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Friday, April 30, 2010

Watching the Seasons Change

One of the great things about living on the Crystal Coast is the weather that we get to enjoy. For the most part we have a very moderate climate with weather just cold enough so that you can have a taste of winter. For the first time in years back in February, we actually had a few inches of snow on the ground for a couple of days. No one was very upset with the snow since it is such a rare occurrence. In spite of snow visiting some northern areas recently, spring has been here for a long time. I planted my tomatoes on March 24, and there has not been any frost since then here along the water. Still It was just last weekend that area strawberries started appearing on local produce stands. Spring was a little slow arriving, but after its arrival, spring is hanging around when most of us would like to see some real warmth.
Yesterday I had my wife drop me off at the access to the Point at Emerald Isle. I wanted to walk out and see how the added sand from this winter's dredging looked. In the distance I could see a handful of four wheel drive vehicles parked and their occupants working to catch some of the first fish of the season.

It is only in the best of times that the waters at the Point are fairly calm. Those are the days on the water that we really cherish. Yesterday's waters off the Point were probably calmer than they had been earlier in the week. The picture with this post are the waters just off the Point snapped on Thursday of this week. Based on the winds early in the week, the waters look pretty good.

On Monday we took some visitors to Beaufort. On our way back down the beach, we stopped at the Iron Steamer beach access. I walked out to the beach to take a few pictures. When I left the car, my visitors were following me. It was very windy on the beach. I took a few quick pictures, and then I turned to look for my friends. They were nowhere in sight. I thought perhaps they had taken the boardwalk entrance while I had followed the vehicle entrance. However, some searching failed to turn them up. As I turned to walk back to the car, I could see them already back in the car. I guess they found the sand blasting of their ankles a little uncomfortable. I had hardly noticed.

It was just one of those days in the spring when the wind is blowing enough to keep almost all the boats at the dock. We had seen a few boats moving around in Beaufort's sheltered harbor, but most people were wisely staying tied up at the dock.

While the winds have made going out on the water challenging, it has been a pleasure watching the land warm up. My tomatoes are growing well, and I even have one that is the size of a hen's egg. I have enjoyed the area's beautiful azaleas and now the knockout roses are coming on strong. This morning when I was walking back from the mailbox with the morning's newspaper, I paused to enjoy how green things are here on the land.

While we are waiting for the area's waters to warm, the seas to calm, and the winds to die down, it is truly a pleasure watching spring unfold. While part of me would like to rush spring so that I get my boat out into the water, another part of me knows that I need to slow down and enjoy this part of the year. The temperatures at night are perfect for sleeping, and the heat pumps hardly run. It is a time of the year on the the Crystal Coast when we know that the best is yet to come. We will have plenty of heat soon enough. Likely we will be wishing for cool air before June gets here.

In spite of all that, I can hardly wait for that heat, and temperatures into the eighties this weekend are not going to make it easier

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Dreams of Summers Past

Finally the beach vegetation is showing signs of life. The light green beach grasses as you walk onto the beach are a welcome sight. This time of year I like the grasses more than the blue water which I know is still a chilly sixty-five degrees. Even the marsh grasses in Bogue Sound are turning green. With that happening, it will not be long before the Crystal Coast is a paradise of blue and green with golden sunsets. When Spring gets to this point, it is one of my favorite times. The temperatures during the day are nearly perfect with a warm Carolina sun, and at night we often have cool temperatures which make for great sleeping weather. Also while the fresh strawberries have come a little later this year than in the previous few years, they herald the beginning of the fresh local produce season. All this is enough to start me dreaming about past summers.
The one thing that is certain about the weather is that it is uncertain. Our first summer here the cool spring like weather lasted almost to the first week in July. Another summer we had some of the hottest weather of the season the first week of June when temperatures rose into the low nineties which is about as hot as it ever gets around the Crystal Coast.

Today in spite of the strong winds, the temperatures managed to get close to eighty degrees. After church I was working in our yard, and I got hot. Then two hours later the temperature dropped ten degrees as a front went through, and the winds picked up. By the time we went out to dinner with some friends, it was even cooler and some fog had formed. Later when we drove over to the Emerald Isle Food Lion for some eggs and English muffins for breakfast, the air as we got out of the car felt like a warm spring evening. More importantly it smelled like the beach in summer. In the winter you do not get the same experience.

With everything looking and smelling like spring, it is easy to start dreaming about some great some days on the water and on the beach. One that sticks in my memory is last July 15 which I deemed a perfect beach day. The combination of the water, the sky, and the temperature was as good as it gets. As a photographer I found the rich colors that day just amazing.

Actually it was only last June when we got an early spell of warmth which convinced me to take my first dip of the year. The temperatures were warm enough that the still slightly cool salt water felt great. That warm early June day has also stuck in my memory.

There are lots of memories from last summer that are set to soon be triggered. We just got our first green tomato. It has me thinking of those first tasty tomato sandwiches which I hope we will be enjoying the first week of June.

Last Friday we took our first ride down the White Oak River where I got to wear shorts and a tee shirt. I felt like I was really back out on the river. Conditions were not perfect, but I always think the first warm weather trip on the water is special.

It will not be long before we catch the first fish of the season. That reminds me that I should go get my fishing license renewed before that first fish gets on the hook. If the winds will drop down some this week, I might just put the kayak in the water. It was just a couple of years ago that I caught the first fish of the year from my kayak. It was a nice flounder that I caught just at the mouth of the Bluewater Cove inlet. I had it cleaned, cooked, and on our plates just a few minutes after it was caught.

Fishing and life at the beach do not get much better than that. Late April is a great time of year to be enjoying the Crystal Coast and remembering great times from previous years.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Favorite Spot, Morehead City

I plead guilty to not writing enough about Morehead City, one of the neatest spots on the Crystal Coast. It is more a result of geography than any intentional slight. I live on the western banks of the White Oak River, so nearby Emerald Isle is naturally the area where I spend the most time. When I do head east towards Morehead City, there is usually a reason. Meetings often end up there, and many of our area services are located there. Even in my beach time schedule there are not enough days when I go to Morehead City just to be visiting the area. Today was an exception. We had one errand, and then we took time for a few minutes of long overdue exploring. We found a neat CAMA public access point on Evans Street just before the Atlantic Beach Bridge. The photograph in the post is a shot of the general area taken from Atlantic Beach.
Morehead City is Carteret County's commercial heart, but it is far more than just our favorite place to shop. It is a wonderful place to live and has some of the most beautiful homes in the area along with great water access. Sometimes I wonder if there are more boats than people in Morehead City.

The interesting area that we found on Evans Street was the site of the old wooden bridge from Morehead City to Atlantic Beach. Sometime after the bridge was moved to its present location, the old location became a CAMA water access point. It is a peaceful spot to gaze across Bogue Sound to Atlantic Beach. The area also has some wonderful homes.

It would be hard to find an area with better water access than Morehead City. My wife recently got directions to an appointment. The instructions included, "You will pass two marinas." A quick glance at a map of the area confirms that it is normal to suspect that water is everywhere when you are in Morehead City. The city is actually on a peninsula. The water that surrounds the city on three sides is the life blood of Morehead City. From the annual NC Seafood Festival in the fall to the Big Rock Blue Marlin tournament, Morehead is all about the water.

Obviously the NC Port plays a large part in the city's life, but it is important to remember that the bridge in Morehead City is a gateway to the beaches which run from Fort Macon all the way to the Point at Emerald Isle. To a certain extent Morehead City influences our life on the Crystal Coast more than any other single place. Without the services in Morehead, we would be living in a very rural area.

Part of the reason that I enjoy living where I do on the western side of the county is that I can be at the shopping area of Morehead City in eighteen minutes. I get the advantage of good shopping without the inconvenience of traffic and having stores on my doorstep.

Of course Morehead City relies on Atlantic Beach to provide most of its beach atmosphere. Beaches are not the area's only attraction. While I have enjoyed the History Place in Morehead, I also love going to Fort Macon State Park. We dropped by today to see the new interpretative center that opened last fall. It is a wonderful building. We got there too late to visit the fort itself, but we have enjoyed it many times before. I did take a few pictures of our trip. There are some of the new Fort Macon center mixed in with the ones of Atlantic Beach and Morehead City.

We finished our trip with a peaceful ride down the beach to Emerald Isle. I caught a great sunset from the Cameron Langston Bridge over Bogue Sound. It was a great ending to the day. Since today was warmer than yesterday, it was easy to stay positive about the cool spring weather .

Monday, April 19, 2010

Some Visitors on the Beaches

There are few things as nice as coming home. That is especially true when home is the beach. We were away for awhile, and as usual that made getting back to the Crystal Coast even more special. We managed to miss some great spring weather here on the coast while having to deal with some temperatures in the nineties in the mountains of Virginia. One of the first things I noticed when we got back was that we now have a substantial number of out of state license plates in the area. Our out of state visitors are something we look forward to each year. It means that the beach is waking up, and it will likely have some people walking on it even on not so perfect days. Today began very cool with temperatures in the forties, but by mid-afternoon when we stopped by the Eastern Regional Access on Emerald Isle, the temperature had worked its way into the upper sixties, and there were some clouds on the horizon.
We also had a nice breeze today. That along with the cool temperatures put this Monday into the blue jeans and long sleeved tee-shirt category.

Yet I was not surprised to see some young visitors in swimsuits. When we lived in Canada, our kids swam in July waters on the north coast of Prince Edward Island that were even colder than our April waters are here on the North Carolina coast. Surf in the mid-sixties like we have now is warm enough for some folks. However, it remains a little cold for most of us.

Even with these cool temperatures, the beach is still enjoyable. The water is beautiful. We saw several folks just walking or passing the time by watching the waves from their beach chairs. This is actually a great time of the year to visit the beach. There is little or no humidity. The weather at night is perfect for sleeping.

At the same time, the azaleas are gorgeous, and it will not be long before our local strawberries are ripe. Usually we have them by this time of year, but the cold winter on the east coast has made things a little late. The late spring has not slowed some outdoor enthusiasts. We are seeing some fishermen out on the water, especially in the harbors.

A visit at this time of year means that the local restaurants are not crowded, and our local seafood is plentiful, and there are still some great oysters available. Our local oysters are always tasty. This time of year, there is no waiting for a table during the week.

Unless you are looking for warm water for swimming, you can even save a lot of money by visiting the Crystal Coast in April and May when rental rates are less expensive.

We have a couple of days coming up at the end of the week when the temperatures are going to climb into the eighties. If the winds and tides will cooperate, we just might go try our luck at some early season fishing. My boat is serviced for the season and waiting on the lift behind our home. All we need is a little more warmth.

There is nothing like a good day on the water with a warm Carolina sun on your back to remind you of just how lucky we are to be able to enjoy this paradise know as the Crystal Coast.

With the temperatures in the eighties, finishing the day with a beach walk once again becomes an option. Each day now, I expect to see a few more people on the beaches, and more boats in the Intracoastal.

I think we are ready for our visitors. It looks like Emerald Isle has managed to finish most of their sections of bike bath just in time for the first wave of the out of state visitors.

Now if the fish were just biting, and the afternoon temperature consistently in the low eighties, things would be just fine here in paradise on the North Carolina coast.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Waves That Sparkle

Sometimes I am almost embarrassed by how many photos that I take while walking on the beach. Often my wife says that I cannot walk for taking pictures. I will admit to that being true sometimes. While all beaches are special, those along the Crystal Coast offer some opportunities for photos that are hard to match. The interaction between the blue skies and often emerald green waters is really hard to resist. I am always looking for that one picture that captures the essence of our ocean waters and beaches. A really good picture can bring back wonderful memories or be the start of a great new journey. As we approach beach season there are lots of people trying to decide where to vacation this summer. I like to think that if people could just see our sparkling waters in person that it would not be a contest.
I have enjoyed beaches all around the world, and I think we have some of the best and most accessible beaches right here in Carteret County along the Crystal Coast. If you are someone that has a special taste for beaches, it is quite possible that there might be one here that fits the bill.

When I am fishing, it is nice to find a beach that has cuts in the sandbar just off shore. Those cuts are often a great place for fish, and not a great place to swim anyway. My favorite fishing beach is Third Street Beach. There are usually some good places to fish there just to the west of the entrance. It also turns out to be a really good beach for shells. Parking is limited to just a handful of spaces, so we are fortunate that it is not easy to spot from Emerald Drive. You have to find the beach by driving along Ocean Drive since there is no Third Street running from Emerald Drive to water. This map will help.

Some of the most famous beaches in North Carolina are up in Corolla on the Northern Outer Banks. People love those beaches because they have a shallow slope and fine sand which provides an easy walking surface. I find that the Crystal Coast beaches which are just to the east of the Point in Emerald isle are very similar to those in Corolla and actually easier to get to for most people. I just love walking those beaches out by the Point. It is a wonderful area with so much beautiful beach that I often imagine that it is the way beaches were before America was discovered. You can best access these beaches by using the Station Street parking.

For much of the winter, I stick with beach near the Islander just after Highway 58 crosses over from Cape Carteret. It usually has few cars this time of year. It is only ten minutes from my house, and it is a pleasant walk to the beach from the paved parking lot. The short walk from the parking lot to the beach takes you by a dressing/bathroom area and beach volleyball nets. That same area is often where small concerts are held during warmer weather.

While those beaches are all great, some even nicer beaches are only accessible by boat. Those beaches which pop up in and around Bogue Inlet are some of the finest beaches in the area. Their sands which disappear at high tide stay above the water long enough to provide plenty fun from low tide until they slide under water. If you do not have your own boat, you can grab a ferry ride over to Hammocks Beach or if you want to go farther afield you can catch one of many ferries over to Cape Lookout which is very close to the way beaches were before people started building home along them.

The variety of beach activities in the area always amazes me. So if you would like to capture some pictures of sparkling waves or just relax on the beach, now is the time to start booking that vacation. Even our paradise has a limited number of seats.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Near Perfect Weather For the Weekend

If there is a kickoff for the beach season, it is Easter weekend. This year someone ordered up some nearly perfect weather to help all of us forget the really nasty winter weather that bedeviled us for several months. Actually part of the east is still being cursed with extraordinary precipitation. A friend in Massachusetts told me tonight that in her sister's neighborhood only one out of six ways out was still above the flood waters. My college roommate who lives on the New Jersey shore has complained about continuing wet weather and temperatures in the forties at night. So if you are in one of the areas not blessed with good weather this first week in April, the Crystal Coast is ready for you, and now would be a really good time to come visit. You might be surprised with how blue our skies can get during the day, and how many stars you can count at night.
A lot of people have never heard of the Crystal Coast, and even more have never taken the time to visit. I have never heard exactly why the area is called the Crystal Coast. My personal theory is that the name comes from the crystal clear waters .

If there is one thing that is for certain, it is that the Crystal Coast is all about the water . Easy access to water is why many of us who live here permanently moved to the area. It is also why the area is favored as a vacation area for natives of North Carolina.

This is a place where you can walk the beaches without being surrounded by miles of high rise towers. There are three really large regional beach access areas with free parking. One is at Fort Macon near Atlantic Beach, and there are two in the town of Emerald Isle. There are other smaller ones spread out along the beaches.

Of course if you are staying in a home along the beach, there are dozens of neighborhood beach access points within walking distance. These are marked with CAMA signs. So getting to the beach is not a problem, and still it is a surprise to lots of folks from up north, there is no beach tag required on our beaches. You can walk as far as you want on the beaches, and no one will bother you.

Beyond the beaches, boating is considered fundamental to the enjoyment of life here on the coast. Carteret County is one of the best places to go boating on the east coast. We have a very long protected stretch of the Intracoastal Waterway that runs right through the county. In addition to that Beaufort Inlet and Bogue Inlet are two well marked routes from the ICW to the ocean. Just riding down Bogue Sound from Swansboro to Shackleford Banks is a beautiful trip . I often tell visitors that our real main street is the ICW. If you had rather paddle your away around, this area is great for kayaking. The waters near Beaufort, the Hammocks Beach area, Bogue Sound and the White Oak River are all wonderful places for kayaking. And those are just a few of my favorite spots.

Along with walking the beaches, kayaking, and boating comes fishing. Even some of the area drug stores sell fishing tackle, so you know that fishing is near to the hearts of many county residents and visitors. From flounder, trout, bluefish, spots, croakers, to red drum, the area is a great place to fish. Fishing is another one of those reasons to live in the county. There are few places where you can go fishing early in the morning in the ocean, catch some Spanish mackerel, clean the fish, shower and be at work by nine AM.The Crystal Coast is one of those places. If fishing from boats is not your thing, we have miles of beach for surf fishing and the Bogue Inlet pier for pier fishing.

Then of course, any place that attracts families has to have something for everyone. From the shops in Beaufort and Swansboro to Morehead City's shopping centers and Emerald Plantation in the town of Emerald Isle, there are more than enough shops for those who need some shopping time interspersed with their beach time. On top of that there are activities for the kids such as miniature golf and MacDaddy's arcade.

And when you are worn out from all the time spent enjoying our ocean playground, we have some great family owned restaurants where you can relax and enjoy the area's fantastic seafood.

This is a great time of year to get your first taste of the Crystal Coast.

You should be warned that it is possible to fall in love with the area. There is only one cure for that. You have to move here, and I am one of those who did exactly that.