Travel Destinations

Why I’m Thankful to be Dunegazing at Jockey’s Ridge State Park

Dunegazing at Jockeys Ridge State Park North Carolina
Written by Carl Hedinger

Jockey’s Ridge State Park

Save the dunes. They belong to the people. They represent the signature of time and eternity. Their loss would be irrevocable. – Carl Sandburg

After a long day of driving to the Outer Banks from Durham, we’ve done quite a bit already and have just stopped at the place I’ve been wanting to see the entire weekend. Jockey’s Ridge State Park is the tallest set of natural sand dunes on the East Coast and unbeknownst to me right now, developers were once on the verge of destroying it. A wonderfully imaginative landscape would’ve been lost if not for one family and we should remember them when visiting Jockey’s Ridge State Park in North Carolina.

Carolista Baum and Carl Sandburg

Sun and Sand at Jockeys Ridge State Park North Carolina

This walk wouldn’t even be possible if Carolista Baum’s kids hadn’t informed her of the developer-led bulldozers that were trying to remove the dunes. In the early 1970s, she started a battle against the destruction and even got the likes of Carl Sandburg involved to keep the dunes at Jockey’s Ridge intact. Thankfully, it was officially designated as a State Park in 1975 and we are able to walk around the gorgeous dunes at this moment, staring at the beautiful coast and islands beyond them.

Early Afternoon Arrival

Vast Dunes at Jockeys Ridge State Park Outer Banks

My later research will uncover that legacy but for now, I’m thinking less about Jockey’s Ridge facts and more about how the place feels somewhat unspectacular at the entrance. It’s likely my early afternoon malaise that’s followed a battle with midday traffic because the scene would seem quite peaceful at any other time. There’s a small visitors center and a tree-lined entrance greeting us on the way in, with warnings and rules posted in easily-visible places.

Beautiful Sand Dunes

Dark and light on the sand dunes at Jockeys Ridge

Those early bits of crankiness are soon wiped away after a short walk past the windmill and first observatory because there they are; so beautiful and massive. The dunes dominate our surroundings and we walk into a valley between two big ones. There are kids flying kites on one in the distance and adding pretty colors to the already-beautiful blue sky. Christina’s long since shed her shoes and mine now come off to enjoy the warm sand, not too hot as it likely would’ve been earlier in the day.

Taking Photos at Jockeys Ridge State Park

After climbing a couple of the dunes, Christina sets up the tripod and starts toying around with various angles. I run out to the farthest one in sight and Christina shouts indecipherable directions and giving equally illegible hand signals, which I fight to understand. It’s impossible to hear with the wind and my weak eyes can barely make out her motions. I wing it and try to look as cool and mysterious as possible.

Valleys of Darkness and Light

Standing on a Dune at Jockeys Ridge State Park North Carolina

“She should’ve brought a flag or two or phone to text me with instructions,” I say to myself in a mumble.

Jockeys Ridge State Park North Carolina

I walk atop a dune and love staring at the quilted valleys of darkness and the light, bright dunes. It looks like an elaborate, misshapen chess board and I’m loving every minute of it. “The things that can get a kid’s attention these days,” Christina is surely saying right now. I plop down belly-first near Christina and think it’s high time for a time lapse with my phone. My goal is to capture the wind that’s carrying sand all around us.

Jockey’s Ridge Time-Lapse and Sunset

Sunglasses only provide slight protection from the blowing sand and this kind of work warrants a bandana or handkerchief, both of which I’ve neglected to bring. “I make so many sacrifices to create for this cruel, unforgiving world” would be the dramatic overthought that would come from my mouth at a time like this. I hold steady for a few circuits and quit playing with my phone as the sun starts its way downward. A couple of families flying kites earlier has morphed into a crowd of new arrivals that are here for the sunset watch from the dunes.

Jockeys Ridge Sunset

They all stand and watch the sun change colors and sink below the horizon. It’s quite anticlimactic but I can’t really pinpoint the reason. Nobody really talks about the sunset. They just watch and as soon the sky begins to darken, everyone just as quietly starts back toward the entrance and their cars. The dunes are still warm from the earlier sun while the wind speed decreases more and more as we reach the car.

Hands up at Jockeys Ridge State Park North Carolina

The visit to Jockey’s Ridge has created a big smile on my face that won’t go away until I”m long asleep. I can’t get over the rolling dunes, the wind, and the beautiful surroundings that make up this place. This isn’t the only reason why I’m thankful to have spent the day dunegazing at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, thanks to the work that was done to preserve it. The sunset was just a small part of the wonder that is Jockey’s Ridge and knowing that this could’ve become a boring beachfront property makes me appreciate it even more.

Ever visit a place that was once under threat from developers or anything else? I’d love to read about it in the comments section below:) 

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About the author

Carl Hedinger

I’m a writer and recovering American expat who shares my family’s travels through life. Follow our adventures here and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


  • Long time no read! This was a great post to come back on. I love dunes and desert environments. So cool that these were preserved for future generations to enjoy. I think lots of people see dunes and desert as desolate places, when really they’re incredibly diverse and fragile ecosystems.

    That timelapse is super cool. I’m feeling an urge to hurl myself facefirst down a dune now!

  • Wonderful article. I have been to Jockey’s Ridge a couple of times, when the kiddies were little, to play on the dunes and fly kites. Sweet place.

    Love your words and photos.