Corolla, North Carolina is just one of the beautiful “towns” on this beautiful sandbar we call the Outer Banks. There’s so much to say about each part of the popular vacation destination that I couldn’t possibly fit everything about every area in one list. Not to mention, each town has its own unique features and history. Maybe you’ve been on the OBX more times than you can be bothered to count or maybe you haven’t gotten the chance just yet; either way, here are a few things about the Currituck Outer Banks area that you should know.
Corolla is one of the most popular North Carolina beaches for one special reason: the 4×4 area, slightly to the north, known as Carova! If you have a vehicle equipped to take advantage of this opportunity I would highly recommend it as part of your Outer Banks vacation experience. Enjoy the sunshine, play in the waves, and possibly see the famous wild horses!
To learn about our native critters, the best place to start your vacation is at the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education in Corolla. This incredible 22,000-square-foot education center is the ideal place to bone up on animals you might see, so you know what you’re spotting as you enjoy your getaway. Here are some of the most popular animals to see in the Outer Banks:
Five different kinds of sea turtles nest on Outer Banks beaches: leatherback, hawksbill, Kemp’s ridley, loggerhead, and green turtles. Watch for sandy mounds on the beach, especially near the dunes. Remember: If you see a turtle or a nest, don’t disturb it.
Everyone’s favorite Outer Banks animal is the Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin. Dolphins can pop up anywhere in the water — in the calm waters of the sound or inlet, to the choppy waves near the beach or offshore. Watch for dolphin from the beach or pier, or take a special dolphin-watching boat ride to maximize your chances of seeing these slippery critters.
Of course, the wild horses of the Outer Banks, known as “banker ponies,” are the most famous residents of the islands. These horses are believed to be descendants of Spanish horses that swam ashore after shipwrecks hundreds of years ago. Banker ponies are protected, and they have the run of the place. You’re most likely to see them on Corolla beaches and in Ocracoke, but they have been seen elsewhere.
Wild boars are common to barrier islands because they’re good swimmers. Outer Banks wild boar are big, and they have long tusks and bad attitudes. You probably won’t see them in town or on the beach, but if you’re exploring the rural areas of Corolla, you may spot one rooting around for a meal. They’re skittish, so watch from a distance and let them go their way.
If you are wondering why Outer Banks bunnies are so massive, it’s because they’re not bunnies — they’re hares. Hares are much larger than rabbits, with long back legs and ears. They are common on Roanoke Island, where you may see dozens upon dozens at twilight.
Many folks driving into the Outer Banks are surprised to see a black bear standing alongside, or crossing, the road. Black bears are frequently seen in the islands, especially in Currituck and around the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. Black bears don’t have a reputation for being aggressive, but they are bears after all. Best to steer clear, give them space and don’t feed them.
Once thought to be virtually extinct, red wolves have made a comeback in recent years. Spot these magnificent creatures around the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, or keep an ear out for their haunting songs at night.
Mink, Beaver, Muskrat
If you’re staying in Corolla, you may get lucky and catch a glimpse of a mink, beaver, or muskrat. Once prized for their pelts, these water mammals disappeared from the area until the late 1930s. Today they are more common and may be seen at dusk or dawn along streams and creeks.
Bobcats are so elusive that most locals don’t know they exist in the Outer Banks. However, every so often one of these short-tailed felines decides to take a beach break and surprise everyone. Bobcats are about twice the size of a domestic cat and are most often seen at dawn or dusk.
Grey and Red Fox
Grey foxes can be seen all over the Outer Banks. They’re small — much smaller than wolves — so there’s no mistaking a sighting. Foxes hunt near sunrise or sunset, but it’s not unusual to see them out and about during the day. If you have your windows open at night and hear a little howling, it’s likely one of our furry grey friends singing at the stars.
Deer are frequently seen around the Outer Banks in wooded areas. Nags Head is especially flush with deer, and sightings of herds are common near sunset. If you’re driving near dusk or dawn, go slowly and keep an eye out for the tell-tale shining eyes in the brush.
Yes, there are alligators in the Outer Banks. Alligators are shy, so it’s not likely that you’ll see one in your rental neighborhood. If you want to see an alligator, your best bet is to take a trip to Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, a 12,000-acre preserve.
The Outer Banks are home to more wildlife than most people know. For the best chance at seeing some of our furry (or slippery) locals, drive slowly, walk quietly, and watch for movement near the ground or the surface of the water.
Farther up the shoreline four horses are in silhouette on a dune, grazing on the seagrass that covers it. They will eat only the top part of the grass, unlike a domestic horse in a pasture who will forage to bare ground. It is behavior that only the Banker horses exhibit—perhaps they don’t like the sand in their diet or the taste of the seagrass isn’t as good closer to the roots—but the phenomenon is well-documented.
The Corolla Wild Horses are feral animals, not truly wild for they are not native to this area. Watching them in this environment, though, they seem a natural part of the landscape—majestic, beautiful and timeless.
They are a distinctive breed; 450 years of isolation has created a horse that is truly unique to the Outer Banks.
The Corolla horses are not large horses, the smaller ones barely bigger than some ponies. Physically they tend to be somewhat short and stocky with narrow but deep chests. Their backs are shorter in comparison to their body than most other breeds and the tail tends to sit low on their body. Most of the Corolla horses have five lumbar (lower) vertebrae, one less than most breeds of horse. That, however, is not considered a determining factor. Other breeds of horses sometimes have five lumbar and occasionally a Corolla horse will have six.
There is much that is not known about the Corolla Wild Horses, but in the past few years, some answers have emerged, but with those answers the riddle of how they came to live in Corolla has deepened.
Genetic testing and examination by experts have established the Corolla Wild Horses are direct descendents of the Spanish Mustangs of the Conquistadores. The only other wild herd that shares as many genetic characteristics as they do to the original Spanish Mustangs is the Shackleford Banks herd managed by the National Park Service.
There is a mystery in that, though. If the Corolla Wild Horses are the closest relative to the Spanish Mustangs of yore, how did they get to the Outer Banks?
Figuring that out will take a quick dive into history and some guesswork based on things we do know.
The popular theory that the horses came from a shipwreck probably didn’t happen. The problem is how horses were transported in the 16th century.
Concerned that the motion of the ship would break their legs, horses were suspended below deck in harnesses. For a horse to have escaped a sinking ship, a crew member would have had to abandon whatever their task was as the ship was being pummeled by the sea, release the animal and probably open some door somewhere for it to escape. Not very likely.
There were other ways for the horses to have gotten to the Outer Banks.
Within 10 years of Columbus returning to Europe with news of the New World, Spanish horse breeding operations were well-established throughout the Caribbean.
As the Spanish began to explore the coast of what is now the southeastern coast of the United States, they attempted a number colonies. St. Augustine, Florida is recognized as the oldest European town in the United States, but only because it was the last of a series of unsuccessful attempts.
The colonies failed for a number of reasons: illness, weather, Native American anger with the Spanish—they took a dim view of the Spanish custom of enslaving captives. All colonies had livestock, including horses, and it is unlikely the horses would have been loaded on to ships when evacuating a colony.
In support of that theory, there are pockets of feral or wild horse in South Carolina and Florida that are recognized as genetically linked to the Colonial Spanish Mustangs.
It is possible that the horses migrated north from the unsuccessful colonies in Florida and South Carolina. Although small in stature, the Spanish Mustang was noted for its intelligence, stamina and determination, so it would be feasible for them to make the journey.
There is another theory that is intriguing and worth considering—did the Corolla Wild Horse herd first come to the Outer Banks with the Lost Colony?
On his way to the Roanoke Colony in 1585, Sir Richard Grenville, the leader of the expedition, stopped in the West Indies to buy livestock, including stallions and mares.
As the fleet neared Roanoke Inlet from the south, Grenville’s flagship, the Tiger, ran aground. There is some debate if the ship ran aground at what is now Ocracoke Island or farther north, possibly around Buxton. What is known, is the ship, which was carrying most of the supplies for the colony, had to jettison almost all of its cargo, including the livestock.
Ocracoke and Hatteras were connected at that time and there were no inlets heading north until the now closed Roanoke Inlet at what is now Nags Head. Oregon Inlet did not open until 1846 in the same hurricane that opened Hatteras Inlet.
The jettisoned horses could only have migrated north; the only permanent inlet along the Outer Banks is Ocracoke Inlet separating Ocracoke from Portsmouth Island.
It’s an interesting theory and it seems as likely as any other.
All the theories about how the Corolla Wild Horses came to the to the Outer Banks have questions with them, but what is known, is that by the early 1700s when European settlers once again came to the Outer Banks, the Banker horses were well-established.
As you probably know the Outer Banks has deep roots in aviation. The Wright Brothers migrated to this ribbon of sand about 120 years ago to conduct experiments that ultimately led to this area being the birthplace of aviation. On December 17, 1903 the Ohio brothers successfully launched the first self powered aircraft in what is now Kill Devil Hills.
One of the great things to do while on vacation is to take an air tour of the Outer Banks. At the Manteo airport, which was a key military air field during world war II, there is a company that offers breathtaking aerial tours of the Outer Banks.
This week Sue Kehrig shares her photo memories of the experience.
Sue, of Sterling Heights, Michigan stayed with Outer Banks Blue in Nags Head and shot this picture while on a plane tour. That is Jennette’s Pier in the foreground of the picture, and Roanoke Island in the background of the photo.
If you get the opportunity you should definitely take the time to see the beach from the air. The Wright Brothers would be jealous of your view!
Sue also sent a 2nd Memory Monday photo to us and that is of the Corolla wild horses roaming on the beach.
We thank Sue for sharing her photo memories and we invite you to come and visit with us this summer to create your own photo memories. Be sure to share them with us here at Everything Outer Banks so you can see them one Monday in the future.
Until then, we look forward to serving you and your family soon.
All the best from the beach!
We have posted many pictures here previously of the Corolla Wild Horses that roam freely north of Corolla in the Carova, Swan Beach, and N.C. State Park areas. This week we bring you some more pictures, and we bring you a news story. It seems there was a breakout of the horses last week and a group of them made a run for it to the lush grass yards of Corolla.
6 horses found a breach in the fence that keeps the horses penned north of the more densely developed are of Corolla. The horses roamed the neighborhood south of the fence for several hours earlier this past week. The fence was damaged due to recent storms which caused the issue.
The Virginian Pilot reported yesterday that last week found that “the grass was greener on the other side of the fence.” A smart stallion led his harem (Stallions typically lead a small group that stay together) through a section of the fence. There is a fence that stretches from ocean to sound just north of Corolla to keep the horses penned.
Here’s a picture of the horses roaming near the Corolla lighthouse.
By Friday all of the horses had be corralled and transported via trailer back to their safe roaming zone north of Corolla.
We are very glad that no horses were injured in their adventure. As the above link to the article pointed out the reason the horses are penned north of Corolla is in the 1980’s and 1990’s several of the horses were killed on the roads in Corolla area.
This news story gives us an excuse to post a guest photo that includes the Corolla wild horses.
Corolla Wild Horses
We love any excuse to include the Corolla wild horses on Memory Monday and so this week’s breakout gave us an easy opportunity to include Karen’s picture.
No word as to whether this was one of the bandits that got out of the penned in area.
All the best from the beach!
Visit the Wright Brothers Memorial
The memorial is a tribute to the first flight completed by Wilbur and Orville Wright. When visiting the memorial kids are able to become a junior ranger. Once arriving to the park pick up a junior ranger booklet at the front desk. After the kids learn all about the Wright brothers they will be sworn in as a junior ranger. Children under the age of 16 are free!
Visit the Aquarium
Even though many places you visit will have an aquarium close by kids always seem to enjoy going. At the aquarium kids will be able to see otters, jellyfish, alligators, and one of the largest collection of sharks in the state. They will love the hands-on sea turtle rescue exhibit and the touching tank full stingrays. This is a great rain day activity but if you go while it’s not raining be sure to check out the sound side pier and nature trail.
Bouncing Off The Walls
This is the perfect activity for a rainy day or when the ocean is too rough to swim at the beach. Bouncing off the Walls is a party center full of inflatable fun. The interactive area has obstacle courses, slides, and moon bounces. There is also a nerf gun room and paint studio.
Splash into fun at the new waterpark located right over the bridge in Currituck. H2OBX features more than 30 exciting attractions throughout the park. The kids will enjoy spending the day at Calico Jacks Cove. They will love the interactive play structures, splashing in the wave pool, floating on the lazy river, and looping through all the exciting slides.
See the Wild Horses
The wild horses are a beautiful sight that the entire family will enjoy. Bring your camera, rent a jeep or take a guided tour, and take off down the beach for an off-road wild horse adventure you will never forget.
Become a Pirate
At Pirate Adventures of the OBX, your kids can come aboard and experience a bit of the pirate life. This experience is designed to educate, expand their imaginations and enlighten their minds. They’ll learn the rules of the sea as they go in search of Pirate Pete and the map they need to find the sunken treasure.
Visit Jockey’s Ridge
What could be more fun than climbing a large sand dune?! Nothing! That is why visiting Jockey’s Ridge is on our list! Kids will love running up the large sand dunes and then rolling down. Be careful though! In the summer the sand can get hot. It is best to go in the evening to fly a kite while watching the sunset.
Visit a Lighthouse
So I am sure you are all aware of the Corolla Wild Horses that roam freely on the Northern Outer Banks. Today we share a rare photo of one of those horses, that is wild in a different sort of way.
Special thanks to Lou Beres of Watertown, Conneticut who sent this photo in. Note the glasses on the nose of the pony. One presumes these are needed to read the sheet of music when strumming her ukulele.
Thanks Lou for capturing this rare photo. We look forward to serving you and your herd again soon.
All the best from the beach!
We hope you have a great day and are looking forward to trick or treating tonight! Today on Memory Monday we share with you some photos from this past summer submitted to us by Patty DuPont of Red Bank, New Jersey who stayed with us at Outer Banks Blue in the Corolla area this past July.
We all can use a friend from time to time, and today’s pictures show a mutual friendship and support between two seemingly unlikely partners. A horse and an egret.
The Corolla wild mustang seems to be getting a bit of a back rub from the bird, and the bird is getting a great view of the sites, from the back of the horse.
As always, all good things must come to an end, and soon enough the egret goes on his way to other adventures. What a beautiful couple of animals.
Thanks Patty for sharing your photo memories.
Keep in mind that every Monday we share photos from our valued guests that stayed with Outer Banks Blue giving us photographic evidence of their vacation memories. Each week we post one of the many photos we get each week, and then once per month we draw a winner at random to receive a $100 discount on their next year’s stay with Outer Banks Blue.
Thanks to all of our photo submission folks and again we hope you have a safe and Happy Halloween.
All the best from the beach!
Wild Mustang History
A sighting of the Wild Colonial Spanish Mustangs may be every traveler’s favorite part of an Outer Banks vacation. For hundreds of years, the gentle, feral descendants of ancient equines have thrived on the Outer Banks. Because the wild horses have been carefully protected from domestication and up-close admiration, they can live much the same way they have for centuries.
Wild horses can be seen along the entire coastline of the Outer Banks chain, including Ocracoke, Hatteras, Corolla, and Currituck Banks, but how did Spanish horses end up on a North American island chain? We can only theorize based on settler journals.
According to one account, in 1521 a Spanish explorer named Lucas Vasquez de Allyon sent his men to explore the East Coast of North America. Some of these would-be colonists landed along what is now the North Carolina coast, coming ashore at Cape Fear and the islands of the Outer Banks. However, American Indians weren’t interested in sharing their land with the Spaniards and promptly sent them packing. However, the Spaniards left their livestock behind — the ancestors of today’s feral horses.
Wild Horses of Corolla
Perhaps the most famous wild horses live north of Corolla near Carova. These horses are free to roam the beaches and are easily spotted from a four-wheel-drive vehicle. This herd of 100 horses is thriving, and park services experts project their numbers will increase by 20% to 30% in the coming years.
If you’d like to see the wild horses of Corolla, Corolla Wild Horse Tours or Wild Horse Adventure Tours can take you on an unforgettable off-road adventure. You’ll ride in an open-air beach cruiser along Corolla’s beaches to the wild horse sanctuary, where you’ll be able to spot the Outer Banks’ oldest inhabitants. These guided tours are a wonderful way to learn more about the history of the Outer Banks.
You may spot small herds of wild horses anywhere in Corolla, so stay alert. In 1997 the Corolla Wild Horse Fund built two “sound-to-sea” walls to ensure that the horses didn’t wander into congested areas where they could be harmed. The boundaries of this 7,500-acre sanctuary are near the Virginia state line and the Corolla border. Most the sanctuary is private land that includes homes and backyards. As a result, horses wander in and out of neighborhoods and along the wooded areas of public streets, so drive slowly and with caution. If you do spot them, remember it’s illegal to get within 50 feet of a wild horse, and also it’s harmful (and illegal) to feed them.
Horse lovers will want to stop at the Corolla Historic Schoolhouse, headquarters of the Corolla Wild Horse Fund. The schoolhouse features a wild horse educational museum and museum store, and there is an additional museum store at the Corolla Light Towne Center. All proceeds from the museum stores go to the Corolla Wild Horse Fund to help preserve the horses’ way of life.
Meet, Adopt, or Sponsor a Mustang
According to their website, the Corolla Wild Horse Fund was established to “protect, conserve, and responsibly manage the herd of wild Colonial Spanish Mustangs roaming freely on the northernmost Currituck Outer Banks, and to promote the continued preservation of this land as a permanent sanctuary for horses designated as the State Horse and defined as a cultural treasure by the state of North Carolina.”
In an effort to achieve those goals, the Fund offers three unique opportunities for Outer Banks visitors to participate in maintaining the herd.
Meet, sponsor, and even adopt previously wild Mustangs that have been domesticated because they were injured, ill, or orphaned. For many reasons, these horses are unable to be reintroduced to the wild herd. If you wish to leave “your horse” in its natural habitat in the Outer Banks, you can sponsor him/her. Drop by the Fund for a meet-and-greet of Mustangs on almost every Friday or, for serious horse lovers, adopt one and take it home!
Details about all three options (as well as information about their museum and the unique horse-related items sold in their store) can be found on the Corolla Wild Horse Fund’s website.
Catching a glimpse of the majestic wild horse of the Outer Banks is one of the best parts of any Outer Banks vacation. Take a tour, pay them a visit or just wait patiently, and you’ll be rewarded with an Outer Banks memory you’ll never forget.