Lighting up the night

Our second full day on the Outer Banks was filled with lighthouse visits, a ferry ride to and from Ocracoke Island, a stop at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum and a visit to Jennette’s Pier at Nags Head.

In other words, it was an absolutely wonderful day around the water.

From the time we arrived on Ocracoke Island Wednesday morning until we returned to Kill Devil Hills that night, we visited three of the four lighthouses that lured me to coastal North Carolina.

Actually, it was one lighthouse that lured me — Cape Hatteras. The other three lights on the Outer Banks were simply bonuses.

Cape Hatteras is the tallest lighthouse in the world, and the one that lured me to visit the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest brick lighthouse in the world at 198.5 feet. It’s the equivalent of a 21-story building, and is open during the summer months for people to climb to the top for a mere $7 fee. With my fear of heights, I wouldn’t have even attempted to climb the structure even if it were open the day we were there. The winding staircases are made of slated steel steps, allowing people to look straight down to the cement floor at the base.

While the actual conical structure was closed, we visited the museum and took in a short movie about the climb to the top. We missed out on the movie of the light station’s historic 2,900-foot move in 1999, which was done to save the buildings and lighthouse from an eroding shoreline.

While Hatteras is the tallest lighthouse, the Ocracoke Lighthouse is North Carolina’s oldest operating light. It was built in 1823, about 47 years before Hatteras was completed. Not open to the public for climbing, the lighthouse grounds were rather quiet when we were there — the only one around was a very friendly, large tabby cat.

The Ocracoke Island Lighthouse is located in the village of Ocracoke, on the south end of a 12-mile-long island. The island is accessible only by ferry. We took the free ferry from Hatteras Island to reach the lighthouse.

Just getting to the island was an interesting experience. Hatteras Island provides a continuous free ferry to Ocracoke. Unfortunately, I was the first in line when we reached the ferry dock. I say this only because I’ve never driven a car onto a ferry before, and it’s not exactly a very comforting feeling when the guides make you drive right up to the opposite edge of the watercraft and then place blocks in front of your front tires, just so your car doesn’t roll off and nose-dive into the water.

Needless to say, I stayed in the car — with my seatbelt on — during our ferry journey.

When we returned to Hatteras Island, we took in the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum (it houses the original Fresnel lens from the Hatteras Light) and had lunch at a local hangout, where fresh fish was the dish of the day. We all wanted to try the scallop cake, but it was such a popular choice they only had one meal left. We let Mom have it, since she was the first to decide on the daily special, and Dad and I ordered the shrimp —yum, yum.

Driving back toward Nags Head, we made one final lighthouse visit for the day, the Bodie Island Light. We’d actually stopped in on our way to Ocracoke Island that morning, but we were there an hour before the museum and gift shop opened.

Bodie Island Lighthouse in the midst of renovation.

The late-day stop offered just the right sun angle for me to get some excellent photos of this lighthouse that is currently undergoing renovations. This light, built in 1872, still has its original, first-order Fresnel lens.

On Thursday, we traveled north to Corolla for the Banker horse adventure tour and visited the Currituck Beach Lighthouse. This lighthouse was open for climbing, also for a $7 fee, but just looking up the winding staircase was dizzying for me.

Currituck Beach Lighthouse on the northern Outer Banks at Corolla. At 162 feet high, there are 214 steps to reach the top. It’s open for climbing, but my fear of heights kept me grounded.

The keeper’s quarters on the ground is still in the process of being fully restored after it was left to the elements for decades. Another, smaller keeper‘s quarters serves as home to a gift shop filled with lighthouse-related items. (In other words, my favorite kind of store!)

The Currituck Beach Light first shone on Dec. 1, 1875. Unlike the other three lighthouses on the Outer Banks, which feature white or white and black exteriors, the Currituck Beach Light was never painted. Its light was automated in 1937.

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