This will be my last post from our trip to the Outer Banks. In fact, it will be my last post for the next week because I'm heading to Costa Rica for the rest of the week:) I hope you enjoyed seeing our beach adventures in North Carolina. All the OBX content can be found here or via the Destinations page.
When I learned that wild horses roamed the expansive shores of the Outer Banks, North Carolina I had to see them for myself. When Chris learned that Carolla Jeep Adventures offered tours where you could drive your own Jeep through the sand dunes to find the horses, he was sold on the expedition. So a few of us signed up for the Jeep wild horse tour - a mini safari of sorts - where you follow a guide in your Jeep through the sandy roads and dunes of the northern Outer Banks in search of horses.
[Pictured Above] Our Jeep. [Pictured Below] Jen & Mom Barbier ready to go!
Before I recount the tour, I must take a moment to describe our guide John. He was informative, hilarious and maybe a smidgen off his rocker. But all the great ones are, aren't they? A former Marine and NC native, he is incredibly passionate about the horses, and he is currently working on a documentary to raise awareness on the subject.
There seems to be one thing he loves more than those horses - the USA. When fighter jets from the nearby Air Force base flew overhead, he stopped talking, pointed at the sky and asked us, "Y'all know what that sound is?". Then he'd yell on the top of his lungs, "That's the sound of FREEEEEEDOM! HOO-RAH". In fact, he used "HOO-RAH" at the end of most thoughts. He had a fantastic southern accent, which he claimed was "gin-u-wine" (and I would never challenge him on that point). I'll share some of John's stories below so you can see what kind of character was guiding us through the dunes. I suspect all this is why his co-workers back at the tour shop dubbed him "Crazy John". I've been on a lot of tours and tour guides can definitely make or break your experience. In this case, John definitely made it special - he was funny, informative and incredibly unique!
[Pictured Above] Who needs doors? Crazy John exits out the truck window!
Driving In The Sand
Chris was looking forward to finally driving in the sand. We had been on a sand highway once before on Fraser Island in Australia, but we were squished in the back of a massive 4x4 bus while locals breezed past us in their trucks. Chris had also been "dune bashing" in Dubai, which was fun, but he was only a passenger. Needles to say, he was pumped to have control of the wheel. John was very strict about safety and, although Chris is a typical Boston driver and probably could have given our guide a Yankee dose of crazy on the road, he was not about to break the rules for fear of the potential wrath of Marine John (plus his mom was in the back seat). He followed instructions and we had a lot of fun safely bouncing in the sand. If you are not comfortable with driving, you can opt to ride in the open air, but covered, seated section in the back of John's truck.
[Top] Zipping down the sand highway. [Middle] Chris in his element. [Bottom] The most challenging (and fun) part was driving over the dunes.
The Moving Dunes
After a quick drive along the sandy highway and over a few dunes we stopped atop a large sandy hill that provided a view of both sides of the barrier island. John told us that this was the second largest LIVING sand dune in the area. It' s living because it's constantly moving. Whenever a big storm hits OBX, the sand moves and the topography changes. For example, the Guggenheim family used to have a hunting house that resided UNDER the hill upon which we were standing!
[Above] Jen jumping on the living sand dune and over Guggenheim's hunting lodge. [Below] John, the dune & the ocean in the distance.
Horse Overboard: How the Horses Arrived in OBX
After learning about the dunes, we set out to find the horses with the help of white Ibis birds which follow the horses and eat the remains of their food. While we didn't see a herd of horses gracefully galloping along the shore, we definitely saw our fair share wild horses. Many people refer to these horses as "Bankers" or the "Banker Horse" because they are unique to North Carolina's barrier island.
So how did they get here? There are many theories but one of the more common beliefs is that they came from early Spanish settlers, since they have many of the same characteristics as domesticated Spanish horses. As the early Spanish explorers and settlers came to colonize the new world, many of them arrived at the Outer Banks first. Unfortunately for the explorers, there are a lot of sand bars off the coast which cause many a shipwreck. If a ship hit a sandbar and didn't unload weight quickly, it became permanently stuck. When the ships hit shallow water, they unloaded as much weight as possible, and often times that meant the horses. Since horses can swim, many made it safely to shore and learned how to live on their own.
Fast forward to the 1980s and people began developing the land in the northern Outer Banks which resulted in many horse deaths. The National Park Service, State of North Carolina and several other private organizations now manage and protect the horses and their habitat. Currently there are fewer than 400 wild horses spread across the islands. Here are a few that we encountered on our tour:
Shhh...Don't Offend the Mule
At one point we spotted a mule hiding behind a house in the dunes. John told us that the mule - half donkey and half horse - hasn't learned how to adapt to living on the beach. For example, the horses do a "lazy walk" on the sand to file down their hooves. The mule doesn't know how to do that, so he has really long hooves that prevent him from moving quickly. Apparently, it also scares off the ladies because none of the mares have taken a liking to him. John wouldn't tell us all of this when we were this close to the mule, for fear of offending him:
So we had to drive over here before he'd give us the scoop on why Mr. Mule was so sad. Look at him, he totally knows we are talking about him. I'll admit, I felt a little guilty :(
After a couple of hours we bid farewell to the horses and drove back down sandy highway 12, which at this point was lined with trucks and people tailgating. We managed one more horse sighting (of sorts) before going back to town:
My favorite part was the guy hanging out with his horse head in the background!
If you are ever in the Outer Banks and are looking for something a little different and I recommend Carolla Jeep Adventure's Horse Tour. Make sure you request John as your guide!
I've hated running my entire life, which is a little strange considering my parents and brother are all natural runners. I'll happily play a sport for two hours, kickbox until my legs fall off or dance like a fool in a room full of real dancers (usually laughing at myself the entire time). But running? Ugh, so boring.
However, recently I've begun running a lot more for a few reasons. First, it's free. Second, timing myself has proven to be quite the distraction, making it slightly less boring. And third - I can run anywhere which is probably the biggest bonus since I travel so much.
While in North Carolina, I wanted to run but most of the streets in Kitty Hawk have no trees and it gets HOT in the direct sun. If I was going to run beyond a mile, I needed something a little more shady. Chris and I discovered a 3.5 mile route around the Duck Woods Country Club off Route 158. The route takes you by the golf course on one side, and then through a neighborhood of pretty homes on the other side. The best part? The streets are lined with huge trees making this quite the cool route!
Here is a map of our run. Click on the map to zoom.
Growing up, Chris and his family used to spend one week in North Carolina's Outer Banks every summer. The Outer Banks (OBX) continues to be a family favorite and we spent the week following the 4th of July in a cedar shingled house on the beach in Kitty Hawk.
Au Revoir Arthur
The trip began a bit panicked because we were set to arrive on Friday, July 4th and hurricane Arthur was threatening to wreak havoc upon this thin barrier island. Those of you who know us probably aren't that surprised since Chris and I tend to attract hurricanes more than the average traveler. Luckily, Arthur made a quick appearance on Thursday, leaving minimal damage and by the time we arrived on Friday afternoon the sun was shining again. You can see in the picture below that the waves were still massive but the sun was out in full force!
Getting There & General Tips
If you live in the mid-atlantic area, the best way to get to OBX is to drive (it's about 5 hours from DC). Most of us were coming from Boston which is a pretty long drive (almost 12 hrs!). Chris and I flew direct to Richmond where we rented a car and drove 3 hours to Kitty Hawk. One can also fly into Norfolk, which is only an hour drive and probably the best option, if you can find affordable tickets and direct flights. Driving from New England is not a bad idea if you can take a little extra time off to stop along the way (Baltimore, Annapolis or DC break up the drive nicely).
Here are a few tips for planning a visit:
1) Get a house rental that starts on a Sunday, or better yet, a Friday. The traffic on Saturdays is horrendous because that is when most rentals turn over.
2) Consider staying in an area that is close to shops. One of us drove to the store daily and we were glad the market was around the corner. Plus we could walk to the drugstore and a yoga studio. Some homes are pretty far outside of town centers and it could take a half hour to get to the store, which means less time on the beach.
3) If you can swing it, rent a beach-front room/apartment/house. The view and breeze makes a huge difference.
4) If you plan to fish, get a fishing license for the week to avoid fines. You can pick one up at Walmart for $10.
OBX is a really laid back destination and the main attraction is, as you probably guessed, the beach. You can rent kayaks and SUP boards, go scuba diving and even hang glide over the dunes! One year we rented a kayak and came face to face with a school of dolphins that stopped to hang out with us for a while.
So what did we do for a week in OBX this year?
We enjoyed the beach:
We ate. A lot.
We boiled (in a good way).
We marveled at the spectacular sunset:
We went on a wild horse safari (more on this later).
We celebrated being together.
We spent five days over the 4th of July weekend in the Outer Banks with the Barbier family. Luckily, we arrived just hours after hurricane Arthur departed and Sir Arthur left stunning days and spectacular sunsets in his wake. Check out the beach in Kitty Hawk at sunset in the pictures below. Mother Nature sure does paint the best pictures!
Stay tuned for more posts about the Outer Banks this week, including an adventure involving wild horses, a beach highway and a guy named Crazy John!
Eva has been traveling for 15+ years, including an 8 month journey around the world.