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Surprises in Kill Devil Hill

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Surprises in Kill Devil Hill

The Hawk's Nest heads to the eastern seaboard

I like surprises, especially when they are places that turn out to be fantastic to me. That is exactly what happened on my last trip to see our kids. 

Until a few weeks ago I had never given much thought to traveling to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. In fact, I knew very little about the area. But while planning a trip to see kids in Virginia, the idea surfaced. It is less than two hours from their place, so plans were made.

I fly as a way to travel; I have never had any strong attachment to flying or its history. To travel that way is simply a utility to me, nothing more. This mode of transportation has taken me across the country several times, to Europe a couple times and to Hawaii. I appreciate its speed but had never given it much thought other than that. 

That is how I found my first surprise: Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, where beaches are spectacular and the community is designed for tourists. Kill Devil Hill, which we could see from the back deck of our condo, is a low knob on the sand about one hundred feet high and is the most prominent landmark around.

Kill Devil Hill is also where the Wright brothers experimented with gliders as they perfected their controls for a powered airplane. A 60 foot tall memorial stands on it now, making it even more prominent. The next town north is Kitty Hawk, and on the flat just below the hill is where the first flight happened. My second surprise was not that it was there—I knew that—but how it sparked my interest. 

We perused the Wright Brothers Memorial Museum. It is set on the field where they first flew and is fascinating. It is a must stop for anyone with any interests is aviation, engineering, history, or personal perseverance. 

These guys were not just a couple bicycle repairmen, but that is how they financed the experiments they practiced. However, the basic discoveries of many of their controls are still used on modern planes.

As for that history-making flight there is a stone set at the takeoff point and one set for each of the four landings they made on that December day in 1903. The first one was 120 feet, second 175, third 200 and the forth 852 feet from takeoff to landing.

I wondered why someone from Ohio would go to the beaches of North Carolina to fly. It meant a land trip of several days and a ferry crossing to get to the Outer Banks. The trip was made because they needed the isolation, high dunes, strong wind, and sand for soft landings; Kitty Hawk offered it all.  I decided not to complain about my hour and a half drive to the airport.

In addition to the memorial and the beaches, we found a lot of history on Roanoke Island. This is where the first European colony was established in North America; it later became known as the Lost Colony. 

We also had dinner is the only wind powered brewpub and restaurant in the United States. The beers are good as well as the food and service. A wind turbine is on a 93-foot tower behind the pub. To get a feel for the topography, that tower can be seen from a bridge 15 miles away. 

A minor surprise, as I flew home, somewhere between Norfolk and Detroit I saw a field shaped like the state of Idaho. I thought it interesting so looked for other fields shaped like states. I found several that looked like Wyoming but nothing else stood out to me.  

 During the three flights that brought me back to Idaho, I thought about ships landing, bringing colonists who would be the start of the discovery of this land by Europeans. How, in a day, I can cross it while a day’s travel to them was only a few miles. I thought about the brothers whose curiosity made powered flight possible. I also thought about how surprised I am when I get to a new, to me, place or when I “discover” something I had always taken for granted. 

I was surprised at how surprised I was.




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Author info

Ernie Hawks Ernie Hawks is a former theater director who has branched into the creative fields of writing and photography. He lives in a cabin in Athol with his lovely wife Linda, and feeds the birds in his spare time.

Tagged as:

The Hawks Nest, Kill Devil Hills, the Wright Brothers, first flight, Kitty Hawk, Wright Brothers Memorial Museum

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