Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Hatteras 0723 EDT

Photographing at Hatteras,  I’m alone on the pre-dawn beach.   A half mile away, at Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, there is always someone else  with a tripod and a camera.  It is an American icon and has been photographed a lot.  In season, it opens at 9 AM and you can climb the 268 steps to the top.  Its a good view but that late, the light is flat.   I’ve asked the National Park Service to let me up there at dawn or dusk without success.  To be fair, they are short handed.  Here is what a 208 foot tall lighthouse looks like if you hop the decorative fence in the morning when only photographers are around.  You can get this close and have your choice of parking.  Below is my “postcard” shot from April of 2009.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Sea Oats at Hatteras

Hatteras Morning - 0633 EDT

The Outer Banks or “OBX” are barrier islands on the North Carolina coast.  Bodie, Roanoke, Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands form a thin ribbon of sand for 200 miles, separating the Atlantic Ocean from Currituck, Croatan, Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds.   Seaward, sand dunes are stabilized by Sea Oats, American Beach Grass, Seashore Elder and Bitter Panicum, a mix of the grasses found in states to the North and South.   American Beach Grass dominates to the North, Sea Oats to the south.  North Carolina is the transition zone, similar to the meeting of the cold Labrador and warm Gulf-stream currents, offshore.  Sea Oats or “Uniola paniculata” are so important to coastline preservation, they are protected by law in North Carolina and most southern states.  

Hatteras Light: 0543 EDT

Hatteras Morning : 0543 EDT

This photograph was made from where Cape Hatteras Lighthouse used to be.  The tallest lighthouse in America, the “Big Barberpole” was moved 1/2 half mile in 1998 to prevent the Atlantic from taking it.  It was built in 1870 from 1,250,000 bricks fired in Virginia, delivered by sea and hauled by oxen to Buxton.  It is 208 feet tall and its light can be seen for 20 miles at sea.  There were no pilings underneath it, just heart pine timbers.  Modern ships rely on GPS satellites and their own radar for navigation.  Still, every 7.5 seconds, Hatteras Light flashes,  warning sailors of the treachery of  “Diamond Shoals”.  If you go there, go well before dawn.  Having the beach to yourself is its own reward.

Impression, Soleil Levant

Impression, soleil levant (sun rise)

“Impression, sun rise” was painted by Claude Monet in 1872 while looking at the harbor of Le Havre from his window.  When shown, a critic’s hostile review compared his painting to “unfinished wallpaper. ”  This version is a photograph, taken 20 minutes after “soleil levant”, of the Atlantic Ocean from the beach at Pea Island Wildlife Refuge, Cape Hatteras.

Atlantic Sunrise – Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Atlantic Sunrise - Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Cape Hatteras National Seashore preserves and protects a large portion of the Outer Banks Barrier Islands.  This photograph was made at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.  It was a quiet morning with a flat sea and a hazy sky, a hot August day.  In this same place, in April, I have  seen 8 foot waves with 35 knot gusts and thousands of Cormorants migrating, as far as I could see in either direction.  Hurricanes sometimes cut through these islands.  They looked very different 200 years ago and will be greatly changed in the next 200.