Jockey's Ridge Dune

The Shifting Sands of Jockey’s Ridge

Throwback Thursday: OBX Style

Jockey's Ridge Dune

The Shifting Sands of Jockey’s Ridge

This installment of Throwback Thursday is all about the mysterious natural landmark Jockey’s Ridge.  

We hope you’ve been enjoying our Throwback Thursday series and will join the Coastal Cottage Company again next month!

If you lived on the Outer Banks in the 1970’s, you may remember a putt putt golf course near Jockey’s Ridge with playful hazards like an octopus, cobra, and sand castle.  Visitors today may never see that golf course, not because it was torn down, but because it was completely buried by sand.  

Jockey’s Ridge is the tallest living sand dune on the Atlantic coast, ranging in height from 80 to 100 feet.1  The dune is “living” because maritime winds shift the sands approximately nine to twenty feet per year, constantly changing its shape and size.2  The legends surrounding Jockey’s Ridge have kept both locals and visitors entertained as they contemplate what the sands have gobbled up over the years.

Jockey's Ridge Sand Castle from Putt Putt Golf Course Covered by Sand
The castle hazard from the old putt putt golf course that now lays hidden beneath the sand. Image by Jeff Shelf.

During the early 19th century, Nags Head was a popular vacation destination for folks wanting to improve their health by taking in the salt air.  The Nags Head Hotel was the center of social life, offering guests dancing, fine dining, and strolling the boardwalk.3   Unfortunately, the Civil War took its toll on the grand structure.  The Confederate army used the hotel as a headquarters, eventually burning it to prevent Union forces from utilizing it.  According to Phyllis Cole from the North Beach Sun, some locals claim the remains were buried by the sands of Jockey’s Ridge, but others argue the hotel was too far from the base of the Ridge for that to be possible.4  We may never know if more than sand lies within the dunes!

According to geological research conducted at North Carolina State University, the dunes doubled in size between World War I and the early 1950’s but have shrunk in recent decades.5  Despite becoming smaller, in 2003, the state had to move sand from the southern edge of the dunes because homes were at risk of being buried.  Given the strength of northeastern winds, you may be wondering why the sand doesn’t completely blow away.  Park Rangers explain that the dunes’ sand particles hold moisture throughout the year and while the sun dries the top layer, the inner layers of sand stay wet. The high winds blow the top, dry layer off, but the wet layer below stays put.6  

Jockey's Ridge State Park Large Dune
Hiking the dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In 1974, the dunes were declared a National Natural Landmark and a year later, the funds were appropriated for Jockey’s Ridge State Park.  Today, the park encompasses 420 acres and includes a visitor center, museum, nature trails, and 360-foot boardwalk.  For adventure lovers, sandboarding, hiking, and hang-gliding are all available.  So if you’re climbing the dunes, and the wind is just right, don’t be surprised if you see the tip of a sandcastle or octopus tentacle peeking out of the sand. 

Blog by Jessica T. Smith for the Coastal Cottage Company


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