Approximately eight miles south of Shallotte, North Carolina on US Highway 17, densely overgrown woods flank the road on both sides. If you were to fly over in an airplane, or struggle through the growth on foot, you would be one of a few people to see Dog Head Bay.
A bay in the middle of woods? On top of a hill? No, not a body of water; we’re talking about Carolina bays. Scattered along the southeastern coast of the United States are approximately 500,000 elliptically shaped depressions in the landscape known as Carolina bays. The origin of these shallow basins of various sizes has been disputed since the bays were first recognized from aerial photographs during the 1930s.
There have been at least sixteen different hypotheses involving terrestrial or extraterrestrial processes offered as explanations for the creation of the bays. One theory suggests that a meteor hit Earth thousands of years ago, breaking into pieces that made dents as they skipped across the planet’s surface.
Then there’s the legend that Carolina bays are dinosaur footprints (this one has definitely been ruled out).
Researchers believe Carolina bays to be at least 30,000 to 100,000 years old, yet scientists are not certain of their origins. Researchers do know this much: Carolina bays are isolated wetlands in natural, shallow depressions that are largely fed by rain and shallow ground water.
The bays all have an elliptical shape and generally a northwest-to-southeast orientation. They are found primarily in the Carolinas and Georgia but range from Florida to Delaware.
Carolina bays vary in size from less than an acre to many acres. Lake Waccamaw, a popular recreational lake in neighboring Columbus County, is the largest of the bay lakes on the North Carolina coastal plain.
The term “bay lake” originates from the abundance of bay trees growing in the many swampy, oval depressions on the Carolina coastal plain.
Some people consider Carolina bays to be annoying wet spots. Farmers commonly plowed through them, and builders filled and paved over them until federal wetlands regulations began protecting them in the mid-1970s.
More than 97 percent of the Carolina bays once found in South Carolina have been destroyed or severely altered.
A recent Smithsonian Magazine article points out that scientists are discovering flora and fauna in individual bays that are unique to each bay, found nowhere else in the world.
The excerpt you are reading is from the book “Tales of the Silver Coast” by author and illustrator Miller Pope and author Jacqueline DeGroot.