After a day of roaming the immensity of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, we reached our destination in time for the 3:30 tour. The young lady who took everyone’s tickets called on her radio to a fellow ranger. “Could you check and see if that’s thunder?”
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Straggling, as usual, to take photos, I’d just put my foot on the doorsill of America’s tallest lighthouse when I was told “sorry, you have to leave. Now. We’re evacuating the lighthouse.”
I’d tried to make plans for three years to climb this lighthouse, and they evaporated in an instant. We waited. And waited. With the final tour time scheduled for 4:40, at 4:10 we were told the tours were over for the day.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse isn’t easy to get to. From US 64 in Nags Head, it takes more than an hour driving south along the remote beaches of the Outer Banks. And that’s if you don’t run into bridge construction (we did), dune rehabilitation, or rough weather. And you don’t stop.
So we reluctantly headed north, the skies turning dark by the time we hit Salvo until the rain came as a drizzle. All day, our weather had been perfect. But for the same reason you don’t see kiteboarders until lunchtime – the wind picks up as the day wears on – weather late in the day can change quickly on Pamlico Sound.
Today’s forecast sounded promising, so we scuttled all other plans and arrived at Cape Hatteras 45 minutes before the first tour at 9 am. I was one of less than a dozen people to make the first climb of the day.
The big advantage to being on the first tour is time to linger. While lingering, I met Alice King, who was finishing up her “lighthouse bagging” from Currituck to Pensacola by climbing the 248 steps to the top of the most important light along the East Coast. She and her husband Miles Wright planned to celebrate by visiting Ocracoke Lighthouse, which takes two 40-minute ferryboat rides to access. “We can’t climb it because it’s not open to the public,” Alice said, “but I figure it counts to go take a picture of it.”
Built in 1870, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was moved to its present location less than a decade ago, an engineering feat in itself.
There is no doubting its age as you climb the iron stairs to the summit and look out over the Graveyard of the Atlantic, the most dangerous shoals along the East Coast. But it has withstood hurricanes, lightning, and the test of time. Yes, it was worth waiting for.