A few months ago, my sister invited me to go along on the family vacation with her, her husband, several adult children and one of her granddaughters. To the Outer Banks. Let’s see. Two weeks in a house on the beach, or stay in Arizona during the beginning of the long hot summer. Which shall I choose?
View from the deck
The destination was Corolla (pronounced Cah-RUH-la. I immediately went online to find out if turtles might be laying eggs (too late) or eggs might be hatching (too early). But I did find out there were wild horses just up the road. No turtles, but wild horses!
These horses are descendants of wild Spanish Mustangs and have been roaming the peninsula for nearly five hundred years. This makes them some of the earliest full-time residents of the area, second only to Native Americans who were here. It also makes them the first permanent settlers from Europe.
And of course, there were horse tours available. As on the whale tour I took in Baja Sur a little over five years ago, there was no guarantee we’d see any of the animals. There are a number of tours available, but I ended up choosing the Wild Horse Adventure Tours.
I had wanted to schedule a tour in the morning before it got too hot, and I wanted it early in the week before predicted winds and rains. I got one early in the week, but at 2 pm. Hot time. But we had a fabulous tour guide named Will. Will Smith.
My brother-in-law, one niece and two nephews decided to go along on the two-plus-hour tour.
We headed north to the end of Corolla where Highway 12 ended. Oops. No, only the pavement ended. Highway 12 continues for quite a few miles along the beach. No pavement, no grading, just sand. Good thing we were in a Hummer!
That little road on the far east is on the beach!
Highway 12, taken through the windshield
We drove along the sand, then up into the dunes covering some beautiful area. Will pointed out a tall dune named Penny’s Hill (sorry, no photo). He said it was a kind of “walking dune” that, like all dunes, shift and move. He told us there were once several houses at the base of Penny’s Hill but the dune “walked” right over them and buried them.
Will also told us that the dunes near the beach used to be a kind of forest but all the tress had died out. He said they were just old, but I wonder if seawater may have helped kill them off.
After the trees died, humans created the high dunes closest to the ocean. They were created under the New Deal and they serve as a buffer for inland areas.
Inland a bit
After driving the dunes without seeing a single horse, we headed back for the beach. I began to wonder if the trip was going to end up being an expensive dune ride.
And then … there they were. Wild mustangs!
They were right on the beach near the shore, likely just cooling off in the seawater. It was a small herd, as they all are. Most herds are one male and several females though there are a few bachelor herds roaming about also. There are only about one hundred twenty wild mustangs in the area. Since they aren’t an indigenous species, they aren’t protected by the federal government.
Will slowed, even stopped, so we could take photos. We then headed further north and into another area of dunes.
We were still excited about seeing the horses on the beach when suddenly another small herd came running up the road right toward us!
Small herd headed toward us, taken through windshield
Will slowed and eased to the side of the road so they could pass, and then moved on. About a minute later we spotted two males up on the dunes. The two bachelors headed down to the road and to the herd we’d just seen.
One of the bachelors
This boy came off the dunes in search of a mate
As we turned around, it seemed a horsefight was about to break out. We caught just the beginning and then the herd and the two bachelors tore off into inland dunes and we lost them.
No photo of the fight – they took off too quickly
It was then time to head back south. We passed the old Wash Woods Coast Guard station.
Will told us a little more about the area on the ride back. In the two small developments we visited, all building materials had been hauled up the beach. The areas had their own community wells and, amazingly, had trash service. Will claims pizza is even delivered. “If you’re willing to pay, someone will do it,” he said.
On the way back, we again saw the horses on the shore. A crowd had gathered around them, snapping photos. We paused for him to remind the crowd that they need to stay back at least fifty feet – that’s what the law says – from the horses because they bite and kick. He said last year a woman was petting a horse when it suddenly kicked her. She landed in the emergency room and while there was issued a ticket carrying a $500 fine for not staying fifty feet away from the horses.
These tourists are way too close to the horses!
Ah, our tour was over. It was wonderful. I’d do it again in a heartbeat!