Rich Hayes, a soil scientist and Chatham County resident became curious and investigated why this circular area is barren of plants. Putting aside legends about the walking devil, Hayes approached the subject as a scientist looking for a rational explanation and natural cause that could shed light on the mystery.
He compared soil from inside the circle to soil from outside, but couldn’t find any reason why there wouldn’t be any plants inside the circle. The soil inside the circle had a higher sodium, copper, zinc and pH level, but it was not enough toxic to prevent plants from growing. Obviously, something is wrong with the soil inside the circle, but we currently don’t have a scientific explanation.
Set back from the main road, is a empty patch of woods, a dusty circle, barren of plant life, about 15’ wide where, according to stories dating back to 1882, the devil comes to dance. The stories go on to say nothing will grow there and animals won’t cross this empty patch of woods.
Also known as the Devil’s Tramping Ground, perhaps the most popular legend about the strip of grass is that if one places anything in the center, no matter how heavy it is, when one comes back the next day, it’s been thrown back out overnight, so the Devil has room to dance, and people say they have witnessed red glowing eyes in the middle of the circle.
However, a few years back a journalist from the Greensboro paper spent the night in a tent smack in the middle of it with his two dogs to disprove the story. The reporter stayed the night, though he reported hearing ghostly footsteps circling his tent.
All of which leaves one wondering, whether the circle represents the territory of some nocturnal animal, or perhaps the duty of spooking folks has been passed down from generation to generation by locals. Or possibly the tramping grounds are simply so imbued with legend that the stories simply seem to come true in the minds of the viewers.
Keep an eye out for beer cans, as this spot is a favorite of both the devil and local teenagers.
Most recently, a sign was posted at the site renaming the Devil’s Tramping Ground as “The Chatham County Vortex,” and claiming that the site is the anchor of a “Magdalene Crystal Column of energy”. MAGDALENA ENERGY is an idea that has emerged out of England in the past decade. This theory proposes that the planet is surrounded by a web of divine “Ma-Ray” energy that is an expression of a divine feminine presence, bundling this idea with earlier English traditions of Jesus traveling to the British Isles at some point in his life, while also incorporating this into a mysticism based on Jungian psychology and feminist readings of Arthurian legend. So there’s a lot going on there, but what might be most interesting for the history of the Devil’s Tramping Ground in all of this is that for the first time the spot is being associated with positive supernatural forces instead of negative ones.
This sort of re-reading is one of the things that makes The Devil’s Tramping Ground such an interesting spot. It’s an example of how, once a place is identified as being supernatural or holy, that identification can persist even beyond the culture that created the original association. The idea of the sacred place persists, even as what that sacredness means is reinterpreted as new cultures and new contexts move into the area.
Too much nitrogen can cause plants to produce primarily leaves and stems. The plant will be large and usually very green and healthy but will have few or no flowers.
Nutrient deficiencies may result in reduced flower production or poor pollination. However, nutrient excess can be harmful to plant growth. For example, phosphorus levels need to be sufficient in the soil for flower formation, but excessive amounts reduce the availability of several micronutrients to plants, especially iron. A boron deficiency may lead to incomplete pollination. Pollen quality, pistil formation (part of the female flower), and pollen tube elongation are affected by insufficient boron. But, be aware that there is a fine line between sufficient and excessive soil boron, which can become toxic to plants if the levels become too high. Therefore, test the soil periodically for the recommended fertilizers for various plants
Know Before You Go
The Devil’s Tramping Ground is approximately 50 miles south of Greensboro, NC. From NC 421 South turn Right onto State Route 902 Follow For about 7 Miles Turn Left on Devil’s Tromping Grounds Rd. (Not Marked) An official DOT “green sign” now points toward the site.Follow for 1.7 miles You should see a gravel pull off on the left. The Devil’s Tramping Ground is about 150 feet down the dirt path.
Can soil science help solve a Chatham County mystery?
Take a walk through the woods and look at all the trees, grasses, ferns and shrubs around you. Plants will grow all over the place and just keep growing. Growth, it seems, is one of the great forces of nature.
But there is a place in the southwest corner of Chatham County, west of Harper’s Crossroads, where something opposes that force: a small circle in the woods where nothing grows. That place is called the Devil’s Tramping Ground.
“People believe that the devil comes to Chatham County and walks in a circle,” explains Tommy Edwards, a folk musician and Chatham County native. “He comes to the circle at night and plans all sorts of menace and mischief.”
Tommy Edwards grew up in Siler City and has heard stories of strange things happening at the Devils Tramping Ground since he was a boy.
“I won’t call them urban legends,” he says. “I guess they’re rural legends.”
The classic rural legend of the Devil’s Tramping Ground goes like this: The devil comes to Chatham County in the night and walks in a circle 40 feet in diameter, trampling with his fiery hooves any plant audacious enough to grow there.
Edwards says both the Tramping Ground and the legend are as old as Chatham County, which is why he wrote a song about it for his album, North Carolina: History, Mystery, Lore and More.
One of the lyrics to that song helps explain why this bald patch in the woods is so remarkable.
There’s a circle on the forest floor where nothing green will grow. No Earthly science has yet explained just why that this is so.
Practitioners of “Earthly science” have been stumped by the Devil’s Tramping Ground. In 100 years, no one has been able to figure out why nothing grows in this one little forest clearing.
Rich Hayes, a soil scientist and Chatham County resident, has tried to find a non-devil-related reason for the lack of plant growth there.
“When I first investigated the site over 15 years ago and collected the data, I was theorizing that there was some natural cause that would have done that.”
To find what that natural cause might be, Hayes compared soil from inside the circle to soil from outside. He was looking specifically at the salt and copper content of the soil, as large amounts of either substance will kill plants.
“What we found out here last time was that we had some elevated readings of certain things inside here,” Hayes says. “But none of the readings, none of the data we got showed us that plants couldn’t live there.”
In fact, those tests raised more questions than they answered. The soil in the circle has a higher sodium, copper, zinc and pH level than the soil from the woods a few yards away. None of those changes, however, is drastic enough to make the soil toxic.
Also, at certain points in the circle, a compass will skew by about five degrees. As if that is not strange enough, compasses usually only do that around soils with a high iron content, which this soil does not have.
Despite all the mysteries, one feature of the Devil’s Tramping Ground immediately gave Hayes a few ideas: the ash pile at the center of the circle.
“I would judge that this many ashes would have some effect on vegetation’s capability of growing in here,” Hayes says.
The charred logs, burnt plastic and broken glass in and around the central fire pit all hint at the Devil’s Tramping Ground’s secondary use: party spot. According to Hayes, the higher pH of the barren soil likely comes from potash in the ashes. The abnormally high zinc level could be due to people burning tires, which are loaded with zinc.
Also, if you’ve been to a popular campsite, you’ve probably noticed that the constant foot traffic and intense heat from frequent camp fires keep the surrounding area more or less devoid of plant life.
At this point then, you might be ready to dismiss the mysterious spot in the woods where nothing grows simply as a product of human overuse. You might say the only fiery footsteps wiping out the plant life come from revelers, and the only mischief being planned there is how best to kill the 12-pack.
Hayes says he would agree with you, to a point. Campfires and parties might be pushing back the vegetation today. That said, Hayes says he thinks there is more to the story of the Devil’s Tramping Ground.
“The fact that there are written accounts going back hundreds of years about this spot being barren of vegetation makes me think something else is going on here besides people camping and burning big fires,” Hayes says.
So until scientists figure out exactly what that ‘something else’ is, maybe it’s best to take the advice of Tommy Edwards’s song.
Now don’t go near that evil spot where Satan walks around, in the heart of Carolina, at the Devil’s Tramping Ground.
I will drive to this area next summer and camp on the spot and will see what happen.
STEVE RAMSEY, OKOTOKS – ALBERTA