Undiscovered Outer Banks Of North Carolina

The Undiscovered Outer Banks Of North Carolina

When most people think of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, what comes to mind are the lighthouses, the first flight of the Wright Brothers in Kitty Hawk, and the miles of beaches. These popular tourist attractions are worth a visit, but there is so much more to the Outer Banks that the average person does not see. Having lived here for more than ten years, I have been privileged to capture in photos the hidden jewels than most tourists don’t even know exist, much less bother to visit.

The Outer Banks is composed of three ecozones: the beach, where very little vegetation grows in the salt-saturated air; the dunes, which are vegetated by salt-tolerant plants; and the area behind the dunes, which form a natural barrier from the salt-laden ocean winds, allowing a lush maritime forest to grow. Much of this maritime forest has been preserved by the Nature Conservancy, which has been quietly buying up tracts in what residents refer to as Nags Head Woods. A short walk along the trails of the Nature Conservancy gives a spectacular glimpse of the great diversity of this barrier island maritime forest. Nags Head Woods is home to more than 300 species of plants, more than 100 species of birds, six species of freshwater fish, and 65 species of land vertebrates (amphibians, reptiles, and mammals). Among the more notable are this friendly red-bellied water snake:

Red bellied water snake

Red bellied water snake

This prehistoric-looking giant snapping turtle that lived in the natural pond in my backyard for a few weeks one spring:

Snapping turtle

Snapping turtle

And this Osprey, who occasionally landed in the large Loblolly Pine in my front yard, where he enjoyed a leisurely lunch of the fish he plucked from the Sound:

Osprey

Osprey tears apart a fish in a tree in my front yard

Fresh-water ponds lie in the hollows between the dunes in Nags Head Woods. At first glance their surfaces appear to be covered in green slime, but upon closer inspection the slime proves to be millions of seeds that float upon the water’s surface:

Outer Banks maritime forest

Outer Banks maritime forest

Outer Banks maritime forest

Outer Banks maritime forest

Most any sunny day, Eastern Box Turtles can be seen soaking up the rays on branches that poke up from the green waters, and closer encounters are not uncommon during mating season, when the turtles travel far afield in search of mates:

Eastern Box Turtles Outer Banks

Eastern Box Turtles Outer Banks

Eastern Box Turtle Outer Banks

Eastern Box Turtles Outer Banks

At the end of the day, Nags Head Woods offers some of the most spectacular sunsets on the Outer Banks:

Outer Banks sunset

Sunset from my rear deck

Bird watchers find their paradise a bit further south. Across the Oregon Inlet Bridge on Hatteras Island, Pea Island offers miles of trails with elevated stands, from which visitors can spot hundreds of varieties of shorebirds:

Outer Banks birdwatching

Outer Banks birdwatching

If you are visiting during the winter months and are very lucky, you may be fortunate enough to spot a line of Snow Geese alighting on the inland ponds as the setting sun turns the waters to gold:

Snow Geese Pea Island

Snow Geese on Pea Island

Visitors overlook much of the Outer Banks, perhaps because there is so much to see. And although this post is primarily about the area’s undiscovered gems, I can’t resist including a few photos of the more well-known tourist attractions, such as the Bodie Island Lighthouse, here shown full view and close-up:

Bodie Island Lighthouse

Bodie Island Lighthouse

Bodie Island Lighthouse

Bodie Island Lighthouse

And the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, also shown full-view and close-up:

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Please do visit the Outer Banks. But when you come, seek out the lesser known attractions in addition to the famous sites. You’ll be glad you did.

6 Comments on “The Undiscovered Outer Banks Of North Carolina

  1. It is 10:10 am, 21 May 2016. Just waked our dog after a morning of heavy rain. As we entered our driveway in the maritime forest of Southern Shores we witnessed a huge snapping turtle laying her eggs in the flower beds that we dug yesterday. AMAZING !
    Got out the binoculars & watched from the deck. Another reason that this is a really cool place to live – amongst the creatures…

    • Hi MJ: I know! You just never know what new creature you’re going to see in the maritime forest, and so few people even know about it.

  2. Hi!. I found you through Ruth Pennebaker’s site (I hate to call them Geezersisters, but they are fabulous). I was curious, because I am from the Southern Outer Banks (the BEST Outer Banks that are still undiscovered…well…sort of ). I pray they don’t get developed the way Kitty Hawk has, but the entire east coast will probably all turn into New Jersey eventually…heavy sigh.

    ANYWAY, that’s not really why I’m commenting…ha. I’m long winded and get distracted by shiny objects. I just wanted to say that I read your “About” section and was so fascinated by how much you have overcome. It is truly an inspiration how you hung in there and kept on swinging. Wonderful story. Thank you for posting it.

  3. My granddaughters and I were most fortunate to have been on the Outer Banks the summer that the Hatteras lighthouse was moved. Our friennds, Bill and Ellie, recommended that we go see this incredible feat. We really enjoyed watching it inch along the first time. The second time I enjoyed too but the rest of my family didn’t as much. After the 3rd visit, no one would go with me! Not even my husband. I had to wait until friends came down to go back. It was a fantastic sight to see. Karen

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