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.

A Surprise Around Every Corner in our Natural Paradise

Boardwalk at Bluewater Cove

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.

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.


Back to the Point


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.


Walking between Irene, Katia, and Maria

Hiking on the Point at Emerald Isle, NC

Hiking on the Point at Emerald Isle, NC

The Point at Emerald isle, NC is about as dynamic a piece of sand as you can find within walking distance of a parking place along the east coast.  I feel fortunate that it is less than fifteen minutes from my house to those few parking places near the Point.

One of my great memories from my youth is coming to fish on the Point with my Uncle Austin. I think it was the summer of 1969 we came down to the area in my old lime green Bronco.  We had to drive several miles down the beach to get to the Point, but I can still remember my Uncle teaching me how to drive on sand.  We didn’t catch very much, but as most fishermen will tell you, it doesn’t take fish to make a great memory.

Today I approach the Point from a different perspective.  It is a very unique spot with spectacular scenery along the Southern Outer Banks which has a whole gallery of great natural beauty. The Point is a place that I go when I want to be close to the elements. While I was pleased that our area survived Hurricane Irene with little damage, I was both concerned and excited to see what happened over on the Point.  I haven’t been disappointed.

I long ago subscribed to the view that sand is going to move where the tides and wind take it in spite of man’s delaying tactics.  The Point is a great a great laboratory. You can see sand move and change almost daily. There aren’t many places on earth where you can be one of the first people to walk on new land.

While my estimate of several acres of new sand is awaiting verification from the real surveyors of the beach, it is obvious to anyone who is familiar to the area that change is the norm at the Point, and that Irene brought lots of change.   As long as change doesn’t destroy the Point, I enjoy it for whatever it is when I walk there. Irene actually made the Point even more interesting.

With Irene’s visit, there is even more of a difference between walking at high tide and walking at high tide.  The slope of the beach seems even shallower after Irene’s visit.  You notice it especially when we have a big storm off the coast sending huge swells to the area.   When I made my second trip after Hurricane Irene on September 7, I noticed a number of places that had been over-washed that day.  If I hadn’t known better, I would have guessed that Coast Guard Island might have been back on the way to becoming an island.  However, I knew that we were getting some high tides along with swells from Katia.

One of the neatest things is to find newly deposited sand while hiking.  Sometimes it is dropped in layers.  You’ll be hiking along and think that you are about to step into some deep soft wet sand only to find that you’re actually stepping into two inches of new sand that has been deposited on a very solid base.  You can see the layers very well in some of the new cuts that were made in what I call the cliffs of Emerald Isle.

The real surprise is how few people really explore the Point.  Like most beaches people tend to congregate around the spots closest to the parking.  Once you walk around the actual Point, which I define as the most westerly spot on the island, you will find very few walkers.  Eventually you run into people who have beached their boats on the backside of Coast Guard Island, but it is rare to run into more people that you can count on your fingers when you start walking north along the edge of Bogue Inlet.  I guess the hike it too long.

We’re lucky to live in area protected on the backside by Croatan National Forest’s 158,000 acres and one flank by the 56 miles of the Cape Lookout National Seashore. It doesn’t hurt to have Cape Lejeune on our other flank.  While there are still plenty of pastures and fields to be developed, I don’t think there is much chance of the Southern Outer Banks ever becoming another Myrtle Beach.  I am glad of that.  Just the possibility might keep me awake at night.

I would hate to live in an area where there is no room for changing sands.

If you are interested in visiting the area, check out my “Welcome to the Beach” page.

Pictures taken on my September 7 hike to the Point.