Just this weekend, new signs appeared along Highway 12 indicating that our highway is now a National Scenic By-way. We are proud of this designation and hope that when you drive down the island from Oregon Inlet heading south, you will really enjoy the drive. All too often, the scenery and the atmosphere of the island are lost in the rush to get to the motel. It was a smart person indeed who noted that the journey often is more important than the destination. In this case, we would argue the journey is equally as important, because the highway helps you put life on the island in context. There is more to see than just a ribbon of highway sandwiched between dunes and the Sound.
A National Scenic By-way is a highway that has been recognized by the US Department of Transportation for one or more of six “intrinsic qualities” – archeological, cultural, historical, natural, recreational or scenic. Happily, areas of Hatteras Island can boast all of those. As you pass through the Pea Island Wildlife Refuge, there is a chance to observe wildlife, especially birds, throughout the year. At the rest area, a quick walk over the dunes gives you a view of the wreck of the “Oriental” – its stack still can be seen just breaking through the surface of the water. This year the Pea Island area is also the site of construction for the replacement bridge where Hurricane Irene broke through and created a new, temporary inlet a few years back.
While the construction zone may not be scenic, it is a reminder of the shifting nature of barrier islands and its vulnerability during all types of storms – hurricanes and nor’easters included. Coming into the Tri-Villages area of Rodanthe, Waves, and Salvo you can often see the colorful kite sails of kiteboarders in the Pamlico Sound. Kiteboarding and wind surfing have become more and more popular and these three which filled with shops catering to these sports. The Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station is well worth a visit for learning more about the history of the lifesaving stations (which were the forerunners of today’s Coast Guard) as well as an insight into life on the island years ago. Needless to say it was a far cry from what we enjoy today. You can get a real appreciation for how brave and hardy these individuals were and how traditions like “Old Christmas” took hold.
As you head from the Tri-Villages to Avon, it is interesting to reflect on how narrow the island is in sections. There are a number of parking turn-outs in this section of highway and a quick peek over the top of a dune can often give you miles of seashore to take in all on your own. Avon of course was historically known as “Kinnakeet.” The actual harbor town is off the highway and worth a quick side trip when you have a moment. Coming into Buxton, again the sound can be filled with kiters and windsurfers, but this area now also boasts several family beach areas. Not so many years ago the soundside was the forgotten step- sister of the ocean and only fishermen enjoyed its waters.
As you drive along through Buxton past the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and head on through Frisco and Hatteras, you can get a bit more of a feel of the role watermen once played, and continue to play, in the culture and economy of Hatteras Island. There are museums and docks and harbors that all show and tell these important stories. We’ve heard many people complain that the hour drive from Whalebone Junction to Buxton is “boring.” We say, enjoy the National Scenic By-way for what it offers, and that hour will flash by very quickly. Before you know it you will be here at the Cape Hatteras Motel, a bit wiser for your journey!