Five Strange Facts About North Carolina

North Carolina is an exciting place, and exploring what makes it unique has been fun. We uncovered some strange North Carolina Myths, a few of which have rational explanations. Then we tapped into some bizarre reality with 13 Wacky North Carolina Laws—several also lacked logical explanations. Now we’re looking at strange facts about the Tar Heel State.

1. The Devils Road to Nowhere

In 1941, as the United States rapidly became involved in World War II, the government began constructing the Fontana Dam on the Little Tennessee River. The government built the dam to produce power to manufacture aluminum.

Residents were displaced and relocated to new land under the reservoir. The government promised a new, modern road. However, as construction crews cut the new roadbed, they noticed snow mysteriously melted when it came in contact with the newly exposed rocks but not on the rock adjacent to the road cut. They also became acutely aware of a strong sulfur smell.

When it was clear that the rock under the soil was highly sulfurous, the government halted construction after only 7 miles. Runoff from the road would kill most fish, end fishing in the river, and probably kill many other animals drinking the water.

Today, the seven-mile-long road ends abruptly about a quarter of a mile into a tunnel.

2. Wild Spanish Mustangs in North Carolina

Wild horses aren’t just in the Wild West. Wild horses live in North Carolina on the Outer Banks in Corolla and Currituck counties. These aren’t just any wild horses either; they are Wild Spanish Mustangs. They are from original horses brought to the Americas by the Spanish.

The area off the coast of Corolla is infamous for unpredictable shifting sandbars. The many shipwrecks on the sandbars gave rise to the area’s nickname, Graveyard of the Atlantic. Historians believe these wild horses are descendants of those who survived the wrecks. The horse swam to shore from the Spanish shipwrecks of the 1500s.

This group of Wild Spanish Mustangs is the only remaining wild herd in the world. They have been living in North Carolina for over 500 years.

You can find them roaming the sand streets, running through the surf, strolling through the neighborhoods, and nibbling grass in people’s yards. They are free to wander as they please.

However, keep a distance of at least 50 feet if you encounter them. They are unpredictable and can easily injure you. Additionally, their diets are narrow, and their health is precarious. So, never feed them. The wrong foods can be lethal for these horses.

3. The tallest Sand Dunes east of the Mississippi

The massive, harsh Sahara Desert comes to mind when we think of sand dunes, not courtly, polite North Carolina. But NC is where you will find the largest dunes on this side of the continental divide.

You can see these dunes at Jockeys Ridge in the Outer Banks. The dunes rise out of 30 million tons of sand from the beach. They can reach heights of 60 feet (18 meters).

These dunes are eery because they are constantly moving. In the late 1800’s, a grand three-story hotel was built at the base of the Jockeys Ridge. Shortly after construction, the dunes started moving on the hotel. Wealthy patrons stopped coming because of the large amount of sand. The hotel lowered the rates. Then sand began to cover the hotel. The hotel decreased its rates further. Eventually, the hotel offered discounts to guests willing to shovel the sand out of their rooms. The hotel provided the shovels. Finally, the hotel was lost, completely covered in sand.

4. North Carolina Black Bears

While you might think of bears living only in remote mountain areas, you will also find them on North Carolina’s coastal plains.

Black bears live in 60% of the total land area of North Carolina, including the coast. Most people don’t associate bears with the beach, but North Carolina has the largest concentration of black bears in the southeastern United States. Most of them are living at the beach.

The Albemarle peninsula near the outer banks has a high concentration of black bears. Wildlife experts estimated that more than 15,000 black bears inhabit this area. Moreover, North Carolina black bears are some of the largest in the world.

It goes without saying if you do encounter a black bear, don’t approach it. While black bears are not aggressive and usually run from you, they can be lethal.

5. Tallest Mountain Peak on the East Coast

You will find the highest peak east of the Mississippi in North Carolina.

Mt. Mitchell tops out at an impressive 6,684 ft. (2,037 meters), and as you can imagine, you’ll get spectacular views of the state. The peak is easily accessible off the Blue Ridge Parkway. You can drive to the peak by taking NC 128 at Milepost 355.4 to the summit.

Mt. Mitchell State Park is where you can find Mt. Mitchell, among other activities. The park offers hiking trails, picnic spots, and an observation deck. The observation deck has magnificent 360-degree views. The Natural History Museum, restaurant, gift shop, and camping are open and available from May through October.

Unexpected North Carolina

North Carolina is a diverse and exciting place. It’s full of unexpected and genuinely interesting places, sites, history, legends, myths, and nature. If you are living in NC, do some exploring. If you are not in North Carolina—go!

About the Author

Walter Yuhl

Walter (Way) Yuhl is a freelance writer and business professor. Way has written for the Arizona Daily Sun, Flagstaff Business News, Bangkok University, and Shandong University of Science and Technology as well as edited content for the U.N., Thailand International airports, and other organizations. He has worked with Cantena Media since 2019.