Memories of America #4 - Taking Flight

It's not often that you find yourself genuinely moved by the experience of walking around what is, in the grand scheme of things, a fairly undramatic bit of geography.  This was one of those times and one of those places.

The town on the horizon is Kill Devil Hills, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  I'm sitting on top of the eponymous hill (actually a huge sand dune until it was planted with grass by the US War Department in order to stop it wandering off, as sand dunes are otherwise prone to do). However this place is better known by the name of the town a few miles to the north - Kitty Hawk.  

At the far end of the straight path leading through the middle distance - albeit long before there was a path (or even any grass) - is the spot where a couple of bicycle mechanics first succeeded in persuading an assembly of wood, canvas and wire to take off and fly under its own power on 17 December 1903.  In preparing for that moment, they had used the slopes of Kill Devil Hill itself to carry out glider tests.

I'd arrived late in the day at the entrance to what is now known as the Wright Brothers National Memorial, to be told by the warden on the gate that I could go in, and it was actually free on that particular day, but they were closing in half an hour.  Not wanting to be rushed, I said I'd come back the next day, even if I had to pay.  It turned out, however, that 'open' and 'closed' only applies if you want to see the site from the comfort of your air-conditioned car, or to go into the Visitor Centre.  The warden suggested I should instead ride around the corner and park at the adjacent airfield, then walk into the site, it being always open to pedestrians.

And so it was that I spent a couple of hours on a beautiful warm evening soaking up the atmosphere of a place where, almost a hundred and ten years earlier, the world changed (and in the process, an entire field of engineering began). With the exception of a handful of locals jogging or walking their dogs, I had it all to myself.

(photo via Wikimedia Commons)