It was only as the last weekend in March arrived that winter seemed to release its hold on the Crystal Coast. After a relatively warm February, we had serious visits back into winter-like weather.
We saw our first snowflakes in three or four years on March 12. On March 15 we began a series of three days when the temperatures fell into the mid to upper twenties. One day it only got into the mid-thirties and was so cold that some of my tomato plants that were hardening off inside the garage ended up with some damaged leaves.
Fortunately April has been a wonderful month so far. Sunshine, blue skies and warming temperatures have defined April 2017. Our grandchildren were on spring break the second week in April and it was a dandy with no precipitation, nearly perfect beach temperatures and no extreme wind.
The next week has been almost as nice with a couple of windy days and some clouds thrown in for variety. On April 21, we got to 84F by 11:30 AM. It feels summer-like outside and everyone has been enjoying outdoor activities. The winds continue to be more than the previous week and we are getting dry. The forecast for this weekend may solve the early dryness of our growing season.
Our garden plants which get water as needed are doing great. The Romaine lettuce, spinach, green onions and broccoli are some of the best we have ever grown.
Based on a few trips to Emerald Isle during Easter week, I would say that the tourist traffic was brisk. Food Lion was a bit of zoo at times when I ventured over.
This week we have enjoyed a few nights when the temperature stayed close to 70F which seems to be the magical number for warming the water up. The surf is already in the mid-sixties and the river is above 70F. Right on cue, someone in our neighborhood landed a short red drum. Our spring birds like the killdeer are also showing up.
I was out earlier in the spring in my kayak but since then my free time has coincided with the stronger winds so I have not made a second trip but I am more persistent than the winds so I will be back on the water soon. This is also the time of year when you will find the beach substantially cooler than inland areas. You certainly will not be cold but winds, cooler temperatures, and still chilly water can make a big difference if you get wet.
Certainly you can wade a little in the water but I would wait a little longer before getting seriously wet. It will not be long and the water will be really nice. The Crystal Coast is as nice a family beach as you can find and early spring is a great time for a practice visit to line up your summer vacation. Almost everything stays open all year on Emerald Isle.
If you are new to the area, do not forget to check out our books including, A Week at the Beach, The Emerald Isle Travel Guide. It is available in print or as a Kindle book.
We are just past the middle of September and already the worst of the heat of summer has disappeared. We have recently enjoyed some of the nicest weather since spring and the beach has been stunning.
However, coastal weather is tricky and even great weather can be a tease. We had a few perfect days early in the week of September 14. We took advantage of the clear skies and headed down to Murrells Inlet, South Carolina where we went for a marsh walk, ate barbecue instead of seafood and visited friends. The urban-high rise world of Myrtle Beach is only about 3.5 hours and a complete mind shift away from the beaches and National Forests of the Crystal Coast. While we skipped all the shopping, we had a good time and there was hardly a cloud in the sky for our drive down and back.
We got back and the next day I managed to go for a blue sky boat ride down to Swansboro. I was barely back at the dock when a bit of humidity came back with some clouds. The less than perfect weather has been here for a couple of days.
It is a transitional pattern that often keeps us on our toes during September. Even thunder clouds can rise up and tower over our inlet. Fortunately there is more great weather on the horizon for this third weekend in September and there is supposed to be a reinforcing shot of cool air early next week.
It is not unusual for the weather to change quickly on the coast. I kayaked for two hours on Thursday, September 17 and there was hardly a hint of blue sky. I came in for dinner and barely had time to sit down at the table before a golden sunset framed with blue skies surprised me.
I took it as a sign that the great weather is getting ready to settle into the area. Once it does, we hope to enjoy another great fall on the Crystal Coast. With high temperatures in the low eighties and low temperatures dipping into the fifties and sixties, you will not hear any coastal residents complaining.
With a very wet and warm summer still fresh in our memories, it is easy to welcome some different weather with open arms. That is especially the case because the water temperatures are still in the eighties and the fish have even started biting. Today was only my third or fourth fishing trip in my kayak this summer. Until today, I was only harassed by a few small croakers. Today I got a couple of gulps chewed in half by what I think were small bluefish. I also hooked a small drum and enjoyed a couple of short runs before it threw the hook.
With a little luck the next fishing trip I will bring home a fish for dinner. The great thing about living here in our little bit of coastal paradise is that the weather in the fall is often so nice that you want to bottle it. There are also times when you feel that getting pinched would wake you from a dream of perfect weather.
It is possible to have wonderful evenings on the beach in October and even after Thanksgiving. It is not out of the question to have shorts weather into December.
Beyond just being on the beach in November, it also possible to still do lots of boating even out by what I like to call the big water. When it gets a little chancy out by the ocean, there is always an opportunity to be seduced by the river and enjoy some time kayaking.
It is truly hard to beat the Crystal Coast in the fall. Even the unheated pools can still be enjoyed for another week or so in September. On top of that you will find lots of beautiful scenery to go along with all the beautiful birds and butterflies that grace the area in the fall.
If you have a chance to visit in the fall, you probably will agree that our area is a coastal paradise.
Our most recent email newsletter about our beach area went out Friday, September 4, and can be seen at this link. Our next email newsletter should be out early in October.
If you are interested in visiting the area, check out our free online travel guide to Emerald Isle. If you need more information especially on kayaking and boating, please consider purchasing our five-star rated Emerald Isle book, A Week at the Beach, The Emerald Isle Travel Guide. The color paperback version is 180 pages of information, maps, and pictures, Prime eligible, and under $25. The Kindle version has exactly the same information for a lot less money.
The Kindle version which works on everything from iPads to smartphones is only $3.99. Later this fall we plan to revise the guide for the fourth time. All year long we will provide additional information in our newsletter between updates. Once you buy the Kindle book, you can easily get the updated version each year for no additional cost.
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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 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.
Boardwalk at Bluewater Cove
There are places in the world which can help heal your soul. I happen to live in one of those places. I came to it at a time when my life was full of challenges and I had come close to forgetting how important it is to appreciate the natural world around you.
Anyone that follows my writings and pictures knows that the years since 2006 when we moved here have changed my life. At one time when I was working for Apple, it seemed as if I hardly had time to check whether the sun was up or down. I was too busy trying to survive and watching my back.
Today my connection with the natural world is a priority. The only thing higher would be my family and friends. Fortunately my dedication to being close to the world of nature also helps me nurture many friendships and my family.
After a couple of cups of coffee, a typical winter day begins with at least an hour of hiking around the marshes in our subdivision. Sometimes I completely lose track of time and I end up spending closer to two hours wandering the woods and wetlands. Those days breakfast tastes very good when I finally get back home.
When I start out on the boardwalk close to home, I never know what I will find around the corner. It can be a great blue heron, some great egrets, a kingfisher, or any of a variety of ducks. Recently I have had great fun with a pair of river otters.
This is a special area. I often describe the area as a place hemmed in for its own good by the Croatan National Forest, Cape Lookout National Seashore, and the Atlantic Ocean with a little protection by Camp Lejeune and the Marines.
A big part of our world is the White Oak River which luckily drains mostly wilderness and farmland. The White Oak is a big but short coastal river with a strong tide and plenty of oysters. Often the water is so clear that you can easily see for yards.
The White Oak is just intimidating enough to outside boaters that we rarely see crowds on it in the summer. In the winter except for a few crab pots, the river is close to deserted. I am happy to have it to myself like I did on Christmas Day 2012 when I kayaked for most of the morning.
My morning walk often takes me along Raymond’s Gut which empties into the White Oak. I sometimes feel like I am in a bird sanctuary. The other morning I stood and snapped shots of bluebirds swarming around a tree. I have watched baby pileated woodpeckers waiting patiently for their parents to deliver food.
Even during the colder months, I often take to the river in my kayak or skiff. I try to be on the river at least a couple of times a week twelve months of the year. Instead of a long walk, in the summer I’ll often take my skiff to the marshes on the other side of the Intracoastal Waterway near Swansboro. I enjoy a little early morning fishing before the day heats up.
In both spring and summer I can be found walking the beaches especially the area that we call the Point. Usually I finish my day with either another walk, a trip into the river by kayak or a sunset cruise in the skiff. Watching the sun slide down behind the trees on the other side of the White is my idea of a great finish to a day.
The beaches, the marshes, the sound, the ocean, and the White Oak River are all part of this wonderful natural world that has helped me recover and learn to appreciate the great natural gifts we are so lucky to have access to in our world. It is a great place to live.
Certainly the bottle-nosed dolphins, the river otters, and the hooded mergansers would all agree with me that this is a wonderful spot.