Horses and Dolphins and Beach…Oh My!

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This past Monday, Bill and I ventured to Harkers Island, home of the Cape Lookout Visitor Center and the ferry to Cape Lookout, part of the National Park Service National Seashore. We spoke with Al, a volunteer in the Center, gathered information, and then hiked the Southside Loop and Willow Pond Loop. Throughout the hike we focused on the salt marsh as well as the various vegetation, wetland habitats and the moving shore. We decided to return another day to take the ferry to Cape Lookout…and today was the day!

Our plan was to explore the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center first and then take the 12:15 ferry to Cape Lookout. The museum was amazing in its celebration of the area’s history and the decoy carving artists. The decoys were beautiful – as you can see – and extremely realistic.

The upper level of the museum was dedicated to what is called “Down East,” which is a collection of small towns, including but not limited to, Portsmouth, Sea Level, Stacy, and Atlantic. An interesting video explained that these towns even had their own dialectic, which is still alive, yet diminishing due to people moving into the area “from away.”

We made our way up to the tower at the top of the museum, from which we experienced a beautiful view of the outlying area. Of course it helped that today was a perfect day – a clear, cloudless, windless day! You could truly see forever!

Hopping on the 12:15 ferry we felt fortunate that there were only 16 passengers, especially after hearing that in the height of summer they transport close to 1000 people a day!

Our first stop was Shackleford Banks, an island famous for the wild Banker horses, who have lived there since the Spanish shipwrecks in the late 1500’s. The National Park Service monitors the horses and our new friend, Nate, the National Park Service Ranger explained that each horse has a DNA panel and at this point there are 118 horses on the island. He went on to relate that birth control is provided by darts that provide protection for up to 3 years! It is always a hit or miss viewing with regard to the horses, but we hit the jackpot today! It was almost as if they were waiting for us! Several ferry passengers disembarked on Shackleford Banks, but we continued to Cape Lookout – feeling really lucky that we witnessed the horses too!

There are seven lighthouses in North Carolina, with Cape Lookout being one of them. As we approached the National Seashore we got a great view of the lighthouse along with the Keeper’s Quarters and the Summer Kitchen. Due to Covid-19, the lighthouse has been closed to visitors, so we were not able to climb the 207-step edifice!

Bill and I had packed a lunch so we walked from the inlet side to the Atlantic Ocean side, sat on the sand and dined. We truly could not have asked for a more ideal day! After lunch we walked to the lighthouse and the outbuildings and all of a sudden we see people at the top of the lighthouse screaming, “We’re getting married!” We later discovered from Nate, our Park Ranger friend, that the couple had received a special permit to climb the lighthouse and the proposal had occurred at the top – totally surprising the now bride-to-be!

To top off a perfect day, on the ferry ride back to Harkers Island, all of a sudden the ferry captain slowed the boat and we witnessed a pod of dolphins! Of course it’s difficult to capture a photo as you never know where the dolphins will pop up – but I got a pretty good one!

We couldn’t have asked for a better day or a more exciting adventure, and to top it off, my beautiful 92-year old mother returned home after almost a month in the hospital. She’s strong and determined – will probably join a gym next week! Way to go, Peggy!

Stay Calm and Travel On…


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