The Big Desert

I thought I knew something about North Carolina history and geography, and felt pretty confident that I’d already spotted many of the oddities and mysteries lurking in old maps, but then somebody pointed out the Big Desert in Robeson County. It shows up on Samuel Pearce’s 1872 map of the state:


I know that sandy soil is common in eastern North Carolina, but the existence of an actual desert was news to me. I decided to look at later maps, to see if this was just a mistake or misunderstanding on the Pearce map, but sure enough, the desert showed up on one after the other. It was there on a 1884 map of the county, and then again on a 1908 soil survey, labeled simply as “The Desert”:


Soil survey maps are usually very reliable, so I decided to look at a recent satellite image to see if I could find anything roughly that shape near the town of Rennert. Here’s what I turned up using Google Maps:


The shape of that area looks exactly the same as that shown on the 1908 map. But the question remains, what in the world is it? Are there, among the many readers of this blog, any Robeson County residents who can tell us what exactly somebody would find if they went to the “Big Desert” today?