History and Mystery on the Outer Banks – Part 1 

Ross and I always make a point to explore the local history and culture during our travels, and our stay on the Outer Banks is no exception. So we make sure to investigate the local points of interest with an eye toward contextualizing the places we visit and the things that we learn. 

We are staying in the Waves/Rodanthe area, which is a great central location for exploring all that the Outer Banks has to offer. I’ve been impressed by what I’ve learned of the perseverance of people here. When you live on a small island on the ocean, nothing is really permanent or certain. Locals lived without electricity into the ’50s and beyond here. Their tenacity and love of the land and water here are remarkable, and even more powerful than what we experienced living in the mountains of northern New Hampshire. When you decide to visit, you’ll have lots to do. Today I will outline some of the best places to visit – but I will continue my update in an upcoming blog. 

Gallery Exploration 

There are many galleries on the island showcasing local artists and crafters. Some of this work is relatively simple – beach shell crafts, woodwork and other work that caters to tourists is most of what you’ll find. But if you search for it, you’ll find that there are some astounding, unexpected pieces to be found by local artists. Our favorite gallery so far is Pea Island Art Gallery in Kinnakeet. Whether you’re searching for fine paintings, jewelry, abstract pieces or unique cards or prints, this is a must-stop that more than holds its own against galleries in big cities and towns in artistic communities. I found a wonderful coloring book by a local artist here. We’d also be remiss if we didn’t point out the gallery of Michael Halminski. His photography is stunning, but the stories behind them are what really made it special. There are galleries up and down the island here, so just drive in either direction and you can expect to find one or two in every larger town. And if you visit Manteo (which you should), we loved this gallery by John Silver (and his stories) too. 

Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum 

This museum houses some of the most professional, polished exhibits we’ve seen locally, and on a given visit you might learn about shipwrecked boats, local naval history, the history of scuba diving or the history of the local lighthouse. This is the most comprehensive source of much local history, and since it’s FREE, it’s well worth your time to visit. 

Frisco Native American Museum

Although this museum didn’t have the local focus we were hoping for, it’s a very nice overview albeit in a dated environment that will benefit from continued improvements. But the staff is extraordinarily knowledgeable and happy to answer questions, and the nature trails/outdoor exhibits are a MUST – just don’t forget long pants and bug spray! 

Ocracoke Island 

It’s not every day you visit an island. Particularly an island that requires a ferry to visit it. Ocracoke is one of those islands, and if you’re traveling from the island north of it, the ferry to visit is free! Timing the ferry is tricky – it was suggested to us that we should take the earliest ferry possible (we made the 7 am ferry), allow a little over an hour across, and not be in a rush to return. On the way over it was full of commuters, and on the way back it was tourists, so take your time and enjoy the ride. Also be careful – tourists and children can be really dumb, so be prepared to babysit your car to keep it safe from people opening doors or running around. 

Once you brave the ferry, you’ll have a full range of activities to fill your day with. The National Park Service cares for the wild horses – they used to be truly wild on this part of the island, but for their own protection they have barriers from people now. We also recommend a visit to the Preservation Society and Museum and the site of Fort Ocracoke. The museum is excellent, especially the video on the Ocracoke language and dialect. The Working Watermen’s Exhibit is another free glimpse into the local history and culture, as is the cemetery, and there are some really fun shops, particularly the amazing Books to Be Read, a true standout anywhere for their selection and variety. 

Of course, many people rave about the beaches, some saying they’re the best or nearly the best in the world – so be sure to pause for a beach visit while you’re here too. 

Be sure to bring your bug spray. Even in the sun, this island was significantly buggier than we expected. But Okracoke is a fascinating glimpse into what’s almost another time and place, and it’s a beautiful day trip. Stick around into the evening and you’ll have some fun dining and entertainment options too on many nights of the week. 

Pirates and Captain Kidd 

This area is full of bits of pirate lore and history. There’s a small exhibit on Ocracoke that seemed too expensive for us – $10 – but we definitely recommend seeking out a book or doing some advanced learning on this subject if it interests you. On such small islands, the sea is truly a force here, and these stories are a complement to that world. 

We still have LOTS to cover about the Outer Banks. We will tackle that in part 2 in the coming weeks! 

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