The boy pestered me to jump.
I took off my shoes and rolled up my pants. The mercury was high for January – nearly 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and the sand was cool, though not quite cold, to my bare feet. But the sun warmed my bare arms as I surveyed the vast high dunes – at 80 to 100 feet, the East Coast’s tallest – of Jockey’s Ridge State Park, one of the many natural wonders to be found on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
Now ready, I joined my son in taking a flying leap from the top of the park’s tallest dune while Davida snapped our pictures. We laughed hysterically as we tumbled down its sandy face, steep enough that visitors can hang-glide from the highest peaks. At 9, he’s the same age now that I was the first time I visited this place in the mid-1980s.
At 40, I didn’t hesitate when he insisted that we climb back up and do it again.
The unexpectedly warm temperatures helped to perpetuate the magic of these “walking” dunes, which are subject to the whims of the temperamental winds and water. The last time I was here, in the very early Aughts, the shifting sands had yielded the defiant spires of a medieval castle – the ruins of a miniature golf course swallowed whole by Jockey’s Ridge years before. Their present absence said the dunes had once again reclaimed their bounty. Indeed, like the act of traveling itself, the dynamic nature of a barrier island ensures a certain degree of spontaneity; you never know what you might find just around the next corner.
A few tumbles later, I suggested that we walk up the next dune – toward NC highway 158, which like a fish bone forms the central spine for vehicular travel along the Banks – for a better view of the surrounding town of Nags Head. We gathered up our shoes and made our way across this oasis of sand in a saltwater desert.
It was the boy, of course, who made the summit first. When I caught up, he was staring intently at yet the next dune over.
“Is that Boba Fett?” he asked, referring to the bounty hunter from Star Wars.
“There,” he said, pointing to the next peak. “Is that Boba Fett?”
I wasn’t wearing my glasses, having shed them and every other lose object on my person before tumbling down the hill. Years earlier I had lost my wallet doing the very same thing; thankfully, a park ranger had found it a short time later and taken it to the visitors’ center, where I retrieved it.
I squinted at the next peak, bustling with an unseasonably large number of people. I surmised that my son must be referring to one particular form swathed in a dark brown blanket.
“No, sport,” I laughed, “that’s just someone trying to keep warm.”
“No,” he insisted. “That is Boba Fett! Look!”
This time one distinctive figure, gleaming white from head to toe, stood out among the group. No, not Boba Fett…but a stormtrooper! Now I looked again at the blanketed form, this time realizing that it was not, in fact, a blanket, but a cloak. Obi-Wan Kenobi! And there, in their midst, stood the unmistakable form of the bounty hunter, Boba Fett.
Davida, toting the rest of our gear, caught up with us. I put on my glasses, and we told her about the cast of Star Wars inhabiting the next dune. Davida, noticing Obi-Wan (note: we’ve since learned that this was not Obi-Wan, but a Jedi of the wearer’s own creation) now walking toward our dune, suggested we go find out what was up.
Turned out, members of 501st Legion Carolina Garrison OBX StormTroopers, 501st Garrison Tyranus, The Rebel Legion, and Mandalorian Mercs Costume Club, also taking advantage of the unseasonably warm weather, had gathered for a promotional photo shoot on the shifting sands of Jockey’s Ridge, which, when carefully cropped, bears a striking resemblance to Luke Skywalker’s home planet of Tattooine. The full-costume groups regularly participate in charity events. Also on hand that day, among others, were the characters Rey and Kylo Ren from 2015’s Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. The costumers proved very friendly, and they graciously agreed to take pictures with our son, amplifying an already memorable experience.
The sands grew cooler as the sun sank into Roanoke Sound, and I put on my shoes and sweatshirt as the fading daylight chased the troupe and its cameras farther and farther up the dune, the long winter light lending an air of drama to the scene. With the park closing at dusk, we decided to make our way back to our car. I remarked on the gorgeous sunset, in case Davida cared to photograph it, but doing so seemed a bit anticlimactic following our cinematic experience – one of those odd bits of happenstance that eludes the best-planned itinerary. Besides, further adventures awaited us, just over the next dune…