Friday, October 28, 2016

Cape Fear and the Oak Island Lighthouse

Fisherman on Kure Beach with pelicans waiting for the catch
Kure Beach North Carolina is a small paradise that we might never of found if it weren’t for the military campground at Fort Fisher. We chose the area as a convenient stop on our way to Charleston, not realizing that we would be surrounded by water and that the beach was a short walk from our campsite.
Kure Beach is a lovely expanse of white sand and exposed rock surfaces that provide a beautiful place to spend an afternoon and breath in the peace inducing salt air. We were happy to share it with a few intrepid swimmers, flocks of pelicans and morning surf casters.
It was a pleasure to be able to take our walks in the wet sand between the rolling surf and rainbow painted condos.
Morning and evening walks along the water were a pleasure
Kure beach is a peninsula sandwiched between the Atlantic and the Cape Fear river.  Fort Fisher a Confederate stronghold during the Civil War was here. The forts remains are part of the Fort Fisher State Historic Site that include a museum and an undersea archeology program.

Oak Island Lighthouse

The Fort Fisher ferry took us over to Southport one afternoon and we drove through to Oak Island to visit another North Carolina Lighthouse. The Oak Island lighthouse is located on Caswell beach. It was a lovely drive through a residential neighborhood with lots of beach access points. We easily found the 153 foot tower. Oak Island Lighthouse was built in 1957. The poured concrete tower is a uniform 16 feet 4 ¾ inches in diameter with 8 inch thick walls. We found it interesting that the daymark colors of gray, black and white were permanently cast into the cement as it was poured. It is possible to climb the tower but reservations to do so must be made 2 weeks in advance. Unlike the circular staircase of a traditional lighthouse tower you reach the top of this column via a series of metal ship style metal ladders. 131 steps to the top with a landing every 17 steps. We did not have reservations so saved the climb for another day.

Bald Island Lighthouse

We used the beach access across the street  to get a good view of Bald Island and Old Baldy, the island’s lighthouse. The Bald Island light once provided navigational aid to those ships passing the aptly named Cape Fear. This place where the Cape Fear River joins the Atlantic Ocean is marred by Flying Pan Shoals a 28 mile shifting sandbar that made entering the river a hazardous endeavor.

The beach was deserted except for 2 far away fishermen so we gave Rascal a bit of off leash time that made him a very happy boy.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Lighthouses of Hatteras National Seashore

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
Cape Hatteras National Seashore is a beautiful place full of sun and surf, sea birds and skittering crabs, sand dunes, salt marshes and picture perfect sunrises. This narrow group of 3 barrier islands  hosts thousands of visitors a year but the shores have not always been a welcoming place. The beautiful waters off the coast of the islands hide Diamond Shoals a shifting bank of sand bars and ridges that make sailing a risky business. Over 600 ships are known to have gone down in these waters earning the area the nickname Graveyard of the Atlantic.
The US lighthouse Service erected 3 lights on these islands to aid ships in navigating the dangerous passages.
We set off on a sunny September day to see all 3.

Cedar Island Ferry to Ocracoke Island

Our home base was in Havelock so the first leg of the journey was a 40 minute drive to the Cedar Island ferry dock where we caught a 2 ½ hour ride to Ocracoke Island the southernmost point of the Hatteras National Seashore and former hideout of Edward Teach also known as the English pirate Blackbeard.
We had our choice of outdoor seating or an indoor air conditioned lounge. Several passengers had brought binoculars. Fred went down to the car deck to retrieve ours. It was fun to get an up close view of other boats on the water and to see the island as we approached the shore.
The ferry docked in Ocracoke Village at the southern end of the narrow island. We disembarked and parked at the Visitor Center to get stamps for the Ocracoke Lighthouse and the Ocracoke portion of the National Seashore.
Rudder from a wreck at the Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum

The Ocracoke Preservation Society is a short walk from the same parking lot. This museum of Ocracoke history is located in the David Williams house, an 1890 foursquare style home with wide porches. The rooms of the home have been set up with period furniture as they would have been when it was built. Each room houses several displays including examples of quilts and other local folk art, WWII relics and a vintage 1950’s Boy Scout poster featuring Ocracoke Islands mounted troop.
It must have been an interesting place when wild ponies freely roamed the island. We were told that the pretty picket fences that surround the historic houses were put there to keep the horses out of the kitchen gardens.
Fred and I spoke with the docent on duty who encouraged us to look at the outdoor exhibits that included pieces of a shipwreck and told us of the extensive genealogical research library they were collecting on the museums second floor.

We left the library and headed into the village to find a British cemetery. There are many small family cemeteries on the island and one on a narrow street in a neighborhood of historic homes contains the bodies of 4 British sailors from the HMS Bedfordshire. The Bedfordshire on anti-submarine duty out of Morehead City was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat on May 12, 1942. The bodies of 4 sailors washed ashore and were buried close to one another at the right side of the cemetery. That burial ground was later deeded to the Commonwealth and is essentially British territory. A British flag flies over the graves and a nearby marker quotes Rupert Brooke: If I should die think only this of me that there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever England

4 British sailors buried here during WWII
Route 12 took us through town where we found Lighthouse Road. The Ocracoke lighthouse built in 1823 is North Carolina’s oldest operating light. The 75 foot white brick and plaster structure is not open for climbing but a small parking area and a boardwalk running to the lighthouse itself makes for a great photo stop.

Ocracoke Lighthouse
We left the truck at a church a short distance away where enterprising parishioners had erected an honor box for parking donations. There were quite a few lighthouse visitors the day we visited so I suspect that the church does well with these anonymous donations.

We continued along route 12 to get to the north end of the 16 mile long island. We passed the pony pens and miles of sand dunes with pull offs for cars and ATV’s. You can drive the beaches of the National Seashore but must apply for an ORV permit at the visitor center.
The ferry to Hatteras Island was boarding as we arrived and we were able to fit the truck in as one of the last 3 vehicles. We opened the windows and sat back to enjoy the free 1 hour ride across the Hatteras Inlet.

The light casts a shadow toward its original location, now lapped by waves
Hatteras Island is a vacationer’s paradise. Parts of it are densely populated with hotels, condos and vacation homes as well as the restaurants shops and service centers that cater to those that inhabit them.  Route 12 continued up the narrow spit of land and we followed it to Buxton where one of the photographed of all lighthouses is found. Climbing Cape Hatteras Lighthouse has been on Fred’s bucket list for more than 20 years and today we made that happen.

257 steps to the top
The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was built in 1870. At 193 feet and 257 steps it is the tallest light in the US. I was thankful for a landing every 31 steps. The views from the top are spectacular and include the former location of the lighthouse 2900 feet closer to the water. The lighthouse Visitor Center shows a movie about the spectacular feet of engineering it was to move the 193 foot tower.

It took a while but once I got Fred down out of the tower we continued North on route 12 past the Lightsaving station at Little Kinnakeet, through Rodanthe and the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, and across the bridge onto Bodie Island. We got to the area of Bodie Island Lighthouse as rainclouds were moving in from the west. It looked beautiful in the waning light but we didn’t stop as we had climbed this light on a prior visit to the Outer Banks.
Bodie Island Llghthouse
We crossed the bridge to Roanoke Island and then to the mainland before making the 2 hour drive back home to Havelock.

It was a long day, a lot of miles, and a most excellent adventure.

The front moving in as we drove south back to Havelock

Friday, October 21, 2016

Memphis: Music, Museums and Barbecue

Fred watching the paddle wheeler float down the Mississippi
Fred and I were lucky enough to spend a week in Memphis, Tennessee at the beginning of April this year.
Memphis is a unique and wonderful place full of history, music and barbecue. 
Neither of us had visited this area before so we looked around for camping advice. We were unanimously told to try the Tom Sawyer RV Park in West Memphis.  We are so glad that we did. Tom Sawyer is located right on the Mississippi River. Our Riverfront campsite allowed us to watch barges and steam powered paddle-wheelers fight the current up and down the river.

Barges moved by river tug boats 
The river was running a little high but not so high that we had to worry about flooding. Interestingly the RV park has high water flood marks on many of their buildings from prior years. Their website even provides a link to the National Weather Service Flood Stage listings for the lower Mississippi River.
The RV Park has battled the river on a number of occasions. We are glad that they are willing to do so because our stay at Tom Sawyer was a treat. Tom Sawyer boasts a number of tree houses from rustic to elaborate that were a pleasure to look at.
The RV Park is located not far from Memphis proper. It took us about 20 minutes to cross the new bridge and be right downtown.
Crossing the bridge it is hard not to notice a giant silver pyramid shaped building. It is a huge Bass Pro Shop with a store on the ground floor and restaurant and hotel on the upper floor.  There is an open elevator that you can take to the top for a birds eye view.

Our first stop was Beale Street, home of the Blues, that place where Rock and Roll and Soul Music came together and music was King.  Elvis was here. Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis all recorded here on the Sun Records label. Beale Street starts at the Mississippi River and travels for about 2 miles. We found it full of Jazz clubs, restaurants, kitchy souvenir shops and museums. Walk the street at any time of the day or night and you can hear music spilling out onto the sidewalk. It was hard for us to travel more than half a block without stopping to hear "the rest of this set" or "this song and then we'll go".

Sidewalks on Beale Street are dotted with brass musical notes. Each note is inscribed with the name of a musician whose work has become part of Memphis history.

We stopped at BB King's for a late lunch, where we met a charming waitress named Natalie who introduced the chef to us since he was "from New York too".  Chef served us hummus made from black eyed peas along with some of the best Barbecued Pork and Brisket we have ever tasted. Did I forget to mention Hus Puppies? Those golden nuggets of cornbread that I remember from my southern childhood were every bit as good as I had remembered.  It turns out that Chef was from Brant Lake New York, a tiny Adirondack hamlet not far from our own home base. He got his start at Jimbo's a favorite for locals and Adirondack Vacationers.

Tee shirt at the Rock and Soul Museum
The Rock and Soul Museum rounded out our first day in Memphis. This small but powerful Museum was created by the Smithsonian. The museum tour begins with a short film about the history of music in Memphis. We were then issued headsets and controllers that allowed us to customize our museum experience by choosing from a list of musical selections that was associated with each exhibit. The exhibits ranged from the front porch rocking chair of a gospel singer through stage costumes worn by Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis. Trunks and cases of band equipment marked property of Isaac Hayes were set out in several places making it seem like the Soul Man was lurking about getting ready to perform.  The last room was a collection of framed Life Magazine photographs that seemed to capture the spirit of the  performer it portrayed.
It was an amazing interactive experience that had every person in the room tapping swaying or dancing to the tunes they had chosen to personalize their experience. It was a delightful way to spend the afternoon.

Beale St store signs are all about the neon

We found our way further East in the city on our second visit to Memphis. Central BBQ is still in the downtown area and is located one street over from the National Civil Rights Museum.
When we asked people at the campground where to go for good Barbecue Central is where they sent us. Fred and I had been eating slow smoked Texas style barbecue all Winter and wanted to see what Memphis offered in comparison. We enjoyed the pulled pork, ribs and brisket along with a sample of smoked sausage. Central also offers turkey and chicken.  They are proud of their smoked hot wings and barbecued bologna too.
Pork rules in Memphis BBQ. We were given the choice of wet or dry and allowed extra bark if we wanted it and of course I did.  The sauces were vinegary but pleasant and very different from the brown sugar sweetness had become accustomed to in Texas.
Bellies full we decided to walk awhile and headed over to the Lorraine Motel home to the National Civil Rights Museum.
The Lorraine looks as it did in 1968 when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated here on the balcony outside room 307. Two white Cadillacs are parked beneath the balcony of that room. The museum consists of the Motel and the Young and Morrow Building across the street, a former boarding house where James Earl Ray fired the shot that murdered Dr. King.  The Young and Morrow Building houses the volumes of investigative paperwork that was generated by Dr. King's death. Exhibits include a replica of Montgomery City bus that tells the story of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a whites only lunch counter from Greensboro North Carolina to remind us that sit-ins were an effective form of non-violent protest and a replica Sanitation truck from the 1960's that reminds us that Dr King was in Memphis to support fair and equitable wages for black sanitation workers.
The most somber part of the visit was reading Dr Kings resolute words spoken the day before his assassination:

"I may not get there with you but I want you to know that we as a people will get to the promised land."

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Bears of New Bern

New Bern, North Carolina home to church spires, bears and the original Pepsi.
New Bern North Carolina is a historic town in the Crystal Coast region of North Carolina. When you walk around town you can see architectural details that remind you that New Bern was settled by colonists of German and Swiss descent.
This is a river town that has a vibrant riverfront park. We took a long walk passing a variety of restaurants, coffee shops and stores.
New Bern is the birthplace of Pepsi Cola.  Caleb Bradham's old corner pharmacy is there, where he invented Brad's drink and later patented it as Pepsi Cola.  We enjoyed Pepsi floats and purchased cans of the latest product being marketed by Pepsi the 1893 brand in original cola and ginger flavors.

Here's the recipe if you want to make a batch
They even have the original recipe hanging on the wall in the pharmacy.  We calculated that it would take a firetruck tanker to provide a large enough vessel to mix the solution in.
Fred was happy to cross Pepsi off his bucket list having visited the Coke Museum in Atlanta, Georgia and the Dr. Pepper museum in Waco, Texas in the past.

New Bern is home to many churches with beautiful spires
Our walking tour passed many churches with beautiful spires as well as a clock tower. Many of the storefronts were open on this Sunday afternoon. We stopped at one that was having a sale on outdoor athletic wear to browse and Fred ended up with a new pair of Teva's.  It was a nice find as his old ones were rubbing blisters on the side of his foot.
Another interesting thing we discovered about New Bern is that author Nicholas Sparks makes his home in the area. His novels are set in this area of North Carolina and many people recognize the places he writes about.
Many of the buildings in New Bern exhibit German and Swiss architectural details.
The thing we liked most about New Bern though was it's bears. Bears are an important symbol here and bear sculptures can be found all over the city. Bern is a German word for bear. It seems that New Bern has embraced it's namesake as well as it's Swiss and German heritage in celebration of them.

Bearon deGraffenreid at Union Point Park

Capt Black Bear'd on East Front St
There were bears outside of stores and doctors offices, bears with historic significance, bears for the police department, and bears with a message. We didn't find them all, some had been moved to different locations and some we got too tired to walk to.

This fishing bear was carved from a single log

Spirit 2: a Bear with a message
The bear walking tour was a great way to see the downtown area of New Bern. We only had an afternoon to explore the historic city and it was an enjoyable way to cover a lot of ground.

Flag Bearer at City Hall

This bear was in a window facing a pocket park in town

Mitchell Bear at Mitchell Hardware on Craven St

Sailor Bear on South Front St

Bear-ly Legal at Stubbs and Perdue Law Firm on Craven St

Greenzly in Union Point Park

Friday, October 14, 2016

Cape Lookout National Seashore

Cape Lookout Lighhouse

Virginia was still damp and drying out as we headed south to North Carolina's lower Outer Banks. We had visited Kitty Hawk, the Wright Brothers National Memorial, Corolla and the Bodie Island Lighthouse on a prior visit but had never been to the lower North Carolina barrier islands.
Threats of bad weather persuaded us to make camp inland rather than on the islands themselves. Havelock, a small city situated about half way between historic New Bern and the ferries that would take us to the Outer Banks was the perfect spot.
We parked the Behemoth at a Marine Corp Air Station called Cherry Point where a nicely remodeled MWR park provided a home base.

North Carolina has an amazing network of passenger ferries as part of its public transportation system. They connect the lower barrier islands to the mainland and are a delightful way to travel. Some were as small as 10 passenger water taxis and others big enough for the Behemoth.

Our first experience with the ferry system was a trip to Cape Lookout National Seashore.
Cape Lookout and the Shackleford Banks can be reached by private boat or by ferry from the National Park Visitor Center at Harker's Island.

Wild Banker horses at the Shackleford Banks, Cape Lookout National Seashore

The National  seashore is made up of 3 barrier islands. Island Express Ferry Service carried us the 3 miles out to Cape Lookout with a short stop at the Shackleford Banks to drop off 4 passengers who were interested in shelling. We were told that the long narrow beach of Shackleford is one of the best in North Carolina for shell hunting.  Shakleford is also home to a protected herd of wild horses whose ancestry is linked to Spanish Conquistadors by local legend and proven by DNA testing. We were able to see a few of them grazing on the sea oats as we got close to the drop off point.

View from the dock

Island Express dropped us off a short distance away at the dock near the Cape Lookout lifesaving station. The island is only a few miles long and about 3/4 mile wide. We started our exploration on the bay side where the Cape Lookout Lighthouse and museum are located.
The National Park Visitor Center was manned by a couple from Charleston who were volunteering at the lighthouse for 3 weeks. Charlotte explained to us that they spend 5 days on island with 2 days off each week.  Their duties include manning the Visitor Center, watching over the museum, and keeping the public areas neat. It sounded like a great way to spend 3 weeks and we put it on our list of possibilities for a future visit.

Trails on island are a combination of sand and boardwalk to protect the fragile dunes. One of the boardwalks lead us to the lighthouse and the Lighthouse Keepers quarters which now serves as a museum. The lighthouse is usually open through the 3rd weekend in September but closed early this year due to threat of storms.

Cape Lookout Light is painted white and black in a distinctive diamond pattern. It is 163 feet tall and can be seen almost 20 miles out to sea.
The museum tour is self guided and told us a lot about the southern Outer Banks.  Area history is rich with stories of storms and shipwrecks as well as its roll in the Civil War and in WWII when German U boats sank more than 80 vessels in North Carolina waters.

The back porch of the museum had a row of rocking chairs that invite you to rest a while and enjoy looking out over the bay. Bayside is where those with private boats drop anchor. There were several boats the day we visited and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves floating in the water and visiting back and forth.

Oceanside beach
Fred enjoyed the waves

Cape Lookout's ocean beach was voted #1 in USA Today's 10 most beautiful National Park Beaches contest for 2016.  It was easy to see why.  We walked the boardwalk path across the dunes to find waves rolling onto a pristine sand beach dotted with seaweed and seashells. There were surfers and body surfers and surf fishermen with plenty of room for them all to play.  Fred couldn't stay out of the water and I must have walked a mile down the beach.  It was lovely. We stayed until we started to feel crispy from the sun and then headed back to the dock.
Island Express sent a smaller boat to bring us back so the ride wasn't as smooth but we did see plenty of pelican's and a couple of dolphins in the channel.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Norfolk Botanical Garden

Japanese Garden
Bonsai specimen in the Japanese garden
We fell in love with Botanical Gardens after visiting the one in Brooklyn while visiting our daughter Melissa one Spring many years ago.  
There is something wonderful about wandering among the plants and trees moving along paths between planned spaces.

We have found Botanical Gardens in many cities that we have visited and Norfolk's is among the most beautiful.

We crossed 3 bridges on our garden walk, each one draped with flowers
Rose garden specimen
Rose garden
The Norfolk Botanical Garden has been around since 1938 when a WPA grant and a donation of 150 acres of land from the city coincided to build an azalea garden.  200 African American women were assigned the project and working with only hand tools cleared enough land for 10,000 flowers and shrubs to be planted.
Today the Norfolk Botanical Garden encompasses 175 acres and 52 themed gardens. They are connected by roads and walking paths. 

We visited on an overcast day with threats of showers but it didn't dampen our enthusiasm for wandering among the plants.
I particularly enjoyed the Japanese garden with its tables of ornamental Bonsai trees and a quiet pond that hosted turtles and dragonflies. The azaleas and rhododendron were long past their blooming phase but the roses were lovely.

View from the NATO Overlook
Eagle statue NATO overlook
Fred's favorite display was the NATO Vista. The NATO overlook is a covered tower at the center of the garden. Built on a high point in the landscape it allows a birds eye view of much of the garden spaces.
You would have to return a number of times and in all seasons to see the everything that Norfolk Botanical Garden has to offer. We were happy to be able to walk about 75% of it before the weather changed for the worse.
We had a lovely walk and got back to the truck before the skies opened. All in all a great way to spend the afternoon.

Norfolk Botanical Garden
6700 Azalea Garden Rd
Norfolk, VA
(757) 441-5830