A Beach Of Your Own

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Third Street Beach, August 10, 2015

Third Street Beach, August 10, 2015

We all have times when something clicks and a special moment is created. Sometimes it plants a seed in us that changes the way we think about the world.

I have been blessed to wash my feet in a lot of salt water around the world. While I cannot go back to the exact moment when the sand got stuck permanently between my toes, I suspect it was a moment much like what is shown in this picture of my granddaughter walking on a beach in Emerald Isle.

When poppa lives at the beach and has a home next door to a swimming pool, you get plenty of beach and water time. Even so rarely does a seven year old get that perfect moment on a beach like our granddaughter did the other day.

She has never visited a truly crowded beach, but I also doubt that she has ever experienced an empty one on a perfect warm August evening. However, I will wager that particular August evening on the beach might be etched in her memory. There is something about an empty beach that stretches to the horizon that captures the imagination of even the youngest of us.

What better place to run with abandon and splash through the waves until your heart is content? Our world has far too few places where you can run and play without a care.

I feel fortunate to live in a little piece of paradise where circumstances have prevented the area from getting overdeveloped. Somehow I doubt that you could get that same sense of freedom and closeness to the ocean along a crowded boardwalk with highrise condos as a backdrop. It might be exciting but it would not be the same.

Not everyone loves an open and empty beach, but walking on one always leaves me a little better prepared for tomorrow and gives me hope that just maybe we will not destroy all the special places before the next generation can share them with their children.

Maybe because I grew up on the uncrowded beaches of North Carolina, I am stuck with needing that empty beach to the horizon to be happy. Maybe that is the reason that I have no need of shopping complexes just off the beach, I would much rather have some nice sandbars and a slough full of fish.

If you have never taken your children on a walk down a quiet beach in the dark, make certain you plan for that to happen before they grow up. I still have wonderful memories of walking those dark beaches along Nags Head. I would imagine people behind the soft house lights and even let my mind wander to what might be shadowing us out just beyond the waves. There is definitely magic on a beach at night. The soft summer evening breezes and warm saltwater on your feet create memories that stay with you all your life.

Some of us are so changed that we are drawn to keep coming back over and over to those empty beaches. I think I might have felt shortchanged with life if I had not learned to love real beaches and keep some sand between my toes.  Come visit the Emerald Isle area, it is not hard to fall in love with our beaches.

Our most recent newsletter about our beach area went out Friday, July 10, and can be seen at this link. Our next newsletter should be out in August.

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 extensive fives-star rated Emerald Isle book, A Week at the Beach, The Emerald Isle Travel Guide.

The Kindle version which works on everything from iPads to smartphones is only $3.99. We do a revised version each year and provide additional information in our newsletter between updates.  Once you buy the Kindle book, you can easily get the updated version each year.

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Escaping The Crowds

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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

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to the Point

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New sand and water at the Point

I first visited the Point on Emerald Isle in the summer of 1969.  My uncle Austin and I traveled down the beach in my old Ford Bronco.  At the time it was the only way to get to the Point short of a boat or a very long walk.

In 1969 there were no fancy beach homes lining the shore.  Since 2006, the Point has been one of the places I visit when I want to get away civilization.  It is a place where Mother Nature rules.  The wind, sand, and water at the Point tend to ignore any suggestions that we might have.

The Point is also a place that where change is the norm.  If you visit it once or twice a week like I try to do, you will notice subtle changes.  If for some reason you miss a month, you will likely find things rearranged some place along the shores of the Point.

In a world where some folks forget that we are not masters of our environment, the Point is an amazingly beautiful reminder that there are still places where we are at best only observers.

I can still remember the Point disappearing in the fall of 2007.  There was nothing but water at the edge of the vehicle ramp.

These pictures taken in August of 2009 show that it was a slow process for the Point to start recovering and add sand.  Huge sandbags were still prominent in 2009.

Even in the fall of 2010 three years after the picture of the Point under water, there was still a whole lot more water than sand at the Point.

By the fall of 2011, the tide had turned if you will pardon the pun.  Sand was accumulating at an amazing rate.  This picture looking back towards the vehicle ramp shows how things changed over the course of four years.  In just those few years a lot of sand filled the area between the vehicle ramp at the Point and Bogue Inlet.

In August of 2011 I created a flash-based map with pictures showing some of the recent changes at the Point.  At the time I wondered what would happen next. Certainly over the last year the changes didn’t stop. The sand continues to build up in the area near what I have always heard called Bird Island.

On August 31, 2012, I took another hike around the Point.  Using the MyTracks app in conjunction with Google Maps and my Android phone, I created this map.  Except for a small inlet of water near Bird Island, everything within the blue lines is now sand.  This picture gives you an idea of the new sand than has built up near the northern end of the Point.

I have joked with some friends that if this keeps up, it won’t be many years before we will be able to walk to Cedar Point.  However there are other things happening at the Point.  Number one in my mind is that it is becoming bowl-shaped with the sand much higher by the edge near the water than in the center.  When a storm eventually shows up, there is the potential for that sand to end up some place else.  It could be moved to the interior of the Point or dumped in the Inlet.

I have taken hundreds of pictures over at the Point, but pictures alone cannot convey the huge amount of sand that is now at the Point.  The Point will for the foreseeable future remain one of those places that is best appreciated in person.  I can keep posting pictures and maps, but the scale of the area beyond the houses is just too big to fit in a picture.  It is now well over two miles of walking from the CAMA access point on  Wyndtree Drive to the edge of the marshes on Bird Island.

Certainly if you are physically able to walk something like the Point area, it is a place where visiting is well worth the effort especially when the skies are blue.  There are few people to be found this time of year beyond the line of homes.  In the fall when trucks can drive on the beaches, it is a little bit of a different place.  However until September 15 when the trucks come, the far reaches of the Point are truly a special place where sand, wind, and water pretty much do whatever they want, and we humans have to play by their rules.

The Point is a great place to be humbled by nature.  I hope to see many more changes there.  This album of pictures that I posted in June of 2012 is a good introduction to many of the special things which keep me coming back to the Point.

 

Summer Beach Traffic

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Beach Traffic at Third St. Beach

Beach Traffic at Third St. Beach

When July rolls around, I usually do a post about beach traffic.  While most people think of beach traffic as the vehicles on the road trying to get to a beach, I am just as concerned about the number of people on the beach hoping to enjoy the water.

The first weeks of July are our peak time for summer visitors here on the Southern Outer Banks.  The annual influx of visitors usually brings out a few complaints from local residents about how bad the traffic is here.

I try to take the complaints about road traffic about as seriously as I do a few grains of sand in our car after a walk on the beach.  In 2011 when the bridge clogged up for a few hours during check-in hours on the 4th of July weekend, I wrote a post about it.

No traffic that I have ever seen here on the beach holds a candle to Washington, DC traffic so I am happy to report our number of annual traffic tie-ups still is still just a handful.

My 2011 tour of the island at around 2PM on Saturday, July 1 indicated that we had a very good crowd.  In 2012 on Saturday, June 30, the bridge so clogged, I decided to wait a little before doing my beach check.  I suspect that means we have a great crowd this year.

Around 5 PM I left for a quick trip to Swansboro where I was dropping off an award for the area’s best restaurant as listed in my new book, “A Week at the Beach, An Emerald Isle Travel Guide.”  By the time I drove by the bridge it had already cleared.

By the time I returned to the bridge it was 5:30 PM.  I decided to time my trip just to provide some concrete numbers.  It took me about two minutes to cross the bridge, and another six minutes to get to Sweet Spot, the ice cream shop in the block before the stoplight to the Bogue Inlet Pier.

The whole trip to what most of us consider the center of town was about eight minutes which is perhaps a minute or two longer than normal.  I can think is very bad by any standards.  Certainly things were much slower earlier in the day, but we will survive another traffic event on Sunday, July 1.  Possibly we will have seen the worst for another year.

There was a slight traffic backup between the CVS and Sweet Spot because of an accident, but it only added a few seconds to my trip.  After visiting with the folks at Sweet Spot, I headed on up the island to the Third Street Beach.

Vehicular traffic appeared to have mostly dissipated from the mess earlier in the day.  From what I could tell, most people seem to have headed for their vacation homes and disappeared inside to recover from their road trips.

When I arrived at the Third Street Beach parking lot, I was not surprised that there were only two other cars in the lot.  I was a little surprised when I walked out to the beach, and my quick survey indicated very few people on the beach.  The picture at the top of the post will confirm my beach visitor estimate.

By then it was almost 6 PM and the worst heat of the day was almost gone especially with the nice ocean breeze.  I suspect people were inside having dinner or planning their next moves on their vacation. However, I think folks were missing the best time of the day to enjoy the beach.

As I headed back to the mainland, I was a little shocked to see a parking place or two in front of Jordan’s Seafood which is usually packed on summer Saturday nights.  Perhaps people were worried about having to wait outside in the hot air.  When I drove by Food Lion at Emerald Plantation, I could tell that parking places were a scarce commodity.

My trip from the Third Street Beach to the stoplight at the intersection of Highway 24 and Highway 58 took eighteen minutes which might be a minute or two more than normal.  Certainly my quick visit showed that people traffic on the beach was minimal and vehicle traffic on the roads was nothing to get excited about considering this is our busiest week of the year.

Those of us that live here often get spoiled by having almost no traffic to deal with in our daily lives.  Ninety-nine percent of the area residents are happy to have our summer visitors.  We would have a bleak economy without the annual migration to the beach that is tradition on much of the east coast.

We are blessed here on the Crystal Coast to have such low density housing along our beaches.  Even at the peak of the season, it is not hard to find privacy on our beaches if you are willing to walk a little.  We have more beach than most people need.

I spend a lot of time walking the beaches of Emerald Isle.  My walks are sometimes serious ones at the Point.  It is not unusual for me to cover three to five miles in one of my beach hikes.  I rarely see more than a handful of people once I get into the serious sand that extends over 1,800 feet from the vehicle ramp at the Point.  I might skip any lunch hour visits to the Point this week, but it will be more because of the heat during the day than crowds that I might find.

Human traffic is minimal here when you get into the more remote areas of our beaches.  It seems most people walk to the beach and head straight for the water.  They spread out like the delta of a river but they rarely go very far from where they first find sand and water.

It is perhaps human nature to enjoy the closest water, but it gives those of us willing to walk a little a lot more beach to enjoy.  I know from experience there are lots of crowded beaches in the world,  I am happy to live in an area where it is easy to enjoy life without walls.

For tips about the best places for walking and evening some suggestions for avoiding traffic on the roads and grocery stores, check out my book at Amazon.  It is available currently in Kindle format, but with free Kindle reader software, you can read it on practically anything including a Mac, a PC, or an iPad.  I am working on a native version for the iPad.