At last! I understand what those “OBX” stickers on people’s cars mean! My shoes are full of Outer Banks sand as I begin the trek back up to New England. I stayed for only about a day and a half on Roanoke Island, in the town of Manteo, named for a friendly Indian who would come to rue the day he made nice to a bunch of Englishmen in frilly collars.
This is decidedly still the off season on the Outer Banks, and while this means few restaurants and shops are open, it also means few tourists are around. And besides, as an OBX resident and friend of mine told me, “All the restaurants are named for dudes and they all serve the same crappy food.” True, I wouldn’t recommend the Outer Banks for their culinary delights, and trying to find vegetarian fare is rough sledding down here. Curiously though, I was able to order a very tasty cucumber sandwich from the menu at Poor Richard’s in downtown Manteo. And the price was only six dollars, plus the stares of the locals who swivelled to stare at me and wonder, “Who’s the prissy-pants out-of-towner ordering a goddamn cucumber sandwich and a water?”
If you’re not here primarily to eat and shop, but instead are interested in wildlife watching/hiking or other outdoor pursuits, I definitely recommend coming down at this time of year. I took a trip out to Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and got to watch dolphins chasing prey within 20 yards of shore, and lines of cormorants streaming over the horizon for more than an hour straight, and I combed the beach for some very fine shells to bring home as a cheapskate souvenir for the boys.
On a friend’s recommendation, I visited Food Dudes Kitchen in Kill Devil Hills for lunch, which makes a tasty salsa and rice and bean combo. It’s an unassuming little shack set back from the main drag, but well worth the search. I took my lunch to go and headed over Nags Head Woods Preserve, a Nature Conservancy property with several hiking loops of various lengths through pine forest and dune habitat. I happened upon a pair of Eastern Glass Lizards (thanks to John Connors of the NC Museum of Natural Sciences for an assist on that i.d.) engaged in combat. The lizards have no legs, and thus appear at first to be snakes. Check out this video to see what is apparently an unusual behavior for these guys; Jeffrey Beane, Collections Manager for Herpetology, wrote, “They’re two males in combat (maybe over a female or maybe just over territory). You can tell they’re males by the color pattern. It’s something not witnessed very often. Interestingly, the only time I’ve ever seen that behavior was also at Nags Head Woods.”
My base of operations during my stay was the Tranquil House Inn, a beautiful spot overlooking the unfortunately named Shallowbag Bay. The Inn is small enough to be absolutely charming, but not so small as to have that weird bed and breakfast, a little-too-much-intimacy-for-an-antisocial-New Englander, kind of vibe. The room was spacious, and overlooked the water, and the wine and cheese/cider and cookies hour each afternoon on the porch was a delight as well.
All in all, the OBX reminds me of a Cape Cod permitted to sprawl, free of zoning regulations, for miles and miles on end. But come when tourists are in short supply if you’re looking for quiet and some fine wildlife watching. You won’t be disappointed.