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Jockey's Ridge: Breathless Oasis

Brittney Wheatley (2012)

I have left the plain, and each sinking step brings my wandering mind back to that realization. The grains of sand pivot around your skin until you’ve sunk ankle deep; from the bottom of the dune, you look like a human growth on the East Coast's largest sand dunes. From the bottom of the first dune, I felt that I was about to climb a really short mountain. Breathless at the top, the trail of footprints looks like I stumbled, but no one would pay much attention to my footprints here. The expanse of sand and the lack of a beaten path make my leftover markings unremarkable to other people.

There are people here; at one count I spotted 28 people, but from where I stood, each individual was an ant. A football stadium full of fans could walk onto Jockey’s Ridge, go in separate directions, and not meet their friends again for at least 24 hours. To me this is better than being at the beach; the quiet where I can only hear wind whistles and uses the nearest American Beach Grass as an alternative instrument. The reeds are sparse in number overall, nestled close to the small puddle-shaped lakes coming from heavy rain in the valley of the dunes.

The plant life was a surprise when I walked up the first dune. I paused in at the patch of forest areas spread out in front of me and exclaimed: “Oh my gosh, there are trees! There’s like this random patch of trees.” Inside the forests, live oaks, red cedars, wax myrtle, bayberry, and read oaks only make up a portion of the maritime thickets. As typical of the aerial perspective, the patches looked more like broccoli bits separated on the plate. Expanses of dunes shorter than the one where I stood mesmerized were filled with the potential adventure I didn’t have time for.

A person can go to Jockey’s Ridge every day of the week for years and never experience it the same way. My experience was that of a wanderer. Turing left for ten minutes and then right for thirty, zigzagging up one dune and down to the valley of the other side. A windmill marked the entrance of my journey, like an enormous flag without marring the ocean view. The sand dunes change, constantly blowing over and being built up by the wind current coming off the Atlantic Ocean, although that in and of itself makes the exploration of the sand dunes an exceptional joy. 420 acres of sand may never be walked over.

I spotted a couple who were dog walking, there was no leash, and in the space allotted, no peace the barking dogs could bother. A family with five kids uses a sand dune closer to the entrance as a water slide. All members lined up to watch one another slide down wetted beach sand into the shallow lakes below, cheering at the splash and no doubt enjoying nature’s toy and the lack of lines that come with the territory of a manmade water slide. It’s a very safe, kid-friendly adventure. The lakes barely reach up to the shoulders of a nine-year-old boy lying down.
And the vantage point of being on a sand dune rather than a flat beach is the ability to see the actions of little kids from whatever direction they are headed easily.

I was able to observe their adventure and wade in the water as well; up to my ankles without the fear of a current taking me by surprise or kids tossing water up and splashing me by accident. I’m also not in the way of young and old hang gliders, coming back from a lesson two or three
dunes outside of my exploration area. Free permits to hang glide are available through the park office for those who have a valid USHGA rating, but for those interested in flight but do not wish to their feet to leave the ground, the sand dunes are an ideal spot to fly kites.

OBX Brewtag Festival

Laura Dunbar (2017)

The Outer Banks is a popular destination in the North Carolinian summer months, and a common misconception holds that there isn’t much to do come the off-season. Though there are fewer tourists and the Atlantic isn’t exactly swimmable, there isn’t a lack of activities. Among these autumn activities is the OBX Brewtag Festival, which took place on October 28th this year. 


The Brewtag festival is modeled after Red Bull’s annual Flutag festival, which occurs in multiple cities around the world. Flutag is German for “flying day,” and the event features competitors attempting to fly homemade, human-powered flying machines. Brewtag takes its twist on this concept. Instead of flying machines, teams are challenged with the task of building a contraption to fly a one-sixth-keg barrel. 


Participating teams, made up of four or more people hailing from all different states, worked for weeks on their keg-flying machines. Most resembled planes, with two wings coming out of the keg, while others had a different design, such as one board atop the keg. The teams all had quirky names and wore costumes to go along with them. Their excitement was palpable as they climbed the flight deck and launched the kegs into the air.


Though the concept seemed a bit bizarre to me, I was surprised to find myself getting caught up in the excitement of the crowd as the kegs went flying. Before launching, team members danced around, riling the crowd up, and by the time the keg was launched the crowd was going wild. Some kegs soared; others went crashing, face-first into the ground. No matter the outcome, I found myself cheering, awe-ing, or laughing with the crowd, becoming a part of the exciting atmosphere.


The keg flying competition, though the main attraction, wasn’t all the Brewtag Festival had to offer. The festival was from 1:00-5:30, so there were a lot more activities to occupy our time. We ate from two food trucks catering the event from local restaurants, which had something for everybody— from tuna tartar in an ice cream cone to beef tacos and cheeseburgers. Two bands were performing live during the event as well, and after the keg competition, we sat on the ground in front of the stage and listened to the music with other festival-goers. The first band seemed to be more of a background noise to everything else, but the second band— a reggae style— had everyone dancing along. Though the event was centered around beer, it was very kid-friendly, and families seemed to be the most common of the attendees. There were many children’s activities, including a rock climbing wall, face painting, a mechanical shark, a bounce house, and an arts and crafts station. There were also many local vendors selling souvenirs and apparel, including funny graphic t-shirts that went along with the event, like a bear hugging a mug of beer saying “Beer Hug.” Because it was Halloween weekend, many people were wearing costumes, which were judged in a costume contest at the end of the festival along with the awards ceremony for the keg competition, though we weren’t there to see the results. 


The Brewtag also had a record number of 25 breweries in attendance, housed at their tables under a large white tent. At the entrance to the festival, you were able to purchase a punch card for 20 dollars each, good for either four beers or 12 beer tastings. The breweries had IPAs, blonde brews, ciders, etc. There was something for everyone, and there were large crowds underneath the tent for the entirety of the festival.


It was the third annual OBX Brewtag, and after talking to other festival-goers, it seemed that it was the best, despite a disagreement about whether the competition was canceled the year before due to a hurricane. Some argued that it was, but others claimed that was a different weekend, and that the show did go on. This year, though, the weather was warm, the music was great, and the entertainment was unique. All in all, the OBX Brewtag was a great time and I would recommend it to anyone heading to the Outer Banks during the off-season!

Beach Nourishment on Nags Head 

Sydney Sirkin (2020) 

The Outer Banks has been a hot vacation destination spot for over fifty years, fully outfitted with the beach, the sun, and cool ocean air. The flock of tourists has only increased, leaving great stress on the beaches and sand dune structures that prevent the tides from completely flooding the island. 


In Nags Head, an island on the Outer Banks, the sand dunes have served an essential role. Despite their ability to separate land and sea, the “ocean and erosion have claimed property along the oceanfront,” says Nags Head Director of Planning and Development, Michael Zehner. Zehner also notes that the “dune system is not natural; it was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s”. 


Under FDR’s New Deal, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was formed in 1933 within the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The CCC provided work relief to unemployed men in jobs within conservation and natural resources on land owned by the government, such as the National and State Parks. Jobs under the CCC included structural improvements, erosion control, flood control, forest protection, landscaping, and wildlife management. The program concluded in 1942 after Congress ceased funding, but lives on in other organizations such as the Student Conservation Association, Conservation Corps in several states, and the Sea Ranger Service. 


On the Outer Banks, dune creation was prioritized to allow for economic growth along the coast. Over 3,000,000 feet of sand was constructed to form barrier dunes along the coast and was stabilized by 2,500,000 trees and plants, according to Robert Dolan’s Dune Stabilization Study. The effort was widely received by the community, and many houses, buildings, and businesses were built directly behind the dunes. However, the dune has slowly eroded over the years and has left these buildings exposed to the elements. 

Such deterioration has not stopped the influx of tourists, and the island is working hard to keep up both economic growth and environmental integrity. Through beach nourishment programs, Zehner says “beach nourishment is accepted as a treatment that is not detrimental environmentally, and is worthwhile due to the protection benefits that it provides to private property and public infrastructure, and the obvious economic benefits.” 

Beach nourishment, according to the Nags Head website, protects “our beachfront’s accessibility, natural beauty, and ecological vitality, as well as our community’s economic viability.” Due to the upkeep required of sand dunes, the nourishment program allows government money to support both the beach and the current way of life on the island, which includes year-round residents and visitors. While the program does positively serve the environment, it is another band-aid fix as we await a natural disaster that will require us to create a new plan to hold the island together. 

Until then, Nags Head’s program remains the largest funded beach nourishment project in the country and continues to work to preserve the beautiful landscape of North Carolina beaches.

Mulligan's Grille Food Review 

Caroline Kilborn (2022)


By the time we had gotten to Nags Head, North Carolina, it was 8 pm. We were starving, to say the least. We were hopeful about the food selections because we assumed it would have the same kind of vibe as Myrtle Beach in South Carolina; lots of restaurants, amazing nightlife, and just overall a very busy kind of environment. However, it was the exact opposite.

By the time we had dropped our bags at the hotel, it was 9 pm. While it was our fault that we did not look up places to eat in advance, we were kind of hoping that the spontaneity would make the trip even more enjoyable. Unfortunately, there were hardly any restaurants open in Nags Head. 

The open places were either extremely expensive or a drive-through, with maybe one or two spots that lay somewhere in between the two extremes. This was not what we expected out of what seems to be a very popular beach town. 

After driving to a couple of restaurants, and finding out that they were closed or soon to be closed, we came across Mulligan’s Grille. 

Mulligan's Grille was mainly a seafood restaurant. There were many different types of seafood offered. One could get a cup of Clam Chowder, a Crab Pretzel, a Burger, or even Chicken and Waffles. There was an array of different meals to choose from, so we knew we could not go wrong with this restaurant choice.

For dining on a Friday, there was hardly anyone there, and the people that were there were all in a much older age bracket than us. It was one of the more confusing restaurants we visited just because we thought it would be packed and hard to find a table anywhere in Nags Head, but everything closed around 9 pm, even on Fridays.

After looking at the menu for a little, we both decided to split the Calamari. I was planning to get the Cali Burger, but instead of it being red meat, I asked for it to be made with a turkey patty. Gayatri Chopra, my project partner, decided to get the Fish N’ Chips. While it is hard to account for what Gayatri thought when she was eating her entree, I know that I was shocked by my meal.

The Calamari we shared was exceptional. The amount given to us was easily shareable and it came with both marinara sauce as well as a sriracha aioli to dip the pieces in. The calamari itself was so crispy and flavorful. I am used to squeezing a lemon on top of the dish when it arrives at my table, however, it tasted as if there was already lemon squeezed as well as a couple of other spices sprinkled on top. It was genuinely extremely enjoyable. 

For the Cali Burger, my initial feeling was confusion. The Cali Burger, with a turkey patty, was topped with avocado salad, bacon, pepper jack cheese, and chipotle aioli. I believe it would have been much better if it were with a normal burger patty, but it just seemed a little off. For one thing, the food came out eerily fast, making me wonder if the food was prepared in advance and then just heated to order. However, that is beside the point. The avocado salad was nonexistent. When I first picked up the burger to take my first bite, a large blob of avocado fell off and I believe that was the entirety of the avocado on the burger, so I was unable to get a large taste of it when I was eating the burger. The bun was a little dry and the patty, while there was good flavor it did not look too appealing on the inside. 

Unfortunately, due to some outside circumstances, I was unable to finish the burger. But altogether it was a pleasant experience.

Overall, Mulligan's Grille was a positive experience. 

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