Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Very Peculiar Mystery!

I really enjoy learning about the histories of people, places and things, but the topic I am writing about today is a real stretch......way anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 years ago.   I wanted to include it here before I leave the Carolinas and go back to my travels in Oklahoma.  

The Carolina Bays

Have you ever heard of the "Carolina Bays"?  They exist, and they are probably not what you think!   The Bays are very mysterious, and there appears to be no definitive scientific explanation for them.   

I lived in North Carolina for a number of years and have visited South Carolina often.  I had never heard of the Carolina Bays before I happened upon a geology website a year or so ago that talked about them.  Apparently some people were aware that the mysterious Bays existed from as far back as the 1750's, however, the extraordinary magnitude of the phenomena was not understood until this aerial black and white photograph of the Myrtle Beach, South Carolina area was produced in the 1930s.  

Aerial Photograph of land near Myrtle Beach, S.C.; from

For the first time the tremendous number of Bays, or teardrop-shaped depressions in the earth's surface, was evident.  It also became clear that these depressions were consistently oval in shape and were uniformly directional: always aligning northwest to southeast.   

The Bays shown in the old photograph above are but a tiny fraction of the total number discovered.   Research later showed that there are as many as 500,000 of these strange elliptical depressions -- all aligned in the same direction!  While they are almost exclusively concentrated along the narrow coastal range of North and South Carolina, a few fan out into north Florida, Georgia, Virgina and Delaware.   Geological formations of corresponding magnitude appear nowhere else on earth (though some have recently noted a very small number of similarly aligned eliptical ponds in the vicinity of Perth, Australia). The Carolina Bays are symetrical and shallow, not more than 50 feet deep.  They range from 200 feet to 7 miles long and sometimes overlap one another.  Some are filled with water, many are swampy, a large number are thick with varieties of bay trees (thus the name Carolina Bays), and some are dry.  Over the years many have been drained and plowed for farming or put to other uses.  

I can count at least 8 Bays in this photo

In South Carolina, the Woods Bay State Park was established to preserve the Bays in that area from destruction: 

Woods Bay State Park, S.C.

In North Carolina, one of the larger Bays is now known as Lake Waccamaw; it drains into the Waccamaw river through Conway to the coast of South Carolina.

Lake Waccamaw, North Carolina

Mysterious Origins

Over the years there has been much speculation about the origin of these strange formations.  Early on, some scientists theorized that they may have resulted from the impacts of a meteorite swarm, while others speculated that they might have been caused by a comet colliding with Earth.  Further studies have cast doubt on these "extra-terrestrial" impact theories for the source of the Bays.  No evidence of impact crater formations has been found and there have been no residual meteorites discovered in the depressions. More recently, scientists have conjectured that the Carolina Bays may be the result of some sort of natural phenomena on Earth: a series of parallel artisian springs; consistent southwest winds blowing over existing lakes; or, somehow, they were created during glaciation.  But despite years of study, there is still no consensus among  scientists as to the origin of the  depressions. 

Following is a link to an impressive YouTube video on the Carolina Bays produced by "waccamawn."  Watch it!    

The Carolina Bays are still a very peculiar mystery!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Carolina "Low Country"

While vacationing in the Carolinas recently my husband and I spent a few days at North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina - a place where we vacationed with our families when we were kids.   Yes, it is a very commercialized place, but when you leave the cheesy street scene and navigate a path through a field of delicate sea oats to step out onto the sandy beach it can be marvelous.    With ocean temperatures in the low 80's and air temperatures in the high 80's in the summer you can go in and out of the water without a chill (or a neoprene wet suit like you need to wear almost all year here on the west coast). 

I love to walk.  I walk one to two hours every day near my house.  Myrtle Beach is, therefore, a perfect place for me to visit.  With 60 miles of uninterupted wide sandy beach I can walk forever, it seems.  

The Grand Strand

The coastal Low Country of the Carolinas can be, in my opinion, both interesting to visit, and quite beautiful to see.  It is not "majestic" like the mountain scenery found in the Rockies, the expansive colorful deserts found in the southwest or the rocky coastal areas of the Pacific, but it has a distinct charm about it.  There are thick pine forests patched by small farms with fields of tobacco and corn, and along the marshy wetlands there are fields of rice and meandering streams and rivers edged with giant oaks shrouded in Spanish Moss.

Tobacco Field

Intracoastal Waterway

People that aren't from the area may not realise that there is a continuous waterway route along the entire eastern seaboard of the United States.  This Intracoastal Waterway allows travel by boat from Maine to Florida without having to enter the Atlantic Ocean.  Mostly a natural waterway originally used by the Indians,  canals (first conceived by George Washington) were constructed in places along the route to make it continuous.   This waterway has played a roll in the past securing safety for our boats from naval attacks,  and, to this day, ensures safe navigation for commercial and private vehicles from the rough stormy seas of the Atlantic Ocean.

From Pawley's Island, S.C.  - looking over to the mainland

Beaches in the Carolinas, including North Myrtle Beach, are found on a series of narrow barrier islands.  A large part of North Carolina's Atlantic seaboard is comprised of the Outer Banks strip of islands reaching far out into the Atlantic Ocean.  Included in the Outer Banks is Roanoke Island, site of the first English settlement in America.   South Carolina's barrier islands, on the other hand, hug the coastline.   If you step back from the beaches and travel to the inland side of the islands you see beautiful, picturesque marshes and waterways stretching back over to the mainland.   These are excellent places to go "crabbing" and are home to oysters, shrimp and other sealife.   

Calabash, N.C. 

Now I want to go back...