“The Outer Banks National Scenic Byway traverses one of the nation’s great wild and scenic coastal landscapes encompassing the unique maritime culture of 21 coastal villages”. – The Outer Banks Travel Guide
On our first morning in the sleepy beach town of Duck in the Outer Banks off the coast of North Carolina my alarm went off at 6 am. The entire beach house we rented was fast asleep yet I was wide awake with jittery anticipation. I had planned to wake up and walk to the ocean to watch the sunrise.
The sky was still inky black except for the glow of light from the moon and the brilliance of the stars shining high above. It was too early to go so I laid there in bed, staring out the bedroom window waiting for a tiny sliver of light and a sign that it was time to get dressed and head out. I tossed and turned but couldn’t fall back asleep. Thankfully by 6:30, I saw the first streak of light off in the horizon and knew it wouldn’t be too much longer until the sun began to rise and paint the sky.
I quietly got dressed, grabbed my camera, hat and house key and was out the door descending into the darkness. The humid ocean air gently blanketed my face and the smell of salt and sand awakened me. The sound of birds, wind and waves reminded me of where I was. On a thin sandy stretch of land that would give me sunrise and sunset all within a five-minute walk.
To the west laid the shoreline of the Currituck Sound, an impressive habitat for waterfowl who migrate here every winter and return north in the spring. To the east awaited the sandy shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean with its powerful waves evolving and changing the landscape of the Outer Banks every single day. All in all, the 130 miles of barrier islands that form the Outer Banks is covered in endless sand, water and beach as far as the eye can see. It is quite a unique place.
I walked the short distance to the beach under the moonlight sky. When I looked up, I could see thousands of stars sparkling making me smile. My heart fluttered with excitement and anticipation. I was finally going to watch the sunrise! Unfortunately it is not very often I wake up to see the sunrise and it is even less often that I see it over the ocean. The memory of the last sunrise I saw months ago at the top of a mountain in the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica brings me joy and gratitude. I knew that I was in for a special gift.
When I reached the steep sandy incline to the beach, I could hear the thunder of waves crashing against the shore and the cry of the sea gulls. I climbed up the slippery slope of sand and arrived on top with an extraordinary view of the shore. The beach was endless and I could see for miles upon miles. There was not a soul on it except for me.
It was still pretty dark and I could have come a bit later but then I would have missed the pure pleasure of watching the sunrise, minute by minute, and all the changes in color and light it brings. I walked a bit along the beach until I found the perfect spot to stand and be still. I got out my camera and waited.
Slowly I saw the first flicker of color paint the sky pink, followed by oranges, purples and reds. I couldn’t stop staring at how extraordinary it was to be their witnessing something so incredibly serene. It was magical. If only I could wake up every single day and watch the sun rise. It is one of the greatest gifts Mother Nature gives us. A sense of renewal and hope in each new day.
As the sun rose, I could not believe my good fortune at having the entire sunrise all to myself. Surely the fishermen would be out soon as would the dog walkers and retired souls who populated the vacation homes along the beach. However, for the next half an hour, I was all alone and the solitary feeling of being there was miraculous.
I thought about all the history that passed through this long stretch of land over the centuries. The first attempted English settlement landed ashore Roanoke Island thirty years before the Pilgrims in July 1587. The Spaniards followed leaving a legacy of wild Spanish Mustangs that still live freely in the Outer Banks today. The large number of shipwrecks that these dangerous waters have brought ashore over the centuries giving the Outer Banks the nickname the “Graveyard of the Atlantic”. The resulting pirates that came and went leaving their legends and lore, giving villages such names as Nags’ Head as a constant reminder of its past. The first flight by the Wright Brothers at Kill Devils Hill near Kitty Hawk in 1903.
An awful lot of history has swept through the Outer Banks just like the changing tides and the wind that round and evolve the shoreline. I was in for a fascinating few days in the Outer Banks. I could hardly wait.