Trail in Kitty Hawk Woods, a maritime forest.
In geological age, the Outer Banks is not yet out of its infancy—most estimates put it around 4000 years old. Nonetheless, there is an interesting geological story that has evolved with some surprises.
- The Outer Banks were probably about 50 miles to the East when they first formed. Part of the reason for the movement to the west over the past millennium has been sea level rise, but another part of the phenomenon are storms. As the large waves of a storm batter the coast, they overwash the barrier island, bringing sand from the eastern side to the western side. Any barrier island that is not stabilized will migrate.
- The evidence of that migration is easily seen. Sticking out of the sand and surf in Carova are petrified tree trunks. At one time those tree trunks were a maritime forest that marked the western edge of Outer Banks.
- Maritime forests take root when protected from the salt winds of the ocean by sand dunes. We’ve paved over so many of what were once sand dunes, that it’s hard to think of the up and down roads of Kitty Hawk or Southern Shores as a dune line, but that’s what they once were. And because those dunes protected trees from the salt spray of the ocean, the dense forest of Southern Shores is possible and Kitty Hawk Woods lives.
- At one time Jockey’s Ridge was 138’ high. That was back in the 1950s. Since that time it has shrunk to about 75’. Geologist have concluded that is a natural part of the cycle of life of the dune. They have also discovered evidence that at least twice in the past 1000 years a maritime forest lived where Jockey’s Ridge is today.