Sea, Sky, and Sand
Cape Lookout National Seashore is a low, narrow, ribbon of sand running from Ocracoke Inlet on the northeast to Beaufort Inlet on the southwest. These barrier islands—88 kilometers (55 miles) in length—consist mostly of wide, bare beaches with low dunes covered by scattered grasses, flat grasslands bordered by dense vegetation, and large expanses of salt marsh alongside the sound.
Wind, waves, and currents are continually at work reshaping these low-lying islands; one strong storm can create extensive changes. In such an environment only the most tenacious plants can survive the constant battle. Of the plants, the grasses are the most important, for their deep roots help to anchor the sand. For this reason, sea oats, a large grass with a grain-like head, is protected by law. Please do not pick it.
Human beings, too, have found this environment difficult to deal with but also protective and bountiful. One of the earliest maps that shows Cape Lookout dates from 1590 and calls the area "promontorium tremendum"—horrible headland—in recognition of the area's treacherous shoals. Behind the islands, however, are several sheltered anchorages that can shield a vessel from a Northeaster or, as in World War II, an enemy submarine. Fishing and whaling have for centuries been an important industry on the Outer Banks. In the 19th century, the small settlement of Diamond City on Shackleford Banks became famous for the excellent salted mullet it shipped. The secret lay not in the quality of fish, but in the care the Diamond City processors took in cleaning, salting, and packing the fish. Commercial fishing continues today as the forces of nature continue to shape and alter these islands.
The General park map handed out at the visitor center is available on the park's map webpage.For information about topographic maps, geologic maps, and geologic data sets, please see the geologic maps page.
A geology photo album for this park can be found here.For information on other photo collections featuring National Park geology, please see the Image Sources page.
Currently, we do not have a listing for a park-specific geoscience book. The park's geology may be described in regional or state geology texts.
Parks and Plates: The Geology of Our National Parks, Monuments & Seashores.
Lillie, Robert J., 2005.
W.W. Norton and Company.
9" x 10.75", paperback, 550 pages, full color throughout
The spectacular geology in our national parks provides the answers to many questions about the Earth. The answers can be appreciated through plate tectonics, an exciting way to understand the ongoing natural processes that sculpt our landscape. Parks and Plates is a visual and scientific voyage of discovery!
Ordering from your National Park Cooperative Associations' bookstores helps to support programs in the parks. Please visit the bookstore locator for park books and much more.
Information about the park's research program is available on the park's research webpage.
For information about permits that are required for conducting geologic research activities in National Parks, see the Permits Information page.
The NPS maintains a searchable data base of research needs that have been identified by parks.
A bibliography of geologic references is being prepared for each park through the Geologic Resources Evaluation Program (GRE). Please see the GRE website for more information and contacts.
NPS Geology and Soils PartnersAssociation of American State Geologists
Geological Society of America
Natural Resource Conservation Service - Soils
U.S. Geological Survey
Students & Teachers pages.