The Less Traveled Roads of Eastern Carolina

I travel frequently. It might be driving by interstate to Atlanta, taking a train to Washington, DC, or even flying to Prague. I try to use the most expeditious route or transport in order to spend my time at the ultimate destination, whether it be with family, friends or for business. I rarely take time to take trips by less-traveled, more circuitous routes. I have to say that giving emotional and practical support to my boyfriend, Roy, as he thru-hiked almost two thirds of the 2190 mile length of the Appalachian Trail this summer was an adventure for both of us. This took me to some very remote areas, and at one point, I found myself on the wrong gravel road. I admit, this was very disconcerting to me. It can be intimidating to get off on the road less traveled. Roy, my partner in crime, is always game for the road less traveled and therein lies an intrigue for me. And that is exactly what we did Thanksgiving weekend: we took the lesser traveled road.

1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse

Here are some of the roads we traveled:

Mattamuskeet Road

Getting to Lake Mattamuskeet is not something that happens by accident. You have to want to go to Lake Mattamuskeet; you don’t just ‘happen’ on it or assume you will simply find it. That was our first destination on this roadtrip. Mattamuskeet Road travels across Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge, which is a stopover point for migrating snow geese, tundra swans, as well as shore birds, ducks and songbirds (in the spring). The road passes several swamps and shallow lake beds that in early December are swarming with tundra swan. We stopped to stand on an overlook, and it was magical. The strange murmur of the tundra swan and small groups of birds taking flight was breathtaking. I have to say I wanted to be closer to the swans, to see them at arm’s length, and I hope we can come back with kayaks in the future. The drive to get here is desolate and flat, but the payoff is terrific.

NC Route 94

This road traverses Lake Mattamuskeet which is the largest natural lake in North Carolina. The lake’s average depth is 2-3 feet! You could essentially walk across the largest lake in North Carolina (if you had waders or sandals and a bathing suit on). It all depends on how you like to roll.

Route 94 crosses the middle of the lake replete with stopping points. The lake itself is flat and pristine. We stopped at an overlook and saw a pair of nesting bald eagles on top of a tree in the middle of the lake. Apparently, the refuge attracts many raptors. Eagles rest in trees so that they can fish in the lake. I was amazed that I could see the eagles with my naked eye as we approached the overlook. Knowing this habitat is only a few hours from my home is intriguing and comforting.

Highway 12 towards Corolla

Roy and I drove north on the venerable NC Highway 12 towards its bitter end in the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge known as Corolla. As reported on their website, “The refuge is home in winter to thousands of green-winged teal, mallards, American widgeon, black ducks, pintails, northern shovelers, ring necked ducks, and tundra swan.” Along the way, we saw plenty of ducks in a town called Duck, several egrets and blue herons on our weekend in early December. A gem of the trip was going to the Currituck Lighthouse and climbing the 220 steps to the top. The historic town of Corolla is home to Banker Horses. They’re a breed of feral horses who are primarily found on the barrier islands of the Outer Banks. Roy and I did not see any of them the day we traveled there. Another reason to return.

Bodie Island Lighthouse Road

Bodie Island Lighthouse is the third version of a lighthouse. As seen on their website: “The lighthouse was originally constructed on Pea Island, south of Oregon Inlet in 1847 but was abandoned 12 years later due to a poor foundation. Rebuilt in 1859, the then 80-foot tall lighthouse was blown up by Confederate troops in 1861 fearing that the tower would be used by Union forces during the Civil War. Across Oregon Inlet in the current location on Bodie Island, construction of the new 156-foot tall black and white horizontally-striped lighthouse was completed in 1872 with the installation of a first-order Fresnel lens, eventually electrified in 1932.”  Unfortunately (or perhaps, fortunately, for my knees) the lighthouse was not open to climb (it’s only open during set days in the summer).

Highway 12 to Pea Island

We rode over the Herbert C Bonnet bridge to Pea Island on highway 12. Highway 12 is famous. When you travel it south of Oregon Inlet, you can see both the Atlantic Ocean and vast Pamlico Sound from your car. Here is this long spit of what appears to be nothing but sand dune and asphalt threading through massive bodies of water. Hurricane Dorian had ravaged the area recently and the dunes were taking over the highway. As we headed back north some of the roadway was completely covered in sand. This is the only road down to Hatteras, Avon and Frisco. It was intimidating to see the sand dunes creeping and taking over the road.

Route 32 to Edenton

When we headed home from our visit to Kittyhawk, I selected a route that put us on track for the town of Edenton. I had no idea what to expect but I had read about the town in a Nicholas Sparks book, The Rescue and wanted to see the place. I had no idea that it was home to yet another North Carolina lighthouse. Sure enough, as we traveled into the town there was a sign for the ‘The 1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse.” I had no idea that rivers even needed a lighthouse! But there it sat, proudly over the water, in all its glory. We went through a bunch of farmland to get there and it was worth the trip!

Taking the road less traveled brought us to some unique sights and sounds over Thanksgiving weekend. I’m glad we really didn’t have a plan, which afforded us seeing some lesser-known sights. I’m always amazed, after living in North Carolina for more than fifteen years, how many natives have never been to the Outer Banks or Lake Mattamuskeet. My advice to you is to get out of your comfort zone and travel some lesser-known spots and see what discoveries you can make. Where do you want to travel to next?

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