National Geographic : 1955 Oct
October Holiday on the Outer Banks 501 Legends of Shipwrecked Galleons, Pirate Lairs, and the Lost Colony Enliven North Carolina's Wind-swept Island Playground BY NIKE ANDERSON With Illustrations by National Geographic Photographer J. Baylor Roberts T HE North Carolina coast has a siren quality. Rosy conch shells and galaxies of starfish stud the sandy white beaches. Oranges ripen in November on wild Cape Hatteras, and camellias redden from October to April beside the fisherman's cottage. Por poises frolic offshore, and the exciting silver blue of sailfish flashes in the warm Gulf Stream. But the cool Atlantic, which must share these shores with the Gulf Stream, harbors a violent resentment of this invader and its care free ways. Off Hatteras battle is joined. Spray shoots into the air; sand bars and shoals shift treach erously. Storms born of the conflict have left many a schooner-and many a steamer-rot ting on the beaches from Currituck to Cape Fear (page 503). Witness to these struggles is a slender finger of sand that stretches in curving sweep for 320 miles between the North Carolina main land and the Atlantic. Along this wind-blown strip, called the Outer Banks, history has paraded some of its most romantic, its most mysterious, figures.* Vacation Trip Gets Sidetracked My husband Glenn and I came to these strange and beautiful beaches by accident, simply because we wished to drive along the sea as far as possible on our way south. We had come down the Potomac from Washing ton by steamer one October night. Awakened in the chilly Chesapeake before dawn by the steamer's stentorian foghorn, we were shortly deposited on the Norfolk dock. In the mood for a holiday, we sped southward, thinking of Savannah and St. Augustine. Somehow we never got beyond the Banks. After Norfolk and Portsmouth, the little towns with fanlighted doorways and brick walled gardens of boxwood, their streets lined with crape myrtle trees that touch the second story windows, appeared farther apart. We skirted, briefly, the Dismal Swamp, where lob lolly and pond pines, bayberry bushes, and dense growths of gallberry gave more than a suggestion of deer, otter, and water moccasin.t After the swamp, harvested fields stretched on either side. The sandy soil of eastern North Carolina looked anemic to eyes accus tomed to Virginia's robust red clay. Some times the fields were politely plowed around a little cluster of gravestones huddled in the grass behind iron fences, or around a stone chimney standing like a drained wine bottle, reminiscent of the hospitality that had been. Three-mile Jump to the Banks Then we crossed the three-mile Wright Me morial Bridge spanning Currituck Sound and found ourselves for the first time on the Outer Banks. So far as climate was concerned, those three miles might have been many more. Spanish moss began to festoon the trees: tall hollies, and live oaks bent nearly double by the sea winds. Big fig bushes and even a few palmettos sprouted in the sandy yards of scattered houses. Yet we had come only 90 miles from Nor folk (map, page 507). Beyond the slight hummocks of sand, crested with coarse grass, the Atlantic was an angry azure. The months of the hurricanes were not yet over. Beaches were almost as bare as the day the first colonists came; the last bright umbrella was folded, the shutters bolted against the savage storms which sweep off Hatteras, the "Graveyard of the Atlantic." North of Nags Head, sand dunes had begun to rise to our right, golden and sparse of leaf or blade. The Dunes of Dare some people call them, in memory of Virginia Dare, first English child born in the New World. "The early colonists must have thought this country wild and strange, after the crowds of London and the neat little English vil lages," I thought aloud. "Wonder what really happened to the Lost Colony." "So do the historians; they've been ponder * See "Exploring America's Great Sand Barrier Reef," by Capt. Eugene R. Guild, NATIONAL GEO GRAPHIC MAGAZINE, September, 1947. t See "Dismal Swamp in Legend and History," by John Francis Ariza, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGA ZINE, July, 1932.