Friday, January 26, 2018

January Beach of the Month: Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Last year, Mr. UR came up with the brilliant idea of visiting one beach per month in 2018. We don't have the budget to fly to a different Caribbean island each month - nor the time. So we're trying to work it into our schedule without spending big bucks. So I bring to you our first Beach of the Month of the year: Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Mr. UR works in both of the Carolinas. He travels both states and visits clients that can be close to home - and the furthest away is about 8 hours drive time. Every other year, or so, he visits those clients who are the furthest away and hence, he is gone over the weekend. I try to travel with him so we can have a weekend away. (Note that this is done on our dime and not the company's) We've gone to the Outer Banks - the barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina - a few times and decided to go again in January.
We ran into a little hiccup on our way there - 9 inches of snow! My first time ever at the beach wearing snow boots!

Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Cape Hatteras is a national seashore that stretches  70 miles from Bodie Island Lighthouse to Ocracoke Island and is managed by the National Park Service. Often hailed as one of the 10 most beautiful drives in the US, Cape Hatteras is windswept desolation at it's best. If you drive this national seashore, you won't be cruising along with water on both sides of the road. It's dunes, and sand, and more sand. Large dunes that block the view of the water. And wind. And driving on the beach. (You must get a permit from the National Park Service and have either all wheel or 4 x4) Which we did. I love it here. In fact, it's one of my favorite places I've been. In full disclosure I'll say that the last few times I've been here have been off season. January and February. No crowds. No traffic. And not much open. I'm ok with that though - in fact, I prefer it this way. But be aware that if you visit in summer there will most definitely be crowds, traffic and long waits at restaurants. It's a very popular destination.

Bodie Island Lighthouse
Bodie Island Lighthouse (pronounced Body) is at the northern end of Cape Hatteras National Seashore. About seven miles south of the town of Nags Head, the lighthouse can be climbed from April through October for a fee. It's the third lighthouse located at this spot - and there was no road access until 1920 so all supplies had to be brought in by boat. The original lighthouse keepers duplex is part museum, gift shop and national park service visitor center. We stayed close by in Nags Head our first night and we went here to get our Off Road Vehicle permit and stayed to see the sunset. There is a viewing platform behind the lighthouse where you can also see the birds from Pea Island Wildlife Refuge. Grounds are open 24/7 but the Lighthouse Keepers Quarters are open from 9-5.

Buxton, North Carolina
Buxton is a quiet fishing village about 20 miles from the ferry to Ocracoke Island.
We've stayed here before - and chose Buxton this time around again for our second night. It's the largest town on Hatteras Island and is home to the high school for the area, several restaurants, the Buxton Woods Coastal Reserve and Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. There were only two restaurants open for dinner when we visited - Angelo's Pizzeria and Diamond Shoals, known for it's award winning chowder. We chose Diamond Shoals for our Saturday night dinner - and so did most of the town. People kept pouring in to eat at this third generation Hatteras Island resident's restaurant. It didn't disappoint.

The Beach
Cape Hatteras National Seashore's beaches are free to visit. If you get a map at the visitor center, you'll see that there are several parking areas for beach goers. But some are across from the beach and you may have to climb a path up and over a dune carrying all your things. So the National Park Service allows for an ORV - Off Road Vehicle - pass so that you may drive your all wheel drive or 4 x 4 vehicle right on the beach to your spot. There is a fee and a few rules. We bought a pass this time and the Mr. drove on the beach - something he's wanted to do for quite some time. It was fun but not gonna lie - a little nerve wracking thinking we could get stuck.

The beaches themselves are wide - and I think - beautiful. There are beaches located on Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands but know that you can only reach Ocracoke Island by ferry - or your own personal boat.

Lighthouse View Inn
We spent our beach time right outside our lodging at Lighthouse View Inn. Built in the traditional Outer Banks style - natural cedar shingle - we stayed in the hotel portion of the inn. (You can rent condos and cottages also) Our room was directly oceanfront with a queen bed, full bath, table and chairs, tv and microwave/mini fridge. Each room has it's own little patio (or balcony) with adirondack chairs and a clothesline. There are charcoal style grills on the property, also, along with an outdoor pool and hot tub - which isn't open in the winter. Located in Buxton, you can walk across the street to Fatty's for breakfast or lunch, laze your days away on the beach or your patio, visit Cape Hatteras Lighthouse or Buxton Woods Coastal Reserve. This is an older property but is well kept and was easy on the budget. I really liked it and would stay here again.

Have to get a Duck Donut when in the Outer Banks! Just have to!

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is located in the town of Buxton, and run by the National Park Service. Known for it's diagonal black and white stripes, Cape Hatteras is probably the best known of the Outer Banks lighthouses.Off the coast of Cape Hatteras are the Diamond Shoals - a cluster of shifting, underwater sandbars which made Hatteras one of the most dangerous areas for ships. Nicknamed the "Graveyard of the Atlantic", there have been some 600 shipwrecks off the coast here. The lighthouse also was famously, and controversially, moved further inland in 1999.(There is a movie that you can watch at the museum about the lighthouse moving) You can climb the lighthouse from April through October for a small fee - and you can also visit the Museum of the Sea in the lighthouse keeper's cottage. We stopped for a quick look-see on our way out of town.

Something cool they've done is take the original base of the lighthouse, carve the lighthouse keeper's names into the stone and make them into an amphitheater

Ocracoke Island
Ocracoke Island, reached only by ferry or private boat, hosts Cape Hatteras National Seashore also. You can reach the island from the Outer Banks by one hour (free - no reservations) ferry or from Cedar Island or Swan Quarter on the mainland by 2 1/2 hour ferry ($15 - reservations) We arrived from Hatteras and took a little detour until our next ferry by driving on the beach. The town of Ocracoke is quite small - most get around by golf cart or bike - but there are restaurants, bars, hotels, house and condo rentals and the Ocracoke lighthouse. I've never spent much time here as we've mainly used it to get from one ferry to another. (The drive from one ferry to another is 20 minutes)

I hope you've enjoyed my first Beach of the Month installment. I've no clue where we're headed next month- but I'm looking forward to it anyways!

How about you? Have you been to Cape Hatteras National Seashore? or the Outer Banks?

Linking up with: Wednesday Around the World at Communal Global, The Weekend Wanderlust Travel Blog Party and The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond!


Friday, January 19, 2018

Floating the Colorado River

It was a sunny July day. It wasn't too hot but the water was still quite cold. We had hooked up with Palisade River Trips to float down the Colorado River. Mr. UR and I were on a raft along with another couple and our son and his girlfriend were kayaking. All the others in our group were stand-up paddle boarding. We had put in near Palisade and were floating our way past the desert scenery to our take out spot. From there Palisade River Trips would drive us back to our vehicle. It was about a 3 hour trip and our guide, Dave, would give us some facts about the river, the area and some history along the way.

The Colorado River starts high in the Rocky Mountains of central Colorado, runs through the Grand Valley of western Colorado - where we were - and keeps flowing to the Gulf of California. The Grand Valley area is a very placid area of the river.( I'm told the part of the river to raft is in Glenwood Canyon with it's 16 miles of whitewater that is considered some of the best in the country) So our float was extremely calm. The water was refreshingly chilly - the only thing I was putting in was my feet but our son's girlfriend braved it and went swimming. 
She's pretty fearless.

On our float trip we passed the Grand Mesa - the largest flat top mountain in the world. Grand Mesa is so large that there are hundreds of lakes and ponds - 300 to be exact - above 11,000 feet at the top of it. It's quite the grand jewel of western Colorado. In the summer, the surrounding area is a hotbed of hiking,fishing, camping and mountain biking. In the winter, Grand Mesa is home to Powderhorn Ski Resort.

Our guide told us that this area was once  arid but about 100 years ago they diverted the river into an irrigation source - and now it's not only known as Colorado's Wine Country but also known as one of North America's best fruit growing regions. Have you ever heard of Palisade Peaches?

Anytime I'm on the water, I'm pretty happy. Our float trip was so enjoyable - feet up (or in the water) while we rode down the river enjoying the scenery and Dave's tales of the area. If you ever get a chance, float down the Colorado.(Or raft it in Glenwood Canyon) Maybe visit a few wineries. Eat some sun ripened fruit. I know if I get back to western Colorado, I'll definitely be floating again.

Linking up with: Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox, The Weekend Wanderlust Weekend Travel Blog PartyThe Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond and Wednesday Around The World!