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Beach Weekend at Bear Island

posted Aug 26, 2013, 6:34 AM by Justin P   [ updated Sep 8, 2013, 11:47 AM ]

This past weekend, we headed to Bear Island in Hammocks Beach State Park for camping, surf, sand, and sun and to celebrate Sandy’s and Jim’s birthdays that were over the weekend.  I couldn’t take Friday off from work, so we headed out early Saturday morning, while most of the others had already spent the night on the island.  We left Raleigh just after six and got to the park right at 9.  We had just enough time to check in at the visitor center and grab our gear to make the first ferry to the island at 930.  As the ferry was ready to take off, we waited for one more camper – John, who had come up from Wilmington to join us, was the last in our group.  Our Captain for the ride was Captain Bob who loves telling bad jokes on the ferry ride over; we remembered him from last year.  After crossing the Intracoastal Waterway on Cow Channel, we arrived at the island and made half-mile hike up to the pavilion and bath house.  John was staying with Heidi at site 9, so we he took off down the beach to set up.  Sandy, Mahesh, and I were staying on site 1, the closest one.  Being so flat, you would think the backpacking would be easy, but hiking on sand is tough and makes it seem much longer.  I ran up there to make sure the previous night’s campers had left the site, and since they had, I went back to the pavilion and we grabbed our stuff and set up at our campsite.  When we were done, we headed down to site 6, about midway down the beach and put up the sunshade.  With all our stuff set up, we could now enjoy the beach.  The surf was very calm today, so the first thing we did was take a dip in the ocean and float around amidst the gentle waves for a bit.  The water was a bit chilly so after thirty minutes or so, I got out and warmed up for a bit in the sun. 

Beach at Bear Island

We made our way to the concession stand to get a cold drink with our lunch.  By the concession stand, they had a table displaying exhibits of various wildlife found in the park.  These included a dolphin skull, a loggerhead sea turtle skull, various sea shells and corals, and horseshoe crab.  After lunch, Sandy and I walked down the beach towards the east end of the island to collect seashells.  When we got back to our spot, we needed a rest after all that hard work!  So we laid in the sand for a while.  The skies were partly cloudy and the thick clouds did a good job of blocking much of the sunlight.  But there were still beautiful blue skies all around.  Couldn't ask for nicer weather.  At one point, we could see a distinct color change in the ocean, where part of the sea was reflecting blue light from the sky and part was reflecting white/gray light from the clouds.  

Atlantic Ocean in Two Different Colors

As the lazy afternoon wore into evening, we headed back to our campsite for dinner.  Last year, we had taken our dinner down the west end of the island to watch the sunset.  But there were these pesky flying ants that harassed us as we ate, so we decided to eat at the campsite this year before walking down there.  After dinner, we all met back up and started the 2 or so mile walk down to the west end of the island.  As we were  walking, a very dark cloud rolled in and we got sprinkled with just a bit of rain, but after a few minutes, the cloud blew off and with it the rain.  We also saw an interesting uprooted tree that was upside down in the middle of the beach.  It must have blown over at some point in time, but it was strange to see in the middle of the beach nonetheless.  When we reached the west end of the island, we staked out a spot in the sand and waited to watch the sunset.  Clouds moved in and out from in the sun and made for a beautiful light show.  When the sun was blocked by clouds, its rays were shining out from around the clouds.  As it got lower and lower towards the horizon, the sky changed to beautiful colors of pink and orange until the sun set and darkness began kicking in.  Once the sun set, we hiked back to the pavilion and took a warm shower before going to bed.  While I was waiting for Sandy to get out of the shower, I saw an orange light in the direction of Emerald Isle.  As it rose in the sky, I realized that it was the moon rising in a brilliant orange color.  Walking back to our campsite, the moon and its reflection on the water made for a beautiful sight.  And a good breeze behind the dunes kept the bugs away for the night and thankfully, we didn’t wake to a million bug bites.

Sunset over Bear Inlet

Sunset Behind Sea Oats

In the morning, we woke up around 7 and headed down to site 6 to meet up with our group.  Along the way, we saw some cute little sanderlings poking around the surf for food.  Sandy was tired and rested under the sunshade while I hiked further down to the east end.  It was her birthday, so I couldn't complain if she wanted to relax.  We had slept in a bit and didn’t catch the sunrise, but it was another beautiful day.  Beautiful blue skies and not a cloud to be seen.  As I got to around site 9, I saw Heidi sitting on the beach looking depressed.  She had gotten up early to see the sunrise and when she went back to her tent, a raccoon and chewed its way in and stolen her food bag!  And it had her coffee!  There are no trees on Bear Island so hanging food up in a bear bag is not really an option.  Keeping food in a tent is never a good idea, but there’s nothing else to do with it.  Heidi was able to get some coffee from Susie back in site 6 and John managed to find her stolen bag stashed in the shrub thickets near the site, getting stung by a bee in the process.  The raccoon had made off with some peanuts and other snacks but had left the coffee, the most important thing.  I finished my walk down to the east end of the beach and headed over to the tidal flats here.  It was close to high tide and they were completely flooded, but I did see a couple of egrets hunting fish in the shallow water.  Then I headed back and Sandy and I took down the sunshade and headed back to our site.  I went for one more swim in the ocean.  It was yellow-flag conditions today and the waves were a bit stronger.  I enjoy getting knocked around by the waves some so I swam for a bit and then got out.  Sandy and I finished taking breaking down our campsite and met up with Mahesh, then hiked our stuff back to the ferry dock.  After getting back to the mainland, we made the drive back to Raleigh, getting home at a decent hour.  Mahesh was very thankful that I had shared our campsite with him and given him the opportunity to join us.  I wouldn’t have known about Bear Island if several years ago, someone hadn’t invited me and let me share their campsite.  So I was happy to do the same for him this year.

Trail over the Dunes to Campsite 1