Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Pine Knoll Aquarium and Fort Macon

We were lucky to get such a glorious day at the beach on Friday because the rest of our vacation was too cold and blustery to enjoy a good swim. Fortunately we had a lot of other things planned should hanging out on the beach all day long not look tempting.

We bought a membership to the zoo shortly before leaving on our trip because that will also let you into North Carolina aquariums for free. Admission to the zoo for our entire family is $63. Admission to the aquarium is $48.75. But a membership that lets us into both places is only $75. That's what we get for having a large family, I suppose. We're planning on hitting up the zoo later (though I do admit that I'm on the fence about the ethics of zoos and aquariums; I think when done correctly they can help raise people's awareness for the need for conservations and so forth, but who really wants to be stuck in a cage or tank for their entire life).

The Pine Knoll Aquarium was our first stop for the day. Here's a few pictures of the children enjoying the sea turtle statues:

The sting ray exhibit is always a big hit with my kids. They all got to touch the sing rays, which they enjoyed.

There was a nurse shark in the tank as well. No one was brave enough to touch the shark.

Here we are learning about horseshoe crabs:

The sea horses were a big hit. They swim so awkwardly!

This juvenile trunkfish, though, wins the prize for being the most awkward swimmer. It looked like a pebble bumping around in the tank; it was hard to believe it was a fish at all, but it will grow up to be quite beautiful despite this awkward phase.

Here are my little hermit crabs:

Miriam wasn't willing to be a hermit crab, so Andrew decided to take a turn instead and I'm so very glad he did.

Here are Miriam and Benjamin enjoying the big tank:

All the fish, including the sharks, were swimming around in endless circles (very unfulfilling) but the sea turtle was not. It was huddled in the corner and we began to wonder, "Is it sick? Is it hurt? Is it dead?" So we went to investigate and found it was none of those things. Rather, it was relaxing in front of a water jet. We could its leathery skin rippling in the current and it looked rather pleased with life as it shifted this way and that to ensure a full-body massage. It was pretty cute.

Here's Zoë enjoying watching the fish swim around. She wasn't this alert/interested the first time she visited an aquarium.

The weather had cleared up a bit by the time we'd finished with all the indoor exhibits so we decided to see what was outside. The aquarium abuts the Theodore Roosevelt State Natural Area (land donated to the state by Roosevelt's children with the caveat that it be used as a preserve) and there are some trails you can access from within the aquarium (or so I'd read).

The playground was fun, and we spent quite a bit of time there, by beyond that the woods were so mosquito ridden that we were literally running for the safety of indoors! I should have listened to the locals (always listen to the locals) when I overheard a father tell his daughter, "I think we'll skip the mosquito walk today..."

Anyway, the playground was fun. Here are some pictures of Rachel and Daddy enjoying the life bouy swing (but there was quite a bit more to the playground than just that).

And here's everyone running out of the woods, away from the swarming mosquitoes:

Here's a cute picture I took of Zoë while we waited for everyone to finish using the restrooms:

We stayed at the aquarium from about 10:00 until 1:00 and then we headed to the tip of the island to visit Fort Macon. Their little visitor's centre had a nice conservation exhibit where we learned about dunes and tides and fun things like that.

Here's Miriam pretending to be a pearl:

And here's Zoë with Daddy by the dune exhibit:

Here are the children making footprints in the sand:

There was also an exhibit of trash that had been collected on the beach (and the dangers our trash poses to sea creatures), which greatly concerned the children. Miriam was so moved by the exhibit that she picked up a bag of trash that had washed ashore when we visited the beach onsite and carried it back to the visitor's centre so she could put it in the trash can.

Anyway, here we are in Fort Macon. The fact that Macon sounds so much like 'bacon' was not lost to the children and there have been many, many jokes made about Fort Bacon the last several days. Here are the kids by an original-to-the-fort (circa 1834) mortar cannon:

And a pile of cannon balls:

And with a replica of a cannon on top of the citadel:

The fort was fun to explore but, honestly, there are so many drop-offs that my heart was pounding the whole time. "No running! Hold Daddy's hand! Keep away from the edge! Don't get silly and fall into the moat!" Seriously—take one wrong step and you end up twelve feet below where you intended to be! How did they manage the chaos of battle?! I could hardly manage the chaos of three (walking) children!

Here's everybody walking to the stairs to get off the citadel and into the parade ground. You can see there are no rails. Yikes, yikes, yikes!

It didn't help matters that it was super windy. Zoë and I stayed at the top so that we could take a picture of everyone else down below.

There they are in the middle of the parade grounds:

There are twenty-six casemates in the citadel and several of them have been done up to show how they may have been furnished during any given time period the fort was active (the Civil War (what's known as "The War Between the States" in these parts (an amelioration of "The War of Northern Aggression")), the Spanish-American War, and WWII. It was deactivated after the Reconstruction (until 1877) and was abandoned by the army after the Spanish-American War (in 1903). In 1923 it was actually offered for sale as "surplus military property" but was turned into a state park in 1924.

The army actually leased the park back from the state during WWII to use as a base (until 1946) because our shores were fairly teeming with German U-boats, a fact that is rarely mentioned in any history class. But seriously...we sunk a few U-boats out there and the U-boats sank even more of our boats because we were so underprepared for a war that they were just lazily patrolling our shores—there are accounts of German soldiers sunbathing on top of their submarines in broad daylight off our North Carolinian shores. No kidding.

Anyway, here are the kids listening to the audio about the Civil War:

And here's Andrew showing Benjamin where we are on the map:

And here's Benjamin at the entrance to a reconstructed magazine:

And I took this picture for Josie in the WWII casemate—playing cards with shapes of planes on them to aide soldiers in recognizing our own planes vs. enemy planes:

Here's everyone standing in the sally port (the main entrance):

And here's a view of the moat:

We heard that it was empty just a few weeks ago and all that water is from Hurricane Joaquin breezing by.

Here's a picture of all of us:

And another view of the moat:

Here's Rachel by a stairwell leading to the moat and the counterfire galleries:

Here are the kids being awesome:

And here's everyone on a different entrance (not the sally port):

As much fun as it was to explore the fort, the children's favourite part was rolling down the embankment on the covertway!

Once we were finished with the fort we headed back to the visitor's centre to use the facilities. I went to get a drink and came face to face with whatever this creature is!

So I told Rachel to get a drink. She did and was startled by the picture when she turned her head to take a sip. "MOM!" she wailed. "Why?! Why do they have that picture? It looks like a dream crab!"

We headed outside to enjoy a walk by the Bogue Sound and to see if we could spot some cormorants, who apparently like to nest in the area. We didn't see any but one spotted me! It saw me from way high up in the sky and thought, "She looks like a lovely toilet!"

I was not impressed.

It actually felt like I got hit by a rock or something, but when I turned around to see who would throw a rock at a mother carrying a baby, all I saw was a group of sweet-looking old people, and I thought, "That's odd. Why would any of them throw a rock at me?"

That's about when I realized that rocks don't ooze down your neck.

I was quite grossed out, as was Andrew (he had to clean me off).

Here we are walking out to the Beufort Inlet:

Here's Miriam and Benjamin posing by the hazard sign:

Miriam's not actually grumpy; she's pretending to be "staff" and that is her stern face. No swimming—and she means it!

Here are the kids looking out at the sea:

And a twofie of Andrew and me:

Zoë was really not a fan of all the wind (it was wildly windy) and preferred to be all snuggled up in the carrier, covered with a blanket.

We went back to the hotel for some dinner (I played UNO with the girls while Andrew and Benjamin ran to the mainland for Little Caesar's Pizza) and then finished off the day with an evening stroll on the beach, which was lovely way to end the day (in spite of the rain):


  1. I love so much of this post except the oozing-down-your-neck fact! Andrew looks great as a hermit crab. That seriously has Facebook-profile-picture potential! :)