HQ, Photo Bomb

What I Did on My North Carolina Trip

Emerald Island was one of our stops during our North Carolina trip
Emerald Island (at 6:00 AM)

All right, so if you take a peek at the cork globe, you won’t find a pin in North Carolina. For one, it’s a quick hop away. My husband comes from the state for two, so it wasn’t an aspiration to visit. (Why plan a vacation to a place you know well?) However, COVID has left our grand travel plans on hold.

But sticking around in the house? NOT an option.

So when my parents ventured the offer of joining them on an RV trip along the coast, I figured I could do worse. (That experience is a story for another time) And now that I spent yesterday attempting to catch up on my immediate work, you get to enjoy some of the photos from the trip. (Try to contain your enthusiasm)

North Carolina Zoo

Maybe it’s a symptom of this region of the South, but everyone raves about the Zoo in Asheboro. People seem to equate it to the San Diego or Columbus Zoos when you listen to their reviews. And despite living in the Virginia area for 18 years, I’d never ventured down there.

Being an animal fiend, I was excited about the stop. (The fact it was a predominantly outdoor activity didn’t hurt, either)

Suffice it to say, I was underwhelmed and less than impressed with the North Carolina Zoo – in every aspect.

I’ve never visited any zoo or aquarium that didn’t form a looping path. The circular navigation allows for smooth crowd control, and it keeps visitors from bottlenecking – well, everywhere. And if you’re going to throw caution to the wind and decide NOT to regulate entry numbers, it might prevent problems when you fail to prepare your usual tram system adequately.

Instead of a loop, the NC Zoo adopted a hook. A ONE-WAY hook. A one-way hook that goes up and down a series of hills. (And when you’re pushing a wheelchair, those angles get more fun) Considering it was a warm, sunny, and not overly humid Saturday, the park was crowded. TOO crowded. And the staff decided to prioritize profits over public health.

NOT better than any other zoo I’ve been to – including dozens operating on a smaller scale. But people in this area are loathe to travel. So they don’t know any better.

Bald Head Lighthouse

Getting away from massive crowds of people – the majority who’d decided masking wasn’t necessary – ranked high on my list of priorities. So I was glad our next stop featured an island.

Okay, so we needed a ferry, but I found a spot outside and away from anyone else.

And Bald Head is away from everything else. Literally.

No cars allowed.

Bald Head Lighthouse on Bald Head Island, North Carolina
“Old Baldy” Lighthouse

Walking everywhere? I could live with that. (Most people rented bikes or golf carts) It’s not like the weather wasn’t cooperating. And since we were early for the tourist season, the hordes hadn’t descended on the lovely island.

Plus, it was fun to see the variety of dogs everywhere. (Juniper wouldn’t have approved, though – most of them were little dogs)

North Carolina Aquariums

After the nightmare of humanity at the Zoo, I questioned the sanity of this whole vacation idea. Our plans included three North Carolina Aquariums, and I worried they were as lackadaisical over health as the Zoo. But we needed to reserve timed tickets for those entries, which at least promised some level of sanity.

North Carolina Aquarium: Fort Fisher

Fort Fisher kicked off the trio first thing in the morning, no less. (Vacation pro tip: Always go at opening. No one wants to get up that early, and you have the place pretty much to yourself) Not enduring a rush of humanity – and seeing the occasional mask – improved my mood considerably.

And, the “path” the building takes? It forms a loop. (Just saying)

The largest aquarium I’ve been to? Not really. (And the estimated time they give for viewing is a tad exaggerated) But worth the stop? Of course. I logged a solid 100 or so photos while there – including several my Dad (the real photographer) missed out on.

Including the stingray propping herself up. (I witnessed mantas doing that when I dived in the tank at the Georgia Aquarium)

North Carolina Aquarium: Pine Knoll Shores

Pine Knoll looked about the same size as Fort Fisher – minus a nature trail (which we skipped due to Mom’s flagging energy). And even though our tickets put us there in the afternoon, it wasn’t crowded.

And, yes, it still put us in a loop. (Nope, can’t let it go)

Yes, that river otter photo is my favorite. And it was an incidental catch. I didn’t realize I’d managed to capture it until I sat down to review my images later. (Trying to get them to hold still is impossible) I’d recorded a video on my phone, planning to scan it and get a still capture.

Sometimes dumb luck pays off!

Emerald Island

I have an abnormal amount of saltwater in my veins. And I love spending time on the beach – but not sunbathing. Listening to the waves crash, breathing the salty air, and watching breakers tumble into shore put me in my happy place.

So two days on Emerald Island, North Carolina, did plenty to recharge my batteries.

Even if getting up at 6:00 AM wasn’t really part of my reconnection to nature plan. (The RV beside us left at 4:00 AM – shouting and making as much noise as humanly possible)

Emerald Island also put an end to the perfect weather. A storm front rolled through (as I tried to put the images from Twister out of my head), dropping the temperatures a good 20 degrees. Considering the ever-present ocean breezes already kept things comfortable, that meant a distinct chill in the air.

But that’s where proper planning in packing comes in handy.

North Carolina Lighthouses

My father’s a huge fan of lighthouses. Part of his duties in the Coast Guard sent him around the country, updating the systems on the structures. (Bet you weren’t aware of how many feature LEDs now) And this trip allowed him to get photos of lighthouses he hadn’t had a chance to visit in the past.

I’m indifferent to them, but getting to see and explore the islands – away from big groups of people (not working on my computer) – proved interesting.

Cape Lookout Lighthouse

The trip out to Cape Lookout Island, North Carolina made me concerned, initially. We arrived at the ferry at the same time as a school group. Children? Germ factories? I felt my anxiety hit an all-time high.

But the kids took one ferry out, and we got the other. (Plus, they got off on Shackleford Island)

Unfortunately, I forgot to adjust the settings on my camera from indoor to outdoor. So the photos I took? Turned into white squares. If I hadn’t thought to snap a few from my phone, I wouldn’t have anything to show from the stop.

Luckily, because I positioned the dried skate I found on the beach on contrasting sand, those photos DID survive the blunder. I mean, how often do you find something like that? (I also pocketed a few additional shells for my collection. I had the beach to myself)

Ocracoke Lighthouse

Getting out to Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, was a journey: Two hours via ferry. And my father gets seasick. (He also DIDN’T bring any medication to help) However, he managed the crossing without any nausea, even if the seas were a touch bumpy.

Ocracoke Lighthouse, North Carolina
Ocracoke Lighthouse

Unfortunately, it’s possible that crossing led to a new problem with ME. I’ve never had any issues on boats – regardless of how choppy things get. And they sent us out in questionable conditions during college.

But after that day, I started falling asleep and waking up feeling as if everything was still rocking. And the vertigo has persisted – and grown worse. My research has suggested the ferry trip might have triggered the problem. (Good times)

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

One more circuitous ferry ride (courtesy of the hurricane season last year), and we landed on Hatteras. And, yes, it probably helped throw off my equilibrium since we bobbed around a bit as we navigated around the sand bars.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, North Carolina
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

I didn’t notice the shifting as much through the day, though. Probably because I was climbing around on unstable sand, to begin with. Or maybe finding the intact, dried mermaid’s purse blocked any other sensation in my brain.

Hard to say.

And, before you ask, no, I don’t have pictures from the tops of any of the lighthouses. It’s too early in the season for the parks to allow visitors to go inside. Thus, all the images from the exterior.

Roanoke Island, North Carolina

Firefly and my husband joined us for the final stretch of the vacation. This was the first time Firefly’s been in an RV, and we weren’t sure what he’d think of it. I don’t know if he loved having everyone’s attention to himself or the coziness more, but he settled right in without complaint.

Firefly in the RV on Manteo, North Carolina
Firefly: RV cat

Then we stuck around Roanoke Island (or Manteo, North Carolina). Which, of course, included the last of the North Carolina Aquariums.

Again, hitting the aquarium first thing in the morning (even on a Saturday) had its advantages. I haven’t reviewed all of my images from that day, though, so I still may have a few better captures. These are the ones that stood out when I skimmed things this morning.

After that, we went into Manteo (yes, that IS a lighthouse) and then down to Alligator River Wildlife Refuge.

Take a close peek at the first image. There IS an alligator captured there. (I didn’t grab the telephoto lens, so it’s not the best image. My apologies)

Home Again, Home Again

Was North Carolina far? Not really.

However, as I think these photos demonstrate, I still enjoyed the trip. And I DID get time away, which I needed. And maybe that’s what we need to consider these days. Finding somewhere we can get away that allows us to recharge, relax, and rejuvenate our senses – without risking health (or sanity).

And then share the highlights so someone else can gain inspiration.

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