Road Trip | The Wright Brothers + OBX

When we think about what our kids will remember about this road trip, there have been a few stops that have made a particularly memorable impression.

Kitty Hawk, North Carolina is one of those.

wrightflyerKitty Hawk, if you remember from long ago and brief mention in school, is where Orville and Wilbur Wright made history by being the first people to fly on an engine powered flying machine. The year was 1903.

Ryan has long been interested in flying and so Kitty Hawk was one of the must-visit stops on our itinerary. The funny thing is, neither of us – and certainly none of the kids – knew more than that the Wright Brothers were the first to fly. We didn’t know their background, who they were, what the world thought of men in flight or the inexhaustible work required to make it a possibility.

We walked away from our time at the Wright Brothers National Memorial learning all of these things and so much more and feeling utterly inspired and proud.

I’ve turned into a total take-the-tour/listen-to-the-talk girl as we’ve traveled. There are incredible resources to learn – many of them free! – and every time we’ve sat in on a Ranger talk, in particular, we are blown away by this amazing resource and knowledgable speakers we’ve encountered.

At Kitty Hawk, we were particularly enamored with our big-personality Ranger who gave a one-hour presentation on the Wright Brothers. I wish I remembered his name because he was awesome :)

speakerBefore the talk, the kids spent about 30 minutes working on the Junior Ranger book in the main museum where there are artifacts, letters, written timelines and photos.

Have I mentioned how great the Junior Ranger program is? I was a skeptic at first because I wasn’t sure the kids would be all that interested in doing ‘homework’ while on vacation, but they all love looking for answers and engaging with the information in a very kid-friendly way. Ryan and I enjoy helping them as it teaches us as well!

After a little bit of self-guided learning, we settled in to front row spots for the Ranger talk which was to be about an hour. The kids have surprised us with their interest in hearing these talks and almost always have questions to ask the Rangers at the end. I have adored watching them soak up new information and express their curiosity through comments and questions. And again, the Rangers have all been amazingly helpful and kind to them.

audienceThis talk was the best one we’ve heard. It helped that our Ranger was so animated and a great story teller, but like I mentioned earlier, we all left feeling so inspired by what the Wright Brothers had accomplished.

Just to give you a quick history (because I am now crazy-interested in their story and we are currently listening to an amazing book about them, so I have much to share):

Wilbur and Orville Wright were raised in a household where learning, reading, tinkering with toys and mechanics was highly encouraged by their parents. Their interest in flight was piqued at an early age when their father brought back a small wooden toy that propelled into air by twisting a rubber band. This simple toy led to massive amounts of reading about aeronautics – which at that time, was limited to gliders, balloons and scientific research on birds.

As young adults, the brothers opened a bicycle shop and on their off-time began to build their first flying machine.

The common thought in America and world-wide in the late 1800’s was that powered flight was not possible for man. There was a small population of men around the world who were exploring the use of gliders, but without a lot of success. What Wilbur and Orville believed was that flight was not only possible, but that it was less about the machine and more about the understanding of how to fly – that is being able to control the machine (turning, lifting, landing) and this is what they spent countless hours, days, months on learning. They studied birds, primarily, and built their flying machines to reflect the physics they observed in nature.

The brothers worked, studied, innovated and built until finally on December 17, 1903, they made their first successful powered flights on the desolate sand dunes in Kitty Hawk, NC. On that day, there were four historic flights and while only 59 seconds in length, they proved to the world that controlled human flight was indeed possible.

wrightbrothersThe sand dunes have now been planted with grass (to keep them in place!) and monuments have been erected to mark the place of the flights.

flightrockWe walked the path to the four markers: 


4flightAfter hearing the story, it was great to actually walk in the place where it all happened and really visualize what it must have been like for those brothers.

wilburorvilleThe thing that struck us so much was their curiosity, determination, innovation and true entrepreneurial spirit. They were self-made, funded by their bicycle shop, persistent in their belief and they worked hard. They represent to all of us what it looks like to dream big and never give up.

masonmonumentWe were so inspired by their story – it is much bigger than just two men who were the first to fly an airplane.

Up on the hill sits a massive monument honoring the Wright Brothers.

monumentfar We walked to the top to take in the view.

monumentaudrey monument monumentclose

It was quite beautiful. Inscribed around the monument is this:

“In commemoration of the conquest of the air by the brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright conceived by genius achieved by dauntless resolution and unconquerable faith.”

I just love it! Isn’t that how you want our kids to live? With ideas conceived by genius, dauntless resolution and unconquerable faith? This is why we left so inspired. These men are true heros in our book.

We left the memorial and spent the rest of our time exploring the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

First stop: Duck Donuts.


These tasty treats were fresh out of the oven and topped with our choices made to order. So, so yummy.

Next up was a trip to the sand dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park.

deckThe rain came on quickly, but not before we had a chance to leap over bushes and climb to the tippy top of the dunes.


The Outer Banks also boasts a few of the oldest lighthouses in America and so we made a special trip out along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore to view one.


The Bodie Island Lighthouse was just about as perfect as they come.

lighthouseThose black and white stripes had me at first sight. I can’t wait to frame this photo when we get home.

Although the weather was not quite cooperating, we did pop over to a beach just to see what it was like.

beachfenceI can imagine this place is packed on a hot summer day.

atlanticWe waded in the warm water and drew in the sand for over an hour before heading off to dinner. Isn’t it funny how a stick and sand can become the most entertaining activity for kiddos?


This stop was unexpectedly a favorite and one we’ll never forget.

If you’d like to learn more about the Wright Brothers, we cannot recommend enough this book by David McCullough. We are currently listening to the audio version on Audible and completely enjoying it.

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