Tuesday, March 9, 2021

2019-05-25: Roadtrip Day1! The North Carolina County Challenge: Finding Bigfoot, an Alien, a Miniature Village and More!

Welcome back roadtrippers, Geocachers, travelers, history buffs, Jeepers, friends and family to another entry in my AwayWeGo's Geocaching Adventures blog. It's a 3-day holiday weekend which will allow me more time to venture farther into western North Carolina. Today's geocaching roadtrip adventure is Day 1 of an attempt to find at least one geocache in the remaining 47 of NC's 100 counties.

Here's the map of the targeted geocaches for the weekend. We've got a lot of miles ahead of us, history to see, and roadside attractions to discover. So hop on board the GeoJeep and let's go for a drive...

So I get an early sunrise start from Blounts Bay and make my way over to NC-33 westbound. On the way to my first geocache I spot a "roadside attraction" that was waving me down for a photo opp. I just had to get a picture of the GeoJeep with a Yogi Bear statue at the mini-storage lot.

Arriving in Greenville, almost to my first geocache, I pass by another "roadside attraction." This cool metal yard-art sculpture of a sailing ship at the Villa Verde restaurant was also asking for a photo opp. There were a few other pieces of metal sculpture of animals out front, but this sailboat was the best.

My first two geocaches were challenge caches. Those are usually fairly simple to find caches that require achieving certain goals in order to claim a find. In the city of Greenville in Pitt County, was the 1,000 Finds Challenge (GC40YX9), which I qualified for long ago. After that in the town of Tarboro in Edgecombe County was the 366 Day Calendar Challenge (GC53AT0), which I also qualified for several years ago.

Driving over into historic Rocky Mount located in Nash County, Europeans began settling the area along the Tar River in the early 1700's. The Falls of the Tar River Primitive Baptist Church was established in 1757. With the establishment of the post office in 1816 (GCA855), the name of Rocky Mount became official.

Rocky Mount Mills (GC7D3B), the second oldest cotton mill in North Carolina, was built in 1818 on a 20-acre tract of land at the falls of the Tar River. The mills were operated initially by Joel Battle and two partners, but by 1825 Battle was the sole proprietor. When Joel Battle died in 1829, his son William took over the operation of the mills. Built from local granite, the facility was three stories plus a basement; within the building, the Battles operated both cotton and grist mills.

A large industrial complex, Rocky Mount Mills was raided by Brigadier General Edward E. Potter’s Union cavalry on July 20, 1863. The mills, outbuildings, cotton, and yarn were destroyed by fire. William Battle rebuilt Rocky Mount Mills on the original foundation between 1866 and 1867. The new brick building, four stories with a basement, burned in 1869. Battle again rebuilt the mills. During the height of its nineteenth century production, the cotton mills, with about 50 employees, could process about 700 pounds of raw cotton per day.

In 1883 financial difficulties led William Battle to relinquish control of the mill. Thomas A. Battle, great-grandson of Joel Battle, was secretary to the mill’s new board of trustees. He eventually became president and the mills thrived under his leadership. Battle constructed additional buildings in 1889 and 1894. When Rocky Mount Mills closed in 1996, it was believed to be the oldest operating cotton mill in the South. It now comprises a local historic district and has been redeveloped into residential, retail, dining, and office space.

Also on the 20 acres next to the mills is the Battle House (GC78k8M). Constructed in 1835 by Benjamin D. Battle, a son of Joel Battle. In 1863, when the Federal cavalry burned the mill, the officer in charge spared the home because he and the superintendent of the mill were both Masons.

A village of small homes were built around the mills for those families working in the mills. In 1918 this village community house was constructed. It is now a gastropub.

Heading north up into Halifax County, I stop for a quick roadside geocache and get a good laugh also. The "Little Green Men" cache (GC4J08N) turned a simple cache find into a little bit of fun.

Driving the rural backroads around the country, I often stumble upon unexpected pieces of history. Passing through the community of Centerville, NC in Franklin County, I saw this old church building and had to stop. Centerville was established in 1882. This abandoned building was once the Serepta (sometimes spelled Sarepta) Methodist Church. In my research, I couldn't find any history on the church. However the nearby church graveyard has 33 interments which date back to 1879, a 35-year old Confederate Col John Preston Leonard. The towns charter was officially dissolved in 2017 due to lack of growth and population of less than 100. If you know anything more about this church, please send me a message.

Moving right along picking up some more quick roadside geocaches in the new counties of Franklin County (GC1QA2W) and Vance County (GC1KBYM). Then over in Granville County right off I-85 was a Travel Bug Hotel cache (GC1C8A2). It gave parking coordinates at the gas station next door, then a short hike over to trailhead, and then to cache. I arrived at the gas station to see a sign that said "Customer Parking Only." So I drive over to the trailhead. Didn't see any signs that said hiking or Jeeping. Looked like a GeoJeep trail to me. I was able to drive right up to within 50 feet of the cache.

On the way to my next county cache and again driving the backroads, I pass by this old house. With the modern appliance and power lines, does somebody live here or is it abandoned? Too bad I can't go exploring.

Speaking of exploring abandoned places... that brings me to my next geocache. Over in Person County is the Castle Mont Rouge (GC6H90P). An abandoned castle located 3/4 of a mile from this cache at the end of Mountain Brook Road. This Castle was designed and built in 2005 by American Architect Robert Mihaley. Abandoned in 2008, rumored because of the death of his wife. Some time after 2009 it was significantly vandalized in and out which allowed the elements to work on the interior structure. Because of the vandals, now there's a gate, fence, and no trespassing signs. So now you can't even drive up to see the castle.

Just a few miles away across the line into Durham County, is my next stop at the Blalock-Chambers Families Cemetery (GC6K69Y). This cemetery dates back to Justin Ruffin Blalock in June 1860. There are nearly 200 interments here in total. And they are "Never Alone."

Another few miles away in Orange County was another quick roadside cache (GC6K6BA). Staying on Hwy 57 south towards my next geocache, I encountered another of those surprise roadside attractions. Two life-sized horse sculptures, one made of scrap metal and the other of wood.

Making my way into Chapel Hill, I stopped at Battle Park to go hiking in the woods for the North Carolina Challenge Cache (GC19YRC). While I haven't yet completed all 100 counties yet, I can still sign the log as a "Write Note" for when I do find a geocache in each county. Hopefully by the end of this 3-day weekend.

I'm driving around trying to find a close parking spot to the cache but it's all residential with no public access to the park. So I turn around back to the west end where I remember passing by a few parking spots along the road at the edge of the park. But now instead of a 200 feet hike, it's closer to a quarter mile hike. I grab the hiking stick, more for poking in the ground and leaves listening to that "thump" sound of hitting the cache container, and a bottle of water and begin my journey.

On the plus side of parking where I did, my hike starts me off into this outdoor theater. The Forest Theater at UNC staged its first drama in 1916 to celebrate the 300th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death. William C. Coker, botany professor and founder of the Coker Arboretum, chose this particular location. A few years later, Professor Frederick Koch, founder of the Carolina Playmakers, developed the location into a permanent theater. Forest Theatre was rebuilt with Work Projects Administration funds in 1940 and was further improved in 1948. After taking a few photos, I headed for the woods.

It was a nice little jaunt hiking the Battle Branch Trail through the green forest. Once inside, it's hard to believe you're in the middle of town with houses and office buildings all around you. Even had a raccoon quickly scurrying along about 100 feet away. Tried to get a pic but it was too fast moving through the brush, trees along a creek. All I got were blurred photos with the phone. The one time I leave the Nikon in the GeoJeep.

I get to the geocache location and begin my search. I find the perfect hiding spot in this hollowed out fallen tree but no container. I expand my search looking all over but after 30 minutes there's nothing to be found. I even search further down the hill just in case it got removed by a critter and washed downhill. Nope no luck. The previous searcher just a week prior couldn't find it either. Well instead of a "Write Note," I'm gonna have to leave a DNF. Looks like I'm gonna have to make another trip back here.

On the way to my next geocache, I passed through the town of Cedar Grove, NC. In the mid-1700's, Scotch Irish, Germans, and English settlers migrated from the coastal regions to this back country area. The Cedar Grove Male Academy opened in 1845. By 1850 the towns businesses included a tanner, a coachmaker, a physician, a store and post office.

The Presbyterian Church erected in 1834 and renovated in 1901. Also built in 1834 was the Methodist Church. In 1939, a new Cedar Grove United Methodist Church was constructed and is the largest of the rural churches in Orange County built before World War II. After the Civil War, freed blacks began establishing their own communities and churches. In 1918, Lee's Chapel Baptist Church appeared at the outskirts of Cedar Grove, becoming the focal point of a small settlement of black farmers. 

The first of the photos I took was of the C.H. Pender Grocery Store. This two-story weatherboard building dates back to the 1880's. The one-story addition on the left side once housed a post office. It was moved across the road to its present location in 1900. Like the exterior, the inside still has its wooden shelving and glass display cases arranged along the side walls. The Allison Family first built the store back in the 1880's. The Oliver Family acquired the store in October 1907. Irene Oliver married C.H. Pender and they acquired the store in the 1960's.

Below is the Ellis Store built in 1923. This quarter-acre lot was first owned by Thomas C. Ellis who operated a store from 1871 until his death in 1892. In 1902 the lot and store were advertised for sale. At some point the store was acquired by W.J. Hughes from whom Thomas's son, Allen A. Ellis, purchased it in 1921. It was Allen Ellis that had this new building erected in 1923 and operated as a general store and post office. Allen Ellis retired in 1943 and his son Tom Ellis took over the business until he died in 1982. His widow Lucille eventually sold the property in 1995.

Heading north up into the town of McDade, I stopped for photos of this old abandoned gas station. This type of gas station and general store was built in the 1920's, a more modern and convenience version as the automobile became the mode of transportation replacing the horse and buggy. The front overhang protected the gas pumps. This store replaced an older 1880's store which was once across the street. Charles Samuel McDade owned and operated this store by 1940.

Moving along and driving north into Caswell County, I arrive at a virtual geocache called Rock City (GC9EF3). This miniature city, Shangri-La, began construction in 1968 by a retired tobacco farmer. For nine years this farmer built the tiny village out of rock removed from his farm land, concrete, and thousands of arrowheads. Among the miniature houses, the village includes a hotel, a mill, water tower, theater, a church, and more. There were 27 buildings in all. At the time of his death in 1977, he was working on adding a hospital to his village.

Moving right along, I stopped at a Bojangles in Yanceyville to grab a bite to each. While there I noticed a geocache in the parking lot (GC35H5Z) and of course I had to find it while I was there.

Going into Rockingham County, my next geocache was one of my favorites. A historical church with a graveyard. Wentworth Methodist Church (GC5NPD2) was organized in 1836, and the present sanctuary was constructed in 1859. It contains a slave gallery and is the last antebellum Methodist church building in Rockingham County. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.

Slaves and free blacks are buried in the cemetery behind the church, as well as members of the predominantly white congregation. Other officers and soldiers are interred here. Lt. E. Wheeler Hancock, who served in the Mexican War, became colonel of the 77th Regiment, North Carolina Senior Reserves, during the Civil War. Surgeon John R. Raine served in the 45th North Carolina Infantry. Lt. John P. Ellington, 72nd Regiment, North Carolina Junior Reserves, drowned near Fort Fisher. Capt. Berry J. Law, a native of England, served in the 69th Regiment, North Carolina Home Guard.

These obelisks mark the graves of George D. Boyd and three of his sons who died in Confederate service.  Capt John H. Boyd, Co I, 21st NC Infantry, died in Richmond, VA in 1861. Lt George F. Boyd, Co E, 45th NC Infantry, was killed in 1863 at the Battle of Gettysburg. Capt Samuel H Boyd, also of Co E, later was promoted to Colonel and was killed at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, VA in 1864. A fourth brother, Lt Col Andrew J Boyd of the 45th NC Infantry and later of the 22nd Battalion NC Home Guard, survived the war and settled in Reidsville, where he died and is buried.

Passing through the corner of Stokes County, I grab a quick parking lot LPC (GC61GYQ) at a Dollar General to claim that county. It's 8PM now and I've been going on fourteen hours. I decided to drive down into Forsyth County to find a hotel closer to my next cache in the morning. Along the way, another "roadside attraction" at a giant Bigfoot statue. Gotta get a selfie with this one. Can you see a resemblance? 

Well that's it for day #1 of my long weekend roadtrip. If I keep stopping for all these unexpected roadside attractions, I may not make all my planned county goals. But then that's a part of the journey and makes for a better backroads experience. Time to get some sleep. See you bright and early again tomorrow.


  1. Nice blog and good detailed descriptions. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Love reading of your travels, and travails! When I found the NC County Challenge cache, 6/14/19, I noted that finding parking for my motorcycle in Chapel Hill was harder than finding the 100 counties. He had just replaced the ammo can in that hollow tree two weeks prior. Sorry it was not there for you.