Over the past few days the usually clear, fresh air of the Outer Banks has periodically become smoky. The intensity varies from a slight smoke smell, to very brown skies. Today we awoke to more heavy smoke smell and visibility which sometimes decreased to four or five blocks.
This is all due to a peat fire burning in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. According to firefighters on the scene, the lightning-sparked fire will continue to burn for several months because this type of fire is so hard to put out.
So on a day with really nasty air and visibility, we’re off to see the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills about 12 miles north of where we’re staying in Nag’s Head.
Before that, please permit us digress for a moment to tell you about two small experiences we had in the last few days that illustrate how travel broadens one’s perspective.
- We tend to think of Taco Bell as a pretty standardized, national fast food establishment. You order a bean burrito in California or Oklahoma or North Carolina and it’s going to be pretty much the same. Well, when I ordered a bean burrito here in Nag’s Head yesterday, I asked for green sauce instead of red and was greeted by a blank stare. They had no idea what I was talking about. They didn’t even know what red sauce was. They pointed to the little individual packages of “hot sauce” and said that was the only sauce they had. And if I hadn’t asked them if onions came with their burritos, I would have gotten just a tortilla filled with beans and some cheese. Weird!
- As we were driving today, we passed a truck with flashing yellow lights. It was being lead by another truck. In between were two, small ordinary passenger cars being driven near the center line. As we passed, we saw that the driver of the first car was leaning out and squirting a dollop of glue on the center line and the driver of the second car was slapping a reflective bott’s dot on each splat of glue. Primitive and labor-intensive yes, but it got the job done!
We drove to the memorial entrance, waved our magic National Parks Senior Pass and were soon walking into a theater to watch a movie about the Wright Brothers and their amazing accomplishments. The film was a little didactic, and I worried about Diana falling asleep during a section which covered more physics and calculations that she usually is willing to absorb, but we both enjoyed learning more about these true American icons.
After the movie we explored the visitor’s center and listened to a lecture by a ranger who described and demonstrated an actual full-sized model of the 1903 Wright Flyer. Seeing how it worked first-hand really surprised me. The thing is made mostly of wood and cloth, with a bunch of wires (bicycle spoke wire, actually) and metal connectors holding it together. But when you see how the parts work together and how many complex problems were solved with the brother’s patient, precise, skillful approach, the flyer transcends it’s common materials and becomes a thing of beauty.
There’s a great picture which shows the first flight with the flyer in the air, one brother flying it, the other brother running alongside, which dramatically depicts the actual moment in time when the world changed. You’ve probably seen it before, but take another look and think about what was happening that instant. Very cool!
One other thing which I particularly found exciting was a small piece of wood and scrap of cloth from that 1903 aircraft. The letters displayed with the ordinary looking items verify that they were taken on the Apollo 11 flight and carried to the surface of the moon by Neil Armstrong. What a massive amount of progress in just 66 short years. Amazing!
After making sure we had our picture taken at the takeoff point when the smoke was briefly lighter than usual (although you can see smoke behind the memorial on the hill), we left the historic site, with a much better understanding of just how important the Wright Brother’s contribution was, and also how much work, study and failure proceeded that accomplishment.
We spent the late afternoon relaxing, napping, and recharging our batteries. Tomorrow we will leave the Outer Banks and start heading north. The saga continues!