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A Trip To North Carolina's Westernmost Tip

OurStateWestern.jpeg
Thomas Moors
/
Our State magazine
The rock that marks the border of North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia.

When you look at a map of North Carolina, have you ever wondered what it’s like to visit the westernmost point in the state? Our State magazine’s Jeremy Markovich was curious, so he drove out there to see for himself. What he found was a strange new pursuit - and some farmers who don’t know what to do about the influx of visitors. 

He produced this story as part of WFAE’s ongoing collaboration with the magazine.

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So, I wanted to go to a remote spot that’s remote because of the border. So, I drove west. As far west as I could get in this state.

And there, about 20 feet from the Georgia-North Carolina border, I meet A.D. Patterson and his wife, Shirley.

And, just to give you an idea of where we are - I’m in a valley surrounded by green hills - there’s a little wooden house that A.D. built by himself in 1951. There’s some barbed wire fencing, an old beat up Ford F-150 and, across the road, a pasture full of cows.

A.D. cranks up the pickup truck and we set off on a much shorter drive to a point about 600 feet from the road. For the last little bit, we get out and walk to the edge of some woods, underneath some pines and hickory trees. The ground is grassy and uneven.

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And then we arrive at the spot where two fences meet. I am standing on the westernmost point of North Carolina.

There’s a little brass disc that marks the exact spot where Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina meet. A.D. has actually painted a rock showing which state is where, but otherwise, you really can’t tell which is which.

Admittedly, there’s not much else here.

So who comes out here and sees this, other than me? Everybody, says A.D.

"Flocks, buses and motorcycles. They run telethon races with bicycles," he told me. "[The] Last few years, it’s gotten interesting to people. Used to, just up here in the forest, nobody knows where it’s at, nobody give a hoot, it’s just up there. They come up here from everywhere now."

One guy, though, was really memorable.

Todd Barber is his name, and he’s not just some guy who has worked for NASA for years. He was the lead propulsion engineer on the Cassini spacecraft, which launched all the way back in 1997 to explore Saturn and its moons. You might remember: It crashed into Saturn, on purpose, back in 2017.

And now, part of Todd’s job involves working on the most remote man-made object in the universe.

Okay, so now I am freaking out. So much so that, more than normal, I cannot put together a full sentence.

Turns out, everybody wants to talk to Todd about space. But Todd really wants to talk about his other passion: visiting places where lines cross on maps.

When his buddy got a new Mini Cooper, they started looking for road trip ideas - and they found something online.

Basically, when you look at a map, you see where the latitude and longitude lines meet up. Those places are called confluences. They are completely arbitrary, many of them out in the middle of nowhere. And there are people out here who travel to them. People like Todd.

Finding confluences was kind of interesting, but Todd wanted a new challenge.

"I said, 'I wonder if anybody's ever been to all the tri-state corners,'" he said. Those are the points where three states touch. "I'm kind of a couch potato, and what I figured out with this hobby is that I had to learn to do things like mountain hiking and fording streams."

So, he starts off in 2005, and right off the bat, he has to develop some new skills because some of these tri-state corners are really out there. For instance, Arizona-Utah-Nevada.

"It was nearly curtains for me out in the desert," he recalled.

He was running low on water and his GPS was malfunctioning, so he had to turn back with less than a mile to go. Next time, he went back with better equipment and more water and got to the tri-point.

And then there's Montana-Idaho-Wyoming. That one was in a burned out part of Yellowstone National Park.

"It's prime grizzly bear habitat. There's fallen tree on fallen tree, a hiking nightmare," he said.

A local guy told him that the only way he'd do a trip out there is on horseback, so he went back next summer and hired a guide. They set out on horseback on an 18-mile trip.

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"Horses are having to step over burn trees, and I remember getting close and there was this little pipe sticking up a foot off the ground. And it was just such a magic moment."

Many of the tri-points were much easier to get to, including the corner that Todd crossed off his list in February 2008: Tennessee-Georgia-North Carolina, the one where I met A.D. and Shirley Patterson.

"One of my favorite parts was I met just wonderful people at many of the corners, and A.D. and Shirley were no exception," he said. "A lot of them have ended up on my Christmas card list, although I’m a few years behind on trying to get that caught up."

So, a couple of things about A.D. and Shirley.

One, they really like Todd.

Two, their house is just a few yards into Georgia, which means the westernmost piece of property in North Carolina is actually owned by Georgians.

And three, even though the tri-point has become a strange tourist destination for some, that’s not necessarily a good thing.

"They just want to see what it is. They want to see the area. They're concerned," A.D. said. "Sorta like a curiosity, like a cat. They heard so much about it, they want to come and see the corner."

A.D. and Shirley don’t make any money off of this. They’ve become reluctant to answer the phone. Every time someone stops in, A.D. has to stop working on his farm and talk to them.

One guy didn’t even ask - he ran up the hill toward the tri-point.

But out here in the rolling green hills, it’s easy to see how one person’s quirky pursuit can become another person’s burden - even if people are really genuinely happy to travel a long way to see a small metal disc in the woods.

This story was adapted from “Away Message,” an Our State magazine podcast about North Carolina’s hard to find people, places and things. You can listen to other stories by searching for “Away Message” on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.