In 1590, upon returning to the site of one of the first English settlements on Roanoke Island, North Carolina, explorers found that the original settlers had disappeared. Eighty-nine men, seventeen women, and eleven children had vanished. The only clue was the word ‘CROATOAN’ carved into a tree.
Roanoke Island is now populated with condos on land that is not swamp, crisscrossed with canals where Hatteras yachts lie in their berths. There is little, if any, possibility of colonists disappearing from this island ever again.
Meanwhile, the Croatoan Highway bisects the popular vacation towns of Kitty Hawk and Nag’s Head. On one side, rows of clapboard housing parade towards the beach, while on the other side of the highway, homogenous strip malls fill in whatever land gaps remain (everyone is having 50-70% sales before winter sets in).
However, don’t despair, because as you wander from the populous areas, the Outer Banks impresses as a wild and scenic area. Not to mention historic.
In the center of Kitty Hawk is Kill Devil Hills, where Wilbur and Orville Wright made the first powered flight in 1903 (December 17th). A Memorial and Museum celebrates the occasion, with a mock-up plane identical to the one used, artifacts from the original plane, and markers that show how far they flew on their trial runs (there were four).
Kill Devil Hills has the Memorial itself – a sixty-foot granite monument that celebrates their flight. The brothers came here from Dayton, Ohio because of the wind conditions (always blowing it seems). From this sand dune, they conducted glider tests for a few years, until they developed their heavier-than-air airplane.
Nearby, is Jockey Ridge State Park, one of the largest sand dunes on the east Coast. Today, visitors slug their way to the top, where daredevil pilots still throw their bodies into the air currents on hang-gliders – and where you get a great vista of the Outer Banks.
There are also the piers – one, Nag’s Head, is ancient, the other Jeanette’s is a twenty-five million upscale structure that was recently built – it seems it was one of those ‘shovel ready’ projects from the first stimulus package. People line these piers – this time of year they were catching ‘black drum’.
The Outer Banks – called OBX by the locals – is great to visit this time of the year, although the water was a cool 70 degrees. We rented our house through Vacation Rentals by Owner. I think it would be wonderful to visit in the summer, but the crowds would be ten times the amount that populate this popular place now.
And if the ‘Lost Colony’ were to go missing today, I know where they disappeared – they went shopping.