guess what some of the permanent exhibits are. North Carolina's history, agriculture, military heroes, etc.

One nice touch is on the third floor, where the Sports Hall of Fame is located. Why doesn't New York do that? This one features Richard Petty's race car, Jim Valvano's warmup suit, and Arnold Palmer's Ryder Cup golf bag (he played college golf at Wake Forest).

Best of all, it's free.

I should have visited the North Carolina Museum of Natural History while I was in the neighborhood. The building looks spectacular. Maybe next time.

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Raleigh, North Carolina: State Capitol

While most state capitol buildings are generally similar - room for two houses of the legislature, perhaps a Governor's office, etc. - North Carolina's building greets visitors with an odd touch right away.

Walk through the doors to the main rotunda, and you are greeted with a statue of George Washington (shown here).

Well, it's sort of like George Washington.

Sculptor Antonio Canova wanted to honor Washington, so he dressed him as a Roman general. He is shown writing his Farewell Address on a tablet.

There are a few catches. The head doesn't look like the Washington we know. Washington didn't write his farewell address. And if he did, it wouldn't be in Italian. Otherwise, it's perfect. But it's a nice piece of work. The original was destroyed in 1831, but this copy was made in 1970. Still nice.

This Capitol is relatively small. There are rooms for meetings of representatives, and the Governor still has an office. Most of the staff, though, works down the street in an office complex. Some of the work is ceremonial in nature, such as appointments or bill signings. But it's still a grand old building.

Outside, there are the usual statues that surround most capitols. I noticed the one saluting women of the Confederacy, which was unveiled in 1914. There is also a tribute to the three Presidents born in North Carolina (Jackson, Polk and A. Johnson), who oddly were all elected while living in Tennessee.

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Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Chapel

So this is what all the fuss is about.

Duke University has a reputation as one of the most beautiful universities in the nation. After a visit, you'll emphatically agree. The setting is truly wonderful, and the buildings can add IQ points merely with a stroll by them.

The centerpiece, though, is the Chapel - located at one end of a quad. (Don't most colleges have a quad?)

A brochure has plenty of impressive facts about the structure. The tower is 210 feet high. It hosts more 1,000 events per year. There are 77 stained-glass windows. The tower contains a 50-bell carillon, one of which is more than six feet in size and weighs 11,200 pounds. It's the sort of place that would look right at home in the center of an old European city. But no, it's in Durham.

The buildings around it are a good match in terms of architecture. I thought the only cathedral at Duke was where the basketball teams played (Cameron Indoor Stadium), but I was wrong. It's an amazing place to stop. Here's a better look at the facility via video:

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King, North Carolina: Dairi-O

Hi, ho! The Dairi-O!

When driving from Mount Airy, NC, toward Winston-Salem, it was time for lunch. Luckily, Roadside America provided an option for a fast, good meal.

There are six locations of the Dairi-O chain around North Carolina. This one is the go-to stop, of course, because of the distinctive design of the building. It's tough not to order a milk shake - or at least share one with a friend, with each person having a straw - after pulling into the parking lot. The owner supposedly designed the building himself, as no one else could give life to the concept.

The usual food items are available, and there is a separate area for ice cream orders. Here's the menu for the list of treats.

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Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Mount Airy, North Carolina

When Andy Griffith and company wanted to create a situation comedy around 1960, they decided to set it in a place similar to Andy's home town of Mount Airy. Yes, not much happened there, but the people were warm and friendly. While the show ran throughout the Sixties, it felt like it was from previous decade. Mayberry became a universal name for a small town.

Mount Airy was mighty proud of Andy, and downtown has become something of a shrine to him. It's great fun to visit the place for a couple of hours.

The visitors' center on Main Street has plenty of information on the connections to Griffith. A map will show you where stores that are named after Aunt Bea and Opie. There are stores that sell Mayberry souvenirs; my favorite was a t-shirt reading "Floyd's Barber Shop - Two Chairs, No Waiting - Mayberry, North Carolina." (The two empty chairs are pictured in the middle of the shirt.)

If you want to tour the town in style, you need to go to Wally's Service down the street. Wally, you remember, was the boss at the filling station. Goober and Gomer Pyle both worked there. They have tours of the town in a 1960s squad car. You'll get to see Andy's home as a child; it was purchased by the local Hampton Inn and visitors cane stay there if they so choose.

Mayberry has a fall festival each year, and participants in the show turn up to tell their stories. There also are road races in early November.

Here's a video on how the town looks:


Mount Airy is located just north of Interstate 74 in the northwest corner of the state. It's definitely worth a two-hour stop.

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Mount Airy, North Carolina: Andy Griffith Museum

It's easy to figure out who the native son of Mount Airy, North Carolina, is. It's Andy Griffith, who may have been a movie and music star but who is best known for his great work in television. Surely you remember "The Andy Griffith Show" and "Matlock."

Therefore, the Andy Griffith Museum is the most popular tourist attraction in town. Visitors are greeted by a statue of Andy and Opie from Griffith's first show, headed to the fishing hole for a day's recreation. It's a gift from TV Land, and a duplicate was place in a park in Raleigh.

Inside the building, exhibits feature a ton of memorabilia about Griffith's career and the two shots. The doors to the sheriff's office are there, as is Andy's work desk in Mayberry. Someone even saved the keys to the jail, as well as one of Barney Fife's "Ivy League" suits.

Then next door, the Surry Arts Council has a building for visit. A big room explores the connections between Mayberry and Mount Airy, as real street names and buildings were dropped into the story. An area is dedicated to Betty Lynn, who played Thelma Lou (Barney's girlfriend) on the show. Think she was upset to see Don Knotts leave in mid-run for a movie career? The third area is an exhibit about Siamese Twins, which is a little out of place but a curiosity for some.

Finally, the Andy Griffith Museum Theater is on the grounds. Downstairs is a big mural of Andy in Mayberry. And you can stick your head through a cut-out poster and get a simulated kiss from Thelma Lou.

Mayberry is a timeless place, and that's why the show will run forever on re-runs.

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