The trip is from New River, West Virginia, to Stinking Creek, Tennessee, by way of Long Key, Florida.
New River Wilderness Area, West Virginia
In September of 2017 I and my wife began another road trip. We drove northwest from Cincinnati up I-71 to West Lancaster, then turned south east on Hwy. 35. We passed through rich farmland until we crossed the Ohio River at Point Pleasant into West Virginia. The terrain grew steadily hillier as we continued mostly south to I-64. Then we headed east into Charleston, where we picked up Hwy. 60. This twisting curving two-lane road followed the Kanawah River high up into the Appalachian Mountains. A good scenic drive to begin our trip.
We stopped at a small dam in the river to stretch out legs. This is where the Kanawah River joins the Gauley River to form the New River.
We didn’t drive very far beyond this point before stopping once again to view a waterfall.
As we continued winding through the mountains we passed the Mystery Spot. This looked like the kind of roadside attraction that was popular in the mid-1900’s. Sadly, we didn’t stop to check it out. We did stop at Hawk’s Nest State Park.
We checked out the lodge, which gave a good view out over the New River valley.
In this photo you can barely see the New River Gorge Bridge.
We continued east on Hwy. 60 from Hawk’s Nest State Park to Hwy. 19, where we turned southwest. This led us to the New River Gorge Bridge.
We took a walkway down to a viewing platform below the bridge.
That gave a good view of the valley the bridge spanned.
It is an impressive structure. Here is an entry about it from the National Park Service site:
When the New River Gorge Bridge was completed on October 22, 1977, a travel challenge was solved. The bridge reduced a 40-minute drive down narrow mountain roads and across one of North America’s oldest rivers to less than a minute. When it comes to road construction, mountains do pose a challenge. In the case of the New River Gorge Bridge, challenge was transformed into a work of structural art – the longest steel span in the western hemisphere and the third highest in the United States.
The New River Gorge Bridge is one of the most photographed places in West Virginia. The bridge was chosen to represent the state on the commemorative quarter released by the U.S. Mint in 2006. In 2013, the National Park Service listed the New River Gorge Bridge in the National Register of Historic Places as a significant historic resource.
The West Virginia Division of Highways chose the Michael Baker Company as the designer, and the construction contract was awarded to the American Bridge Division of U.S. Steel. In June 1974, the first steel was positioned over the gorge by trolleys running on three-inch diameter cables. The cables were strung 3,500 feet between two matching towers. Cor-ten steel, with a rust-like appearance that never needs painting, was used in construction.
Once a year the bridge is closed and the local population has quite a party:
On the third Saturday of October, the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce hosts “Bridge Day.” On this one day a year, the famous New River Gorge Bridge is open to pedestrians and a wide variety of activities—great views, food and crafts vendors, BASE jumping, rappelling, music, and more—draw thousands of people. Bridge Day is West Virginia’s largest one-day festival, and it is the largest extreme sports event in the world.
The first official Bridge Day was celebrated in 1980 when two parachutists jumped from a plane onto the bridge. They were joined by three additional parachutists, and all five then jumped from the bridge into the gorge. Today, the event lures hundreds of BASE jumpers, cheered on by thousands of spectators. “BASE” stands for Building, Antenna (tower), Span (arch or bridge), and Earth (cliff or natural formation), the four categories of objects in which BASE jumpers jump from. For more information, visit the Official Bridgeday website, or call the New River Convention and Visitors Bureau at (800) 927-0263.
I ripped off two images from the Bridge Day site, to give you an idea what the event is like.
After visiting the New River Gorge Bridge we were ready to proceed to our campground. It had been a full day driving.
Babcock State Park, West Virginia
Finished at the New River Gorge Bridge, we backtracked northeast on Hwy.19, then drove southeast on Hwy. 60, the route we had taken up into the mountains from Charleston. We turned southwest onto Rte. 41 into Babcock State Park. This is a beautiful park high up in the Appalachian Mountains.
There is an old grist mill the park has kept in operation that has been much-photographed, and is one of the most iconic images of West Virginia.
We hiked several short trails.
Along a mountain stream.
High up on a mountainside.
Across a footbridge.
To a mountain lake.
We liked the place so well we spent 3 nights.
Babcock State Park 2
On the second day I went on a 5-mile hike all over the park. I hiked up from the campground.
I found a pond.
I came across good overlooks such as this.
One part of the trail took me straight down the mountainside on steep stone steps.
Past an overhang where the trail had collapsed. You can see part of a railing on the ground.
So I had to scramble across on my own. The trail became a goat track across the face of a cliff.
I descended to the creek I had hiked along with my wife the day before, which led back to the campground.
Where I crashed at my site for the rest of the day and relaxed with a camp fire that evening.
Occoneechee State Park, Virginia
The next morning we drove out of Babcock State Park heading southwest on Hwy. 41. It was another nice drive through the mountains, until we turned onto I-64, which we took a short ways southwest to I-77. Before getting onto the Interstate we stopped for breakfast at Biscuit World. I had seen this restaurant chain all over West Virginia and was curious to try it. They served strictly breakfast, and true to their name they had many different biscuit meals to choose from.
We drove south on I-77 out of West Virginia into Virginia. We exited east onto Hwy. 58 and had one of the most enjoyable drives of the trip. This two-lane blacktop road winds up and over and around and under rich open countryside of rolling hills and green pastures. A wonderful drive.
Eventually the road straightened as we came out of the hills onto flat plains of rich farmland. Leaving this rural area, we continued east through Danville and across the Roanoke River, where we turned south onto Rte. 364 into Occoneechee State Park. We got a site within view of the river.
After resting up from the drive, we walked down for a better look.
In this photo the Hwy. 58 bridge we’d crossed over the Roanoke River can be seen.
That night we had a clear sky over the river to enjoy.
The next morning we explored the grounds where a small plantation had once been, but there was not much left of it.
Before leaving, we drove by the marina.
Merchant’s Millpond State Park, North Carolina
We drove east on Hwy. 58 away from Occoneechee State Park to Hwy. 1, which we took south out of Virginia into North Carolina. We turned east onto Hwy. 158. It was a pleasant sunny drive through more open farmland. There are still a lot of tobacco farms in North Carolina. There are also a lot of solar panel arrays, many more than I’ve seen in most states. This far south with abundant sunshine they must make good sense. East on 158 took us nearly all the way to Merchant’s Millpond State Park. We turned south onto Mill Pond Road into the park.
The park is in a small swamp.
We walked the trail from the campground to the visitor center.
We found these distinctive purple berries all over North Carolina, which are called beautyberries.
When we first arrived there were several people at the campground for the day, but by evening we were the only campers. There weren’t even any rangers. Kind of spooky spending the night alone in the swamp. I sat out by a fire and enjoyed the silence and dark solitude.
Early the next morning I took a 3 mile hike through the swamp.
Not all the trail was through swampy water.
Boardwalks were numerous and in good repair.
This twisted pine caught my eye.
There were primitive sites for back-country camping.
There were roads on which you could drive into the swamp.
The main attraction was the swamp itself.
Late that morning we packed up and left.
North River Campground, North Carolina
We drove east on Hwy. 158. We skirted the southern edge of The Great Dismal Swamp on to the coast, where the road turned south. At the southern tip of the peninsula we crossed from the mainland onto the Outer Banks at Kitty Hawk. As we continued south on the barrier island on 158 we noticed traffic was streaming north and we were practically the only vehicle heading south. So we pulled into a store to see if anything was going on. Was it ever. A hurricane was moving inland and people were being advised to evacuate. We never listen to the radio while traveling, I don’t like all the DJ jibber-jabber, so we usually listen to music. We immediately turned around and joined everybody else driving off the barrier island.
We found a private campground not too far away from the coast to wait out the storm. The North River Campground is on the edge of North River Game Land, a wildlife sanctuary.
We were safely away from the coast here, but the wind still rocked us. We stayed several days, until it was safe to proceed back out onto the Outer Banks. Some of the time it was too windy to even be outside. So we hunkered down. But other days the wind let up enough for us to drive around. We took a drive up to see The Great Dismal Swamp.
The visitor center had an impressive taxidermy display.
There was also a short boardwalk through the swamp. As you can see by all the fallen trees, they have to contend with frequent strong hurricane winds.
The purple berries again. They were all over the state.
North River Campground 2
We took other drives while waiting out the hurricane. One was to Elizabeth City, which is on the Pasquotank River, which flows into Albemarle Sound. Notice the overcast skies. The winds were strong here this day, but not destructive.
Another day I took a hike for several miles into the North River Game Land. The campground host warned me black bears inhabited the area, but it was unlikely I’d encounter one unless I ventured off the trails deep into the wild land. I had no intention of doing that.
There were some large hawks flying around the tall trees, but I never got a good shot of them.
After three days the hurricane passed. Luckily it had stayed out to sea and only grazed the Outer Banks. So when the authorities gave the all clear we packed up and continued our trip.
Corolla, Outer Banks, North Carolina
We drove back onto the Outer Banks at Kitty Hawk and turned north on Rte. 12. Where stopped for our first glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean.
Since it was our first day on the beach we posed for photos.
As you can see, there wasn’t anyone out swimming. A few were wading in the surf, or fishing, but most people were merely enjoying the sun on the beach. The surf was still strong from the lingering effects of the just-vacated hurricane. Did you notice the red flag in the previous photo? Red flags were out everywhere on the coast.
We got back in our motor home and drove north on Rte. 12 to the end of the road.
As the sign says, four-wheelers are allowed to continue north on the beach. And, of course, you can walk as far north along the beach as you desire, as long as you can find a parking space, which are scarce. The Currituck National Wildlife Refuge is just north of the end of the road. Here is a Wikipedia entry about the place:
Currituck National Wildlife Refuge (/ˈkʊrɪtʌk/), located on the northern end of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, was established in 1984 to preserve and protect the coastal barrier island ecosystem. Refuge lands are managed to provide wintering habitat for waterfowl and to protect endangered species such as piping plover, sea turtles, and seabeach amaranth.
Habitat types common to most barrier islands are found on the refuge. Moving westward from the Atlantic Ocean to Currituck Sound, these habitats include sandy beaches, grassy dunes, interdunal wetlands (flats), maritime forests and shrub thickets. Currituck Sound’s shoreline is made up of brackish water marshes and occasionally, mudflats that have been exposed by wind tides. A few forested islands also exist on the refuge. Monkey Island, a noted bird rookery, provides nesting habitat to several species of wading birds. It is also currently the most northerly known native habitat of the Sabal minor palm. In addition to Sabal palms, vegetation within these diverse habitat types include several varieties of beach grasses, live oak, loblolly pine, wax myrtle, cattails, sedges and rushes, black needlerush (Juncus roemerianus) and giant cordgrass (Spartina cynosuroides).
Various types of wading birds, shorebirds, waterfowl, raptors, mammals (including feral horses), reptiles, and amphibians common to the eastern United States, are found on the refuge. The endangered piping plover and loggerhead sea turtle sometimes nest on refuge beaches and dunes.
The refuge has a surface area of 8,316 acres (33.65 km2).
The main attraction are the wild horses that live on the beach. Unable to park, we turned around and drove back south on Rte. 12. Our next stop was to see the Currituck Lighthouse.
I climbed to the top. My wife wasn’t up to all the stairs.
The view was great from up there.
I descended and rejoined my wife, who was patiently waiting on the front porch of the visitor center.
A park ranger had one of the wild horses that had been brought in from wildlife preserve just to the north for people to view and interact with. It didn’t look too wild to me. We walked on a boardwalk through billowing sea oats – the wind was blowing pretty hard, an effect of the receding hurricane – to the beach. As you can see from the deep footprints in the third photo, beyond the boardwalk was thick mud. Needless to say, we stayed on the boardwalk.
From the end of the boardwalk we could look back to see the lighthouse.
And across to another boardwalk.
Duck, Outer Banks, North Carolina
We continued driving south on Rte. 12 from Corolla to the town of Duck. There is an extensive boardwalk along the inland side of the island that we walked.
Several wading birds posed for me.
Including this sleepy-head.
And, of course, seagulls.
There was a small chapel along the boardwalk. I could see how it would be a beautiful setting for a wedding.
It was a wonderful place to stroll.
By the time we finished walking the entire length of this impressive boardwalk we were done for the day. We continued driving south on Rte. 12 to where it joined Hwy. 158 at the place we had come onto the island in Kitty Hawk. Just beyond the Kitty Hawk Memorial we turned west onto Colington Rd. and drove off Bodie Island onto Colington Island. There we found a private campground on a canal that opened up to the sound.
At a nearby seafood market we bought some shrimp that had been caught that day. They seasoned and steamed them for us, then we took them back to the campground to gorge ourselves on. A clear night sky was a fitting end to a great day.
Wright Brothers National Memorial & Jockey’s Ridge State Park, Outer Banks, North Carolina
The next morning we drove east off Colington Island back onto Bodie Island to the Wright Brothers National Memorial.
There is a visitor center with photographs of the event.
But the main attraction is outside. There is a full-size model of their original plane. The photos are from the front, then back.
With a full-size mock-up of their take-off site.
We then drove south on Hwy. 158 to Jockey’s Ridge State Park. The park has the highest sand dunes on the Atlantic coast. It was actually from the height of these sand dunes that the Wright Brothers took advantage of the strong winds blowing in from the ocean to help their aircraft lift off. So we parked and hiked up the dunes.
We trekked all over them. There is something childishly enjoyable about walking around in a sandy expanse. It’s sort of like a playing in a giant sandbox.
We saw a thirsty bird.
After we had worn ourselves out yet once again, we climbed back in the motor home and continued south on Hwy. 158.
Oregon Inlet Campground, Outer Banks, North Carolina
I and my wife continued south off Hwy. 158 back onto Rte. 12 into the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. After a brief stop at the visitor center to insure everything was open following the hurricane, we proceeded south to Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.
We viewed several different birds.
On the way we drove over sections of the narrow two-lane blacktop that was still covered with sand washed over it by the hurricane. A ranger in the visitor center told us they had just re-opened the day before, the road had been impassable before then. We hiked all around the refuge, then left.
We crossed the road to view the ocean. There was an old shipwreck on the beach.
It was extremely windy as you can see by the surf, which made being out on the beach feel like you were being sandblasted, so we didn’t stay out there for long.
After, we continued south on Rte. 12. We stopped to watch some people windsurfing. They certainly had a good wind to do that.
We drove on to see Bodie Lighthouse.
Then it was on to Oregon Inlet Campground. We got a site where we were backed up against the dunes, which sheltered us from the wind. Notice the short grass at our site. Looks inviting to walk barefoot across, doesn’t it? My wife learned right away to keep her sandals on. This grass is filled with wicked little nettles that sting.
The location of our site made for a short easy walk up over to the beach.
The surf was too stirred-up by the just-passed hurricane and still too rough to do any more than wade.
We spent the rest of the day relaxing at our site.
Oregon Inlet Campground 2
The next morning I rose very early, filled my travel cup with coffee, grabbed my chair, and crossed the dunes to enjoy a great sunrise.
Eventually, other people joined me.
And some critters.
Later that day we walked across to the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center.
From which we had a good view of Bodie Lighthouse.
It was a relaxing day not having to drive at all.
Cape Point Campground, Outer Banks, North Carolina
The next morning we drove south on Rte. 12 across the Bonner Bridge (no relation to those unfortunate pioneers in Oregon, I presume) off Bodie Island onto Hatteras Island. We left the national seashore to pass through the little towns of Rodanthe, Waves, and Salvo, then back into the national seashore. It was back out of the park to pass through the town of Avon, then back into the National Seashore and on to Hatteras Lighthouse.
Then it was on to nearby Cape Point Campground.
The National Park Service operates four campgrounds on the Outer Banks, and we decided to stay at all of them. Oregon Inlet had been crowded, but Cape Point was nearly empty. Many of the roads in the park are paved with crushed clam shells. That make a good solid base to drive on. They were working on the roads while we were there, which meant they had huge mounds of shells which hadn’t been crushed yet. What a stink. Crushed and dried and spread out on the roads it wasn’t even noticeable, but piled up in twenty-foot mounds they were quite fragrant.
Cape Point is the largest of the four, merely a huge open field and a short walk from the beach. And what a beach. It was beautiful. Totally deserted. And the hurricane had washed up a lot of shells. I found some huge perfectly-formed spiral shells that are now sitting on the window ledge in my office.
There are many sandy four-wheel accesses to the beach. But it is very expensive to drive on them, I believe the annual fee was $400, I’m not sure. But they were free to walk, so I set off one afternoon on one to see where it led.
It led through wetlands.
And provided a good sunning spot.
Eventually it led to the beach.
Where people were fishing.
There was a lot of music blaring, too. Some people could care less about fishing, they were there for the party.
I planted my butt in the sand for a while to rest. The sand on the road was very loose and deep, which made walking difficult. Rested, I headed back.
Those footsteps are mine, the ones I’d made walking in. I kept a close look-out for that snake, but he must have gotten enough sun because he was gone.
I saw some more wind surfers over top of the sea oats.
By the time I got back I was worn out. That night as I sat out after dark I watched nearby Hatteras Lighthouse flash and reflect off the side of our motor home and the few other RV’s camped here. A hypnotic effect that was an enjoyable end to another enjoyable day.
Frisco Campground, Outer Banks, North Carolina
When we left Cape Point Campground we decided to check out the ferry we would take to proceed on to Ocracoke Island. To get there we had to drive through three more seaside town – Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras.
We drove to the very end of the road on Hatteras Island.
From where we saw a ferry coming in to dock.
We stopped by the ferry station to get the schedule, then drove to Frisco Campground. We got a site on a hilltop that gave a view out over the ocean.
It is a long trek from the top of the hill to the beach.
Looking back, you can see our motor home perched on the hilltop. You can also see a mound of crushed shells on the left ready to be spread out on the campground lanes.
People can drive down onto the beach here, too, with the permit.
That evening I & my wife took a stroll on the beach.
As you can tell, the surf was still agitated. Besides the big waves there are vicious hidden rip currents that can pull you out to sea. So it is best to not venture too far out into the ocean after a hurricane until the water settles down. We only stayed one night at Frisco, after having spent two nights in both Oregon Inlet and Cape Point.
Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands, Outer Banks, North Carolina
This morning we pulled out of Frisco Campground and drove into Hatteras.
We parked our motor home in line for the ferry.
My wife was content to wait in the motor home, but I got out and walked around. I watched a Coast Guard ship pull in.
I checked out the beach. Notice the warning on the left about rip currents.
When it was time it was back to the ferry dock.
When the ferry arrived we squeezed our motor home on board. Notice I folded the side mirrors in. It was a tight fit.
Since it was going to be such a short trip we got out of our motor home and sat out on deck. We watched the scenery go by en route to Ocracoke Island. Such as a beach full of seagulls.
An SUV driving on the beach.
A ferry heading the other way.
Some people fishing on the very tip of the island.
Our first glimpse of Ocracoke Island.
A spit of sand loaded with birds.
Arriving at Ocracoke Island.
And into the harbor.
Once docked, it didn’t take long to drive off the ferry onto Ocracoke Island.
Ocracoke Campground, Outer Banks, North Carolina
Our first stop after driving away from the ferry station was to see the horses. There are wild horses living on Ocracoke Island, as they are in Carrituck. A few of them are penned up by the road for the tourists to see. They don’t seem very wild. But I guess it’s better to keep a few on hand rather than have the tourists traipsing all over the island looking for them.
While we were stopped to see the horses we crossed the road to check out the beach. Notice how the stairs disappear beneath the sand? No telling how much sand the recent hurricane had washed up over the bottom steps.
These barrier islands aren’t very wide. In places there is just enough room for a two-lane road. So it’s easy to go from one side of the island to the other. We drove to the far end of the island, where the town of Ocracoke is located.
One last Outer Banks lighthouse to see.
Then we drove to Ocracoke Campground.
As at Oregon Inlet Campground, we got a site where we could back up against the dune next to the beach.
It was then a short walk up and over.
To another glorious beach.
Here I pulled a double. I stayed out at our site to watch the sunset.
It was a full moon on a clear night.
Then the next morning I sat out on the beach to watch the sunrise.
We stayed two nights at our last campground on the Outer Banks.
Ocracoke Campground 2
This morning we drove into Ocracoke, parked the motor home, and walked around. It is a scenic little town.
With some interesting shops. Does anyone know what a ragpicker is?
Then, of course, there is the waterfront.
Ocracoke Island was where justice caught up with the legendary pirate Blackbeard.
Here is an brief Wikipedia entry about him:
Edward Teach or Edward Thatch (c. 1680 – 22 November 1718), better known as Blackbeard, was an English pirate who operated around the West Indies and the eastern coast of Britain’s North American colonies. Little is known about his early life, but he may have been a sailor on privateer ships during Queen Anne’s War before settling on the Bahamian island of New Providence, a base for Captain Benjamin Hornigold, whose crew Teach joined around 1716. Hornigold placed him in command of a sloop that he had captured, and the two engaged in numerous acts of piracy. Their numbers were boosted by the addition to their fleet of two more ships, one of which was commanded by Stede Bonnet; but Hornigold retired from piracy towards the end of 1717, taking two vessels with him.
Teach captured a French merchant vessel, renamed her Queen Anne’s Revenge, and equipped her with 40 guns. He became a renowned pirate, his nickname derived from his thick black beard and fearsome appearance; he was reported to have tied lit fuses (slow matches) under his hat to frighten his enemies. He formed an alliance of pirates and blockaded the port of Charles Town, South Carolina, ransoming the port’s inhabitants. He then ran Queen Anne’s Revenge aground on a sandbar near Beaufort, North Carolina. He parted company with Bonnet and settled in Bath, North Carolina, also known as Bath Town where he accepted a royal pardon. But he was soon back at sea, where he attracted the attention of Alexander Spotswood, the Governor of Virginia. Spotswood arranged for a party of soldiers and sailors to capture the pirate, which they did on 22 November 1718 following a ferocious battle. Teach and several of his crew were killed by a small force of sailors led by Lieutenant Robert Maynard.
Teach was a shrewd and calculating leader who spurned the use of force, relying instead on his fearsome image to elicit the response that he desired from those whom he robbed. Contrary to the modern-day picture of the traditional tyrannical pirate, he commanded his vessels with the consent of their crews and there is no known account of his ever having harmed or murdered those whom he held captive. He was romanticized after his death and became the inspiration for an archetypal pirate in works of fiction across many genres.
That afternoon we returned to the campground and rested a while, then later walked a short nature trail.
It was a quick hike. The whole time we were in the high grass we were swarmed by mosquitoes. These were the first, but far from last, mosquitoes we encountered on our trip. As soon as we emerged from the nature trail the plague ended. We got back to our site to discover we had a visitor.
He left us alone and we left him alone. We retired to our motor home for the night.
From Ocracoke Island to Cedar Island, North Carolina
This morning we left the campground and took one last drive around Ocracoke.
We spied this trespasser but didn’t report him.
After, we drove to the ferry station. This is the inlet to Ocracoke Bay as seen from there.
This ferry boat was quite a bit larger than the last one. Whereas the previous ferry trip was less than an hour and went through the sound, this trip took over two hours and ventured out into the open sea.
Like before, we parked our motor home then got out on deck.
An empty ferry boat docked as soon as we departed.
One last look at Ocracoke lighthouse.
Then it was through the inlet.
And out to the open sea.
Since this trip was taking so long, we went back to our motor home to eat lunch. One thing that’s great about traveling in a motor home, food and drink, and a bathroom, are always available. After a relaxing cruise we approached Cedar Island.
We arrived at the ferry station on Cedar Island.
Cedar Island, North Carolina
The ferry boat at Cedar Island was quickly emptied.
Then loaded back up and immediately headed back to Ocracoke. It didn’t take long for it to get gone.
There is a private campground right next to the ferry station that we checked into. We camped about a hundred yards from were we disembarked from the ferry.
Not much else is around. The ferry station is on the edge of Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge, so there is no development.
But we did see some cows wading in the surf.
I never knew cows did that. The campground host told me when the wildlife preserve was established a farmer who had been bought out by the government released his cows, and they have thrived in the wild. Weird. Besides the cows, the beaches were pretty much deserted. We were the only travelers getting off the ferry who had stopped, everyone else had driven on into the wildlife preserve.
The ferry boat we had ridden to Cedar Island was still in sight for quite a while as it headed back for Ocracoke.
Later some fishermen showed up.
The campground also operates a stable. We saw people riding into the wildlife preserve on horseback.
They also operate a restaurant. So we ate out for the first time since Biscuit World. The other diners must have thought me very rude. The entire time in the restaurant I ignored Connie and caught up on my email on my laptop. They had free Wi-Fi. Actually that was the reason we were eating there, the food was only so-so. And we enjoyed electricity and plentiful water at our site. National park campgrounds are beautiful and very enjoyable, and we stay in them whenever we can. But they have no hook-ups. That means if we want electricity we have to run the generator, and we have to skimp on water since we only have a 30-gallon tank. And no Wi-Fi! So it’s good to pull into a private campground once in a while. But you wouldn’t believe all the evil glares I got from the other diners for ignoring my wife throughout the entire meal.
Cedar Island National Wildlife Preserve & the Crystal Coast, North Carolina
This morning we left the campground and drove south on Rte. 12 into the Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge. It was a scenic drive and we stopped numerous times.
We emerged from the nature preserve and continued south along the coast on Hwy. 70. This part of North Carolina is called the Crystal Coast.
The state park we had intended to stay at was full. That is one of the dangers of traveling like we do. We don’t make reservations because we never know where we will be on specific days. If we like a place we’ll spend more time there than anticipated. Also, if we learn of a good place to see we want the freedom to take a detour. And we like the idea of traveling with no schedules. When we get tired we go home. So occasionally we encounter full campgrounds. But it doesn’t happen as much as you might imagine. So we continued down the coast on Hwy. 70 to Rte. 24, then drove south on that around Marine Camp Lejeune. In Jacksonville we turned onto Hwy. 17. By this time we were getting tired of traveling, so just south of Jacksonville we found a private campground on Hwy. 17 and stopped for the night.
Airlee Gardens, Wilmington, North Carolina
In the morning we continued south on Hwy. 17 into Wilmington. We drove to Airlee Gardens, a beautiful southern garden on the waterfront. We spent most of the day roaming about the grounds.
This is the first moss-back turtle I’ve ever seen.
The sprawling gardens went on for acres and acres.
There were also whimsical sculptures. Of butterflies.
And other oddities.
There was also a meditation garden.
Late that afternoon we left the gardens. We drove past the retired battleship moored in Wilmington’s waterfront. Since I didn’t have a chance to snap a picture, I ripped one off Wilmington’s web site.
We took Hwy. 17 south out of Wilmington, then south on Rte. 87, then south on 133 and across the bridge onto Oak Island.
Oak Island, North Carolina
We crossed the bridge onto Oak Island.
Then drove south on Oak Island Blvd. to my wife’s sister’s beach cottage.
They were hosting an adults-only week-long gathering. There were eight people including the owners: us, my wife’s three sisters, and their husbands. The cottage is a block off the beach. Notice all the little boats?
A kayak fishing tourney took place while we were there.
The far southern tip of the island is undeveloped. It looked like a good place to fish.
There were a lot of birds there.
I caught some of them in flight.
There was a pelican begging for bait. Or looking to steal some.
At the very tip the waves surge in from the ocean on the left, while the sound remains calm on the right.
We made two trips to the point. It was my favorite place on the island. But we had several other outings that week.
Oak Island 2
A small park on the sound within walking distance of the beach cottage was good for crabbing. There was a picnic area, a pier, and a butterfly garden.
There were also bicycle to ride. The island was flat, which made cycling easy. We rode to the opposite end of the island from the point. I stopped several times along the way. Like at these fishing piers.
One of the two bridges onto the island.
A private pier along the sound.
A wild animal habitat.
Also, there is an alligator residing on the island somewhere in this long ditch. There have been frequent sightings, just not by me.
I was introduced to pickle ball that week. I’d never played it before. It was fun, but I’m glad no one took any pictures of me playing. One afternoon we rented a pontoon boat and cruised the sound.
We got back in just as the sun was going down.
We drove off the island was to see where the movie ‘The Notebook’ had been filmed in Southport, which is on the mainland across from the northern end of Oak Island.
There was a scene from another movie filmed on Oak Island. Or rather, above it. It was from Iron Man 3, the scene where several people are shoved out of an airplane without parachutes and Iron Man saves them. My sister-in-law said the film crew worked an entire day on it. The plane would take off from Wilmington, which is 36 miles, and fly to Oak Island. The people needing rescuing had parachutes under their clothing. Of course the part of their fall after they opened their parachutes wasn’t filmed, only the part where they were plummeting to certain death. My sister-in-law said it took 4 or 5 takes to get it. The plane would arrive from Wilmington and dump the stunt people out, they would parachute into the ocean, they would be collected by boat and brought to shore, then drive back to Wilmington where the plane was waiting for them, board it and fly back to Oak Island and do it all over again.
Myrtle Beach State Park, South Carolina
After an enjoyable week, I and my wife drove off Oak Island heading west on Rte. 906, then turned southwest on Rte. 211. We then turned south on Hwy. 17. We pulled off at Calabash, a small fishing village just north of the South Carolina state line. We ate a delicious shrimp dinner. Their hush puppies were especially tasty. We also bought some fresh shrimp to fix later at our next campground.
After lunch we drove into South Carolina and set up camp in Myrtle Beach State Park for two days. It was larger and a bit more crowded than other campgrounds we had been to on this trip. But there was a good beach with a long pier.
As you can see in this picture, the park was on the edge of major development.
They had oversize chairs.
The park rangers said there were a lot of sharks swimming around the pier, but I never saw any.
There was a good boardwalk to stroll on.
I like these pictures. They show which way the wind blows – inland from the ocean.
One morning I was up for a good sunrise.
There were trails away from the beach to hike on.
We drove into Myrtle Beach one afternoon to walk around.
We found a good place to eat lunch. Seafood, of course.
It was fun to see, but I prefer camping in the state park. Even with the ghost crabs.
And giant spiders.
Myrtle Beach State Park 2
Early one morning I joined a group on the beach participating with a ranger program. She was digging up sea turtle nests that had already hatched to see how many had not survived to leave the nest. The nests had already been located and marked to keep people away.
We gathered on the beach to await the ranger. It was another pretty sunrise.
The ranger began excavating the nest.
The remains of the dead baby sea turtles were spread out and cataloged. Many of the eggs hadn’t even hatched.
The ranger told an interesting story. When the baby sea turtles hatch they have to make their way across the beach into the ocean in order to survive. Their hatching coincides with a full moon, which gives them light to guide them into the water. But a nest no one had known about hatched up the beach in the resort area, and all the lights confused the baby turtles. When some were discovered to be going the wrong way away from the ocean, word quickly spread. Not only did people gather up the turtles they could find and carry them out to the ocean, all the nearby resorts cut off their lights so the turtles could focus on the moon.
While camping at Myrtle Beach State Park we drove to Waccamaw River Tours for a river cruise.
We rode in a pontoon boat.
Which took us up and down the Waccamaw River.
The green clump floating on the river is lily pads, but they weren’t blooming at the time.
It was a pleasant relaxing couple of hours.
I like this photo because of the distortion the boat’s wake causes in the reflections in the water.
After the river tour it was back to the state park for one final walk on the beach, then we were off early the next morning.
Huntington Beach State Park, South Carolina
We drove south on Hwy 17 a mere 20 miles to Huntington Beach State Park. This was the shortest drive of the trip. We entered the park on a long causeway over a lake to the right and a marsh to the left.
After securing a site, our first stop was to tour Atalaya Castle, which is on the grounds. Here is a Wikipedia article about it:
Atalaya Castle, is correctly and historically known simply as Atalaya, and was the winter home of industrialist and philanthropist Archer M. Huntington and his wife, the sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington, located in Huntington Beach State Park near the Atlantic coast in Murrells Inlet, Georgetown County, South Carolina.
Archer Huntington was a noted scholar of Spanish culture and art, and designed the residence in the Moorish Revival and Mediterranean Revival architecture styles from Spanish Andalusian coast models.
Atalaya was built near the Atlantic Ocean in northeastern South Carolina, within present day Huntington Beach State Park. The location was chosen as a milder winter retreat for the health of Anna Huntington, who suffered from tuberculosis from the mid-twenties to the mid-thirties.
The 200 by 200 foot (60 by 60 m) masonry structure was built from 1931 to 1933 apparently without drawn plans, Archer Huntington had already designed the residence for them with his detailed imagination ‘in his head.' Local labor was used at Archer Huntington’s insistence to provide work for a community hard hit by the Great Depression.
Atalaya (AH-tuh-lie-yuh) means “watchtower” in Spanish, as in the real Atalaya Castle in Spain. The house is dominated by a square tower, which housed a 3,000 gallon water tank. Rising nearly 40 feet (12 m) from a covered walkway, it bisects Atalaya’s inner court. The inner walls of the main courtyard were covered with creeping fig vines, Sabal palmettos, the South Carolina state tree, and other palms.
The living quarters consist of 30 rooms around three sides of the perimeter, while the studio, with its 25-foot (8 m) skylight, opens onto a small, enclosed courtyard where Anna Hyatt Huntington worked on her sculptures. Pens for animal models, including horses, dogs and bears, are situated adjacent to the open studio. The building also features hand-wrought iron grills designed by Mrs. Huntington, which cover the exteriors of windows. These and shutters were installed for protection against hurricane winds.
During World War II the Huntingtons vacated Atalaya and provided it to the Army Air Corps for use from 1942 to 1946.
The Huntingtons last used Atalaya as their winter home in 1947. Most of the furnishings were sent to New York City after Mr. Huntington’s death in 1955. The studio equipment was moved to a new studio at Brookgreen Gardens just across U.S. Route 17, which cut through the Huntingtons’ former contiguous property.
The 2,500-acre (10 km²) tract was leased to the state in 1960 for use as a state park. Mrs. Huntington died in 1973.
Atalaya Castle was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, and was included in the designation of Atalaya and Brookgreen Gardens (along with the sculpture garden at Brookgreen Gardens) as a National Historic Landmark District in 1992.
The Friends of Huntington Beach State Park offer guided tours of Atalaya and operate the Atalaya Visitor Center with exhibits about the house and the Huntingtons.
The annual Atalaya Arts and Crafts Festival is held each year in late September.
The plaque on this photo says ‘oyster shucking room’. Oysters have always been a large staple of the diet in this area.
After leaving the Castle we drove around to see other parts of the park. We found a path…
…that led to a beautiful beach.
There were also trails through the wetlands.
There were signs all through the wetlands warning of alligators.
I spotted my first alligator of the trip in the lake.
It was a pretty lake.
There were a lot of birds in the lake.
After my hike around the lake I’d had enough. I joined my wife for a relaxing evening at our camp site.
Huntington Beach State Park & Brookgreen Gardens, South Carolina
The next morning we explored the extensive boardwalks that ranged far out into the wetlands.
On the far side of the wetlands you can see some parked cars.
We drove over there and found it was a place to launch your canoe or kayak.
And fish, of course.
Where the three are standing, and also in the previous photo, it looks like gravel. It’s not. It is crushed clam shells. Before this was a state park a lot of clamming went on here, and this place was where the shells were collected, crushed, then used as a base for the road. All along the lane from the road to this point are mounds of shells not yet crushed.
Once we finished here we drove out of the park across the street into Brookgreen Gardens. It is a statue gardens situated upon land that originally was a rice plantation. We spent the rest of the morning roaming around it.
There were also courtyards filled with statues.
And some indoors galleries.
After leaving the gardens, we drove to nearby Merrill’s Inlet for lunch. The restaurant had this interesting construct of a school of fish hanging from the ceiling.
Afterwards we walked their boardwalk along the waterfront.
Someone was keeping some goats on this little isle.
Heading south on Hwy 17, we took a short detour to see Pawnee Island.
We drove to the southern point, where there was a sandy beach.
On the sound side people were boating and fishing.
While on the ocean side they were paddleboarding the surf.
Late that afternoon we drove off the island and headed south on Hwy. 17.
Boone Hall Plantation, Charleston, South Carolina
Shortly after leaving Pawnee Island we stopped for the night at an uninteresting private campground along Hwy. 17. In the morning we continued south on Hwy. 17 across the Waccamaw River and Great Pee Dee River through the edge of the Francis Marian National Forest into Charleston. It was a pleasant unhurried drive along the coast and through the forest. As we neared Charleston the traffic picked up. We started seeing many booths set up alongside Hwy. 17 selling sweetgrass baskets. We stopped at one to look them over and considered buying one, until we learned the price. Although they were unique and pretty, the price was too steep for us.
We stopped to tour Boone Hall Plantation. We approached on a gravel lane through an impressive arch of live oaks.
We toured the plantation house. No photography was allowed inside, I could only take them outdoors.
This house isn’t very old. The original had burned down. As had the second house that replaced it. This was the third incarnation. The plantation originally grew cotton. After the Civil War the plantation switched to pecans. After a blight wiped out their pecan trees the plantation was opened up for tourists and a small vegetable farm continued to sell fresh produce.
The house is surrounded by attractive gardens.
The smooth bright red bark doesn’t show up well on this tree, but it was distinctive. I wish I could think of the name of this tree, but it eludes me.
The plantation was on the Horlbeck Creek.
There is an old warehouse on the creek. While we were there they were setting up for a wedding reception.
There was another warehouse on the property they had braced to keep it from collapsing.
There was a classic palmetto next to it.
I thought this wind-twisted tree had character.
There was a pond, with a boardwalk around it.
There were warning signs for alligators. We didn’t see any, but we did spy this bird.
There were also slave cabins open to tour.
Adorned with interesting art work from the slave era.
And sweetwater baskets.
These brick cabins were homes for the overseers. The actual slave cabins weren’t nearly this nice. They were constructed of wood and had all burned down. In one of the cabins is a horrific display. A list of all the slave ships that docked in Charleston, which had one of the biggest, if not the biggest, slave markets in the country.
On this photo I zoomed in so it can be read. The 2 columns on the right show the number of slaves that embarked in Africa and the number that disembarked in Charleston. So many Africans didn’t even make it here, crossing the Atlantic was so brutal. The slavers crammed as many bodies as they could in their holds, then hardly cared for them at all during the months it took to get here.
At one of the slave cabins a historical interpreter gave a presentation about Gullah culture. This college professor (in the blue top) was incredible, her half-hour was one of the highlights of the entire trip.
I had no knowledge of Gullah before this. It was fascinating to see her portrayal. Here is a brief Wikipedia article. I encourage you to read more on your own, it is such an remarkable part of our American history:
The Gullah (/ˈɡʌlə/) are African Americans who live in the Lowcountry region of the U.S. states of Georgia and South Carolina, in both the coastal plain and the Sea Islands. They developed a creole language, the Gullah language, and a culture rich in African influences that makes them distinctive among African Americans.
Historically, the Gullah region extended from the Cape Fear area on North Carolina’s coast south to the vicinity of Jacksonville on Florida’s coast. Today, the Gullah area is confined to the Georgia and South Carolina Lowcountry. The Gullah people and their language are also called Geechee, which may be derived from the name of the Ogeechee River near Savannah, Georgia. Gullah is a term that was originally used to designate the creole dialect of English spoken by Gullah and Geechee people. Over time, its speakers have used this term to formally refer to their creole language and distinctive ethnic identity as a people. The Georgia communities are distinguished by identifying as either “Freshwater Geechee” or “Saltwater Geechee”, depending on whether they live on the mainland or the Sea Islands.
Because of a period of relative isolation from whites while working on large plantations in rural areas, the Africans, drawn from a variety of Central and West African ethnic groups, developed a creole culture that has preserved much of their African linguistic and cultural heritage from various peoples; in addition, they absorbed new influences from the region. The Gullah people speak an English-based creole language containing many African loanwords and influenced by African languages in grammar and sentence structure. Sometimes referred to as “Sea Island Creole” by linguists and scholars, the Gullah language is especially related to and almost identical to Bahamian Creole. There are also ties to Barbadian Creole, Belizean Creole, Jamaican Patois and the Krio language of West Africa. Gullah crafts, farming and fishing traditions, folk beliefs, music, rice-based cuisine and story-telling traditions all exhibit strong influences from Central and West African cultures.
On our way to the parking lot as we were leaving we encountered people in distress. A man was tending to his sister who was on the ground. She was having some kind of medical emergency, perhaps a stroke. It was a hot sunny day, so he and I lifted her up and carried her into the shade. My wife called 911, and we stayed with them until an ambulance arrived – which was very quickly. Once she was on her way to the hospital, we walked on to our motor home and left.
Patriots Point, Charleston, South Carolina
Leaving Boone Hall, we drove on Hwy. 17 through Charleston. I try to avoid large cities since the motor home is such a pain to drive in crowded conditions on unfamiliar streets. But Charleston wasn’t bad. The main thing I noticed about the city was all the bridges. Here is one of many.
I knew Charleston was on the ocean, but I didn’t know there were 4 rivers flowing into the harbor – the Wando, Cooper, Ashley, and Stono. We stopped on the far side of the city and found a pleasant private campground.
The next day we drove back across the harbor to see Patriots Point. This is a park on the waterfront where a decommissioned WW2 aircraft carrier, battleship, and submarine are docked. We spent an entire day here. I’d never been on an aircraft carrier or a submarine before.
We started with the aircraft carrier.
Inside we went through the sleeping quarters.
They had a torpedo on display.
The boiler room. The ship was diesel powered, of course. This was long before nuclear.
There were many other interesting area, such as the kitchens, the medical offices, the torpedo tubes. It was like a floating city, with about 4000 sailors on board. But the best part of the tour was going up on top to see the planes.
Next was the battleship.
A gun battery.
A torpedo launcher.
A depth charge launcher.
No computers. The controls were all electric switches and valves.
An interesting program on the battleship was a simulated encounter with a Soviet submarine. It was a very tense situation, since the captain didn’t know if it was merely harassing them or was really attacking. They had to prepare for an attack. They tracked the sub on sonar, ready to attack if it made the least hostile move. But it merely sailed away. The presenter said during the Cold War this occurred on a daily basis all over the globe.
Last was the submarine. As you can tell by the first photo it was still in the process of being restored.
Inside is very cramped. If you have claustrophobia, I advise against going below.
A cut-way torpedo, so you can see what was inside it.
There was also a Viet Nam war era helicopter and a Quonset hut set up with displays from the war. Ken Burns’ ‘Viet Nam’ was playing inside, to provide images and set the mood with the 60’s music he scored the documentary with.
After a full day, we drove back across the bay to collapse at our camp site.
The Low Country, South Carolina
Early the next morning we continued southwest from Charleston on Hwy. 17. It was an uneventful drive until we turned south on Hwy. 21. This road took us into the Low Country. This was a much more scenic drive. The only problem was it was a rainy overcast day. We stopped at the waterfront in Beaufort. As you can see from the photos it was foggy and everything was soaked.
We drove across the bridge at Beaufort and continued on Sea Island Parkway deeper into the Low Country. We stopped at a seafood market on the side of the road for some fresh shrimp to cook that evening. Then we drove on to Hunting Island State Park, which is on the coast. We learned the campground was closed due to damage from the recent hurricane. The storm had hit this area much harder than it had the Outer Banks. Although we couldn’t camp we could still drive around the park. The damage was extensive.
Otherwise, the little we saw of the park was nice.
There was a bridge crossing to a small island.
We drove across it, but was stopped at the far end. The island was privately owned and we weren’t welcome. So we turned around and backtracked all the way back through Beaufort back to Hwy. 17. We were on one of the several peninsulas in the Low Country with only one road in or out. Once off the peninsula we resumed traveling southwest on Hwy. 17 to I-95, which took us south out of South Carolina into Georgia to Savannah.
PROCEED TO AMERICAN LOCATIONS 2