Anyone who’s ever flown in a plane can appreciate the mind-boggling accomplishment of Wilber and Orville Wright, who on a bitter-cold day in December 1903, were the first in the world to accomplish human-powered and controlled flight.
Touring the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Coastal North Carolina drives home the sacrifices and effort that went into building the earliest manned airplanes. Inside the Visitors Center are replicas of two planes the brothers flew—a glider and the flying machine that took Orville into the sky for the first time. On the grounds, there is a reconstructed 1903 Hangar and a rustic cabin, a replica of where the brothers lived and worked. The brother’s primitive living quarters contain tools, kitchen supplies and loft beds (proving they liked to be above ground whenever possible!), helping illustrate the arduous process behind this accomplishment. And the actual feat becomes even more incredible when you get close to the replicas of those first planes that used the technology behind bicycles to fly in the sky.
It’s an easy climb up the grassy hill to the soaring stone memorial where visitors gain perspective on why this was the ideal place to experiment. Stone markers indicate the distance of those first three successful flights.
The Memorial and Museum help bring these daring, determined men to life. It’s a must-see park for every person who loves to fly. The outstanding National Park Rangers are there to share the stories of this feat. The Park has a hands-on climbing park for smaller kids and good introductory movie too. If it’s a hot day, don’t try to walk to the top, but if it’s comfortable, let those kids run up the hill. You’ll all love the view of the surrounding beaches and ocean.
While I was there, I had the pleasure of meeting Ranger Tom. Originally from Dayton Ohio, he is one of the outstanding rangers available to teach visitors about the Wright Brothers and their work. Tom’s father owned a shop in Dayton, and knew the Wrights personally; so today Tom feels a deep kinship with the site and its heroes. Tom’s enthusiasm for this subject is contagious. You can feel the challenge the brothers faced when he recants their trials.
Down the road, at Bodie Lighthouse is Ranger Frank. He takes visitors to the top of the lighthouse, sharing how despite great odds, like poor construction and eventually being blown up by Union soldiers, the lighthouse was built, and later rebuilt using state of the art lighting technology. Bodie Lighthouse is still guiding sailors to safety as they pilot their ships by the treacherous Diamond Shoals off the North Carolina Coast.
On Roanoke Island, inside Fort Raleigh National Park, visitors are introduced to the mysterious disappearance of the settlers known as the Lost Colony. This was one of the first group of English citizens to arrive on American soil in 1584, before Jamestown and Plymouth. They were dropped here by an English ship per Queen Elizabeth I’s orders. The citizens were left on shore by a ship under the direction of Sir Walter Raleigh. When English sailors returned here two years later looking for them, there was no trace of the settlers. The only thing they found was a word “Croatoan“– the name for the local Indian tribe. Despite extensive searching, no human remains have ever been found. But using new technology, National Geographic and its partners are in the process of trying to find the Lost Colony today. It is believed that some members of the colony assimilated into indian tribes, and some are believed to be buried in land that is currently underwater due to erosion. To truly appreciate the story of the Lost Colony, stay to see a performance by the Lost Colony Theatre. It’s been running for 77 years!
Visiting the Outer Banks means walking the windswept beaches, dining at the exceptional restaurants serving fresh seafood from North Carolina waters, and trying out a wide variety of water sports. But traveling to the Outer Banks is incomplete without visiting at least one or all of the National Park sites. For more information: www.nps.gov/wrbr/index.htm
Freelance writer and photographer specializing in vivid, deeply reported stories about food, travel and family.