30 September 2017

The North Carolina coast

The North Carolina coast is 300 miles (500 km) of beach. Sandy beach. Sand dunes. Surf. Warm water. The Gulf Stream runs from south to north just a few miles offshore, up to Cape Hatteras, before turning out to sea and bringing warm water and air to Great Britain and France.

That 300-mile figure applies just to the "outer coast" of North Carolina. The "inner coast" of the state is at least three or four times longer. That's the shoreline of all the saltwater sounds and the brackish estuaries that are protected from ocean surf by the long string of  "banks" or barrier islands. The inner coast isn't all beach. Much of it is marshland.

The longest section of undeveloped beach is the part of the coast that is the Cape Lookout National Seashore, made up of Core Banks (40 miles/65 km long) and Shackleford Banks (10 miles/15 km long). Access is by boat only.

The barrier islands to the north and south are developed (bridges, roads, houses, towns). For example, Bogue Banks, which runs east-west for 25 miles (40km) from the west end of Shackleford Banks, is separated from the mainland by only a mile-wide sound, and there are bridges at each end of the island.

The entire coast of N.C. is sand. There's no rock anywhere, except where jetties have been built to stabilize beaches and inlets. The sands, in the form of both shoals and islands, shift endlessly, because of winds and tides. Hurricanes and the big wintertime storms called nor'easters periodically reshape the coastline.

The first English colony in North America, sponsored by Queen Elizabeth I and founded by Sir Walter Raleigh, was set up on the North Carolina coast in 1585. It was a failure. Raleigh sailed back to England for supplies for the colonists. He got delayed. When he finally returned, all the 100 or so English colonists had disappeared. Nobody has ever determined what happened to them.

This last photo shows the developed barrier island, Bogue Banks, that lies offshore from Morehead City. It runs east-west, so the beach faces south, and it is an unbroken 25-mile strand of sand. It's where I grew up, and I can remember when the western half of the island (Emerald Isle) was an undeveloped, roadless area of dunes and forest. My grandparents used to tell stories from the days before the first bridge was built at Morehead and they went "over to the beach" by boat.


  1. Replies
    1. Merci, CHM. Imagine — these are 15 years old. I took them with the 2001-vintage Canon Pro90IS camera, which weighed 1½ lbs. It did have a nice zoom and lens, with image stabilization.

  2. That lovely rainbow in the next to the last photo :)
    We are all getting pounded today on the East Coast ...

  3. Thanks so much for sharing these. I have not been home in a year, and I am really homesick. I look forward to your photos in October.

    1. You're welcome, Margaret. I don't know how much time I'll have for taking photos in Morehead this time. This is a "working trip" for me. My mother is moving from one apartment to another in her retirement complex and we'll be packing, moving, and unpacking stuff the whole time I'm there, I think.


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