During our stay in the Smokies, we briefly entered the state of North Carolina, but after leaving Tennesse for good we entered the Tarheel State intending to stay awhile. We’d start high in the Appalachian mountains, and travel east towards the Outer Banks where we spent over a week soaking in the sun, sand, and surf. First up was the Asheville area. Specifically, we stayed just outside town at Lake Powhatan Campground. Lake might be a bit of an exaggeration, ‘large pond’ would probably be a more apt description. Nonetheless, the campground provided an affordable camping option near Ashville.
We only had one full day to explore the area and had planned on packing a lot of activity into a short period of time. Apparently some of the best biking on the east coast can be found in the area. Unfortunately, I’d never find out. The day we arrived I set out to fix my bike’s persistent drivetrain issues and failed miserably. As of this writing, it’s still broken, I’m hoping a new rear derailleur will fix it, only time will tell. With mountain biking ruled out, we headed over to take a motor tour of the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469-mile stretch of road that runs between Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Shenandoah National Park. The road runs along spectacular Appalachian Highlands, with views of some of the highest peaks in the Appalachian range. The Blue Ridge Parkway is a National Parkway, which means it is maintained by the National Parks Service. I wasn’t even aware such a thing existed, but it’s a nice idea. There are several NPS visitors centers along the route. We stopped at the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitors Center near Asheville, which featured some cool exhibits about the history of the area, and of course a passport stamper. After leaving the visitors center we headed Southwest towards massive Mt. Pisgah taking in some gorgeous views along the way. There were countless tunnels along the route, mostly hand-built by the CCC in the 1930s.
We ate lunch at a picnic area near Mt. Pisgah and the continued on through more tunnels and more amazing views. Needing to stretch our legs, we stopped for a quick hike to the lower waterfall at Graveyard Fields. At the waterfall, we were met with a swimming hippie (unfortunately a dude), who was ‘in-the-shot’ for our pictures of the scenic falls. Luckily he eventually left and Jackie got some good ones. After our splendid hike, we moved on once more. We stopped for a quick picture at looking glass rock, a volcanic structure that appears more ‘Rocky Mountain’ than ‘Appalachian’.
Before heading back towards town we hit up one last waterfall, this time Looking Glass Falls which required no hike. We took some pictures then skedaddled. On the way home, we took a driving tour through the city of Asheville. It was cute, although a bit underwhelming, especially given all the hype. We shouldn’t judge too harshly though since we didn’t even step out of the car. It does have a New Belgium beer factory. We drove through the parking lot, which provided some Colorado nostalgia.
Our next two camping destinations, Falls Lake State Park and Pettigrew State Park, were just stopovers on our way across North Carolina to our real destination on the outer banks. We had previously booked 9 nights at the Oregon Inlet campground near Nags Head and had been keeping a close eye on the weather since Hurricane Dorian temporarily closed much of the area’s infrastructure, including Oregon Inlet. Tropical Storm Karen was also threatening the Eastern seaboard, but luckily for us, the Outer Banks were spared. We arrived in late September not knowing what to expect of the weather. We were pleasantly surprised by mostly sunny, although a bit windy weather almost every day.
We had finally made it all the way to the Atlantic Ocean, over 2500 miles as the crow flies from our furthest point west, at Cape Blanco on the Oregon Coast. Our circuitous path to the east coast spanned almost twice as many miles. Oregon Inlet Campground provided beach access via a short walk through grassy dunes. The campground itself was a little mosquitoey, but the beach provided relief and that’s where we spent the majority of our time. The boys, as usual, enjoyed beachcombing and building castles.
There were some minor annoyances, barely worth mentioning although I will. The first was the rough seas due to the wind and offshore storms pushing in large swells. This limited our ability to swim, although we did make it into the water one day. The second annoyance was the heavy 4×4 traffic, and while I don’t begrudge people the ability to cruise the beach, it was annoying always having to watch to make sure the boys didn’t get run over.
While on the Outer Banks we took the opportunity to tour the Wright Brothers Memorial and Museum in Kill Devil Hills, site of the first controlled sustained airplane flight. We viewed the exhibits which included a full-size replica of the Wright Brothers plane. Outside was the field where the first flights took place, with markers indicating the length of each of the flights. We ate lunch near First Flight Airport, then climbed the hill where the 60 Foot Monument to the Wright Brothers towers above the landscape. From the top of the hill, we could see the ocean to the east and the sound to the west.
On the way home from the Wright Brothers Memorial, we visited the Bodie Island Lighthouse, one of several lighthouses we’d visit during our time on the Outer Banks. On another day we made the trek down through Pea Island and Rodanthe, to Cape Hatteras home of the famous Hatteras Lighthouse the tallest brick lighthouse in the United States. Its unique spiral stripes make it instantly recognizable. There was a nice visitors center that told the tale of how the Hatteras Lighthouse was moved from its precarious original location to a more solid location further inland. We had the option to climb both lighthouses but opted against due to Tommy not meeting the minimum height requirement, not to mention the extra fee required to climb the lighthouses.
After a quick picnic lunch, we made our way to the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum nearby. This free museum chronicles the history of shipwrecks on the Outer Banks. As it turns out there have been hundreds of shipwrecks off the Outer Banks, thus necessitating of the aforementioned lighthouses. There were some very cool artifacts including an Enigma machine, stuff from a ghost ship, and a bag of Doritos from the Outer Banks Dorito spill of 2006. There was also a pirate exhibit featuring artifacts associated with the famous pirate Blackbeard.
Other exploits from the Outer Banks included a Jackie-only trip to Manteo where she did laundry and visited another lighthouse. She also stopped at the site of the ‘Lost Colony’ of Roanoke, the birthplace of Virginia Dare who was the first white person born in the new world. Dare and all of the other Roanoke colonists mysteriously disappeared sometime between 1587 and 1590. Due to budget constraints, we weren’t able to enjoy the local dining scene but we did enjoy a seafood feast of fresh oysters, clams, and shrimp purchased at a local seafood market. The rest of our time at OBX (as it’s referred to on the ubiquitous white circle bumper stickers) was spent enjoying the beach and relaxing.
We exited North Carolina by backtracking inland to Charlotte where Jackie caught a flight to Minnesota for a friend’s wedding. Meanwhile, the boys and I hung out at McDowell Nature Preserve Campground. McDowell Preserve was a nicely appointed campground with two playgrounds, as well as access to Lake Wylie. We did a lot of playing at the playground, and one day we crossed over the South Carolina border for a day at Lake Wylie Bowl and Bounce. Access to the bounce houses and playroom was only $15 for both boys. We got our money’s worth as the boys bounced and played for over 3-1/2 hours. Another day we tried our hand at fishing. Surprisingly, each boy caught exactly one (very tiny) sunfish, a nice moral victory after so many days being skunked elsewhere.
McDowell Preserve would be our final destination in North Carolina, a state we really loved. From the Appalachian Mountains to the Outer Banks, North Carolina offered a wide range of fun and interesting activities. We would have loved to stay longer, but again needed to be moving on. Next stop South Carolina!
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