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Beach & Blast 2013!

posted Jul 6, 2013, 3:27 PM by Justin P   [ updated Jul 6, 2013, 3:31 PM ]
For the third year in a row now, we headed to the Wilmington area to celebrate Independence Day.  Due to Sandy's works schedule, we couldn't camp out at the beach this time, so we just headed down for a day trip.  We left the house just after 6 and arrived at Fort Fisher State Recreation Area right at 9.  We met with up with John and Heidi and set up our stuff on the beach.  It was still early and the beach wasn't too crowded yet, and I wanted to stretch my legs after the long drive, so I went for a short walk down the beach.  After a bit, there was no one else on the beach in front of me, except for a group of sandpipers and some pelicans flying overhead.  So I stopped here and enjoyed listening to the sound of the waves crash, before heading back to the group.  More and more people trickled into the group as time went on.  By late morning, it was getting quite hot, so it was a good opportunity to cool off in the ocean.  The waves were surprisingly strong today, as was the current.  Heidi warned me getting in that the waves were strong so hold on to your bathing suit!  Sandy was having a wardrobe malfunction with her bathing suit, so she never got all the way.  But I went out to about the sand bar and got knocked around by some strong waves.  A little later on, I went back in got caught in a rip current, finding myself getting pulled out.  I got myself calmed down and started going parallel to the shore until I got out of the rip current, and then started going to the beach.  By the time I got out, I was exhausted.  The current was a lot stronger than me.  Later on, I heard that the lifeguards had to rescue a woman caught in the current, but luckily they got her and she was OK.  I headed back to our spot and rested under the shelter for a bit.  Then, Sandy and I headed to the aquarium to get a break form the sun and the heat. 

The NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher is one of three NC aquariums and has some really interesting exhibits and programs.  There are two buildings; the first is the Conservatory, focusing on freshwater plants and animals, and the second is the Marine building, with ocean life.  We started in the Conservatory, which has exhibits on many of the creatures and ecosystems along the Cape Fear River.  A lot of the animals on exhibit here are not fish, but reptiles and amphibians.  One of the most unique critters here is Luna, an albino alligator.  She would not survive in the wild.  The melanin pigment that she lacks acts as camouflage and protects her from UV light.  And being cold-blooded, she needs to lay in the sun for warmth.  So the aquarium provides her a heated environment protected from sunlight.  We also enjoyed watching a cute baby box turtle try to eat a cricket.  The bug was much too big for him to eat, but he was giving it best shot.  He finally cornered the cricket and managed to take off a leg before the cricket got away, so he'd have a snack for now and the rest would be easier to catch later on.  When we were done in this section, we headed over to the Marine building.  We saw a young loggerhead sea turtle who was growing up at the aquarium, but would be released into the sea when he grew up and has a better chance of survival.  I also really enjoyed seeing the octopus who was particularly active, popping in and out of his hiding spot and the moon jellyfish were beautiful.  I also enjoyed the Pacific Reef tank, with clownfish, moon wrasse, and other fish I recognized from our honeymoon in French Polynesia.  When we had finished checking out the exhibits, we stopped in the gift shop and got a couple of little turtle souvenirs and had lunch at Sharkbites, the aquarium's restaurant.  After we ate, we headed back to the beach and enjoyed the sand and waves for a little while longer, before packing up and headed into Wilmington. 

The drive into the city was pretty bad.  Traffic was really bad and a wreck had caused major backups.  And the hot sun was making it all the more frustrating.  Today had been the first actually hot day of the summer.  We've had so much rain and stormy weather, I hadn't been out in the sun much yet this year.  But it was beautiful today, although sitting in the car stuck in traffic, it didn't feel so beautiful.  Once we got into the city, I found my ideal parking spot, at the corner of Grace St. and N 4th St.  If we run to the cars here after the fireworks, we manage to mostly beat the traffic and can get out of the city relatively easily.  We headed down to our favorite spot on the river to watch the fireworks, across from Quince Alley.  John and Heidi stayed to protect the spot while we headed out to find some dinner.  We tried a couple restaurants, but all had over an hour wait.  It definitely seemed more crowded than usual.  So we ended up getting some BBQ from a food truck vendor; it wasn't too bad.  But Sandy and I were both wanting a drink, so we headed to an Slainte, an Irish pub up the street and had a couple of drinks while we waited for the fireworks.  This year the fireworks were shot off from another location.  They weren't over the battleship and didn't seem as impressive this year.  The angle from our usual spot wasn't the best either.  But it was still a fun time.  As soon as the last fireworks were shot off, we took off running back to the car and were able to get out ahead of most of the traffic.  Once we got to I-40, it was smooth all the way home.