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The Ghosts of Corolla

Updated on November 5, 2014

Outer Banks - Love it or not?

Our favorite vacation spot is the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Is it yours?

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Destination- OBX, NC

The Outer Banks is full of memories for myself and my family. When the school children and their families head home at the end of summer, it's our cue to pack up the car and head for that strip of land known to beach tourists as OBX. We want a deserted beach, where we don't have to struggle with long lines of cars trying to get over the one bridge that leads to these outer limits and we don't enjoy picking our way around chairs and blankets in search of a vacant square of sand to plunk our cooler and toys down. No, we want the whole beach. As June slips into July and July bleeds into August, I get antsy, excited to breathe that first breath of salty air and by the time September is at the doorstep, it is all I can do to hold myself back until we can pack up the car and drive south.

When the car is finally pointed toward North Carolina, my excitement reaches agitation as I scan the side of the road for clues that we are getting closer. The edge of the road should begin to change color and I watch carefully for the first signs of sand in the soil that replaces the blackish hue of residual coal and other minerals along the highways in Pennsylvania and Virginia. I know where the tree tops start to shorten as we leave the mountain ranges behind us and I know at exactly what mile marker the hillsides will disappear and the road ahead of us will stretch out flat. The view on both sides of the road as we head east ends in water and the ocean trail stretches ahead of us, cluttered with beach houses which block my view of the water. The first breath of salty air is just ahead and the smell of fishy water is so near. Sea gulls disturb the quiet, but their sound is strangely restful and adds a calm to the background noise of the waves crashing and rolling across the sand.

Even blindfolded, I know the way, just by following the sounds and smells of the coast.The sounds exchange are different near the beach too. In our Pennsylvania mountains,when the air is still, crows break the silence or a hawk screeches as it searches the ground below for its prey. But here, along the water's edge, its the sea gulls that disturb the quiet and strangely add restful bliss to the background noise of the waves crashing and rolling across the sand.

Corolla, NC:
Corolla, NC, USA

get directions

To See a Ghost

Its an unwritten rule that we unload the car first. It drives me crazy because I know that the beach is just over the sand dune, but I can't see it. A glimpse between the rooftops from the upstairs deck only aggravates me more and I rush through the chores, shoving perishables into the refrigerator and stuffing my suitcase in the closet. I will deal with the contents later. Right now, I crave the sensation of cold salt water washing over my feet all the way up to my knees as I run straight into it, meeting and greeting the waves as they tumble onto the beach. I want to see the distant horizon that I cannot reach and I am screaming inside to watch the waves as they crash around me.

Shoes are on, hoodie zipped up and my grandson waits at the door for me. His excitement is as obvious as mine. Even as I sit here writing this, with a view of the mountains behind our home, my heart rate escalates as I drift back to that first step over the top of the sand dunes, when the ocean is in front of me and its breeze lifts the hood of my jacket and billows out behind me. I raise my arms and tilt my head back, feeling the salty air push against me as I breathe deeply of its healing powers. Kicking my shoes off, the warmth of the sand squeezes between my toes. My feet are adjusting to the mobility of the surface under me as it shifts with each step but I can adapt quickly. Loose sand quickly gives way to smooth, wet sand that is hard-packed the closer we get to the surf.

Sunset over OBX

Ghost crabs begin to come out of their holes as the sun drops out of the sky
Ghost crabs begin to come out of their holes as the sun drops out of the sky

Witness to the Sunset

Sunset surrounds me with just enough daylight to see where the sand stops and the water begins. It doesn't last long and the sun is here and then gone, fallen behind the backdrop of water. I barely have enough time to capture it in the camera lens to prove witness that I had watched the most beautiful end to the day I could possibly imagine. But even though the day has ended in fabulous glory and the sounds around me are only of the surf crashing on the shore and the wind blowing in from the water, the activity on the beach is just beginning.

The Appearance of Ghosts

As sunset approaches, auditory perception becomes more powerful than visual. I hear rather than see the water come closer as the tide continues to make its way toward the sand dunes lining the beach. As the water threatens to swirl higher around me, I step back just a few steps to keep my pant legs dry. Standing quietly, watching the sun slip away, a flashlight beam to my right distracts me as it floats over the top of the dunes. There are more and then the lights are joined by voices but I can't pick up what they are saying because of the crashing waves and wind. Slowly, they make their way across the beach, but stop every few steps as the flashlight beams swing in a circle around their feet. They are looking for something, I conclude, maybe a pair of lost glasses or a camera.

I felt rather than saw movement at my feet and reacted by swinging the flashlight so that its beam cast in the area immediately encircling me. Startled, I took a step back and felt something brush against my leg. I jumped and as I did, the flashlight beam caught a dozen or more pairs of tiny eyes, circled around me, all staring up at me from ground level. They didn't move, just continued to stare....up. All around me, translucent little forms attached to a set of eyes stood stationary. It was like a Halloween night, as if the ghosts had come out, in all sizes, some very small and others much larger. The music from Dance Macabre floated into my head and briefly, I wondered if skeletons lived on the beach as well.

The little creatures were nearly invisible against the sand. When they moved, they were there one second and then gone, lifting up some of their 4 pairs of legs to run faster, making it seem as if they were floating over the sand before they disappeared down a hole. I took one step forward and the little creatures stood their ground. No one moved. They just kept staring up at me. One or two floated left or right but not one backed away. In the shadows behind the flashlight beam, more bodies moved across the sand; life had erupted on the beach. It was like a scary movie where the graveyard comes to life at night. These little creatures had come from underground and now floated across the sand, like spirits appearing virtually from nowhere.I had just met my first ghost crab.

I hadn't noticed the holes in the sand until now and they were everywhere. Each hole was a round smooth circle with sand neatly piled around the perimeter. Closest to the water, the holes were no more than a half inch to an inch in diameter but farther away from the water, where the sand is not hard packed by the efforts of the tide, the holes were much larger, maybe two to three inches in diameter.

These holes I later learned were where the crabs took refuge from the heat of the day and by dawn most if not all of them would disappear down their own hole to stay until sunset tomorrow.

Translucent,  matching the color of the sand, ghost crabs when small, are barely visible.
Translucent, matching the color of the sand, ghost crabs when small, are barely visible.
Children love this adventure but let them carry the flashlights.
Children love this adventure but let them carry the flashlights.

"Ghost Busting"

Finding the tiny translucent ghosts on the beach is not really that difficult. Take a walk on the beach after dark on a summer night and more than likely, if you have a flashlight and a little patience, you will see ghost crabs. Step carefully. Although they run fast, one of the environmental concerns for ghost crabs is sand trampling. Take a couple of things with you. You will need a good flashlight and a camera or camera phone. Wear a jacket and closed toe shoes. The beach is cool at night and just in case your toes come in contact with a crab claw, they should be protected. Step carefully and cast the flashlight beam in a circle around you. Ghost crabs are easy to photograph or video. If you are still, they are too. If you approach them they may become defensive but most likely they will turn and run.

Children love this activity, but we do not permit them to carry buckets to avoid the temptation to pick the crabs up. Respect the crab's environment. Placing them in a bucket is stressful and if they grab a child's finger, it can cause bleeding and eventually infection. The children carry the flashlights to keep their little hands busy so they are not tempted to try to pick up a crab, causing injury to themselves or the crab.

About 30 to 40 minutes is a good time block to allow to observe the ghost crabs and most children will be weary of the adventure in that amount of time. By all means observe them and take souvenirs home on your camera.

Remember these points

  • Look for ghost crabs at night.
  • Capture memories on camera
  • Respect the crab by not trying to pick it up or step on it.
  • Wear a jacket and closed toe shoes

Ghost hunting sequel

"Ghost hunting" captivates many of those who haunt the beaches along the east coast in the summertime. Share it with your family and friends and make it a part of your memories. You won't be disappointed.


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