The Outer Banks
Listen, kids, we're going on an educational vacation this year! Now, before you moan and groan, we are going to learn about pirates, and airplanes, and Indians, and ... it's at the beach!
If you've ever noticed the squiggle in the east coast of detailed US maps, you've seen the Outer Banks (OBX) of North Carolina. Take highway 64. When you see the unforgettable billboard for Dirty Dick's Crab House, slow down because you are about to hit the ocean at Nags Head. Then you have to turn left or right, but in either direction, you'll find something interesting to learn about.
A fascinating confluence of history and vacation, after the jump.
Turn south and you'll enter Cape Hatteras National Seashore, with 75 miles of seashore on each side, limited development, and protected wildlife. Ocracoke Island is the southernmost part of the national seashore, and was recently named the United States' best beach. There are no roads to Ocracoke, so you'll have to get there by ferry or private plane.
Edward Teach, also known as Blackbeard the Pirate, used Ocrakoke Island as his northern headquarters during his heyday in the 18th century. He died there in 1718.
The Outer Banks area is known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic, due to a high density of shipwrecks. The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras is both a walk-in and online resource about shipwrecks.
The current 220-foot Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was built in 1871 to guide ships around Diamond Shoals. By the 1990s, the encroaching sea threatened the undermine the lighthouse, so in 1999 it was moved, inch by inch, to a location 2,870 feet inland.
Just a couple of miles north of Nags Head is Kitty Hawk, which became famous as the place from which Orville Wright telegraphed the news of the first airplane flight in 1903. Orville and his brother Wilbur had moved to the Outer Banks for their flight experiments due to the constant winds and the soft landing surface. The actual flight took place in Kill Devil Hills, just a couple more miles north. The Wright Brothers National Memorial is open year round. You can see the actual path of the first flight (which is shorter than a modern airliner), and visit the huge memorial on the hill. On a side note, wireless telegraphy originated in the Outer Banks only a couple of years earlier.
Those famous prevailing winds at Kitty Hawk are still in use! The area is home to Kitty Hawk Kites, the world's largest hang-gliding school.
Roanoke Island is just west of the barrier islands. This is where Sir Walter Raleigh financed a colony of settlers in 1585. After three years with no supplies from England, the site was found completely deserted with no clue as to what happened to the settlers. The prevailing theory is that they split up and were absorbed by local Native American tribes. Personally, I think the mosquitos did them in. If DEET were available in the 16th century, history might have been different. The story is still told in the play The Lost Colony at Manteo.