A Winter On The Crystal Coast

Oceana Pier On Atlantic Beach, NC

Winter On The Outer Banks

Along The Crystal Coast

We arrived at Cape Lookout National Seashore in early November 2017. This would be our home for almost 5 months while we volunteered as Visitor Center docents for the National Park Service. The main Visitor Center is located on Harkers Island, North Carolina and the National Seashore  protects the southernmost islands of the Outer Banks: North and South Core Banks and Shakleford Banks. The  iconic landmark for the Cape Lookout is its black and white diamond painted lighthouse. The seashore is also well known as a shellers haven and for the wild horses that live on Shackleford Banks. This part of the North Carolina coast is called the Crystal Coast because of the beautiful beaches, ocean access and numerous bays and rivers. East of the town of Beaufort to Cedar Island (where you catch the state ferry to Ocracoke Island) is referred to as “Down East” with a unique culture and way of speaking due to being isolated well into the 20th century. We don’t have space enough to detail all that we did here but we hope there is enough so you’ll come visit yourself.

Cape Lookout Lighthouse And Assistant Keepers Quarters

A lot of people ask “Why do you want to go to the beach in the winter?” Our reply is because everyone else doesn’t! The pristine beaches you can walk for miles and rarely see anyone else, after a storm the shells are washed up and ready for the taking and in town you can walk in to a restaurant or find free parking without the hassle. One other reason: Steve hates heat and humidity so he’d never go in the summer! I lived in North Carolina for 20 years and had gone to the northern Outer Banks but never to this area. I couldn’t believe what I’d missed!

CALO Visitor Center In Beaufort

 

Oil Shed And Summer Kitchen Near Lighthouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we started work as volunteers both the Harkers Island and Beaufort Visitor Centers were open so we had days at both. The Beaufort VC is located in the old post office building with some city offices. The building was a WPA (Works Progress Administration) project in 1937 during the Great Depression. In the lobby are four murals painted by Russian born artist Simca Simikovich representing life and history of this sea oriented area. One shows range markers used to guide ships into Beaufort harbor. Because of the shifting shoals and sandbars Cape Lookout and the Outer Banks were called “The Graveyard of the Atlantic”.

Mailboat Mural

Another mural shows a mailboat headed for Cape Lookout lighthouse. Due to rivers, bays and marshes the Down East area had no roads or bridges until the 1940s so all transportation and commerce came and went by boat. The mailboat was the link between the isolated communities and town.

Live Decoy Geese Mural

A third mural shows geese that were raised from eggs by the Ca’e Bankers of Portsmouth Village on North Core Banks. They imprinted on the villagers and stayed. The birds were used as live decoys to bring in migrating wild geese for hunters.

Shackleford Ponies Mural

Of course there is one of the Shackleford ponies. At an average of 44-48″ at the withers they are between pony and horse so both terms are used. DNA tests link these horses to Spanish horses but no one knows just how they got here.

The last mural depicts the famous wreck of the Chrissie Wright. It is placed over a doorway. When this ship foundered on the shoals  off Shackleford Island during a winter storm all but one of the crew froze to death while islanders watched helplessly from shore. This tragedy led to the establishment of a lifesaving station on Cape Lookout two years later. Even today locals will refer to a cold stormy day as a “Chrissie Wright Day”.

Chrissie Wright Mural

The town of Beaufort was the third town established in North Carolina and dates to 1713. History abounds all through the area and we took full advantage of learning as much as we could from tours, special events and lectures. 2018 is the 300th anniversary of Blackbeard’s capture and the sinking of his ship, The Queen Anne’s Revenge, nearby. One of the most interesting locations was the Ann Street Cemetery. If you love old cemeteries this is one you need to see. The self guided tour brochure details many stories from the unmarked graves of settlers killed in the Tuscaroran War in the early 1700s to the little girl buried in a cask of rum when she died at sea to area privateer turned statesman Ottway Burns.

Chari At The Veterans Day Parade

Shortly after we arrived Cape Lookout was represented in the Morehead City Veterans Day parade. So we rode in one of the NPS boats and showered the kids with candy. We learned that because of the area being home to several military bases this parade is one of the longest in the country. We also did the Down East Christmas parade and served as Santa’s sleigh!

Have You Been Naughty Or Nice?

Another holiday event was the Beaufort Candlelight Home Tour through private homes and buildings in the historic district. The Beaufort office was open that night. We worked a few hours and also had time to tour. On Christmas Eve we attended services at the Ann Street Methodist Church built in the 1750s and still in use.

 

Christmas On Harkers Island

 

 

Crab Trap Christmas Tree At Core Sound Museum

We enjoyed touring Harkers Island to see the holiday lights. Several of the homes displayed the area’s symbolic anchor outlined in lights. We decorated the interior of our Visitor Center and strung lights on the anchor from the Olive Thurlow, a shipwreck near cape Lookout, that greets visitors to the Harkers Island location. The Cape Lookout lighthouse is normally open for climbing mid May to mid September. So we were very excited when a New Years Day climb was scheduled and we were to be working. In preparation, we learned the history of the lighthouse, interpretive points and climbed it – all 207 steps! The view is fantastic! Unfortunately Mother Nature didn’t cooperate and the climb was cancelled.

Hackers Island Visitors Center

 

View From The Top Of The Cape Lookout Lighthouse

For Thanksgiving we took a harbor cruise aboard The Crystal Lady around Beaufort Harbor and had Thanksgiving dinner. A great way to spend the holiday when you are in a new area. A special holiday celebration was our trip to New Bern, NC to take the city tram tour and visit Tryon Palace. We highly recommend the tram tour. Our guide was excellent and gave us insight into this historical city. It is said that houses have moved more in this city than anywhere else as the city expanded and developed. As we observed several times when the guide would say “This house used to be over there.”  One house has been moved 5 times! The original Tryon Palace burned down and the current structure is a replica built from the original plans. New Bern was the capitol of the colony of North Carolina and Tryon Palace served as the Governor’s palace. Each December for two weekends they hold a candlelight tour of the palace with living history skits done in several locations. Outside on the grounds are tents with period entertainment and in front of the palace black Americans perform the traditional song and dance of enslaved people called Jonkonnu.

Thanksgiving Day Dinner Cruise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tryon Palace Living History Dancers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jonkonnu Singer

 

 

 

Jonkonnu Dancers

 

 

 

 

 

 

Performer Signora Bella Does A Comedy Juggling Routine

During the winter the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort holds monthly lectures on Wednesdays. Since we were off the lectures became a highlight of our time here. We attended four lectures on topics from Native people of the area and the Tuscaroran War, whaling on Shackleford Island, the story behind the sperm whale skeleton and heart on display at the museum and Churchill’s Pirates (a British fleet sent to the USA to patrol the Outer Banks against German U-boats). There are three NC Maritime Museums but the Beaufort location is the largest. It houses displays and relics from the Queen Anne’s Revenge, about the Civil Air Patrol in WWII, the Menhaden fishing industry and sea chanteys, and boating/recreation in the area.  After the lecture about the sperm whale Steve and I got to hold the plastinated heart which weighed in at 55 lbs. This museum is a must see if you visit.

That’s A Whale Of A Heart!

Speaking of must see brings us to another wonderful museum, the Core Sound Waterfowl and Culture Museum. The museum is dedicated to preserving the history and folkways of the Down East communities. The Core Sound is the body of water between the mainland and the Outer Banks. Each November the CSM and the Decoy Carvers Guild sponsor the Core Sound Decoy Festival. Thousands of folks attend. We worked one day at a NPS table with a kids fishing activity and one day in the VC but we did have time to see the festival for a few hours. I never realized there were so many types of decoys! Decoy carving is still active and the best carvers are true artists. The second floor of the museum is dedicated to telling the story of the independent and hardworking people who lived on the islands and mainland Down East communities. They were a self reliant, closely knit and religious people whose way of life is but a memory. Don’t miss this either.

Jellyfish Dancing

The Aquarium Dive Show

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other great places to visit are the North Carolina Aquarium in Pine Knolls Shores and Fort Macon State Park. Fort Macon has a wonderful beach area and provided a place for us to go when the ferries weren’t running. The Fort itself has a lengthy history from the mid 1800s thru WWII. Rooms are set up with interactive audio and displays of the various historical periods. The Pine Knolls Shores Aquarium features fish and reptiles of the NC coast. It is one of three NC aquariums. Both Fort Macon and the Aquarium have extensive programing so be sure to check the website before your visit.

Fort Macon

We’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about the great restaurants in the area. Seafood lovers rejoice! Not only in the restaurants but we found fish markets galore. We ate our fill and then some of red and black drum, sea trout, shrimp, scallops and oysters. However once in a while we took a break and pigged out at Grumpy’s in Morehead City. Known for the in house cured corned beef, we highly recommend the corned beef hash and reuben sandwiches. Another seafood break spot was the Seaside restaurant at the Citgo station on Harkers Island for the best fried chicken. We toured areas up to two hours away. When we went to Kinston, NC to see a Civil War era ironclad we also dined at The Farmer and The Chef of Food Network fame. A higher class restaurant than we normally frequent, it was a superb meal. Another trip took us south to see Moore’s Creek National Battlefield. They were renovating the Visitor Center and we had postponed the trip hoping it would reopen before we left. That didn’t happen but we did walk the trail and read interpretive signs. That gave us an appetite (doesn’t everything?). We looked on the GPS and picked a spot called Something Fishy just based on its name. When we walked in we saw Guy Fieri’s poster on the wall. This was a DDD spot he’d been too just 3 weeks prior. The evening I am writing this blog we saw the episode including Something Fishy. Let’s just say we never had a bad meal!

Dinner At The Farmer And The Chef

Moore’s Creek National Battlefield

January and February are the slow months for the national seashore and we worked 2-3 days a week. This, according to locals, was the coldest winter they had had in 30 years. We had not one but two snowstorms albeit not more than four inches of snow. However for this area that was a lot and we got “snow days” off from work. There were several days when winds would be too high and the ferries to the islands wouldn’t run. On the days they did run we took advantage and enjoyed combing the beach without crowds. A home school group came and the equine biologist did her Horse Sense tour for them to Shackleford Island. Did we want to go along and take photos for the park? How fast do you think we said yes? Dr. Sue is so informative and gave a great tour. This tour is given monthly in the summer and fall. We highly recommend it. You need to sign up for it as space is limited. During our workdays Steve and I enjoyed doing research and read extensively. We were able to develop some outlines for Shade Shelter talks to be given by staff during the summer. Topics we learned about were the history of lighthouses, types of sailing ships, WWII along the Outer Banks, the Menhaden fisheries, the Winter of 1918 when Core Sound froze over and stories of Down East plus a great book called The Paper Canoe.

The Welcoming Committee

Banker Horse

Snow At The Seashore

That’s Not Sand!

When we arrived five months seemed a long time but oh, it went so quickly. We had a wonderful time and best of all the staff said we were welcome back anytime. OK, twist our arms! We take with us wonderful memories! So long Cape Lookout! So long Crystal Coast!

Worth Getting up Early To See

Steve At The Top Of Cape Lookout Lighthouse

South Core Banks Pier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave Only Footprints

 

What’ s So Hot About Hot Springs?

Hot Springs NP, Arkansas

The View From Bathhouse Row

Before we wind up falling further behind in posting than we already are, here’s a post on our time in Hot Springs. Arkansas from January-March 2017. Our first visit to this area was in 2010 before we were full time RVers. Still dazzled by the splendor of the western parks we were very unimpressed with Hot Springs and left wondering why this was a National Park. A National Historic Site or even a Monument but a National Park? We are so glad that we had the opportunity to return, spend time and learn about both the national park and the city. We really had missed the boat the first time around! So if you come here be sure and take the time to do tours and come prepared to learn. Both the park and the city have lots to offer but you can’t do it by whizzing through in a day or less. It is like an iceberg. There’s what you see above the water but when you start looking deeper there’s more and more.

A Tub In The Fordyce

Fordyce Music Room

The Quapaw Bathhouse

Us At Work In The Fordyce

 

 

Chari’s Reflection In The Hale Bathhouse Window

 

 

Monument To The First NPS Ranger Killed On Duty

 

We were working at the Fordyce Bathhouse Visitor Center, the museum and information center for Hot Springs National Park on Central Avenue in the historic district. There are 8 remaining bathhouses along what is known as Bathhouse Row in the national park and 6 of them are open to the public: the Fordyce visitor center, the Lamar gift shop and the Ozark art museum for the park, 2 operating bathhouses (the Buckstaff and the Quapaw) and the Superior microbrewery. So here’s some of what we learned and shared during our tours.

The Buckstaff, The Lamar and The Former Army-Navy Hospital (now ACTI)

Hot Springs National Park is the smallest of the 59 National Parks and the only one with a city completely within its borders. The geology of the hot springs is special because it is one of only 2 in North America not heated by volcanic activity. The rainwater takes 4,400 yrs. to travel over a mile and a half into the earth reaching 150 degrees but returns to the surface in about a year thus retaining its heat (139-143 degrees). So when you drink from the springs you are drinking water that fell as rain at the time the Egyptians were building the pyramids! That’s another big difference. Most national parks warn you to not take anything while Hot Springs NP encourages you to drink the water and take some with you by having drinking and jug fountains all around. In fact the original legislation protecting the hot springs states that the water will forever be free to the people.

Historic Hot Springs, Arkansas

 

It Is Always Spring Time In Hot Springs

 

Filling Up At The Jug Fountain

 

The Stevens Fountain

Old Hot Springs Artwork At The Ozark

The springs yield, on average, 700,000 gallons per day. Of that the park collects and distributes about 250,000 gallons. People come from hours away to fill pickup trucks full of bottles with the mineral rich water. Don’t want to drink hot water? There are two cold springs from another source as well. However, don’t expect to dip in the springs outside. They’ve been covered up for over a century to protect them from man-made and natural contamination. We occasionally had the opportunity to assist the water technicians as they tested the springs each week. The park contains the oldest land in the world ever set aside by a government to protect a natural resource. That was in 1832. If they had named it a national park back then, Hot Springs rather than Yellowstone would have been our first national park. Instead it was called Hot Springs Reservation and did not come under the NPS until 1921 as the 18th national park.

Volunteers Help With Water Testing

Recording Water Quality Data

So what is a bathhouse? In the days before modern medicine (post WWII) as we know it, people had few medications and surgery was very risky. So they depended upon the curative properties of heat, light, water, exercise and later electricity. The bathhouses were the rehabilitation facilities of the day. We told visitors that coming to Hot Springs was coming to the Mayo Clinic on one side of the street (Bathhouse Row) and Las Vegas before Las Vegas existed in the city. Hot Springs was also the primary spring training area for major league baseball before it relocated to Florida. Other sports stars like Jack Dempsey trained here. Babe Ruth hit his longest home run here (over 500′). Follow the signs on the Baseball trail to learn more.The museum is filled with interesting old equipment.The Fordyce featured the best appointed gym in Arkansas when it opened in 1915. A few items like the Hubbard tank from the 30s and the Hoyer lift from the 50s I used during my career as a physical therapist. Well, not those models but a generation later. Once again I’m seeing my life in a museum! Make sure to take the guided tour and hear some stories. When that’s done, take a hike or drive and check out the view from the observation tower. Steve was reading in preparation for our next volunteer job about some of the ways Lewis and Clark handled medical issues using Indian sweat lodges and alternate heat and cold. Equipment may change but principles stay the same.

Fordyce Gym

Indian Clubs

The Hubbard Tank Room

Chari and Steve Hiking On Hot Springs Mountain

The city is just as interesting. Gambling, bootlegging and other carnal activities were the main business. While never legal it flourished d/t payoffs to police and government official until the mid 1960s. When Winthrop Rockefeller was elected he vowed to clean up corruption and gambling. He did. Learn more at the Ganster Museum. We enjoyed the tour there and as you can see hammed it up a bit with some pics. At the same time the golden age of the bathhouse was declining. Hot Springs fell on hard times. In the late 1980s the NPS remodeled the Fordyce Bathhouse into the Visitor Center and repurposed others. This was no small task. Today you can visit the Fordyce and see the most opulent of bathhouses restored to its former beauty. Don’t miss the beautiful stained glass on three of the four floors or ride the original elevator car. Only the Buckstaff never closed its doors. Today you can experience treatment as if it were one hundred years ago at the Buckstaff or enjoy the mineral rich spring water at the Quapaw Baths spa pools. We did both and came out feeling like a piece of cooked spaghetti each time! I (Steve) had a bad cold and went to the Quapaw. Almost immediately I could feel the congestion in my chest lessening. I do believe soaking in the water cut the length of my cold in half. 

Make My Day! Steve At The Gangster Museum

This Lady Is Serious!

 

Stained Glass In The Fordyce Women’s Bath Hall

Skylight In The Music Room

Neptune’s Daughter

The architecture of the town from the 1890s-1940s is terrific and makes for some great photos. Like to shop? Only your credit card limit will dictate where and how much. Hungry? We enjoyed numerous good restaurants in Hot Springs. A few of our favorites were McClard’s for BBQ (also Bill Clinton’s), Colorado Grill for Mexican, Rolando’s for Ecuadorian, buffets at the Arlington Hotel, a Southern Living best breakfast winner Colonial Cafe and the Ohio Club where you can rub elbows with Al Capone (or at least his statue). For fun in the evening catch the monthly free performances of the Jazz Society, attend a show at the Five Star Dinner Theatre or feel like a kid at the Maxwell Blade Magic Show. Garvin Gardens was just as magical in the Spring as it had been at Christmas with a sea of tulips at peak bloom. We didn’t go to the horserace at Oaklawn but it is a big attraction from late winter through April. In summer there is the Magic Springs amusement park and all the water sports of lakes Hamilton, Catherine and Ouachita plus the Belle of Hot Springs riverboat.

Exterior Window At The Fordyce

The Arlington Hotel Lobby

 

Stairway At The Ozark

Volunteers And Ranger Touring The Archives

Ranger Leading A Guided Tour

Best Breakfast In Town

The Name Says It All

Tasting A Flight At Superior Brewery

When all is said and done it is the people from Hot Springs National Park we will remember. We made new friends with several volunteers. The Rangers were fantastic. They coached us and taught us so that we could hone our interpretive skills. They made it possible for us to visit places not open to the public such as the water distribution system, the Hale and Maurice Bathhouses and the museum archives. They thanked us for our time volunteering at least once a day. While we enjoy new experiences by volunteering at different parks or for different agencies, if we ever do repeat a job this will rank high on the list. Thank You Hot Springs National Park for a fabulous three months!

The End!

A Grand Canyon Birthday

birthday, Grand Canyon

Chari, steve and Opal at the grand Canyon January 2015

So far for the past two years as we travel each Spring we’ve fallen way behind in posting to the blog. We’d sworn we wouldn’t do it this year. Guess what? Never say never! So we are going to crank out a few quick posts in an attempt to catch up.

On our 2010 trip to the west we spent two days on the north rim of the Grand Canyon only to have it filled with clouds and fog. When New Years 2015 brought snow that reached all the way to the canyon floor we decided to visit the south rim. By the time we had our days off much of the snow had melted. Enough remained to give this icon lovely contrast and warm weather to enjoy it. Besides, if you don’t want to feel older on a birthday just go find something that’s six million years old. You’ll feel like a youngster!

Not wanting to move the trailer as it was set up with additional insulation for our stay at PEFO, we found a pet friendly hotel in Flagstaff. After arriving and checking in we headed for the Museum of Northern Arizona. If you want to learn about Colorado Plateau geology, paleontology and ancestral puebloan culture this is a wonderful place to start. The display that grabbed our attention was the story of Tim’s Cave. In 1991 Andy Seagle was taking a helicopter ride near Flagstaff in memory of his brother, Tim, who had died the year before from cystic fibrosis. Tim had been interested in archeology. During the flight, he spotted a cave high on a mountain containing some large pottery vessels. He contacted the USFS archeologist and together they located the cave and retrieved large intact ancestral puebloan jars. During the retrieval Andy discovered that Tim had worked with USFS archeologist,  Peter Piles Jr., the previous summer. The cave was named in Tim’s memory. We also saw silver work by Fred Kabotie who had painted the murals at Painted Desert Inn. Those murals were some of the last ones he did before turning his talent to silversmithing. The museum houses a mural by Fred’s son, Michael.

Discovering Tim's Cave

Discovering Tim’s Cave

ancestral puebloan, pottery

Exquisite Ancestral Pueloan Pottery

dinosaur, museum

Paleontology On Display At Museum Of Northern Arizona

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following day we had breakfast at Brandy’s Cafe, a Diners, Drive-ins and Dives location. Yummy! Then off to the Grand Canyon. What can words or even pictures do to describe the canyon. How could one river do all of this? We headed first to the Desert View area to see the Watchtower. The structure is one of Mary Jane Coulter’s best known buildings at the Grand Canyon. With our new found fascination in the Fred Harvey/Mary Jane Coulter period we really enjoyed our visit. Best of all, just three days prior, the NPS had taken possession of the Watchtower from the concessionaire. Instead of the first floor being filled with tourist trinkets it is empty so you can focus on the details. The NPS plans to have interpretative displays there in the future. As you go up the spiral staircase the native graphic paintings are everywhere. Then on to several overlooks, a visitor center and finally photographing a grand Canyon sunset. It was almost a full moon and we would have stayed to do night time photos but the temperatures plummeted and we were like two ice pops by twilight.

The Watchtower At Desert View

The Watchtower At Desert View

murals, Watch Tower, Grand Canyon

An Example of Watchtower Murals

Mary jane Coulter, art

View Of The Watch Tower Ceiling

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paintings Cover Every Surface

Paintings Cover Every Surface

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

art

Beauty Is In The Details

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grand Canyon View

Grand Canyon View

 

Nature Is A Sculptress

Nature Is A Sculptress

 

Sunset At Mather Point

Sunset At Mather Point

We’d planned to wait for dinner and hit another Triple D joint in Flagstaff. However our stomachs didn’t cooperate so we stopped in Williams, Arizona on the way back at a historic brewery and restaurant.

Leave Only Footprints...

Leave Only Footprints…

Fossilized Dino Eggs

Fossilized Dino Eggs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the way home to PEFO we took the scenic route back stopping at the dinosaur track site near Tuba City. This was a tourist trap but interesting. Later on we also learned the hard way that one should not go wandering around unescorted in a reservation. Suffice it to say, we were “escorted” out by the Hopi police.  We certainly won’t do that again!!