This 10,000-acre sanctuary is just minutes from Myrtle Beach

Just minutes from downtown Myrtle Beach is an outstanding nature preserve with a very unique habitat. I went there with my mountain bike after learning that it is home to the rare Venus Fly Trap plant. Indeed, Venus Fly Traps are only found in the Carolinas with a high concentration of them at the Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve in Horry County.

Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve pines

I found an entrance on International Drive, between the dense residential community of Carolina Forest and the town of Conway, South Carolina. At first look, the preserve isn’t traditionally “beautiful.” Tall, straight longleaf pine trees dominate the park and provide a light canopy. The ground is covered in light scrub brush, ferns, pinecones and pine needles.

Upon standing quietly and watching the ferns quiver in a soft breeze, I realized that even with its stark simplicity, the preserve is actually quite stunning.

So what are “bays” you ask? Great question! Bays are elliptical geographic depressions of varying sizes, and here’s the interesting part. No one really knows how they got there. This photo from Google Earth shows what the formations look like from above. It’s interesting to note that every one of the oval shapes is positioned in a northwest to southeast orientation. The depressions are several feet lower than the rest of the forest, and some bays can be thousands of feet in diameter.

Google Earth of the Carolina Bays minutes from Myrtle Beach, SC

But you can’t really detect the “bays” formations while you hike or walk through the preserve looking for the rare, carnivorous Yellow Pincher plant or Venus Fly Trap, which Charles Darwin called “the most wonderful plant on Earth.” These plants thrive in areas that lack nutritious soil. They get their nutrition from bugs, you see. Unfortunately, the Venus Fly traps are vulnerable to poachers who collect them to propagate and sell, even though you can purchase them at most local hardware stores.

Pitcher Plants or Venus Fly Trap found in the Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve

As part of an effort to preserve the habitat in an era when mother nature isn’t allowed to burn things the way she used to, park officials sometimes prescribe controlled burns to clear the brush and allow the acidic forest remnants to settle into the soil. This photo shows a part of the preserve that recently underwent a controlled burn.

Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve pines from controlled burn

Often, after a burn, you’ll see Venus Fly Traps spring up among the ash. I didn’t see any Fly Traps during my visit, but I did see a variety of the beautiful yellow Pitcher Plants—unassuming beauties that provide sweet nectar to unsuspecting bugs that subsequently drown in the nectar and get “digested.” Ah, nature.

The Venus Fly Trap found at Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve

Lewis Ocean Bay is also home to native orchids, bald eagles, and endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers. According to the DNR, it is also home to the largest population of black bear in South Carolina. The preserve is open for hiking, biking and even horseback riding. (Horses must stay on the main roads.) Seasonal hunting is also allowed with a license. Lewis Ocean Bay is owned by the state of South Carolina and managed by the Department of Natural Resources as a Heritage Preserve site.

But let’s get back to those mysterious bays! Many theories have been floated around regarding how they were formed. These theories range from aliens to meteor showers. However, there is no evidence for either of those theories. I did a little research and came across some compelling YouTube videos on a channel called Dabbler’s Den. These videos put forth a believable theory about the formation of bays, which are all up and down the east coast and include a smattering in the Midwest. It’s amazing to note that ALL of them “point” in the same direction. They all point to Saginaw, Michigan. There is plenty of evidence that Saginaw Bay was formed by an “impact event.” That means the remnants of a comet smashed into the Great lakes area about 800,000 years ago through about two miles of ice (as it was the ice age) and it scattered enormous chunks of ice down the eastern coast and a few flew to the Midwest leaving huge craters all over. It is estimated that there are half a million bays on the continent. Can you imagine hanging out on what is now North America on that day?

Anyway, the ice melted, leaving only the craters. There’s no evidence it was meteors or anything else. There are sand formations at the south ends of the bays that suggest the earth was pushed that way. They know that the bays preceded the river basins, so perhaps as the ice melted, the water carved out those basins.

Or it was aliens. I’m not sure, but I do know that Lewis Ocean Bay Preserve is an interesting place to explore and reconnect with nature. And, it’s only minutes from the beach!

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