In the 1500s, Spanish and English explorers made their way to the Americas. Some of them shipwrecked, while others founded settlements that did not last. An ongoing reminder of these expeditions exists in the presence of wild horses which roam the sand dunes of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. These horses, that descend from Spanish mustangs, are called Banker horses. They are relatively small, hardy and docile. Technically, because their ancestors were domesticated, they are not “wild,” but instead are classified as “feral” horses. They are nutritionally dependent on the sparse vegetation on the dunes. Living on the Outer Banks, fresh water is in limited supply. The Bankers, at times, will dig shallow holes up to 4 feet in depth to reach fresh groundwater.
There are several herds in the Outer Banks, and on Monday afternoon Cindy, Julie, Tracy and I took an open-air Wild Horse sight-seeing tour to see one of them. The two-hour tour took us off the paved roads and up the beaches and sand dunes north of Corolla (where our rental house is located). Although “wild” and freely roaming, these equines are obviously accustomed to human beings. They were not at all threatened by our intrusion into their territory. In fact, they wander in and out of the yards of many of the homes which have been built along the sand dunes of the Currituck Banks. At this time there are 104 horses and one mule in the Currituck herd. These are divided up into several groups consisting of a stallion and his harem.
After some fish tacos for nourishment, we returned for an evening of fun at the rental house, including rum runners, home-made guacamole, and a challenging game of Jeopardy. Around 10:30, a group of us went over to the beach for some night time exploration and fun. The beach was dark, with only small amounts of light projecting from the nearby homes. We sang, looked up at the crowded night sky, spotted shooting stars, waded in the water’s edge, and chased ghost crabs up and down the sandy beach. These quick little creatures ranged in size from about 1 inch across to maybe 7 inches across. When they tired of running from our flashlights, they would stop and burrow in the sand, thinking they had faked us out. Actually, you wouldn’t notice the creature if you didn’t know he had just buried himself in that spot.
On Tuesday, we hung out in the morning before Cindy and I took a 45-minute drive south of Corolla to the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills. Wilbur and Orville, a couple of inventive bicycle shop keepers from Dayton, Ohio (Yes, Cindy insisted that I mention they were Buckeyes.), set up camp in Kill Devil Hills with the goal of becoming the first men to fly. They came to the Outer Banks for two main reasons: The area’s steady winds and the remoteness of the location which afforded them the privacy they desired.
On December 17, 1903, they achieved what had not been done before, the first successful, sustained, powered flights in a heavier-than-air machine. They flew four flights on that day on the grounds of the Memorial which we visited. The last of these four covered the impressive distance of 852 feet and lasted for 59 seconds. Their great breakthrough involved the development of three-axis control (pitch, roll, and yaw) which remains the standard on modern fixed-wing aircraft. It was very cool to be standing on the very site of these first flights. Orville and Wilbur have my admiration! The words on the Memorial Tower atop Kill Devil Hill reads, “In commemoration of the conquest of the air by the brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright conceived by genius achieved by dauntless resolution and unconquerable faith.”