Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky Mountains – Late Fall 2016 Road Trip – Day 9

It was a very winding road from Boone, North Carolina passing through Mountain City on the way. Mountain City had numerous Christmas tree farms preparing the trees for delivery to the holiday sale lots. The two lane road curved through the hills with gorgeous views of trees in autumn colors and valleys with low lying fog.

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Our travel continued to the South Holston Dam, an earth-and-rock filled dam 285 feet high reaching 1,600 feet across the South Fork Holston River in Bristol, Tennessee. Construction of South Holston Dam began in 1942 and was completed in 1950 by the TVA to serve as a hydroelectric facility.  We drove across the top of the dam to reach the visitor center which had a lot of information for us to learn about the history of the TVA and the South Holston Dam.  The height of the dam also offered a beautiful scene of the sun shone through the trees with the fog settled over the river and giving a misty look of the colorful hills.

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A short drive from the dam is Osceola Island and Weir Dam Recreation Area. The weir dam (a dam designed to pool water behind it while also allowing water to flow over) helps control the water along a river, allowing engineers to measure the amount of water moving along the river, and also helps oxygenate the water.  It also makes for a pretty sight.

On an average day water gently tumbles over the ends but this isn’t always the case. The nearby South Holston Dam releases water from time to time as part of their hydroelectric operations. When this happens, three things happen: a loud siren plays a sound that echoes for miles down the river, bright yellow lights begin to flash on a sign cautioning visitors about the sudden increase in flood waters, and the water starts to rage across the top of the weir dam.

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The weir dam was built by the TVA for the purpose to revitalize the river by adding oxygen to the water to promote a healthy environment for fish, insects, and the river. The weir dam had rows of concrete horizontal barriers across the width of the river with interlocking wooden timber walls. The water that flows over the top of the weir falls over its side and acts like a natural waterfall creating oxygen that is added to the river.

The weir is an interesting sight that also attracts fishermen.Men were fishing from the footbridge and within the river. The fly fishermen stood thigh high in the river casting their lines in a rhythmic wave even though it was only 29o F. A short walk across the rusty metal footbridge is Osceola Island with additional walking trails but we crossed the bridge to the island only for new photo angles of the weir dam.

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Afterwards we drove into the town of Bristol, Tennessee, or perhaps Bristol, Virginia since the state border between Virginia and Tennessee divides the town. A sign straddles State Street so that south of the street sign is the state of Tennessee and property north of the street sign is Virginia. Flags of each state hung on their respective sides of the street. Having recently seen the Geico commercial we tried to spot the painted marker on State Street, but did not find it.

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Then off we raced to Bristol Motor Speedway to see an old NASCAR racetrack that was built in 1960. The structure looks like a football stadium from the outside but has a capacity to hold 162,000 spectators. Bristol Motor Speedway is the fourth largest sports venue in America and the eighth largest in the world.

Finding the stadium open we walked into the bleachers amazed at the size of this immense stadium.  The concrete oval short track was set below in the center of the stadium. It must be deafening to be here for a race with the noise of the crowd on metal bleachers and the thundering roar of the car engines within these enclosed walls.

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The Natural Tunnel in Duffield, Virginia was next on our list to see. A trail at the visitor center led us downhill to the creek and train tracks. Natural Tunnel State Park is a Virginia state park, centered on the Natural Tunnel, a massive naturally formed cave that is so large it is used as a railroad tunnel through the Appalachian Mountains.

It is the first tunnel that I have seen that was not man-made and bricked. The Natural tunnel, which is up to 200 feet wide and 80 feet high, began to form from a small river, now called Stock Creek that was diverted underground and continued to erode the tunnel over millions of years continuing to this day. Time will eventually wear away the rock ceiling until it falls and forms a gap between the hills of the mountain.

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Local folklore of the area tells of a Cherokee maiden and a Shawnee brave who had been forbidden to marry by their respective tribes, jumped to their deaths from the highest pinnacle above the Natural Tunnel. The place is now known as Lover’s Leap after the couple sneaked away at night to climb the peak waiting until morning to jump from the cliff so that they could be together in the afterlife.

This seems to be a popular tale because we have heard this story before with multiple peaks known as Lover’s Leap. We hiked to the pinnacle of Lover’s Leap overlooking the park. Looking down over the edge at Lover’s Leap from this point most definitely certified death should anyone jumped from this cliff.

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After we hiked back, we went to McDonald’s for our usual order of chicken sandwiches with sweet tea before continuing on to the town of Cumberland Gap, Tennessee, the southeastern end of the famous passage of Cumberland Gap that led west. The Cumberland Gap is a National Historical Park located in Middlesboro, Kentucky at the border of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia. The Cumberland Gap is a natural break in the Appalachian Mountains.

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We started our adventure of this park by driving a four-mile road to Pinnacle Overlook, an elevation of 2,440 ft. This overlook provided a great view of the tri-state park and the Cumberland Gap. The Cumberland Gap was a trail used by elk and bison to the salt springs. Native tribes marked the trail before Dr. Thomas Walker who worked for the Loyal Land Surveyors documented the route through the gap in 1750.

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The Appalachian Mountains made it difficult to move westward but the Cumberland Gap allowed westward passage beginning in the 1770’s. Daniel Boone who was born near Reading, Pennsylvania made his first passage through the gap in 1769. Boone with thirty men was commissioned to mark out the Wilderness Trail from the Holston River in Tennessee through the Cumberland Gap in 1775. The significance of the Cumberland Gap was dubbed as the “Gibraltar of America” by Ulysses S. Grant.

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The Object Lessen Road was a path that brought attention to the importance of a road through the Cumberland Gap to people in the 1920’s. We hiked the Object Lessen Trail until we reached the intersection of Cumberland Gap and the Wilderness Trail. A large boulder at the crossing of these trails had a bronze plaque mounted on the face of the rock dedicated to Daniel Boone. Since the sun was beginning to set we left the park and traveled through the mountains to reach our hotel in Hazard, Kentucky.

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North Carolina Mountains – Late Fall 2016 Road Trip – Day 8

After breakfast at the Hampton Inn, we went to see the Durham Athletic Park, an old baseball stadium, built in 1926. This park is most famous from the movie Bull Durham.

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The park was originally called El Toro Park, built to support the small Carolina League crowds that arrived. When the movie came out the team became so popular they ended up building a new stadium on the south edge of downtown Durham, however this park remained as a college stadium.

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The new park, Durham Bulls Athletic Park, was built to reflect many characteristics of old-time parks and the historic downtown Durham architecture. A 32-foot-high wall stands in left field 305 feet from home plate, resembling Fenway Park’s Green Monster. The Blue Monster, as it’s called in Durham, contains a similar old-style manual scoreboard.

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The ballpark’s most distinctive feature is the Snorting Bull that stands tall above the Blue Monster. This Bull was modeled after the bull used in the 1988 film, Bull Durham. The 10,000-seat ballpark is tucked into a warehouse district similar to Camden Yards and the red-brick architecture compliments the view from the ball park diamond.

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Being in this ballpark brought back good memories of the times when we attended baseball games with our daughters twenty years ago. The new ballpark added features more similar to a major league team level with a grand concourse.

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On the drive to Winston-Salem, we saw political signs for Dan Forest running for the position of Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina. He used a catchy phrase from the movie Forest Gump “Run Forest Run” that worked perfectly for him since his last name is Forest. Voters must have remembered that phrase on Election Day by re-electing him for another term.

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On Sprague Street in Winston-Salem is a unique Shell gas station built in the shape of a clamshell and painted bright gold with red trim. This architecture gem was built the in the 1930’s by the Quality Oil Company, a Winston-based marketer of Shell Oil. The station, modeled on the brand logo of Royal Dutch-Shell Oil, was constructed of concrete stucco over a bent wood and wire framework. Two glass-top gas pumps painted in matching colors were placed in front of the shell.

Though the station fell into disrepair toward the end of the 20th century; a state historic society, Preservation North Carolina, stepped in and restored the highway icon in the late 1990s. According to the fliers for the station, it is likely that this landmark is the last clamshell gas station in the country. Today it’s used by the preservation organization as a regional office and info center about the station and other preservation projects.

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It is Veteran’s Day today, and true to life in the south this time of year the temperature has warmed from a frosty cold into a sunny sixty degrees. It was a good day to visit Stone Mountain Park in Roaring Gap, North Carolina. The centerpiece of the park is Stone Mountain, a dome of exposed granite that rises sharply over 600 feet above the surrounding terrain.

The mountain, which has an elevation of 2,305 feet above sea level, is known for its barren sides and distinctive brown-gray color, and can be seen for miles. Because the mountain is the best example of a monadnock in massive granite in North Carolina it was designated a National Natural Landmark. Monadnock is originally a Native American term for an isolated hill or a lone mountain that stands above the surrounding area. It is thought to derive from the Abenaki language, from either menonadenak (“smooth mountain”) or menadena (“isolated mountain”) but here monadnock is used to describe a mountain that rises from an area of relatively flat and lower terrain.

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There are more than 18 miles of trails in the park. We started on a trail from the upper lot that looped up to the top of the massive granite rock and then down to the opposite side. The trail led us up in elevation and down about one thousand steps completing more than five miles. The summit of the rock gave us a terrific view of colorful leaves of the trees, wild rhododendrons, and faded ridges in the distance.

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The smooth rock looked slick and solid but at points short trees seemed to grow straight from the rock without any soil. We sat for a bit to rest and enjoy the view while some young adults piloted a remote monster car over the rocky landscape and on the trail.  We climbed down nearly five hundred steps through the wooded side of the trail until we reached the meadow at the foot of the great stone. The barren face of the rock was clear to us from where we sat in the meadow.

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The trail directed us to a 200-foot waterfall that slid over the rock into a small creek. We nearly stepped on a small black snake as we trudged on the trail that took us up three hundred more steps to finish the trail. Our hike was completed in four hours with only brief stops and it felt great.

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Leaving the park, we hopped onto the Blue Ridge Parkway in the direction of Boone, North Carolina. It was slightly cloudy as we drove on the Parkway so that the Blue Ridge Mountains appeared dark and the ridge behind it seemed a faded smoky blue. Fog hovered low in some areas separating the colors of the field and the mountains for a really beautiful scene. As we rose in elevation closer to Boone, the trees were less colorful and began to drop their leaves.

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Boone, North Carolina is home to Appalachian State University and also the location of our hotel for the night, the Courtyard Marriott. We had a physical day and were hungry so we hurried across the street from our hotel to eat at the Stagecoach Steakhouse. Our table was surrounded by many military veterans who came to get their free dinner by courtesy of the restaurant owners honoring those who served our country. After dinner, we walked back to the hotel physically tired from our busy day.

Eastern North Carolina & Raleigh – Late Fall 2016 Road Trip – Day 7

Our Thursday morning saw us leaving the Outer Banks westbound, with our first stop in Edenton, North Carolina, a quaint town from the Cotton is King Era.

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The original cotton mill is now a condominium building. The town also had well-kept majestic old homes of the pre-Civil War period.

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Edenton’s waterfront of the Albemarle Sound was picturesque with tall leafy trees growing from the water with roots visible above and below the surface. The roots seemed to wrap around the tree trunk and support it in the water. The lighthouse at the edge of the pier was not a tall columnar structure as most lighthouses but a unique lighthouse constructed as a two story home with a widow’s walk and a large lantern placed on its roof.

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Edenton’s Chowan County Courthouse is one of the oldest courthouses in the country. Built in 1767, it is one of the finest examples of public Georgian architecture in the American South. Edenton was settled in 1658 and incorporated in 1727, and is counted as the first permanent European settlement in North Carolina.

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In addition, to the courthouse and the Confederate Soldier memorial in the square, Edenton has the famous Historic Hicks Field, a baseball stadium that is now home to the John A. Holmes High School Aces as well as the Edenton Steamers of the Coastal Plain League. So, we as baseball fans wanted to see it.

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Hicks Field was built in 1939 as a Works Progress Administration project at the corner of East Freemason and Woodward, adjacent to the high school. The main structure is a wooden grandstand with a roof that was built to accommodate slightly more than 500 people. The main grandstand is the oldest remaining wooden grandstand of its type in the state of North Carolina.

Hicks Field was home to minor league baseball and semipro teams up until 1952, including the Edenton Colonials of the original Coastal Plain League, the Albemarle League, and the Virginia League. Players such as Bob Feller and other major league all-stars have stepped foot inside this historic stadium.

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A stop in Zebulon brought us to see the Carolina Mudcats high A baseball stadium. The Mudcats are affiliated with the Milwaukee Brewers and play at Five County Stadium. The friendly office workers there allowed us to enter the stadium to take photos and they even opened the gift shop for us so that I could buy a t-shirt for my collection. A perfect photo op from the top of the stands captured a shot of the field with the water tower outside the stadium painted as a baseball in the background.

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Since we used to live in Raleigh, I tried testing my memory with names of the roads. I remembered the main roads although the area has developed a great deal. One thing that had not changed was the Char-Grill.   The Char-Grill has a company motto, “Simpler Times, Simpler Choices.”  This place cooks up classic hamburger patties cooked over charcoal flames and serves red hot dogs. The hot dogs are in a casing that looks very red unlike any other hot dog that I have ever seen. There is a protocol to ordering, you need to check off your options of your order slip and drop the paper order into a slot. The place was very busy but after a short wait we heard our name called for our order for pick up at the other window. The burgers are great but not the best we ever had.

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We drove into downtown Raleigh and parked the car across from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

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We walked to the North Carolina State Capitol for a self-guided tour of the building’s three floors. The Greek revival Capitol building, completed in 1840, currently houses the offices of the Governor of North Carolina, located on Union Square at East Edenton Street.

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During much of the Colonial period, North Carolina was without a fixed capital. Governors lived in their own homes and the Assembly moved from place to place, meeting in private homes, and in courthouses when available. In 1722 the Assembly selected Edenton as the capital, but years passed by as the center of the population had shifted westward. in 1788 a State Convention voted to set a capital plan for Raleigh, based on the then nation’s capital of Philadelphia.

Construction of a State House began on the town’s central square in 1792. First occupied in 1794, the building served as the capitol until it burned in 1831. The cornerstone of the present State Capitol, constructed on the site of the former State House, was laid in 1833 and the building was completed in 1840. The Capitol remains largely unaltered from its completion of 1840.

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The Capitol building also housed the original state law library and the geology department. The geology room had cases lining the walls shelved with rocks labeled by type and specific name. The next room that we viewed was the House of Representatives chamber which follows the semi-circular plan of a Greek theater in an architectural Corinthian style. The Senate chamber was decorated in the Ionic style of an ancient Greek temple.

The Capitol is a cross shape, centering on a domed rotunda where the wings join. The rotunda stands 97-1/2 feet from the floor to the crown atop the dome. Centered on the interior ground floor of the rotunda is a statue of George Washington depicting him in a Roman general’s uniform with tunic, body armor, and a short cape fastened at the shoulder.

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The North Carolina Museum of History is where we began our tour of the museum with the early history of the settlers along the coast, then into the tobacco and industry era where we learned that the Portuguese brought the first African slaves to America before the English arrived.

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On February 1, 1960, four African American college students sat down at a lunch counter at Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina, and politely asked for service. Their request was refused. When asked to leave, they remained in their seats. Their resistance in the act of a sit-down helped to ignite a youth-led movement to challenge racial inequality throughout the South; a small section of that lunch counter is in the museum.

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In addition an authentic slave’s cabin plucked from a southern plantation and reassembled in the museum was also on display, showing how harsh their life was.

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An athletic prominence of North Carolina section honored those athletes associated with the state in their professional sport with large banners of the athlete and some memorabilia. Most surprising to me was a tribute to the golfer, Arnold Palmer, a Latrobe boy, has a connection to North Carolina from his college days at Wake Forest University. Motorsports hailed Richard Petty and showcased his race car. The football section highlighted Carl Ellis who played for the Minnesota Vikings, and Buck Leonard for baseball. Many more professional and college athletes were also admired.

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Since we still had a bit of time before the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences closed, we headed over there for a speed tour.

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The museum had exhibits of local wildlife past and present. Models of dinosaurs stood stories high and skeletons of a sixty-foot sperm whale and a blue whale hung from the ceiling. Preserved and embalmed fish, birds, and insects were displayed in recreated environments.

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We had a quick dinner at Panera’s before venturing to the PNC Arena to watch the Carolina Hurricanes play ice hockey against the Anaheim Ducks. Because nearby Durham was hosting a UNC-Duke football game, the ‘crowd’ was sparse, announced at at 4000 allowed us to move around seats throughout the game for various angles of shots.  The Carolina “Canes” lost the game 4-2 to the Ducks.

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A short drive later we arrived at our hotel in Durham, a Hampton Inn, that was packed with the aforementioned football game fans.

Outer Banks, North Carolina – Late Fall 2016 Road Trip – Day 6

We were once again up before dawn, where we had an interesting site from our 12th floor room overlooking the bay. You could see the lights of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge with gaps in the lights where they drop down into the tunnels.

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As we left the Tidewater area in the morning we drove through Virginia Beach, stopping at the Naval Aviation Memorial and briefly looked at the boardwalk. There are actually three bronze statues here with the intent to show three eras of naval aviation, starting in the early 20th century, progressing to World War II and then to modern times.

The first statue is of Eugene Ely, who was the first aviator to fly off a ship’s deck. Next, is a WWII pilot and his crewmen who are leaving their hatch. Finally, there are two modern-day pilots, a maintenance man, and a woman with her foot on an empty cart. The memorial is tucked between hotels on the boardwalk near the ocean.

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Monster trucks, anyone?  Well then Poplar Branch, North Carolina on Caratoke Highway is the place. This is the home of Grave Digger, supposedly the most famous monster truck. Its wheels are at least three feet high and the truck is painted with a gray ghost and haunted house on it. The monster truck stood upright on its front tires with raised rear tires at the front of the property.

Here is where anyone can check out these giant trucks up close and buy a souvenir at its gift shop. The establishment named Digger’s Dungeon offers rides to visitors and sells Diggers merchandise. A number of monster trucks were scattered on the property and I made the most of it taking photos.

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The Wright Brothers National Memorial, located in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, commemorates the first successful, sustained, powered flights in a heavier-than-air machine. From 1900 to 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright came here from Dayton, Ohio, based on information from the U.S. Weather Bureau about the area’s steady winds and privacy. We took the sidewalk up the dune reading small signs warning of cacti in the grass. Thorns of the cacti are harmful to people and pets; but Bermuda grass was planted on the dune to stabilize it.  The tall monument had carved stone heads of Orville and Wilbur Wright and an inscription dedicated to the Wright brothers genius, perseverance and risk.

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A 60-foot granite monument, dedicated in 1932, is perched atop 90-foot-tall Kill Devil Hill, commemorating the achievement of the Wright brothers. They conducted many of their glider tests on the massive shifting dune that was later stabilized to form Kill Devil Hill. Inscribed in capital letters along the base of the memorial tower is the phrase “In commemoration of the conquest of the air by the brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright conceived by genius achieved by dauntless resolution and unconquerable faith.”

Atop the tower is a marine beacon, similar to one found in a lighthouse. The monument was erected by Congress in 1932. In the end, 1,200 tons of granite, more than 2,000 tons of gravel, more than 800 tons of sand and almost 400 tons of cement were used to build the structure, along with numerous other materials.

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Beyond the dune stands a bronze sculpture of the bi-wing plane, Orville, Wilbur, the First Safety Security Team and photographers, a tribute to those who participated in the first flight. The First Safety Security Team is now known at the U.S. Coast Guard and the sculpture captures the historic first flight by the Wright Brothers and their witnesses.

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A park ranger informed us at the test site that the Wright Brothers made four flights from level ground near the base of the hill following three years of gliding experiments from atop nearby sand dunes. On December 17, 1903 the brothers made four flights. A white blanket hung on the hangar door alerting the First Safety Security Team that the brothers needed help to move the plane onto the launch rail and were ready to fly.

A bit of history notes that John Glenn, another Ohioan took a small piece of this white blanket with him in his historic moment into space.  Another interesting fact is that a man of the Wright Brother’s team who witnessed their first flight also witnessed the first landing on the moon in July, 1969, an accomplishment within less than a century.

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The park ranger went on to say that at 10:35 a.m. on December 17, 1903 with a 27 mph wind, Orville released a wire that held the flying machine to the track, and the contraption chugged slowly forward into the stiff wind. Wilbur trotted alongside, holding the wing to keep the flyer level. Then the flying machine lifted off the track, and Wilbur let go. The flyer left the ground as John Daniels squeezed the shutter bulb on the camera to capture a black-and-white photograph that will be forever engraved in human history.

Flight 1 flown by Orville lifted 12 seconds and went 60 feet into the air for a length of 120 feet. Flight 2 flown by Wilbur lifted 40 feet at the launch rail and flew 12 seconds for 175 feet. Flight 3 commanded by Orville flew 26 seconds for 200 feet. Around noon, Wilbur made a flight of 852 feet that lasted 59 seconds—the longest of the day but the flying machine was slightly damaged by Wilbur’s landing, and the group hauled it back to the hangar for repairs.

We walked along the actual routes of the four flights, with small monuments marking their four finishes. The original launch rail is still there. Two wooden sheds at the test site, based on historic photographs, were recreated as the world’s first airplane hangar and the brothers’ living quarters.

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The visitor center in its modern design at Kitty Hawk is home to a museum featuring models and actual tools and machines used by the Wright brothers during their flight experiments including a reproduction of the wind tunnel used to test wing shapes and a portion of the engine used in the first flight.

We saw articles of the history of flight and the patch of the white blanket that John Glenn took with him on his orbit of the earth.  A life-size replica of the Wright brothers’ 1903 Flyer was there. The 1903 Flyer is the first powered aircraft in history to achieve controlled flight (the original is displayed at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.).  A full-scale model of the Brothers’ 1902 glider is also present, having been constructed under the direction of Orville Wright himself.

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Lunch found us at Rooster’s Southern Kitchen, for some vinegary BBQ sandwich and chicken and dumplings. Now nourished, we we headed off to Jockey’s Ridge State Park.

Jockey’s Ridge State Park located in Nags Head, North Carolina includes the tallest active sand dune system in the eastern United States. The tall dune area of Jockey’s Ridge is known as a medano—a massive, shifting hill of sand lacking vegetation. Scientists estimate that there are 30 million tons of sand in the park.

The sand dunes now have eight ponds scattered in the sand from Hurricane Matthew that blew through but have not dried yet. The ponds are not uncommon, often when it rains; water collects near the bottom of the dunes creating temporary ponds known as vernal pools.

A forest of trees lined the edge of the pool. This maritime forest is the home to most plant and animal life in the park. The forest help to stabilize the dune and in return the dune protects the forest from strong winds and harsh salt spray.

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We hiked through sand as we did thirty years earlier, when we were last here. From the top of the sand dune, we could see the ocean and the bay. Hiking through sand is difficult; it seems like you take one step forward and two steps back but we made it to the top of the next dune where boys were rolling down the side of the dune. We trudged through the sand making our way around the vernal pool until we got back to the Visitor Center.

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Our return trip to the hotel was along the road next to the ocean until we reached construction blocking our way to our hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn at Kitty Hawk. We managed to maneuver around it, so after check-in, we went out to explore the Outer Banks by car.

We traveled a bit up to the time of a traffic jam that blocked our way. The jam was caused by a tow motor loaded with lumber partially jutted into the roadway. The police stopped traffic in both directions due to the construction while we waited at least fifteen minutes. So we turned the car around and went into the town of Duck to shop for something to do. Later in Kitty Hawk, we bought a kite, a sweatshirt, and a t-shirt.

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The Kitty Hawk Pier is behind our hotel where we hung out to find two surfers on the waves. We walked on the beach as the tide ebbed although at times the waves chased us close to the protective dune that separated the beach from the beach homes. It was nice as we walked in the cool, cloudy, and drizzly weather, we collected some interesting seashells.

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We are in North Carolina, right, so time for more BBQ. The High Cotton BBQ restaurant was across the street from our hotel so we skipped over there for dinner, it was excellent.