Kayaking in Swamps and Sounds on the Outer Banks!

Kayaking Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and Roanoke Sound!

by Rachelle Siegrist

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Wes is ready and waiting

Two weeks ago today, we were heading over to North Carolina’s beautiful Outer Banks, to judge the 25th International Miniature Art Show, at Seaside Art Gallery located in picturesque Nags Head.  In last week’s post we visited the amazing Jockey’s Ridge State Park, so this week join us on our kayaking adventures in Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and Roanoke Sound!

We arrived at the launch site located inside the preserve, off of Buffalo City Rd. early in the morning.  The water was a bit high due to recent rains, so I was excited to start our adventure by wading through the black water over to a great dock built by the Dare County tourism Board and Outer Banks Paddling Club.

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Oh Boy . . . here we go!!!

Within minutes we were in our kayaks, paddle in hand, off and ready for the day’s adventures. After paddling underneath an old wooden bridge mere feet above the water’s surface, I was excited to see water irises blooming, creating splashes of purple dotted along the bank. Then the narrow passage gradually opened up revealing the larger Milltail Creek.

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One of the many stately Cypress Trees beside the creek
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At the beginning of our journey

Following trail markers, we turned left and started paddling our way along the wide open creek. Upon another left turn the creek started narrowing once again and became surrounded by dense vegetation. At this point, it definitely looked as if we were kayaking in a swamp and I was in heaven! The dark black murky water below made me wonder what was down there! Just to test the depth, Wes put his paddle down into it and couldn’t touch the bottom! Even though I was delighted to finally be kayaking in a swamp, I certainly did not want to fall out into that water, because who knew what lurked down there!

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A Kodak picture spot indeed!

The narrow water passage was flanked on either side by large mounds of swamp irises, as well as small bright yellow flowers blooming a few inches above the water’s glassy surface. The blossoms paired with dense clumps of fern made it look as if we were paddling through a botanical garden much of the time!  It felt like we were in another time and place . . . far . . . far away from everything and everyone, and were only snatched back into reality a few times when we were buzzed by military aircraft roaring above.

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A stunning clump of Irises and small yellow flowers blooming
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A Water Lilly blossom with lots of fern

There are four different paddling trails there, which are marked with floating color coded markers along the way. We did the loop as well as part of two others, and must say that the loop trail winding its way along the narrow creek was certainly our favorite!

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One of the many coded trail markers

Somehow we missed one of the markers for the loop trail and wound our way into Sawyer Lake. However, we were delighted to have missed it, as we watched a young Cormorant swimming nearby and listened to the “Rap-tap-tap” of woodpeckers, and calls of warblers off in the distance.  Once we realized we had paddled up to the lake, we turned around and were thrilled to now have the wind at our backs!

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A beautiful Cormorant near Sawyer Lake

Soon we found our way back paddling along the narrow creek once again, which was so narrow in spots it almost looked impassable.  With patient coaxing of the paddles we webbed our way through and noticed we were paddling alongside a boardwalk trail nearby.

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Wes joked he was tapping a gator head on either side as he went
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Towards the end of the red loop trail

Soon we paddled our way completely around the loop and decided to head back out into and explore the larger Milltail Creek area.  Going along we noticed a small opening between cattails that led to a large open area.  Once inside we discovered it was filled with Water Lilies blooming everywhere, and it was beautiful!   Of course that was the perfect spot for a picnic!

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The perfect picnic spot!

Sitting still, I was delighted to see a teeny tiny frog close by, then we began noticing that there were several of these little cuties scattered all over, perched on their lily pad thrones.  Suddenly other frogs started calling and were joined by one frog in particular who had a hilarious sounding little call, and each time he would blurt out his call, it sounded as if it was coming through his mouth and flapping lips, causing me to laugh uncontrollably much of the time!

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One of my precious little lunch buddies

After lunch we paddled up along Milltail Creek quite a distance before turning and heading back.  Soon we were back at the launch site, and with kayaks loaded, told this swampy piece of heaven goodbye.

Later that afternoon we decided to kayak in Roanoke Sound for awhile, and we happened upon a great kayak ramp which had obviously been built recently.  Within minutes we were happily back in the water and of again!

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Wes standing on the awesome recently built kayak dock

The sky which had been cloudy much of the day, thankfully decided to part, letting a wee bit of late evening sun shine through, bathing the sky in warm oranges and pinks!  Nearby we saw a beautiful White Egret, which is slated to be a future miniature painting, and several snakes swimming atop the water.

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AH . . . this is just gorgeous!

Having seen numerous duck blinds dotting the sound earlier, I was quite anxious to get up close to one and check it out.

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A duck blind up close and personal

The sun was starting to dip low in the sky, so we thought it best to head back.  I was thrilled when at the very end, the clouds parted letting the sun shine through with all of its warm orange, late evening color, thus bringing the scene to life in almost a surreal sense!  What another truly amazing day of adventures we had, and once again we felt very blessed indeed!

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Our parting view of the beautiful sound

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Until next time . . .

~ Rachelle


Climbing the Tallest Sand Dune on the East Coast!

Exploring Jockey’s Ridge State Park!

by Rachelle Siegrist

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Wow . . . I can’t believe it’s already been a week since we headed over to North Carolina’s beautiful Outer Banks, to judge the 25th International Miniature Art Show, at Seaside Art Gallery located in picturesque Nags Head. Early Monday morning, before heading to the gallery, we went to explore Jockey’s Ridge State Park, after reading about the large sand dunes there.

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A section of the tracks in the sand trail

We started out walking along the sandy trail enveloped by a canopy of short, squatty trees which gradually opened up, exposing slightly larger sandy areas lined by trees and shrubs. Walking along barefoot, I kept seeing more sand and less trees, until suddenly the trail opened up revealing nothing but sand and sky as far as the eye could see, it was truly amazing!

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Ah . . . the cool sand feels great to my tootsies!

I had never seen such humongous hills of sand, also known as a medano, in my entire life!  The early morning sun bathed the dune in a warm golden glow which paired magnificently against the beautiful dark sky and clouds! My feet had indeed found heaven, for everywhere I looked there was sand and I knew immediately I had to climb to the top!

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The first good glimpse of the one large dune

So I began climbing the steep angled side of the dune, sand shifting under foot with each step making it somewhat challenging. The setting looked like a scene straight out of an epic movie set in the desert somewhere far . . . far away! Having always wanted to play the part of the heat stricken person walking across the desert sands, suddenly I imagined myself bent over while slowly dragging my feet with each step, parched lips saying with a very weakened voice . . . water . . . water . . . water . . . before collapsing to my sandy death with the sun beating down on my back . . . Ha Ha!

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Going . . .
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Going . . .
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Made it to the top!

The further we went, the more amazing this place became, and it was decided that we would return here later in the day after judging the show, to explore more of this sandy world.  Once I got to the top I could see a 360° magnificent view arching from the ocean to the Roanoke sound! Looking down the dune, I could see Wes who now appeared as a small dot far off in the distance below.

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A couple of panoramic shots of this amazing place!

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We returned later that afternoon to the tallest living sand in on the Atlantic coast, who’s heights vary from 80 to 100 feet depending on weather conditions and winds shifting between summer and winter, that constantly blow the sand back-and-forth, thus keeping the giant hills in place.  After being sighted by French and Spanish explorers this tall sandy ridge became an important landmarks for mariners.  We enjoyed walking the Boardwalk Trail, Sound Side Nature Trail and the Tracks in the Sand Trail, spotting several beautiful wildflowers blooming along the way. We saw and heard lots of birds as well, and each time we came to a wooded area we saw several warblers, bunnies playing and squirrels searching for food.

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Beach Heather (red one above) and a couple other wildflowers blooming on the dunes
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I see a miniature painting of these cuties in our near future!

At the end of the trail we had to climb a very steep sandy hill and reaching the top, were treated to yet another magnificent view of the large dunes. Once on the very top we could see where the sand was shifting down, literally swallowing up entire trees as it went. At the top we saw several bunnies playing and running about which we enjoyed watching and photographing for quite some time.

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Wes is a wee little spot on the top left corner of the dune
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A closer shot to reveal the sheer size of the dune

We were thankful to have the dunes pretty much to ourselves up to this point as we enjoyed watching the setting sun painting the sky in an array of pinks and yellows. Heading to the top of the large dune we noticed a few people were flying kites, with more many more coming, and before we knew it found ourselves surrounded by a large group of people who also wanted to enjoy this magnificent living work of art!

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Wes photographing the sunset
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In heaven while taking it all in

As the sun dipped low into the sky we absorbed the sheer beauty of it all before heading back down the dune.  Jockey’s Ridge State Park is truly an amazing place, and I highly recommend a visit if you’re ever in the Nags Head region of the Outer Banks!  Needless to say, there are a few miniature landscape paintings of this gorgeous spot already in the works!

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The magnificent sunset from the top edge
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At the base of the dunes by the sound

 ~ Currently On the Easel ~

Here’s a recent dog painting of mine, featuring an adorable St. Bernard!  Who could resist that face, and with such great half-closed eyes and all of that drool, I personally couldn’t resist painting him!

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“Gi’me Some Sugar!” by Rachelle

Wes recently finished his painting of a Red Knot, which we photographed during one of our delightful walks along the beach while visiting the Ft. Myers and Sanibel Island areas in Florida last May. We both so enjoy watching the variety of shorebirds while on the beach!  This was the first time we’d ever seen a Red Knot.

“Red Knot at the Wrack Line” by Wes

painting a dog painting by rachelle siegrist - 1.jpg

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Until next time . . .

~ Rachelle