Deserted Island: Shackleford Banks

At the southern end of a 200-mile string of barrier islands off the North Carolina coast known as the Outer Banks is Cape Lookout National Seashore. And at the southern end of that is an uninhabited island called Shackleford Banks. I spent the day before Thanksgiving there with my parents.

The island is only accessible by boat but there are a couple of ferry services on the mainland in Beaufort. Beaufort itself is a cool little town established in 1709. It’s rich in history and very picturesque but its biggest claim to fame (and my favorite thing about it) is the fact the Blackbeard’s ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge ran aground just off its coast in 1718. The wreck was discovered in 1996 and is the subject of an ongoing archaeological research project.

You can view artifacts from the QAR in the NC Maritime Museum in Beaufort  which happened to be right across the street from our ferry service. So while we waited for our departure time, we got to wander about the museum examining artifacts from straight pins and tiny glass beads to cannon that had been buried under the shifting shoals of Beaufort Inlet for 300 years. To me, that’s a lot of fun and I tried to read every sign in the 45 minutes we had before our boat left.

Our ferry was a flat-bottomed skiff that offered no protection from the frigid late November wind which I thought it was invigorating. My parents looked slightly less thrilled, but 15 minutes of cold wind and spray seemed a small price to pay.

Leaving Beaufort in our wake.

We were plenty warm enough once we arrived at the island and hiked the half a mile through the dunes to the ocean side.

The sound side of the island where the boat dropped us.

My parents hiking across the island.

And when we got there, it was delightfully deserted.

There were just two people on the other side when we arrived and they were just leaving to catch the boat back.

The Gulf Stream passes at it’s closest just off shore here before swinging away to the east bringing with it plenty of shells more common to shores farther south.

I haven’t picked up a Florida fighting conch (lower right) since I was a kid beachcombing in Florida.

A broken queen’s helmet, also not common this far north.

There were also plenty of shorebirds…

…and a lone shrimp boat being swarmed by gulls.

And to my delight, a bonus. To visit the Cape Lookout Lighthouse (and take a photo of it making my collection of Outer Banks lighthouses almost complete), we would have to have taken another, longer boat ride and our mini-vacation just didn’t allow time for both trips. But when I took a closer look at this photo, I realized the Cape Lookout Light is just barely visible on the horizon.

See the tiny tiny lighthouse on the horizon? I say this counts.

And even more delightful, on the walk back across the island, we got to see some of the wild horses that have lived on the island for about  400 years.

Locals say the “banker ponies” are shipwreck survivors. You can find a more detailed history here.

So I’ve added another island to my mental list of favorite places, and I’ll be going back first chance I get.

How about ya’ll? What’s one of your favorite places and why?


Once upon a time, in another life, I tried to write a poem about pelicans, and it began like this:

“Once I stood on packed sand still
dark with the receding tide on an afternoon
that couldn’t decide not to be winter,
on a barrier island named for wild horses,
at the dune-drifted, grass-whispered margin
of the Gulf of Mexico…”

After this point, the words changed and shifted like shoals every time I looked at it. It was never right. The poem hemmed and hawed and finally got around to trying to describe the birds that remind me so much of pterosaurs. Every time I see the creature, I travel back to the Cretaceous in my mind:

 “Pelicans slip the air streams
like ancient machines perfectly designed
for what they need to do, all hooked
bill and hollow bone, sailed wings sending
shadows ripping across the waves…”

Or something like that. I put the poem away, unfinished, with all my poems years ago. Now I take pictures. So here are a few photos of my favorite bird, the brown pelican. I think they have inspired me to try to finish the poem. (Maybe.)

It’s amazing how a creature that is so graceful and strong in the air, like a glimmer of prehistory reminding me of the largest flying creatures the world has ever seen, becomes kind of cute and dorky when he’s waddling around on the land.

Just for the curious: The first 3 photos were taken in Edisto Beach in SC last August and the last 2 were taken at the Outer Banks in April.

A Beachcomber Going Home

The end of a vacation is always the hardest part. I’m already thinking about everything I have to do when we get home. But I have something like a gazillion photos to play with later in Photoshop and a pile of shells to add to our collection (which is entirely too big already, but what can I do? I have to bring home shells. I’m pretty sure it’s a rule.)

So, of course, I took a picture before I packed them up.

And then I thought, people are going to want to see some of these close up. That’s our one piece of beach glass there in the middle plus the claw of an anonymous crustacean, a whelk egg case, and a vetebral bone from I-don’t-know-what because beachcombing isn’t just recreation for me, it’s a fairly serious compulsion.

And here’s our man-made stuff (i.e. artifacts, because I am convinced at least one of these items came from a shipwreck and not just from a tourist’s pocket). My partner found the quarter (obviously modern). Her sister found the crucifix and I found the coin I’m not going to identify for you. Your guess.

Time to pack the car and go turn in the keys.


One of my favorite things about the Outer Banks, what sets it apart from all the other Atlantic and Gulf coast beaches I have visited, are all the shipwrecks. Apparently opposing forces like to meet just off shore here playing havoc with mariners.  The icy water of the Labrador Current from the north crashes into the tropic water of the Gulf Stream from the south at Cape Point on Hatteras Island (about 8 miles from where I’m sitting right now), creating strong offshore winds and the shifting sand bars of Diamond Shoals, a sailor’s navigation nightmare. The North Carolina coast became known as The Graveyard of the Atlantic. Hundreds of shipwrecks have been mapped along the Outer Banks.

And the really cool thing is, you don’t even have to scuba dive to go see one. Sometimes the wrecks have washed ashore and several of these are documented by shipwreck enthusiasts. Though even one storm can change things significantly, revealing a wreck or burying a it completely, so hunting for a shipwreck on shore is an iffy enterprise.

This is a photo I took last year of a wreck known as the Flambeau Road wreck in Hatteras village. It isn’t known what ship it was, but estimates based on construction identify it as a turn-of-the-nineteenth-century cargo schooner. I was thrilled to find it. Since this seems to be a pretty reliable wreck and easy to get to, I went back to visit this year.

And this is what I found. I was so excited I circled it for an a long time snapping photos as the sun went down, a storm approached, and the tide began to creep in.

This is me (or my feet), standing on the deck of a shipwreck (or more likely, the inside of the hull, but that didn’t rhyme or have the same visual effect).

Once I decided I could stand on the wreck without hurting it (is that silly?), I got excited all over again and climbed all over it like a hundred-year-old, salt-soaked jungle gym trying to find artsy angles.

Finally, the light was getting dim and I was thoroughly chilled, so I decided to leave my lovely wreck to the tide.


As an inlander, watching the sunrise over the Atlantic is a treat. So usually the first morning after we arrive at the beach, I set an alarm and get up at dawn while everyone else is sleeping.

This year, I slept in the first couple of mornings, but yesterday my eyes blinked open at 5:30 about an hour before the sunrise. I grabbed my camera and a cup of coffee and went out to the beach to wait.

There was a wicked chill in the wind and my hands were getting numb by the time the sun made an appearance. One other person was on the beach waiting for the sunrise too, so I framed her in the photo.

When the sun finally broke free of the clouds, it was brilliant.

Behind me, the moon was still high in the west. I snapped one more photo and went in to get some hot coffee.

Island Wildlife

It’s hard to imagine what life on a barrier island like Hatteras must be like for wildlife when a hurricane can come along any year and level dunes that took years to build, wipe out a forest, even cut new channels right through the island like Irene did last year. But life abides. Especially shore birds who just need a place to rest, to nest, to roost, to feed. This place is a birder’s paradise.

I went exploring yesterday around the cape and came across this great egret and three white ibises feeding together in a marsh. Unfortunately, the grass was so high, I couldn’t get a good shot of all of them together but the egret was kind enough to give me this photo op.

And then one of the ibises hopped out of the grass so I could finally see more than his head and beak.

I went on to find a closed campground that I thought was completely abandoned until I came across a few of the locals.

I thought I was being stealthy by sneaking up on them them so slowly and carefully until I finally realized they weren’t afraid of me at all. There were four in all, two adults and two young.

This little one seemed curious but not at all afraid.


It’s day three of our retreat at the Outer Banks, and I’m celebrating by spending as much time as possible wandering up and down the shore with my camera.

If you look closely at the pincers, it looks like they’re lined with teeth. Crustacean parts are creepy.

 I am a compulsive beachcomber. One of my great joys in visiting the edge of the any big body of salty water is to pace its margins too see what the tide left on the sand.

I don’t know where the people went but it was thoughtful of them to leave this for me to photograph, don’t you think?

And sometimes, people leave behind fun stuff too. I saw several sand castles yesterday but this was the best (and most colorfully staged).

The View

Day two at the Outer Banks.

The view from the deck of our borrowed beach house.

The Outer Banks – Day One

Last week’s birthday break kind of ran into this week’s family vacation. So for the next week, Fork in My Eye will be mostly a photo-a-day blog featuring the Outer Banks of North Carolina. This one is from my first walk on the beach after we arrived last evening. Hope you enjoy the pictures.

If you look just above the fisherman, you can see the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in the distance.

(North) Carolina on My Mind

I’ve spent most of my life in the southeast U.S. and I love it. I grew up in southern Mississippi about a mile from the Gulf of Mexico, spent 2 years on the Florida west coast, and 10 years in the central Texas hill country. Those are all unique and beautiful places. But this mini photo essay is about the little piece of the South I call home now, North Carolina.

We lived in the western part of the state in the Blue Ridge Mountains for 10 years. Up there, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a national forest full of water falls, rhododendrons, black bears, abandoned mines, and hardwoods that turn fifty shades of brilliant in the fall. Now we’re living in the piedmont, about halfway between the mountains and the sea. The weather’s warmer, the land flatter, the wild flowers bloom longer, and the woods have a few more pines. And it’s just a few hours from the Outer Banks, 200 miles of largely undeveloped barrier islands that protect most of the Carolina coast from seas so treacherous that the area became known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic.

Taken from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

One of the falls visible from the Graveyard Fields trail off the parkway.

Pearson's Falls located on a botanical preserve in western NC.

The closest I ever came to meeting a bear in the woods. Some deer also passed this way.

Autumn on Falls Lake.

Surfers at Wrightsville Beach/

Hatteras Lighthouse

Nag's Head

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