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Jockey's Ridge OBX: A Sand Dune with a Rich History

Jockey's Ridge OBX: A Sand Dune with a Rich History

If you’re a sand, sun, and sea fan, then the Outer Banks of North Carolina is the perfect place for you. The OBX is a long, narrow chain of barrier islands that separates the Atlantic Ocean from the mainland. It’s a popular vacation destination known for its picturesque beaches, historic lighthouses, and delicious seafood. But one of the unique attractions on the OBX is Jockey’s Ridge, the largest sand dune on the East Coast.

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A Brief History of Jockey's Ridge

The Ridge is comprised of pure quartz sand, and the sand particles continually shift due to the strong winds that blow across the area. It is believed that Jockey’s Ridge was formed over thousands of years, as the ocean currents carried the quartz from the nearby mountains and rivers and deposited it on the coast. The shifting winds then began to move the sand particles, creating the dunes we see today. The dunes never blow away because northeast and southwest winds blow the sand back and forth.

Carolista Baum, a local environmental activist, played a significant role in preserving Jockey’s Ridge. In the 1960s, developers planned to build a housing development on the dunes, which would have resulted in significant environmental damage.

Carolista Baum and other concerned citizens formed the People to Preserve Jockey’s Ridge to fight against the development. They rallied support from the community, and Carolista worked tirelessly to educate the public about the importance of preserving the dunes. She organized protests, gave speeches, and worked with local and state officials to gain protection for the area.

Their efforts paid off when the North Carolina General Assembly passed the Jockey’s Ridge State Park Bill in 1973, which designated the dunes as a state park. This legislation ensured that the dunes would be protected and preserved for future generations.

Carolista Baum continued to advocate for environmental causes throughout her life and was recognized for her contributions by being inducted into the North Carolina Women’s Hall of Fame in 2010. Thanks to her tireless efforts and those of others, Jockey’s Ridge remains a popular destination for visitors to the Outer Banks, where they can experience the area’s natural beauty and learn about its important role in the local ecosystem.

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Jockey's Ridge and OBX Legends

Legends, stories, and tales speak of a hotel under the ridge, private homes, Jimmy Hoffa, and more. The only one confirmed is the putt-putt course. The course opened in the 1970s and was so close to the dunes that after a few years, the dune migrated closer and closer to the putt-putt course. The putt-putt course was no match to Jockey’s Ridge, and the sand dune eventually covered the course. If the wind blows just right, you can see the tips of the castle from the course poking out of the dunes.

Jockey’s Ridge is a natural wonder with a fascinating history. One legend states that during the days of pirates such as Blackbeard and Kidd, the early settlers of Nags Head would ride a mare around on the dune’s crest at night with a lantern tied around the horse’s neck. Sailors on passing ships would often think the light was coming from a nearby safe harbor, approach the shore, and wreck on the shoals. The following day, the locals would walk down to the beach and collect the wares that had washed ashore from the wreck. This might explain why the location earned the name “Nags Head.”

Another legend concerning the naming of Jockey’s Ridge results from the “Bankers” practice of capturing and racing Spanish Mustangs. The herd of horses came from the ships of explorers wrecked offshore. Riders, or jockeys, used the flats at the base of the big dune as the racecourse. The steep sides of the Ridge served as a grandstand for spectators to view the race.

Whichever legend you feel comfortable with, Jockey’s Ridge has seen it all, from pirates to putt-putt golf. These days, hang gliders sail overhead, kids roll down Jockey’s Ridge, and thousands of photos and awe-inspiring sunsets are viewed yearly. All that sand is impressive. And it is an excellent place for a picnic and a simply fantastic place to fly a kite.

Plan an OBX Getaway to Explore Jockey's Ridge

Come and explore the beauty and history of Jockey’s Ridge and discover what makes this sand dune a place that locals and visitors return to year after year. Any one of our vacation rentals located in Nags Head would be an excellent choice for your vacation. You would be pretty close to Jockey’s Ridge, depending on which home you choose. The Villas on Roanoke Sound are adjacent to Jockey’s Ridge and offer fantastic soundfront living. Enjoy the community pool, 400-pier with boat launch, and more! 

Need assistance with planning your OBX vacation? Give one of our friendly vacation specialists a call. They would be happy to assist you! 855-585-8511. 

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