After spending the week in a tiny beach town called Duck, Kaeli and I decided to adventure out on the fourth to find some incredible ruins I'd stumbled on a few months back. A friend of mine from college had posted an article on Facebook under the title "The 11 Strangest Abandoned Places in North Carolina" . After falling for the obvious click bait, I found a gem which is never seen before - an Outer Banks building just drowning in sand. Sand so high you needed to dig like a dog on a fence to pass through the doorways. I had a little trouble chasing down the original link, but after a little feed stalking we found our target. After saying goodbye to her awesome grandfolks, aunt, uncle and their family, we pointed the car south on 12 with a couple Americanos and a insatiable commitment to finding the buried ruins and checking a few lighthouses off our list along the way.
Our Google Earth searching from the previous night didn't amount to much, but we did find the island we were aiming for - Pea Island. The caffeine started to kick in around 11am (thankfully just as the 4th of July traffic started loosening up) and we were booking our way south down the Outer Banks.
Although the previous week had been almost coma-level relaxing, there was a palatable (yet unspoken) fear of sharks anytime we were near the water. For some surely biological reason, this summer hosted an outrageous amount of shark attacks. This subconscious concern must have spooked my ADD, because something in the back of my head was reciting this appalling rap song from years ago with a chorus that cycled 4 times in a verse "my head is like a shark fin". After struggling through conveying this hilarity, Kaeli and I had a conversation that went something like this...
Remember a few years ago there was a crappy Shark attack movie?. Jaws? No. Jaws 2? No. It was really bad. Like Carlos Mencia bad. Nicki Minaj bad. ...was there a Jaws 3?. No. Well, maybe. But no. ....Samuel L Jackson was in it. ....(silence).
A bit of Googling garnered us a title. The 1999 "Not At All Classic" - Deep Blue Sea (imdb). This lead to finding a music video. The song title you ask? LL Cool J's short lived pop sensation "Deepest Bluest (My Head is Like a Shark Fin)". Here's a link Deepest Bluest (My Head is Like a Shark Fin). See how long you can watch. We got to about 1:15 until are muted stares turned into angry X clicking. The next 20 minutes of the drive were filled with me obnoxiously pointing out thing that looked like a "Shark Fin". The Ace Hardware logo. The top of the Outback Steakhouse. ...sung to the chorus. Obviously. After enduring my "Shark Fin" references for what I can only assume was "long enough", we put some B Fleishman on and cracked the windows so we could taste the salt air. That's when we crossed paths with our second lighthouse of the day - Bodie Lighthouse.
Entering North Carolina's Outer Banks
Bodie Island Lighthouse
Most "out of towners" have a loose grasp of what the outer banks are actually like. It's actually much more remote then the prevalence of bumper stickers would have you believe. It's also a little confusing, because the lighthouses are "sound side". So as you travel south, the ocean is on your left and the lighthouses your right. Although we bypassed our first lighthouse (Currituck Beach Lighthouse - wiki), after passing through Kitty Hawk and Nags Head we decided to stop at Bodie to get a closer look. After we got all the fun facts and argued about the pronunciation a bit. People there will tell you it's pronounced "body", but I swear to god I've only heard it pronounced "Bow-Dee". Ultimately I came to the conclusion that it's just a trick we play on northerners. We're the south. That's kinda our thing.
Pea Island Outer Banks Coast Guard Station
As we approached the Bonner Bridge I could see a structure to the left off in the distance. I attached a small map below that might help you can visualize it better. Upon crossing the bridge, there's a small pull off to your left.
Wait. The Pea Island Outer Banks Coast Guard Station is Gone?!?
There's a small bay on the north side of the island and being the 4th, it had it's fair share of visitors. What few seemed to pay attention to though was the roof-line in the distance. If you follow the paths south, you'll come upon a beautiful beach house precariously perched on stilts and stacked lumber. After comparing the facade to our research pics, we realized that that's the house. ...but it wasn't buried. What the hell?
After doing a little research I found that the Coast Guard Station had actually been decommissioned some 30+ years earlier. A little further digging showed that the station actually had quite a bit of history attached to it. Like so many other things in the world, the "fringe" location made it the perfect home for sociological change. In 1880 after former slave Richard Etheridge was appointed as keeper, Pea Island became the first life-saving station in the country to have an all-black crew. This once neglected property has actually gathered enough attention to inspire an independent documentary titled Rescuemen: The Story of Pea Island Lifesavers.
In 2008 funds were gathered to preserve the site. The picture I've included below illustrates pretty clearly that raising this battered frame was no small feat. To be perfectly honest I was a little disappointed that we weren't digging through sandy ruins, but that feeling was short lived. I realized pretty quickly that that part of my brain was clearly a bit selfish. In the big picture, how amazing is it that we were standing next to a time tested antique - a remnant of a bygone era, on the most remote chunk of the east coast, with tons of dusty history under its belt. What stood before us had weathered more hurricanes then we could imagine, the constant pressure of such an exposed environment - And yet, here it stood. Ready and almost eager to withstand another century of mother natures abuse.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
When there's road ahead of you, it's hard to stop. And so we continued south to another relic, the old Cape Hatteras Lighthouse (wiki). Since it was nearing triple digits, I pushed hard to avoid walking up what appeared to be a giant tin smokestack. Thankfully Kaeli obliged. We wandered through the Tourist Center, wondered why they had apparently setup a progressive plan to move the lighthouse a few yards several times instead of just doing it once, then captured some Ingress bases and hit the road.
We forged ahead and quickly got to experience Kaeli's first "Outer Banks Barge Experience". I know it's just a small piece of the voyage, but how fun is driving your car onto a boat? Seriously. After laughing at the tourists and soaking in some amazing shorelines for ten or so minutes the foghorn sounded and we disembarked. We were soon approaching my personal favorite light house - Okracoke. After stopping to watch some intense kite-boarding, we passed right by an awesome little horse stable right off the road. Minutes later we arrived at the mammoth obelisk - the Ocracoke Island Lighthouse. After sneaking around back, we accidentally stumbling across the "light keepers" home (our apologies :x) and decided to head out. The intense whitewash sparkling in the afternoon light urged us to continue on, so we pointed the car south. Not long after we found ourselves dodging floats and drunk locals meandering along the twisted road. We came to the end of the island and since it was a holiday the barge was closed. No worries - let's see if the locals can spare a beer.
We parked the car and our nose lead us to a great little restaurant named Dajio. The food was amazing (especially the "happy hour" shrimp), the deck offered us the perfect combination of shade and breeze, and Fat Tire was on tap. What more could I ask for? All in all, in 24hrs we had got to see an overwhelming amount of beauty, some obscure NC history, and capped it all off with drinks at sunset. If you're anywhere near Eastern North Carolina or Virginia beach - Head south. Make an adventure out of it. The Outer Banks are a tough and remote spot, but what nature has produced are a few scattered yet impeccable gems.
Share This Post
Graphic Designer and Web Developer from Raleigh, NC. Classically trained in Applied Economics and currently running the dynamic design firm that bares his name.. About Matthew Haeck