It’s tough to tell which was more dramatic the morning we spent at Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head, North Carolina – the thunderstorms rolling in, the magnificent sand dunes or the beginner hang gliders experiencing their first miracle of flight.
We started by walking the half mile or so from the visitors center to the park’s famous dunes, the tallest mountains of sand on the East Coast. We’re talking a lot of sand – 30 million tons or so. According to the exhibit in the visitors center, it would take six million dump trucks to move the sand, and if the trucks were lined up they’d nearly circle the globe.
The weather was moody. Sunny, then dark and ominous, wet, then sunny again. You can see in these photos the storm moving in as the hang-gliding instructors prep their half-dozen trainees on the science of flying the colorful contraptions. (In one, Georges is crouched under the wingspan to stay dry as the skies open up briefly.)
The hardest part of learning to hang glide for me would be the patience required. There’s a lot of hurry-up-and-wait-ing. Not just for the rain to stop, but also for just the right wind to come along.
In this case, we didn’t mind the delay. We got to listen to the instructor’s prep talk a couple of times. And then, we got to see the instructor demonstrate his skill.
He made it look simple. We were so close I could almost imagine what it would feel like the moment the wind sweeps up under you and takes you aloft, like a bird catching the Gulf Stream wind current….
Also impressive was the majesty of these dunes. Their surface is flawless, smooth as freshly sifted flour.
It seemed a shame to mar them with footprints.
No worries, the park rangers assured us. Footprints disappear sometime between 20 minutes and two days, depending the winds.
Somehow, that made me feel better.
Eventually, we drove on to the Wright Brothers National Memorial. More rain, so we took a break and enjoyed a homemade curry-chicken-salad lunch in our Casita in the parking lot. The sun eventually peered out from between the clouds again, and we had a fabulous time walking the several football-field lengths of this majestic memorial.
That’s the Atlantic Ocean beyond the houses in the photo of the view from the memorial. If you you look very carefully – you’ll probably have to zoom into the photo with your fingers – you can see our Xterra and part of our Casita in the parking lot on the left side of the photo, just behind the large RV.
Amelia Earhart has always been a hero of mine, and I loved David McCullough’s 2015 book, The Wright Brothers. So I was pleased to see such an elegant presentation of their genius and accomplishment.
The best part was the stone markers where the four famous actual flights took place on Dec. 17, 1903. This is a picture from about where the plane became airborne and you can see how each successive flight that day stayed aloft a bit longer and traversed a bit further. Especially that fourth one, with Wilbur at the controls.
I walked the entire length of the flights. Here’s what each of the markers looks like.
A plaque explained how the “birth of flight” was commemorated 25 years later. It included a photo of Amelia Earhart attending the ceremony, one of the 3,000 people from 40 countries who traveled to this remote barrier island for the affair.
That photo was taken four years before Earhart would become the first woman aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, less than nine years before she would disappear at age 39 over the Pacific Ocean en route to Howland Island from Papua New Guinea.
The visitors center was closed for remodeling, but we lucked into a park ranger’s talk. His comments about the brothers, their history, their genius, their perseverance tracked pretty close to my recollection of McCullough’s book research.
It’s amazing to think that there were but a handful of witnesses that day. One of them was a 16-year-old boy, who, if he’d lived to be 70, would have seen Wilbur’s historic flight and Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. Wow.
Another was Outer Banks native John T. Daniels, who took the famous photo of the plane lifting off the ground. He reportedly was pressed into duty at the last minute and had never taken a photo before in his life.
These are pictures of the life-sized bronze sculptures by Stephen H. Smith of North Carolina depicting the day’s activities.
There is a Monument to a Century of Flight a bit further down the road. It’s also a very elegant presentation, featuring a series of tall, engraved obelisks that document the world’s significant developments relating to flight.
Sadly, I neglected to take a picture of the collection. But I did snap a photo of the obelisk that commemorates Charles Lindbergh’s first solo flight across the Atlantic.
And I snapped another of the obelisk further down that cites Earhart’s transatlantic flight. (Note the same dates in May for both historic flights.)
I do have one beef with this monument. It makes a point of noting that the Russian who first went into space and the Russian who first walked in space were each the first “in the world” to do so. Yet, Neil Armstrong, who was the first to walk on the moon, is simply labeled as having walked on the moon – there’s no reference to his having been the “first in the world” to do so.
Regardless, we enjoyed lots more during our time on the Outer Banks. We walked the beach at Oregon Inlet, drove down to Cape Hatteras and perused the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. We took the ferry to Orcracoke Island – something I just learned that my parents did some 63 years ago as newly-marrieds.
We biked around Ocracoke and attended a wonderful lecture by park ranger Leticia about the pirate Blackbeard, aka Edward Teach.
Yes, there’s so much more to do in North Carolina….
But Virginia beckons….