Whenever we go to a new area, one of our first, and most important stops is always the Visitors or Welcome Center. This is the place with the park ranger who will know everything. For example, we stopped at the Cape Hatteras Visitor Center.
The ranger noticed our kayaks on top of the truck and suggested two stellar paddling locations that are not on the everyday visitor information propaganda, one of which was the Alligator River National Wildlife Preserve, about 20 miles inland – well worth the drive.
We asked about climbing a lighthouse (internet research said all the lighthouses were closed for climbing on Labor Day or thereabouts). Not only is that incorrect, but Bodie (pronounced body) Island Lighthouse, which was totally closed until renovation was complete in April 2013, is now open and has regular ranger tours to the top.
But if you pick up a paper brochure at the ranger station/visitor center, it still says the lighthouse is closed to the public. It’s only been open 18 months, why get in a hurry to let people know! 🙂
One of our first questions about a new area or park is “what’s this area known for” – “what’s this area’s story”? We learned that the New River Gorge National Park/River was known for having 75 coal mines in 15 miles of inaccessible terrain, hence all the train tracks. So while in the New River Gorge area, we visited Thurmond, an abandoned train town and the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine.
The ranger at New River also told us that Babcock State Park was worth a visit to see the grist mill.
And when I asked about the prominent photo on the wall beside the desk – specifically I said “I want to take that photo” – the ranger shook her head and said “Oh, that’s not around here”. ???????????? OK, so why is there a photo on the wall? Turned out “around here” is a relative term. The photo was of Sandstone Falls about an hour south of the visitor center where we were standing.
So take the time to stop at the ranger/welcome/visitor center even if you’re sure you know what you want to do when you get to a new area. You may be delighted with the new information you take away. Cheers! Jan