Hatteras: more than a line on a map

Black and white spiraling stripes mark Hatteras Light in the setting sun
For the weeks leading up to the trip, I would tell people I was going to Hatteras. When I got there, I wasn’t even near it.

The islands don’t look like much on a map, and in many places, they’re not — barely wider than the two-lane road known as Route 12. But it’s a long piece of pavement from one end to the other.

I crossed onto the Outer Banks at Manteo. Milepost 18, I think. Maybe 16. Milepost 1, at the northern end, is near Kill Devil Hill, where the Wright Brothers made their first controlled flight of a powered aircraft. Somewhere around Milepost 36, I found the cottage where I would stay a few days with friends.

One afternoon found us waiting for the free ferry, at Milepost 71, a short distance past Hatteras Lighthouse. It’s the only way to get to Ocracoke Island, the next island to the south.

Ocracoke isn’t much — about 12 miles of pavement from the ferry to the village bisect the dunes separating the Atlantic Ocean from itself. We ate shrimp — .25 each, 3-5 p.m., minimum order 25 — in a small bar and restaurant reminiscent of the some tiki bars in the Caribbean Islands. I had a bottle (no draught beer available) of Mother Earth Dark Cloud beer, a slightly sweet lager from a North Carolina microbrewery.

Hatteras Light get’s all the publicity. Publicity for the area calls it America’s Lighthouse, and at 208 feet it is the tallest of the five lights — Currituck Beach, Roanoke Marshes, Bodie (pronounced “body”) Island, Cape Hatteras and Ocracoke — warning mariners off the shallow shifting sands of the Outer Banks.

About 14 miles east of Hatteras Light are the Diamond Shoals, shallow water where two currents come together. Many a ship succumbed to the Shoals before the lighthouse was built on the seaward side of the lower portion of Hatteras Island.

The lighthouse itself was in danger of succumbing to the incessant waves of the Atlantic Ocean so, in 1999 the tallest brick lighthouse on the East Coast was moved a few hundred yards away from the danger. A stone ring on the sand marks the original location.

I got some nice shots of Hatteras Lighthouse at sunset, and a picture of a red-light cloud formation that looked — I kid you not — as though it was a shadow of a spaceship from the movie “Independence Day.”

All in all, not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

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