South of the Border (Station)
By Melissa Cox
Caratoke Highway, the road that runs through mainland Currituck, is where the “Are We There Yets” reach their peak. You’re almost at the Outer Banks beach, you’ve seen numerous exciting billboards, and there is a hint salt in the air. But, what many perceive as an endless stretch of highway actually contains some hidden (and not-so-hidden) treasures from muscadine grapes to monster trucks.
Shopping and Sipping
The Cotton Gin is a lovely shop containing a variety of unique décor for home and garden, as well as gifts and other treats. Family owned and operated by the Wright family, The Cotton Gin is filled with North Carolina hospitality and Outer Banks history.
John Wright, son of owner Tommy and Candy Wright, says, “The store was a working cotton gin at one time so the name came naturally for my folks—they kept the old wagon out front on the scales and maintained some of the old equipment that was in the building so it held a historic feel.”
Also owned by the Wright family, Sanctuary Vineyards is a beautiful venue along Caratoke Highway. The Wright family started growing grapes seven generations ago, with a single muscadine vine in the backyard. Today, over ten acres of grape vines—mostly vinifera—are nestled among other crops adorning the farmland.
Of the vineyard’s name, John explains, “My father and uncle felt the name accurately depicted the attitude we have towards our farm—it’s a sanctuary for birds and wildlife, a sanctuary for grapes to grow in an uncertain environment, and a sanctuary for people who want a unique farming, culinary and shopping experience.”
John urges visitors to try local wines and experience the North Carolina-specific flavors offered at Sanctuary Vineyards: “It’s a great feeling to enjoy a glass of wine that has been produced from grapes that you planted with your own hands… It has been a group effort on many levels and the community here in Currituck and the Outer Banks has supported us the whole way, so we all get to share the ‘fruits’ of the labor together.”
A Bountiful Harvest
A staple of summer are the hand-painted wooden signs along the highways, announcing the arrival of strawberries, pineapples, bananas, and tons of fresh seafood. There are several farmers’ markets to choose from along Caratoke Highway, and visitors will find delicious items and friendly faces at every stop.
Local Sarah Kenser says she cannot go near Currituck without making a stop at Morris Farm Market.
“It’s like an adventure, every single time.” Sarah loves the family atmosphere, the wonderful service, and, of course, the produce and cider samples available to customers.
Tarheel Produce is another venue for a genuine North Carolina experience. Owner Joe Howington of Aydlett has been selling produce and seafood at his Caratoke Highway location for 24 years. He still enjoys meeting new people and selling North Carolina seafood and fresh produce, with the help of his two adopted daughters who visit during the summers between college semesters.
Monster Truck Madness
Don’t let the ominous name fool you: The Digger’s Dungeon, home of the world famous monster truck the Grave Digger, will certainly provide a colorful experience for folks of all ages. The original Grave Digger truck debuted in Morgan’s Corner, North Carolina, in 1982 and has grown in popularity ever since. The Digger’s Dungeon is a terrific outing, complete with a gift shop, autograph signings, and great photo opportunities—it isn’t every day you get up close and personal with a monster truck!
Caratoke Highway certainly is not “the road less traveled,” but it may be a road less explored. Next time you feel you’re in the middle of nowhere, think again! An adventure could be waiting for you right around the corner, or, in this case, right beside the highway.