Crystal Coast Magic

The Marshes Behind Bear Island

The Marshes Behind Bear Island

Sometimes where we live turns into a magical place.  It happens a lot along the Crystal Coast.  We are sometimes called the Southern Outer Banks.  Actually we are just an extension of the same Outer Banks that is the home to Nags Head, Kitty Hawk, Duck, Corolla, and Hatteras.  This a map of the area for those unfamiliar with our piece of paradise.

I consider myself fortunate to have friends still willing and able to visit. When we do get some visitors, I always enjoy spending time on the water with them.   I have five areas which I love to show my friends, but to get the most lasting impression, I need to take people on the water more than once at different times.  This map provides a good overview of the five areas.

My absolute most favorite thing to do is to take people for a ride on the river early in the morning when the river is calm and unbelievably beautiful.  You can get a good feel for that by taking this automatic slide show entitled, Mackerel Morning.  Often you can zoom down the White Oak River at over thirty miles per hour with hardly a bump.  Sliding around the turns in the soft morning air is a special treat.

Once we get down the river and idle through the no-wake zone in Swansboro Harbor, I often take people over to the marshes behind Huggins Island.  This short YouTube video of one of my marsh cruises gives you an idea of the beauty of the area.  We will often drift fish in the area and sometime we anchor and fish for whatever is passing through the channel.  The view across the marshes that span the area from Swansboro to Bear Island gives you an idea of just how big the marshes are.

If I have someone for more than a few minutes the next place we visit is usually the marshes along the channel that takes you out to Bogue Inlet.  Here is a picture of that area.  It is a good spot to stop and fish as long as there is not a lot of traffic going in and out of Bogue Inlet.  I try to anchor in the area during the middle of the week as traffic increases greatly the closer you get to the weekend.

A morning out on the water is not complete without a visit to Bogue Inlet.  As long as the water is calm, it is one of the neatest places on the water.  Just looking back from the inlet makes me forget any of my troubles.  This picture gives you you a feel for the area.  If you look out from Bogue Inlet, all you see is water and a few buoys.  You do have to pick and choose your times in Bogue Inlet.  It can get rough and then it is not as much fun.  However, when you do get out there at the right time, it is picture perfect.

The next spot that I take friends is usually the channel behind Bear Island.   The picture at the top of the post was taken there.  It is perhaps the most beautiful marsh area that I have ever seen.  I never tire of going to the area.  I can stay there for a long time even when the fish area not biting.

The last place I take people is usually out on the White Oak River at sunset.  When the water and sun cooperate, the scenery can be stunning as you can see from these pictures in an album that I created.  I especially enjoy doing this trip in the fall when the warmth from the river can take the chill off a cool evening, but it is also fun in the summer after the heat of the day has disappeared.

By the time I have shown my visitors all these places, they have usually grown pretty fond of the area and start figuring out when they can come back for another visit.  I have enjoyed lots of magical places including beaches in Canada but I have never found an another area where there is so much to enjoy and where people fall so easily under the spell of the area.

The great weather helps a lot.  While we are in North Carolina and expect heat and humidity in the summer, we do get some nice sea breezes to keep us cool.  Our coastal weather changes enough to keep almost anyone happy.

Even if you cannot find a friend like me to take you out on the water, there are plenty of places to escape the crowds. Those with a spirit of adventure can easily rent a kayak and enjoy some peace on the White Oak or in the marshes.

If you planned your visit for this summer, the weather has been great so far.  We have only had a couple of rainy days in July.  We are dry enough now that those of us who are residents would like to see some rain for our yards and gardens.

This is a great place to fall in love with the water whether you walk the beaches or get on the water with a skiff or a kayak.   It is a wonderful place to bring a family to let them enjoy the water.

Our area is filled with people who love the water and who are happy to give you some suggestions on how to have fun.   You can also try our Kindle book, A Week at the Beach – The 2013 Emerald Isle Travel Guide.  It has even more details about enjoying the area including specific boating, fishing, and beach advice including maps.  The book will be able in paperback by the end of July.

The book can make your vacation less stressful by helping you find the best places in the area.  It contains suggestions on everything from accommodations to restaurants where you can expect great food and good value.  The book provides a link to restaurant recommendations that we update all year.  We are just getting ready to add a new restaurant to our list, Captain V.P.’s between the bridges in Swansboro.   Watch my View from the Mountain blog for a detailed review in the next few days.

Come visit us and fall in love with our beautiful waters.  You will not regret it.




Escaping The Crowds

The Beach At The Point, Emerald Isle, NC

The Beach At The Point, Emerald Isle, NC

We have all headed off to our favorite vacation destination and gotten caught in traffic on the way or found more people than we expected when we arrived at our spot.  Most of us vacation to get away from crowds and finding a crowd in paradise is not a good way to start.  Yet it easy to end up right in the middle of a mass of humanity especially on a popular beach.

I started seriously escaping the crowds well before I graduated from college and headed off to live along the Nova Scotia shore of the Bay of Fundy.  Life in Cambridge, Massachusetts was enough to send me searching for a different world, but that is another story.

However those sixteen years we lived in Canada’s Maritimes might be responsible for my love of open space and spectacular scenery.  The beauty and relative solitude you can find on the coast certainly kept us coming to North Carolina’s Outer Banks after we moved back to the states and lived on the side of a mountain overlooking Roanoke, Virginia.

Over the twenty years that we lived in Roanoke, we had a number of great beach vacations.   One of the elements of a great beach vacation listed in the linked article is getting enough distance between you and civilization.   Both children and adults need to disconnect in order to renew themselves.  Sometimes it is hard to do.   We found a world away from lots of people and technology in several spots, but as is often the case, the world kept discovering our spots not very long after we began enjoying them.

Children eventually do not want to go to the beach with their parents anyway. They also grow up and move out.  So in 2006 long after the children were gone and after three years of looking for the right spot, I convinced my wife that we should try living at the beach for a few years.   We are still here on the North Carolina coast just a few miles away from the beautiful beaches of Emerald Isle.

Carteret County where we live is often called the Crystal Coast.  If you are not familiar with the area, this is a link to a map.  Our area actually wrote the book on escaping crowds.  With the 158,000 acres of the Croatan National Forest at our back, the 56 miles of Cape Lookout National Seashore on one flank, and Camp Lejeune protecting the other flank, there is little to worry about except wind and waves on our south facing beaches along the Atlantic Ocean.  We are just enough off the beaten path and the Interstates to keep from getting overcrowded even during the tourist season.

Still the whole concept of feeling crowded is an individual one.  What is crowded to me might seem a little desolate to some folks.  But with the many miles I hike along the beaches each year, I feel comfortable in offering some advice as to how to find a beach where you will feel uncrowded even during a holiday weekend.

Any beach even a popular one like Nags Head can be uncrowded if you hit it at the right time like we did when I snapped this picture from Jennette’s Pier in early June.  I will not be making the day trip to Nag’s Head on the Fourth of July to prove my point, but I suspect there will be a lot more people on the beach than there was in my picture.

Surprisingly it is very easy to find plenty of space on the beach.  All you have to do is use your legs and walk a little.  This picture was taken near the westernmost part of the Point at Emerald Isle.  It is looking east up the beach towards the town of Emerald Isle.

I consider the area crowded even when I see a few people like those in this picture.  Both pictures of the Point area were taken just after 4 PM on July 2, 2013 which would have to classed as pretty near the peak of our season.

So why is such a spectacular beach so uncrowded?  Actually there is a section that is fairly crowded for our beaches. Still the number of people is not even close to what you see on most beaches.  It has a few people on it just because it happens to be closer to the public access points and there are a handful of oceanfront homes just north of the beach.

The easiest way to enjoy these uncrowded beaches is to rent one of those handful of homes along the beach.  If your budget like mine cannot handle that, you can still get to the beaches if you put some effort into it.  I rarely have to give up on my regular hikes there and it is all in the timing.  There is only one public parking lot in the area.  It is at the intersection of Station Street and Coast Guard Road.

Unfortunately it only has 16 spaces so you either need to get there early in the day or come later in the afternoon when people are starting to leave.  I prefer to walk late in the day so I usually can find a spot if the tides are cooperating.  I prefer to walk on a falling tide.

Once you get a parking spot, you still have a hike to the beach as you can see from the map of my most recent hike.   The most direct hike to the least crowded part of the Point is straight out Inlet Drive through the vehicle access at the end of the street.  It is still a hike of eight tenths of mile just to the southern edge of that part of the beach.

The least crowded portion of the beach is great if you want to enjoy privacy and just relax in the sun.  It is not so great for playing in the waves.  The water in that section is fairly deep with strong currents close to shore so if enjoying the waves is important, you are better off heading for the section marked in light blue on my map.  A hike of about seven tenths of a mile will put you in that section of the beach.  I like to call the whole area where people are scarce The Point Beyond The Yellow House.

Actually there is not a lot of mystery to the name.  It just signifies that you are on the part of the Point without any houses directly at your back.  The last house is also a yellow house.  That is the simple explanation for why there are fewer people on the beach there. People tend to walk straight out from their houses to the beach.  If there are no houses, there are fewer people.  The only exception to the rule is from September 15 to April 30 when people are allowed to drived on the beach if they have a proper permit.

No matter where you play along the beaches, you need to remember the ocean is not a swimming pool. That is especially true at a place like the Point where the ocean currents meet the currents from Bogue Sound.  You always need to be especially  careful when playing in the ocean.  I don’t recommend swimming in the ocean because of rip currents, but it is even important to play close attention when jumping waves. Rip currents are very dangerous.

One other bit of caution is worth mentioning.  You will notice my hike which is marked in dark blue looks like I am walking on water.  That is actually not the case.  Google just has a hard time keeping up with Mother Nature’s movement of the sand.  You can read about mapping places like the Point at my RWW web article, How To Walk On Water With Google Maps or if you want to read about sand movement on the Point, try this article,  Sand Keeps Moving.

It you want the full details of enjoying the beach, try our Kindle book, “A Week At The Beach – The 2013 Emerald Isle Travel Guide.”  It is only $4.99.  With printable maps, lots of pictures, recipes, and a list of good restaurants, it is a deal.

If you cannot visit the Point, enjoy this G+ slide show of the beach at the Point that I took on my hike on July 2, 2013.  You can also see the pictures positioned on a map at this link.

Clouds Sometimes Visit The Beach

Clouds Over Raymond's Gut, Near Swansboro, NC

Clouds Over Raymond’s Gut, Near Swansboro, NC

It is unfortunate but it is sometimes cloudy at the beach.  Stunning blue skies are common here along North Carolina’s Crystal Coast but even we have a few off days.

If you live in the South, you learn to take advantage of cloudy days in the summer.  In the heat of the summer, a cloudy day is a great time to get some work done in your garden.

We have gotten plenty of rain as we head into the last couple of days of June, but those of us living in the South know that things can quickly get dry so you will rarely hear me complain about rain.

Clouds are actually easier to deal with than rain or wind.  I love a nice coastal breeze but yesterday the gusts were in the 20+ MPH range which is high enough to get old quickly.

Still it is summer and I am working as hard as I can to enjoy it.  We have been fortunate to have family visitors for the last couple of weeks.

While it means that I am usually in the water more than usual,  I generally have to give up my long beach walks while we have company.  People think it is weird if I go walking on the beach for two or three hours.  Still I love it and will be back doing it as soon as our company is gone.

The clouds might make taking great pictures a little more difficult, but the high winds are making paddling a kayak or taking our skiff down the river a real challenge.  I am stubborn enough that I will go kayaking even if I know well the battle that I will face getting out to the river.

Last week the wind was blowing so hard against me while paddling out to the river that some of my muscles were sore that night.  The next day I took the skiff down the river to test a fuse that we replaced.  There were whitecaps on the river and even trying to ride down the river on top of the white caps,  I ended up getting sprayed.  The good news is that the river water is in the mid-eighties so there was no danger of getting cold.

The clouds have brought us plenty of rain which means all our vegetables are doing well.  Just this week, we have nearly been over whelmed homegrown tomatoes.  One of our neighbors kindly shared their corn harvest with us and we’ve just now had to buy lettuce after we harvested the last of the spring lettuce from our patch.  We really enjoy our lettuce patch.

While the clouds have visited there have been some exceptional beach days.  That is one of the reason you have to come to the beach long enough to see the weather change a few times.  The great weather convinced me to tour a number of the North Carolina beaches in the last month, but none captured my fancy.  I am still very happy with our area.  It is hard to beat convenience and spectacular scenery.  Still I enjoy looking at other beaches.

The beaches of Ocracoke Island definitely had a hold on me during my college years, but I have a different beach mistress these days.

If you have never visited our area, come see why the Crystal Coast deserves its name.  I suspect you will see plenty of sun even if there are some clouds around to tease us.

We do try to schedule our rain at night but sometimes some showers slip through.  If you would like to learn more about the area, drop by the Crystal Coast Google+ community that I am building.  It is not complete, but you will find lots of information which might get you to thinking about a visit to the Crystal Coast and its beautiful beaches.







The End of the Sand


Looking South from the Northern End of the Point

The more complex our world gets, the more we need to distance ourselves from it.   I am blessed to be living in an unbelievably beautiful place where I can easily escape the daily pressures of life.   Retreating to nature has always helped me and living where nature is at my doorstep keeps life’s irritations mostly under control.

Things were different before we moved here. When life in the corporate world got tough, I would retreat to a hiking trail I maintained high on the side of a mountain near Roanoke, Virginia.  There with my Labrador pal, Chester, I could recharge my batteries and find some insight to help me survive another quarter.

Even the mountain trail was not enough at times.  More than once I can remember fleeing to Cape Hatteras and checking into a motel with only pay phones and no cell service.  My situation was far from unique.  Modern life takes its toll on humans.  Sometimes getting away from our connected world is the only solution.

I actually can easily tell the symptoms in others.  You send them an email and the only thing they read before they respond is the title.  Years ago people would take two or three weeks of vacation and try to decompress.  Today folks are afraid to leave work for that long because they might not have a job when they come back.  If you only take a week away from your job, you probably have not really left it behind especially if you are working weekends just so you can go on vacation.

While money is a lot harder to come by outside of corporate America, life is much more rewarding.  There are still pressures and things which need to be done and make no sense, but you do have more control and that in itself is rewarding.

Now when I seek out a wild place, it is not so much to help me recover but just to appreciate the beauty of it and to share it with others.  I consider myself extremely fortunate that I can still take the long walks needed to find the wildness that has helped me so much during my life.

Living in a special place like the Crystal Coast gives me a lot of choices when I want to go view our world as few see it today.  Whether I put the kayak in Raymond’s Gut and paddle out to the middle of the White Oak River or take my skiff down the river to the marshes between Swansboro and Bear Island, I rarely have trouble finding a private place.  Not many people wander the salt marshes.

Yet among all the wild places that I love, one stands head and shoulders above the rest.  It is the Point on Emerald Isle.  Perhaps having over forty years of history with one piece of sand helps, but I think it is more than that.  First, it is one of those places where civilization seems a lot farther away than it actually is.  Second, it is never the same and I know that the ocean can reclaim it at any moment.   The stunning beauty that I see at the Point never fails to inspire me.

I doubt there is any other place on the North Carolina coast where you can park your car and walk less than two miles along the beach and find yourself in a place so unique and so much a part of nature.

The Point is a battleground where the ocean and sound vie for position. Wind, water, and waves continually change the battlefield and we get to watch.  The stark beauty of the sand and water stretching as far as the eye can see is impossible to convey in just a few pictures.  A recent online photo album which I am preparing for our updated 2013 Emerald Isle travel guide has nearly ninety pictures in it, and I still feel that it barely let you taste the Point’s beauty.  You can sample a few of the pictures in this album.  You will have to wait for my new Kindle book to see the full photo album.

There are some other places in the world where I have perhaps dreamed of hiking, but unfortunately I would have to go through far too much civilization to get to those places.  It would take something very spectacular to get me to travel very far from these beaches that I love so much.

Spring has just gotten here so the best part of the year is still to come for beach lovers.  It will not be long before I will be wading the waters along the shore and sometimes even carrying a fishing rod along with my camera.  First the water will be a shock to the system, then it will feel refreshing in the heat of July, and finally in the fall, the water is sometimes warmer than the air.

I know that I am lucky to living where I am living.  You give up a few things to live in a place this beautiful and peaceful, but you get so much more in return.  As my t-shirt says, “Never Look Back.”


The Point After Sandy

On the Point, Looking South

On the Point, Looking South

When you have a big storm like Sandy that slides up the coast, it does not take long for those of us who live in the area to start wondering what the storm did to the beaches.

In 2011 after Irene came through the area, I did a post called, “Walking between Irene, Katia, and Maria.”  In that post I chronicled some of the changes that I saw on the Point after Irene.  When I walk the Point, I use a piece of software called MyTracks. It runs on my Android phone and does a very good job of tracking where I walk.

In fact the maps that I create with my phone are much more accurate than what is typically posted on the web by Google, MapQuest, or Bing.  Their maps are updated infrequently, and the Point changes sometimes from day to day.  Often the Google maps show me walking across great expanses of water.  Unfortunately I have yet to master that skill.   I might get my toes wet, but on November 1, when I last visited the Point wading with my bare legs was not something I did.  At that time the water was cooling rapidly.

After Irene I calculated what I considered to be the new sand on the Point based on my previous hikes.  The Point has continued change throughout 2012.  In September 2012, I did another post, Back to The Point, discussing changes at the Point.  I also made another map from a hike which confirmed that sand was continuing to build up at the Northwest corner of the Point.

When I visited the Point on November 1, 2012, I really did not know what to expect.  At the time there were no newspaper reports discussing Sandy’s impact on our beaches.  It did not take me long after I got on the beach to decide that Sandy had smoothed the beach considerably but did not seem to damage it.

The cliffs of Emerald Isle as I call a series of sand dunes which are near where I enter the beach survived with no damage as you can see from this picture.  You can see from this photo that Sandy did level the beach and create some great walking conditions.

My hike confirmed that the Point survived Sandy without any major changes.   As I mentioned earlier, the long term trend of more sand at the Northwest end of the Point continues as you can see in this picture.

Though a lack of time prevented me from going all the way to end of Bird Island, if you look at this map of my hike and compare it to the one from August 31, you can quickly see that the changes have been minor.

I am pleased to report that there is a new dune building on the Point.  The Emerald Isle folks have it surrounded with warning tape, so I am hoping it will continue to grow.

The one thing that can definitely be said is that the Point has grown tremendously since I took this picture in November of 2007 when water was lapping at the vehicle ramp.  The Point essentially disappeared during high tides in late fall of 2007.  Using the map from my November 1, 2012, hike, I estimate there is now 1,742 feet of sand straight out from the vehicle ramp where there was only water in November of 2007. That measurement has not varied significantly since this spring.

After a lot of hikes around the Point, it is easy to say that there is a lot of sand out there.


In the wildness of our surroundings there is peace

A view of the White Oak River

A view of the White Oak River

There are many reasons for living in a particular place.  The place can feel like home. You perhaps have found a great job in the area.  Sometime a location can be close to friends or an easy place to engage in your favorite activities.

Then there are places we go to for more than employment or fun.

Areas like North Carolina’s Crystal Coast are often more than just a place to plant your roots.  They are among the rare spots where the human spirit can find a renewal in the cathedral of the natural world.  Within their blue sky boundaries are often homes which offer more than just a place to live.

Sometimes by quiet waters under a cloud-tinted blue sky, you will encounter a place to find yourself or even heal your spirit.

Throughout my life I have found that natural beauty on my doorstep has helped me survive the challenges of our increasingly over connected modern life.

The wildness of a deserted beach, forest or open stretch of water lets us disconnect from our modern world and reconnect with the world around us.  The peace of an empty beach lets us listen to those quiet inner voices of our own which are often overwhelmed by the noise of modern society.   That walk away from the world and into wildness also prepares us to hear the voice of God.

That it is far easier to connect with God when we have unconnected ourselves from much of the world should not come as a surprise.   We try hard to divorce ourselves from the world when we go to worship in a church.  The sanctuary of a church gives us separation from the world.  That distance between us and the everyday world gives us a chance to contemplate and worship.  We need the separation because the world has become a noisy, demanding place where multiple things and people continually vie for our attention.

You can find the same separation in the wildness of many places.

Over the last sixty plus years I have found many challenges that have reminded me how little control that we actually have over our lives.  There are times when we just have to put our trust in a power that it is greater than us.  Those who think they are master of all their world just haven’t lived long enough to face a real obstacle in their life.

When the world seems to be collapsing around you and yet the voices of concern that you are hearing from those close to you make no sense,  then a walk out beyond the homes along the beach or  a paddle out to the oyster rocks can clear your mind and help you understand the path that you need to take.

Over the years my favorite places of retreat have changed as we have moved.  At one time I found solace on the rocky coast of Nova Scotia.  A few years later, a hillside overlooking the wilderness behind our farm came to be the place I escaped.  When we moved to Roanoke, Virginia, I created a network of trails on the high mountainside behind our home.  Now that I live along North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks, I’ve found that I can find the solitude that I need in a number of places that have no walls.

My current favorite spot is far out on the Point at Emerald Isle.  It requires a hike of over two miles just to get there.  The effort is well worth it.  Before the fishermen come in their trucks in the fall, there are few people who are willing to spend the energy to reach the place that I have come to cherish.

Each time that I arrive there, I am reminded that we humans might try to control our world, but our efforts are at best sandcastles in the waves of time.  That I can walk this stretch of beach and see with my own eyes the new land created between my trips makes the experience I find in the wildness of this beach that much more powerful.

John Muir says it so eloquently on page 256 of The Yosemite.

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.