Spring Break 2013: North to Corolla

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We spent some time at the beach the morning after we stayed in Ocracoke.  Greta loved the sand, shells, birds, and dogs.  She found a plastic rake on the beach and used it to stir up trouble.  The highlight of the morning, for Greta, was when a helicopter flew over the beach close enough for us to see the passengers waving at us.

We loaded a tired Greta into the car and boarded another ferry – this time to head north to Hatteras.  This shorter ferry ride is a unique one and a free service provided by the NCDOT.

Once off the ferry, the drive north along Highway 12 is a scenic one.

This bridge was built quickly to accommodate the newest inlet, Pea Island Inlet, after the most recent hurricane season.  It doesn’t look shady or anything…

We reached Corolla by afternoon.  The live oaks are much taller and more prevalent in this region of the Outer Banks.

We stayed at the Inn at Corolla Light.  The room was very spacious with a bedroom, bathroom, and large closet at one end.  In the middle it had a ,small kitchen with a sink, microwave, refrigerator, and basic necessities.  The living room was at the other end with a sleeper couch, table and two chairs, TV, and sliding glass doors that opened up to the pool and hot tub!  There was plenty of room for Greta to spread out – she took no time at all to sit at the table and color.

The deck was just outside our room – complete with hot tub and pool that overlooked the water.

We went exploring before dinner.


This place would be a hopping place in the summer.

Can’t you just see a wedding at the end of this pier?  This place begs for another visit.

To the right of the pier was this view: the Whale Head Club and still the forest fire.


A boardwalk and gravel trail continues along the edge of the water, offering excellent birding opportunities.



Our mornings were filled with beach trips.  This is the end of Highway 12 – a sandy road blocked off with fences to protect the wild horses the roam the area.

The Fit was not fit for sand driving.

So, we traded in 4 wheels for 2 wheels.  Nothing like a chilly, beach bike ride to start your day.

It was a dramatic morning for a ride, with plenty of sites.

Rain was looming most of the out time in Corolla – but it did not stop us from getting our fill of the area.

We checked out a trail that takes one out to the coastal marsh of the estuary.  We spotted only one wild horse only briefly – sadly some really loud visitors scared it off.


The area was beautifully quiet after the noisy crowd  moved off in search of other wild horses to scare off.  The muddy area underneath the walkway was filled with horse prints.

The first part of the trail snaked in between a maritime forest of live oaks, southern wax myrtles, and loblolly pines.


We ate dinner at the best Mexican food I have had in a long time at Agave Roja in Corolla.  I have been hunting for something that even compares with the pescado tacos I had in the heart of Mexico City at a little stand years ago.  I finally found them, on the NC coast – they were grilled with crunchy slaw, chile aioli sauce and guacamole.  Eric ordered Camarones Tacos with pineapple-haberno sauce that were to die for as well.  The black beans and rice were also fantastic.  More to come on those in a future post.

The atmosphere and artwork were equally pleasing – tasteful rope light and original paintings.


Our last day at Corolla started with a walk at the beach at dawn.


We are all a bunch of early birds and had no trouble getting down to the water to see the sun rise.


We were glad we made it – the colors were liquid golds, pinks, and violets.  How were we to know this would be the only sunlight we saw on this day?

After breakfast we made a stop at the Currituck Beach Lighthouse, but Greta was more concerned with where her shell had gone inside her pocket.


Out last stop was at the stately home of the Knights, known as the Whalehead Club.  It was built in the 1920s as a hunting and entertaining lodge for wealthy northerners.  It has been restored and tours are available.  We opted to quickly view the free basement exhibit and take Greta on her merry way, as she was crashing towards nap time.
Oh North Carolina coast – how much I will miss you when we are in land locked Iowa.  I am so grateful for this spring trip to familiar and new places.  I hope we see you again soon, Outer Banks and Atlantic Ocean.  This image is from a trip in July of 2007, and is the beach on Ocracoke Island.
 A few of my favorite reads on the Outer Banks of North Carolina are:

Spring Break 2013: Piedmont to the Coast

We got up Friday morning and headed to the Outer Banks of North Carolina – these barrier islands are a unique area to visit and have captured our hearts over the past eight years.  We did the math and I have been to the Outer Banks 8 times and Eric 7 times.  Not bad – we did well on being tourists in our own state.

Friday was a beautiful sunny day and driving conditions were perfect.  We did encounter the smoke from a large forest fire on the way to the coast.  For a while we were worried it would impact travel.

The trip takes a while but Greta was a sport – she did manage to figure out how to get her socks on her hands as means to entertain herself.

 I love this – a perfect lesson in 1-point perspective.

We were the last ones on the ferry at Cedar Island, we thought for sure we were going to miss our reservation.  Once on board, we had three hours to roam about.

Greta enjoyed running around the ferry, watching seagulls, and watching other people and their dogs.  One particular year, my father in law had a cookie stolen out of his hands by a thieving seagull.  I guarded my child on the ferry this year and made her eat in the car.

 While Greta snacked, I made time to make some art.

The rear view of a ferry is just so mesmerizing.  One year, we were followed by porpoises on our ferry ride.

Ocracoke Island at last!  Ocracoke is one of my favorite places on this planet.  It is like funky Key West meets quaint Southern charm.  The island is not as crowded as the northern parts of the Outer Banks – say Nags Head or Kitty Hawk, but clears out every evening as tourists leave on ferries.  The entire island is easily biked, the entire town is easily walked, and only accessed by ferry.  

We biked around the island a bit before dinner, trying to find my favorite restaurant the Flying Melon Cafe.  We soon discovered it was no longer my favorite restaurant and now a Mexican restaurant.  So we settled on Howard’s Pub.  The decor is like a college town pub meets fisherman vibe.  The kids menu comes served on a Frisbee.  It was ok.  No Flying Melon Cafe though.

We stayed at the Anchorage Inn & Marina which overlooks Silver Lake and Irvin Garrish Highway, or Highway 12. After Greta was in bed we watched a fantastic sunset over Silver Lake and the ferry.

The next morning, we explored the island’s neighborhoods and Ocracoke lighthouse by bicycle. 

We headed out to the beach next.  Greta was so eager to get down to the wa-wa that she was wriggling out of my arms in this photo.

After beach exploring, we headed to see the Ocracoke ponies.   Then it was on to the Hatteras ferry, and a nice scenic drive North on Highway 12 to Corolla – a brand new place for us to explore.

I am dreaming of the beach…

…and most specifically Ocracoke Island, which is one of my top 3 favorite places on Earth.

I got to thinking about this wonderful place because I entered a photography contest for www.outerbanks.org and their 2011 travel guide.  I entered three of my favorites from over the past five years, some of them may be below, but I am not telling specifics.  I do not want to jinx my entries, so keep your fingers crossed for OBX 2011 Official Travel Guide!  You can view the 2010 guide here.

Ocracoke beach, 2009.

I moved to North Carolina by complete chance in 2005, because it was either take a subbing job in Iowa, or start the hunt for my own classroom.  I quite accidentally found job openings in North Carolina and having never set foot in the state, discovered one of my favorite places in the United States.  North Carolina is fortunate enough to have both the mountains and the ocean for its residents to enjoy.  With the eyes of a tourist, and the license plates of a local, I have come to realize what an undiscovered gem this state truly is.  I learned first hand that the South does not always get the credit it deserves — the Outer Banks of North Carolina blows the crowded boardwalks of the Northeast and New England out of the water.  

In the five years I have lived in North Carolina, I have been to the Outer Banks at least every year, and Ocracoke Island if I am lucky.  In 2010 I managed to get there twice.  Ocracoke Island is a part of the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  The Outer Banks are a series of islands running semi-parallel to the mainland, made of sand and continually shift and change with the waves, wind, and storms.  This thin strip of land and its waters are a unique ecosystem home to a variety of birds, turtles, crustaceans, wild horses, porpoises, and many more species.  The area has a rich cultural and historical background.  I have included some of my favorite things to do when visiting the Outer Banks.  

pet a stingray or view a shipwreck ecosystem at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island

Roanoke Island Park to celebrate the first English colonies and the lost colony of Roanoke, 
climbing the Cape Hatteras lighthouse

walking the streets of Ocracoke to NC’s oldest lighthouse

deep sea fishing or beach fishing,

taking a ferry – the only way to get to Ocracoke,

flying kites at Jockey’s Ridge State Park – endless sand dunes, 

soaking up sun and salt at the numerous beaches, 

biking the long, flat, sandy, roads with beautiful scenery the entire way,  

stormy days, tidal changes, sea spray, beach combing, sea foam on the beach – the natural beauty of these islands,

relaxing at a dockside bar or restaurants, some of the best scenery in the state of North Carolina.  
Fresh out of college, ready to teach and no idea where my life was taking me, I ended up in North Carolina and homesick for the Midwest.  Yet I grew to love this part of my life and with that my state of North Carolina more than I ever could have imagined.  I could not have thrown a dart in a better location, which is why, if given a chance to get away, I would choose Ocracoke and the Outer Banks of North Carolina.   
I even went with a hundred of my eighth grade students to the Outer Banks for an extended weekend.  It was some of the most fun I have had on the Outer Banks.