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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.

    44 thoughts on “The Wright Brothers + OBX”

        1. I’d love a print too! We’ve gone to hatteras (and ocracoke, an island you travel by ferry to visit!) for our honeymoon, anniversary and a couple family trips. My pictures of it never turn out as nice as this!

    1. I am having so much fun reading your blog and keeping up with your travels! Love all the pictures – wasn’t sure if you know about the app Waterlogue? It’s an app that turns photos into watercolor art. I use it all the time. Some of your pictures – like the kids on the beach or the lighthouse would be so pretty filtered w/ this app. Or maybe you could just do it in Illustrator – either way…would make beautiful keepsakes of your travels. Also, loved hearing about the Wright brothers and their persistence and hard work to bring their dreams to fruition! Very inspiring! Safe travels – look forward to reading more about the places you visit in this great country or ours!

    2. My family moved to western North Carolina three years ago from Florida. We have explored our side of the state but have not seen much of the coast yet. We have an exchange student arriving from Norway this month and I have now added Kitty Hawk and Outer banks to our must visit list this year. Thank you for taking us all on this wonderful trip with you. Many of your stops are already on my list of places to visit but you have made me aware of so many more that I need to add. You have been an amazing voice for our Nation Park system this year!

      1. I also not only ordered the Wright Brothers book by David McCullough but 4 others by him as well! Thanks for the recommendation!

      2. Ah, thank you Nina! We have so enjoyed our National Parks and hope that our trip inspires others to take advantage of all that our country has to offer. I hope you make it to Kitty Hawk!

    3. We were just in Duck the week of July 16th…and we love it. Always hit duck donuts. The Black Pelican is an awesome restaurant to check out too. Unfortunately my sister and I got into an accident on Duck Rd the last Friday we were there (everyone was okay), but we still had a fabulous week!

    4. Read the quote that you included in your blog on the statue commemorating the famous Wright brothers and … had a real good cry. What words. What an accomplishment.
      So uplifting. Thanks!!

    5. Thank you for a glorious “revisit” to places I have travelled both recently and decades ago. To see these glorious spots with your fresh perspective has been a delight, a trip down memory lane, and for places not yet visited (Savannah) a tempting desire. I grew up in NC, saw the Outer Banks at your kids’ ages, have lived for three decades in New Orleans and Texas, spent time in Charleston, Seaside, and various other trip (yours) locations. You have “done them proud” and created an inviting and compelling transcript for the rest of us to enjoy. Thank you so much for sharing. I’ve spent my summer having double knee replacements, so the escape to your travel destinations was great! Can’t wait for the next installments ??!

    6. I’m a native North Carolinian and the Outer Banks are one of my favorite places to go. My family vacationed there when I was young and I have memories of sliding down Jockey’s Ridge at night when the sand was cooler. As the years have passed, I have introduced my husband to this wonderful coast and our children have grown up loving it too. Next summer we will be returning with our grand baby to pass along our love of this area to another generation. There is a lot to explore and do. Much history on the Outer Banks. Your family will have to return again some time and tour the Hatteras lighthouse (black and white spiral stripe). You can climb the 257 steps (12 stories) to the top for a fabulous view of the coast line. So glad your family enjoyed this stop in NC. Hurry back again real soon!

    7. I know you go through Columbus,Ohio. If there Is any way to swing past Dayton, Ohio there is more amazing Wright Brother spots to hit. They were born here and Huffman Prarie Flying Field is a must see. Also Carrilton historic park and the Nation Museum of the United States Air Force. We visited my sister here many summers with my two children and my son is now a cadet at the United States Air Force Academy…..with ideas conceived with genius, dauntless resolution and unconquerable faith.

    8. We live in Virginia so OBX is our yearly beach spot to take our four little ones. Truly one of my favorite places on earth!! We’ve been to the Wright Brothers Museum many times and the last time was when my three year old son had a meltdown at the very top of the memorial because HE wanted to build an airplane…

      And yes, Duck Donuts!!!!

    9. I love your trip,I admire your idea for this big trip ,all the family together!!!Have a really great time, keep travelling and enjoy every day!!!

    10. You probably have been there–but the museum of flight here in Seattle has the history of flying and you can even visit the Red Barn.

    11. I did not even take time to read through the post throughly…tired…but had to tell you AgAiN, how fabulous this trip is for your children. I don’t know if I have mentioned before that I am a retired school teacher. I am so thrilled your children, along with you parents, are experiencing all of these wonderful, priceless, times together, on this fun educational vacation!

    12. What a wonderful experience for both you and your kids! I had a feeling that you were talking about David McCullough’s book! I was lucky enough to attend a talk by David McCullough just last week while vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard. He told us the story of the Wright brothers and the admirable character traits that led them to their success in aviation. It’s an inspiring story – I think I need to head to the library!

      P.S. I’m really enjoying your trip around the country! What a priceless gift you’re giving to your kids!

    13. I love this and so glad you made it to Duck Donuts.

      I’ve lived in NC since 1983 and have never been to the Outer Banks. I need to go!

    14. Our family visited Kitty Hawk for the first time in May and loved every minute. We had the same ranger give our talk and felt the same way about him. History came alive! The National Parks and their rangers are such a treasure!

    15. Can I just say that you remind me of Jessica Chastain? My son adores the movie “The Tree of Life” which she stars in. It’s kind of a dreamy, artsy, sad, rich film. Maybe you can Netflix it.

      Happy Roadtripping!


    16. What a fantastic education your kids are getting this summer. Enjoy reading your blog of your cross country trip…envious however! Just joking you make your readers feel like they are a part of your family venture.

    17. We’ve been going to the Outer Banks every year for 15 years — so glad you got to enjoy it. And you know what the best part is? It’s really not packed, even in the height of summer. I mean, the beaches get busy, but nothing like the NJ/mid-Atlantic beaches. We go in the middle of the summer every year, and we always have a big stretch of beach to ourselves. Love following your trip!

    18. I’m sooo envious! We are West Virginians and have vacationed at the Outer Banks many, many times. I am having withdrawal symptoms after reading your post! We love everything about it. We are early morning beach people so we’d have our walks and sand time before everyone else rolled out of bed (and before the sand was too hot to walk on)! My husband is a huge Wright brothers fan, too. Manteo is just across the bridge from there and is a quaint, historic little town. We survived hurricane Alex at Nags Head eons ago – first time I ever experienced sideways rain! ;-)

    19. My son and his family live in Raleigh and we have not had a chance to visit that area yet. I would love to see all that you did there, including that beautiful lighthouse. I would also love to have a print of that picture. Be sure and show us how it turns out. Safe and happy travels.

    20. I love this. I read the McCoullough book last year after I realized there are so many stories of brothers fighting in history. It’s a beautiful story of brothers working together. I am eager to visit the spot someday.

    21. I am loving following your trip, Emily! And I love this post, especially as I grew up in NC learning about the Wright Brothers. I cannot WAIT to see Bodie Island Lighthouse framed and in your home. She has always been my favorite and it’s like she was painted just for you. ;)

    22. Love this post! I’m from Dayton, Ohio and would definitely recommend seeing the United States Air Force Museum (free parking and no entrance fees, also the Presidential planes – need a reservation) and Carillon Historical Park (including a replica of their bicycle shop) to learn more about flight and see more original planes. My grandfather used to tell stories of chasing the Wright Bros during their practice flights in what is now known as Old North Dayton. He never caught them because they would always take off again. You can also check out Huffman Prairie where they did their practice runs. The Dayton Aviation Heritage Trail also has other important sites you might want to see.

    23. ♥ You’re in my state! I spent all of my childhood summers on Cape Hatteras, and have gone to the WBM many times. Such a great place. So glad to hear you and your family had a great time at the beach in NC! I’ve been following your posts about your trip (I pretty much want to carbon copy what you’ve done with my family in about 3-4 years) and I was wondering if you might stop off in NC. Of course, I can see why the outer banks would appeal–especially the fabulous lighthouses! :) Enjoy the rest of your trip!!

    24. I love this post! I have been wanting to read the book and now I will for sure! I also loved the Wright brothers display at the Air and Space museum in Washington D. C. On our summer trip this year to Hawaii I found I was still in awe of how air flight could ever have been accomplished. Such an amazing feat! Emily, I hope you will put this all together in a book for family travel. So much well written, great information. I love feeling the tone that you raise your family with, encouragement and love. You are a blessing!

      1. It was so awesome to visit the Smithsonian Air + Space museum a few weeks after being in Kitty Hawk and see the real Wright Flyer! My youngest son was especially excited about it and that made it all the more wonderful for us.

    25. Our family took a three-generation trip there in 2012, and we have so many good memories of visiting the very same spots with our young grandsons! Glad you experienced it, too!

    26. Duck donuts are the best! Love seeing all of your adventures in the southeast corner of the US. It’s always fun seeing a fresh perspective on places I’ve visited numerous times growing up.

    27. The Outer Banks is my family’s traditional vacation spot! And I”m so glad you tried Duck Donuts! Best donuts in the world.

    28. Lovely post. I’m from Ohio and I’ve always wanted to visit Dayton where the early parts of their lives are commemorated. If I’m not mistaken, the brothers were friends with poet Paul Laurence Dunbar who is buried in Dayton.

      1. Michelle, you need to visit the Wright-Patterson Airforce Base Museum in Dayton, Ohio! ( I loved it as a kid and there is an exhibit for the Wright brothers since they were from Dayton. My whole family is from Dayton too — though I don’t live in Ohio now– but this museum is not one to miss!

    29. Being from Dayton, OH I’m a big fan of the Wright Brothers. If you are ever near Ohio stop in Dayton where the full story of the Wrights and the birth of aviation can be experienced through the many parts of the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park and the Aviation Trail. You can see one of the few remaining original Wright planes, tour their home, visit their childhood neighborhood and visit the fields where they perfected their flying machines after their first flights in NC, and so much more… I’ve lived here a long time and I’m not sure I’ve seen it all! There is so much Dayton pride for our hometown boys and Ohio’s role in the past, present and future of the aerospace and aviation industry.

    30. I’ve been enjoying your roadtrip so much! It’s been a combination of locations that I’ve been to and ones that I hope to visit someday in the future. it reminds me of what that the national park system is such a treasure to our country.

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