Betsy’s “ferryfull” adventures – Outer Banks, NC

Comments 18 Standard
Hatterras to Ocracoke Ferry
Outer Banks, NC

The Outer Banks, NC

Leaving Virginia behind, we were looking forward to our next destination – the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  Our friends Joe and Judy (who are North Carolinians) gave us heaps of information about the Outer Banks.  But what and where exactly are the Outer Banks?  Referred to as OBX by locals – it’s a long string of narrow barrier islands that run along most of the North Carolina coastline.  Over 130 miles long, it arcs into the Atlantic Ocean like a taut bow, forming many beautiful pristine beaches.

We made two stops on the OBX, one at Kitty Hawk and the second at Buxton.  To get back onto the mainland, Betsy had to take two ferry rides.  First, a 40-minute free ferry transported us from Hatteras Village to Ocracoke Island.  The second was for a reasonable fee and took over two hours to go from Ocracoke Island to Cedar Island.  But I am getting ahead of myself a bit here.  Let me tell you about the fun things we did after reading Judy’s excellent suggestions.

She didn’t have to tell us to take long walks on the beaches – we figured that out all by ourselves!

Kitty Hawk RV Park

Betsy was parked so close to the beach that we could hear the waves at night from Kitty Hawk RV Park – loved it!

Of course, our major goal in the Kitty Hawk area was to visit the site where air travel was born.  The Wright Brothers National Memorial encompasses more than 400 acres and marks the spot where brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright made their first four powered flights.  And lucky for us, we had just seen the actual plane they built while at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in DC.

We climbed a hill to a 60-foot granite monument which is perched atop the 90-foot-tall Kill Devil Hill.  It commemorates the achievements of the Wright brothers, who conducted many of their glider tests on the massive shifting dune that was later stabilized.  Then we drove around a loop to a display of bronze statues that re-enacted the first flight.  While there, I asked first flight photographer John T. Daniels to take a picture of me.  He was very accommodating, but sort of a quiet chap 🙂

Wright Brothers Memorial Monument

The Memorial Monument sits on the hill behind the bronze sculpture of photographer John T. Daniels

As if our morning walk on the beach and hike up Kill Devil Hill were not enough, we continued to Jockey’s Ridge State Park  and climbed sand dunes topping out at 80 feet. The park boasts that the dunes here are the tallest natural sand-dune system in the eastern United States.  Upon reaching the top, we were rewarded with unparalleled views of the central Outer Banks and the surrounding area.

Jockey's Ridge State Park, Sand Dunes

Hiking up one of the tall sand dunes – where is everybody?

Our days here were spent catching the sunrise in the morning while walking on the beach, and enjoying watching the surfers, fishermen and hundreds of shorebirds.  We listened to and watched the relentless swells of the Atlantic Ocean pawing away at the beach.  Oh yeah, life is a beach indeed.  Do we have to leave?

Fishermen at Outer Banks

Beats working!

Kitty Hawk Beach

Kitty Hawk Beach

Some crazy woman wandering aimlessly around the beach…

Kitty Hawk Beach

We watched an endless parade of pelicans gliding inches above the water and swooping down on their prey, while other shorebirds scurried along the beach looking for food…

Pelicans

Pelicans gliding above the ocean

…and the unobstructed sunrises were just gorgeous.  Yes, I got many pictures of them each morning!

Sunrise at Outer Banks

Sunrise at Kitty Hawk Beach

Sunset at Kitty Hawk

Sunset at Kitty Hawk Beach

From Kitty Hawk we move just 60 miles further south to enjoy more beaches along the OBX.  We also checked out a few historical sites along the way.  We believe this is a great time to be here – the “shoulder season” – as the summer tourists (and their noisy little brats) have already gone back home.

Highway 12vOuterbanks, NC

Cruising along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore- Atlantic Ocean on the left, Pamlico Sound on the right

Cape Hatteras National Seashore covers all of the coastline from Nags Head to Ocracoke, seventy four (74) miles of unpopulated, unspoiled, and always open beaches.  Cape Hatteras Campground would have been a great place to park Betsy, but it had already closed for the season. 

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Instead, we parked Betsy at Cape Woods RV Park in Buxton (Steve’s review is here).  We found the iconic Cape Hatteras Lighthouse a few miles away.  At 208′ tall, it is distinguished as the tallest brick lighthouse in the nation.  Its unique diagonal black and white striped pattern really make it stand out.  Folks can climb to the top during tourist season, but it too had already been closed for the winter.

Beach erosion forced the relocation of this venerable landmark in 1999.  The lighthouse was moved 2,900 feet to its new location, the tallest brick structure in the U.S. to ever be moved.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

2,900 ft distance of lighthouse relocation, a huge and interesting project

Moving on to Ocracoke Island, we discovered it’s well known for wildlife attractions, especially its herd of ponies.  The ponies are called the “Banker” horses of Ocracoke, believed to be descendants of Spanish Mustangs that were unloaded in 1585.  Physically, the Ocracoke ponies are different from others – they have a different number of vertebrae and ribs, as well as a distinct shape, posture, color, size, and weight – that sets them apart.  The park service has been taking care of the herd since 1960, and only seventeen remain.

Ocracoke Pony

Ocracoke pony

The highlight on Ocracoke Island is the Ocracoke Lighthouse, the oldest (1823) and shortest (75 feet tall) operating lighthouse in North Carolina.  It is one of four that dot the main stretch of North Carolina’s Outer Banks.  Over the centuries, some 1,500 ships have perished in this area, earning the Outer Banks the moniker “Graveyard of the Atlantic”.

Ocracoke Lighthouse

The “guard kitty” at Ocracoke Lighthouse

At this time of year, thousands of migrating birds can be seen resting on the great Atlantic byway.

Migrating Birds

Migrating Birds, Ocracoke Island

Thousands of bird taking a break from their southward migration

On our way back to the mainland, Betsy was prepped for a long day of ferry rides – not one but two in a single day.  We always unhook the car and remove the tow bar when going on ferries, to avoid possibly dragging our hitch and to be more maneuverable on the vessel.  The first ride was easy and comfortable, as there weren’t too many folks going from Hatteras to Ocracoke Island.

The second ferry was a little different, for there were many more cars and RVs taking the 2+ hour ride from Ocracoke Island to the mainland, disembarking at Cedar Island.

It was a long day of ferry riding and driving – fortunately the forecasted high winds did not materialize.  We experienced a slight rocking and rolling on the ferries, but not enough to bother our tummies.  We loved the Outer Banks and plan to come back in the future to spend more time.  We learned that the best time to go is late summer to early fall, because everything is still open and the huge crowds have already departed.  But we still came at a good time – the weather was mostly nice and we had the beaches pretty much to ourselves.

Next up:  Lots of relaxing and socializing at Myrtle Beach!

Our upcoming stops – tell us about any “must do” tours, excursions,
restaurants, etc. you’ve enjoyed at these places, so we can check them out:

Charleston, SC
Savannah, GA

*********************************************************************

 

The Smallest Town in the Smallest State – Block Island, RI

Comments 9 Standard
Mohegan Bluffs
Lea and I

High school classmates, Lea and yours truly.

The next stop on our continuing trek south happened to land us in the smallest state in the union, Rhode Island.  While staying in the quaint coastal town of Narragansett, we met up with my friends Lea and Joanne.  They urged us to take a quick trip back into Massachusetts to visit Cape Cod.  Since we were staying only about an hour and a half from the Cape at Fisherman’s Memorial State Park in RI (click here to see Steve’s review), we said “what the heck, let’s go for it!”.

Cape Cod Welcome

Cape Cod welcome “sign”.

We took scenic route 6A from Bourne to Orleans, then continued on to 6 East all the way to Cape Cod National Seashore.  This was a pretty, scenic drive that led us over narrow and winding roads. The route where graced by  hundreds of historical homes which must conform to strictly enforced building codes and preservation efforts.  At the end of our long drive, a surprise awaited us – Marconi Beach!

Marconi Beach,Cape Cod National Seashore

Miles and miles of beauty at Marconi Beach.

A broad, sweeping view of the Atlantic Ocean can be enjoyed from atop an overlook on the steep sand cliff.  We saw miles of clay-colored cliffs and clean white beach.  Marconi is just one of several beaches along this stretch, referred to by Henry David Thoreau as “The Great Beach”.  We strolled along for a while, goofing off and taking in the fresh ocean air.  And the best part?  Since we were here at the end of September, only a handful of folks were around on this beautiful Sunday afternoon!

Marconi Beach

Just another day at the beach, we never get tired of this!

Now, back to Rhode Island.  As we arrived there, hints of autumn foliage could finally be seen along I-95S.

Autumn Foliage, I-95S

Less famous than Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard of Massachusetts, Block Island sits 13 miles off the southern coast of Rhode Island.  At only 10 square miles in size, it’s a gem of a seaside resort.  Steve had heard of it in the past, but didn’t even know where it was until a few days before we arrived in the state.

BlockIsland

Block Island, RI

We learned that the entire perimenter of the 3-by-7 mile island can be best enjoyed on a bike.  Hey, we’re up for that!  A great reason to take down our bikes, catch a ferry to the island and spend the day riding around it.  And to make it even better, the weather just happened to be perfect.

Block Island Ferry

There are two ways to access BI by ferry – catch the “high speed” which takes only 30 minutes to get across, or for a bit less money take the “traditional” ferry which is larger to accommodate vehicles and takes 55 minutes.  We did both, since the high speed ferry left earlier in the morning and the traditional ferry had an afternoon schedule that worked better for us.  They were both very efficient and easy to access.

While on the high speed ferry, we sat next to a couple – Susanne and Allan – who are regular visitors to the island.  They gave us lots of recommendations on what to see and where to eat as we biked around.  Since Allan is a pilot, he and Steve had a lot to talk about and before we knew it we were pulling into the harbor.  After getting our bikes, we headed toward the north end of the island.  There, at the end of the road, is a rock that marks the landing site of the European settlers on BI in 1661.

Settlers Rock

Settlers Rock

Further ahead and down the beach we could also see the Northern Light, the fourth lighthouse to inhabit the shifting sands of Block Island ‘s Sandy Point.

North Lighthouse

North Light

Great Salt Pond

Great Salt Pond

Retracing our path, we headed toward the south end of the island and stopped at Mohegan Bluffs.  The bluffs rise abruptly to a height of about 200 feet above the sea, and stretch for nearly three miles along the southern shore.  The beach can be accessed via 143 wooden steps, and yes, we went to the bottom and then huffed and puffed all the way back up to the top!

Mohegan Bluffs

Mohegan Bluffs

The most famous lighthouse on the island, which was relocated in the 1990’s due to beach erosion, is the South East Lighthouse.  This lighthouse has a large lens in its huge red brick beacon, and is now an National Historic Landmark.

South East Lighthouse

South East Lighthouse

Many renovated Victorian hotels built in the 1800’s reside at the heart of the village overlooking the Old Harbor.  These charming hotels feature full-service restaurants and provide comfortable lodging for folks who want to stay longer than a day.

At the end of our long ride, a cold beer and tasty lunch at Ballard’s Beach capped the afternoon perfectly.

Ballards Beach

Lunch at Ballards Beach

Block Island has incredibly varied and beautiful natural features, from the ocean to rolling hills.  Biking around the island is definitely the best way to enjoy it, and the number of folks doing just that proved it.  The bike route shares the road with other vehicles, and is varied with long flats intermingled with small hills and just a few fairly steep ones 😦  Because of its size, Block Island is billed as the smallest town in the smallest state of Rhode island.

Block  Island

But wait – our bike ride wasn’t over just yet.  Since our campground was only 1.5 miles from the harbor and there was a nice bike lane along the way, we decided to save the $8.00 parking fee and just ride there.  So, after the ferry docked back at Point Judith we still had a mile and a half to go.That last ride was a bit tough after riding all day and then sitting on the ferry, but it brought our total to a respectable 18.5 miles for the day.

Narragansett, RI

Approaching Narragansett on the ferry – the harbor is to the right and has several excellent seafood markets and restaurants.

We were beat when we arrived home, but we had a wonderful day on the island.  Not to be missed if you are in the area!

Fisherman's Memorial State Park

Betsy awaits us at our nice site at Fisherman’s Memorial State Park.

Next Up:  A quick stop at Clinton, CT, then onward to the Big Apple!

*******************************************************************

Exploring the beautiful Cabot Trail – Nova Scotia

Comments 14 Standard
Cabot Trail

We almost had to nix our planned sightseeing along the Cabot Trail.  When we awoke that morning a heavy fog was hiding the Seal Bridge, which we had been enjoying every morning for the past few days.  But knowing how fickle fog can be, we hoped the trail would be clear (or clearing) as we proceeded.  Hey, this is the whole reason we drove up to the northern part of Nova Scotia!

North Sydney KOA Cape Breton

Heavy Fog enveloped the island!

Cape Breton Island has divided its unspoiled land into scenic drives – Fleur-de-Lis Trail, Ceilidh Trail, Bras d’Or Lake and Cabot Trail.  We chose to tackle the longest and most popular Cabot Trail, a 186-mile scenic loop through Cape Breton Highlands National Park.  It connects previously isolated communities consisting of Acadian, Irish and Scottish people.  The trail is named in honor of John Cabot, who discovered Cape Breton Island in 1497.

As we had hoped, the fog began to clear somewhat as we drove several miles from our “HQ” at the North Sydney KOA toward Baddeck. We entered the trail from the west side – traveling counter-clockwise.

There is so much to see and do on this long drive that one could spend several days exploring the area.  Most folks do it in one very long day, but considering the numerous overlooks with beautiful vistas to take in – and many hiking trails to conquer – we prepared for a slower two-day adventure.  We planned for an overnight stop at a B&B near the mid-way point at the top of the island.  I’ll share with you just the highlights of the natural beauty that comprises this gorgeous landscape.

The Cabot Trail

The Cabot Trail

Upon entering the trail, we briefly stopped at St. Ann’s Gaelic College, a school devoted to the study and preservation of the Gaelic language and Celtic arts and culture.  This was the first time we had heard the terms “Gaelic” and ‘Celtic”, and it turns out that Cape Breton is known for its history of living gaelic communities.  The school continues to contribute to its preservation.  After the quick stop we could not utter a single word in Gaelic, even though the woman in the office tried to teach us a few words.  But Steve enjoyed the Celtic music playing in the background!

St. Ann's Gaelic College.

The beautiful grounds at St. Ann’s Gaelic College.

After several miles we spotted the only wildlife we would see on this journey, a majestic bald eagle!  I say “the only wildlife”, since despite several signs warning of Moose in the area, we never saw one crossing the highway or while we were hiking.  Darn!

Bald Eagle

Ocean scenery, steep cliffs and beautiful beaches dominate the eastern side of the trail facing the Atlantic ocean.  We took our first hike on the Middlehead trail in the Ingonish area, which follows a peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean.  At the end of the trail we were rewarded with great views of the Atlantic waters crashing onto the rocks at the bottom of the cliff.

Cape Smokey, Cape Breton

Cape Smokey, viewed from Middlehead Trail

Rocky bluffs and shallow coves characterized the eastern side as we trudged along.

We passed homes with whimsical and colorful yard decor in the Neil’s Harbor area.

Neils Harbor, Cabot Trail

Cabot Trail

We ended our first day with mussels and cold beers at Meat Cove, which is at the end of a dirt road and as far as you can go on land to the north in Nova Scotia.  It is highland vista, serene and very remote, but a spectacular place.  The road ends at a small campground that would be a great place to stay in a tent or small trailer, but we wouldn’t bring Betsy out here!

Meat Cove, Cabot Trail

Cold beer at the end of the road

Meat cove, Cabot Trail

Now this is what you call camping!

The following day we continued on with our sightseeing, leaving the northern end of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park.  A third of the Cabot Trail runs through the national park along the coast and over the highlands.  We climbed the fog-covered mountain and stopped at some viewpoints to see canyons and plateaus where possible.  High winds were our companion as we drove around the higher elevations of the trail.

Pleasant Bay, Cabot Trail

Overlooking Pleasant Bay

Despite the winds, I took a hike and followed the Skyline Trail, described as a dramatic headland overlooking the rugged Gulf Coast.  But not today – I could barely stand on the boardwalk as the wind was really trying to blow me over!  Steve was smart enough to stay nice and warm in the car, so I asked another friendly tourist to take a picture of me with my hair up in the air.

Cabot Trail

Looking down the northwestern coast of the trail.

As the road twisted along the coast we were brought to Cheticamp, home of the Acadians.  They are direct descendants of the original Acadians expelled by the British from Nova Scotia in the 17 century.  Their preservation of their history and culture gave this area a personality of its own.  The Acadian Flag is proudly displayed at just about every home.

We bought mussels and lobsters at Margaree Harbour, locally called “The French Side.”  While exploring the harbor we noticed some unusual stacked triangular rocks that resembled clams:

Margaree Harbour, Cabot Trail

Margaree Harbour and the yummy seafood we bought to take back home offered a fitting end to our Cabot Trail adventure.

East Margaree, The French Side

East Margaree- “The French Side”

Two days was barely enough to really experience the unique culture and diverse heritage around the trail, but we think we covered it fairly well.  Although it is easy to compare the Cabot Trail with the California and Oregon coastlines, we think the Cabot Trail just has a character, history, and beauty all its own.

As we reached home, the rain began to approach.  It proceeded to pour almost non-stop for the next three days, a bummer end to our time in Nova Scotia.  The good news is we accomplished everything we had planned before it hit!

Seal Bridge, North Sydney, Cape Breton

Vegging in front of the “big screen”.

Next up:  Back to New Brunswick and then goodbye for now, Canada!

*******************************************************************

Blazing some trails on Prince Edward Island

Comments 12 Standard
Prince Edward Island National Park

Prince Edward Island (PEI) isn’t just all pastoral landscapes and gleaming harbors.  The island is also famous for being the home of Anne of Green Gables, and I vaguely remember the tv series from decades ago.  However, since I wasn’t a fan we skipped a trip to the Green Gables National Historic Site.  Fortunately, our base camp at Cavendish was only five minutes away from PEI National Park.  As always, we did what we do whenever we get a chance – hike and bike.

On our first full day we hiked one of the trails which took us through several micro-environments.

Duneland at PEI

Starting off toward the dunes along beautiful Cavendish Beach.

Cavendish Beach

He made it!  I’m down on the beach already.

After a while the trail took us out into a wetlands area.

Cavendish Beach

Homestead Trail

The clouds seemed to mimic the outline of the trees.

Falcon

A good looking Merlin checked us out from above.

We finally ended up at a red beach where I touched the warm waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Next we headed back inland and followed the Homestead Trail.  This one passed through lush forests and rolling farmland along the beautiful shores of New London Bay.

The sun was already high over our heads so there were no shady spots to rest on this section, but at every turn we were faced with meadows of pretty colorful wildflowers.

Homestead Trail

Not a bad way to spend a Tuesday afternoon!

Homestead Trail, PEI

Is he lost?  Does he care?

A hint that summer is almost over.

On another day we took our bikes and followed the coastline of PEI fronting the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The soil on PEI is a deep red, so the dramatic rocks and cliffs around the coast reflect this, while the sand on the beaches is white.  It makes for a stunning coastline.

PEI Coastline

Sandstone

There were many areas of reddish sandstone like this one.

PEI Coastal Trail

Why is this woman so happy? Could it be the wildflowers, the birds, the beach? Maybe all of the above?

PEI Coastline

Steve spotted something way out at the end of the rocks – is that a bird ?

Bald Eagle

After getting closer – yup, it’s a Bald Eagle!

Several foxes strutted along the road causing a traffic jam.

Red Fox

Red fox trotting along the road.

Red Foxes

These foxes look like they’re kissing

The day finally ended with another gorgeous sunset over the island.

Red Sand  Beach

Red sand beach glowed at dusk

PEI Sunset

Gulf of St. Lawrence glowed orange in the sunset.

Next up:  Island girls meet up at PEI

*******************************************************************