Land and waters to stretch the mind

After many years of travel, your mind has wonderful images of beautiful places that you have visited.

I have been lucky to have traveled to many scenic spots around the globe.

From Alaska to New Zealand to Switzerland and Germany's Bavaria, I have enjoyed many postcard perfect scenes.

Beyond that I lived on the shore in Nova Scotia and more recently on the side of a mountain in Virginia.

From our Nova Scotia home I used to watch the sun set over the Bay of Fundy. From our Virginia home, I could roll out of bed and capture the sun as it climbed above the mountains surrounding downtown Roanoke.

All of those places have left me with wonderful memories, vivid images, and thousands of pictures. As wonderful as all those places are, my mind ends up being a blank slate when I get out on the water here along North Carolina's Southern Outer Banks.

It is nearly impossible to describe the beauty of this area in words. Only photography offers the chance to share some of the beauty with people who are unable to actually make a boat trip.

I often talk about the wonders of living along the water. Here along the Crystal Coast a water view is highly prized. Yet as wonderful as it to live by the water, the appreciation of the water and the beauty of the surrounding land deepens greatly when you are actually out on the water.

Something truly special happens when you make a turn, and you see nothing but sky, water, and amazing marshes filling the horizon. It is almost like the scenery just washes over my mind's eye and clears out any old images.

Understanding that you can be swallowed up by the beautiful scenery around you explains one of the great mysteries of being out on the water. Often we go out and find a spot to fish and enjoy the beauty around us only to discover that time has little relevance for us. What we thought was an hour, possibly was actually three or four hours.

If we are lucky enough to have escaped any cell phone calls, then it is very easy to suffer time dis-orientation. We have no idea what time is, and sometimes we end up forgetting even when we left. Fortunately hunger usually shakes us back to reality, but it is truly amazing how our area's scenic beauty can lull you almost into another dimension.

What is even more fun is that the images from the water stick with you. I can easily remember many wonderful water trips while I have a hard time recalling any of my road trips even though I have driven around the United States three times. It is almost like the best images from my water adventures are burned into my brain. I can flip through almost at will. Time hardly seems to dim them. I remember the water on a trip that I called
Mackerel Morning almost as clearly as it was two weeks ago instead of over two years ago.

As good as the pictures might be, there are times when you can only appreciate the true beauty of the moment by being there. The wind on your face, the smells of ocean water, and the warmth of the sun all contribute to special moments. While our minds can record those feelings, it is the rare photograph that can do justice to one of those special moments.

Even this evening, I spent a long time deciding what picture could best capture a sampling of the beauty of this area. I came close to picking a special ocean wave or perhaps a view of Bogue Sound from the Emerald Isle Bridge, but in the end I went with this recent shot taken as we turned towards Bear Island from the Intracoastal Waterway.

It highlights the expansiveness that often captures our eyes and imagination. The clouds, the water, and the marshes are all part of the equation that ends up equaling scenic beauty that pulls many of us to choose the Crystal Coast as our permanent homes.

We are the really lucky ones. We wake up to the beauty of this area every day. It is literally on our doorsteps. I know that I am not the only resident who can lose himself by enjoying just a few hours on the water.

The good news is that many of those wonderful views that have so enchanted me are very accessible by boat. Some can even be seen while riding the pontoon ferry over to Hammocks Beach State Park. We live in area where kayaking and boating are a big part of life so it is not very hard to find a boat ride in Carteret County.

Now is a great time to visit, and there are
some special deals for those people booking vacations now. If you too become smitten with the area and need more permanent accommodations, we have folks who can also find a cure for that.

Some join us and allow our waters to paint some new memories for you and your family.

Enjoying your beach visit

Sometimes getting across the bridge at check-in for your beach vacation can be a challenge.

With a short window on both Saturday and Sunday for people to pick up their keys, traffic can get backed up at the bridge.

The good news is that we rarely see other traffic problems after the weekend. Our peak traffic season only last a few weeks. As we get away from the Fourth of July, traffic decreases, but even later in the season, there are some challenges.

With that in mind, I have some simple suggestions that might make your visit more pleasurable. Some are gleaned from what our family used to do before we became permanent residents.

Others are based on applying the local knowledge which you develop as a resident. In the end just a little planning and some minor changes can make a huge difference in maximizing your beach time and having the most fun possible.

One of the easiest ways to reduce first day stress is to pack a cooler with enough food at least for the first evening meal and breakfast of the next day. In the Emerald Isle area there are four grocery stores. There are three more in Morehead City and another in Atlantic Beach. Even with that many stores, most grocery stores in the area get very crowded on Saturday and Sunday, both in afternoons and the evenings.

While our stores are generally very good at moving people through, if you have a huge cart full of stuff, you can expect to wait some length of time to check out if you shop on Saturday or Sunday later than the morning. If you make that same large shopping trip on Monday morning, you likely will breeze through the checkout. Bringing some food and basics with you can greatly smooth your entry into beach life.

You do not have to completely avoid the grocery stores on the weekend, you just have to pick your battle. I am actually a pro at going to the grocery stores on Saturday and Sunday during the visitor season. My first secret is to never get more than what will fit in one of those small hand baskets. Then the real key to getting in and out of the store quickly is to use the automated check out systems. Usually the attendant will use their affinity card if you are trying to save on the specials and do not have one of the cards. However, you do not need one of the cards to use the automated machines.

You can also save a trip to the grocery store by stopping at one of the local produce stands.
Winberry's in Cedar Point is one of my favorites. A stop there, and then at one of the local fish markets is a good way to come up with ingredients for dinner without hitting the grocery store.

Almost no one comes to the beach without eating out a few times. The problem is that most people want to eat out at the same time. Hence the few restaurants over near the beaches can get crowded at the most popular times. There are two solutions to this challenge. One is to pick a time that is enough out of the ordinary to let you beat the crowds. The other is to try some of the very good restaurants over on the mainland or lesser known island ones.

Sometimes the choice when trying to dine out is an hour wait in line, or twelve to fifteen minutes in the car. I have been both at Jordan's in Emerald Isle and the Crab Shack in Salter Path when the waits were well over an hour. Both times we got in the car and drove to
T&W's Oyster House up Highway 58. My humble opinion is that their fried seafood is as good or better than the two island based restaurants. It is also a very big restaurant, and it is unusual not to be seated almost immediately.

I offer up
this list of restaurants as suggestions to making dining out a little easier. Many of them are on the mainland, some are less well known island restaurants. All are ones where I have enjoyed good food. Since I created that list, Nicky's has opened between the bridges in Swansboro. I have enjoyed some really nice seafood there. Even more exciting is that it did not come out of the deep fryer. However, just to prove that I am impartial when it comes to cooking seafood, their fried clam strip appetizer is also a favorite of mine.

Another suggestion for saving time and money is to use the automated free standing ice machines instead of making a trip to the grocery store. I am a big fan of getting my ice in the cooler without having a plastic bag which ends up in the landfill. The automated ice machines give me more ice, twenty pounds instead of sixteen, when I do not ask for the ice in a bag.

If your accommodations on the beach still require you to drive to get to the beach, you might find the Western Regional Access crowded at times. There are other places you can go to avoid the crowds. Most days there will be fewer people at the Eastern Regional Access about eight miles farther down the beach.

If you want even less people and want to be very close to the beach, Third Street Beach is a good choice if you can get along without a restroom and water to wash your feet. I sometimes find it almost deserted. There is also a great beach access with parking at the Roosevelt Natural Area in the Salter Path area.

If someone in the family is willing to do a little walking, you can sample some of the best beaches on Emerald Isle like I did recently on
a nearly perfect Crystal Coast day. Just use the CAMA access points on Inlet Drive and park in the small parking lot on Coast Guard Road. It is easy to drop the family and gear at one of the access points and circle the block back to the parking area. The walk back to the beach is five to ten minutes.

There are
lots of wonderful things to do at the beach. Just learning a little about the local area will greatly expand your options and perhaps save you some time when things get crowded on the beach.

You might even run into a special treat like
a Bogue Sound watermelon if you get off the beaten path. Vacations have changed over the years, but when summer is in full swing, you can still have great fun here at the beach. Some planning and hints from us locals can make it even easier to have that fun.