Across the country, many legends exist about giant creatures roaming the wilderness. In the Pacific Northwest, it’s Bigfoot, while the Paiute Indians of Nevada believed that red-haired giants lived in Lovelock Cave. In Puerto Rico and other parts of the Americas, reports of the chupacabra, a wolflike beast that feasts on goats and other small animals.
In the mountains of north Alabama, I’ve been on the trail of a legendary creature that supposedly stands 55 feet tall. On the flanks of Green Mountain and Huntsville Mountain, I’ve found several items belonging to the Jolly Green Giant, including his mammoth car keys, a massive shoelace, and even his gigantic drinking straw. Wait, what? The Jolly Green Giant?
OK, so a green man five stories tall isn’t actually tromping around north Alabama. But, there are more than two-dozen Jolly Green Giant geocaches hidden in the woods at Blevins Gap Preserveand other Huntsville hiking areas. For the past 10 years, a man known as Gray Bat (aka Paul) has constructed giant-sized items, hidden them in the woods, and posted hints for finding them on Geocaching.com.
If you’re not familiar with geocaching, it’s a sort of hi-tech treasure hunt that requires using a GPS or smartphone to locate a hidden object or container, known as a cache. It's like a lot like hiking, but instead of a waterfall or an amazing view along the way, you'll be rewarded by discovering objects in the wilderness. Around the world there are about 2.7 million active geocaches and more than 15 million geocachers, according to Geocaching.com. Within 10 miles of Huntsville there are at least 1,075 caches. Typically, caches range in size from something as small as a nickel to a large Tupperware container or metal ammunition box. So, the oversized Jolly Green Giant caches are a bit crazy, and really fun to hunt.
I caught up with Gray Bat, who said it takes months to plan and construct some of the Jolly Green Giant’s possessions. He builds some objects with wood and metal and casts others using molds and resins. “I spent the better part of my spare time over five weeks constructing Jolly Green's Lost Pi,” he said, declining to share just exactly what that object is. “There’s at least 40 hours of labor on that one, but it turned out really well.”
One challenge is hauling his bulky creations into the forest and hiding them without getting caught, especially the Jolly Green Giant’s Skate Wheel. “I had a LOT of fun hauling it about a mile into the woods over uneven terrain,” he said. “Spoiler alert: It’s a forklift wheel that weighs 70 pounds. I carried it on my back.” Ouch.
“People find that one pretty funny,” said Gray Bat. On the Geocaching.com message board, someone who found the barrel wrote, "Took nothing, left Lawrence," and posted a picture of a red headed boy sitting in the cache.
In the world of geocaching, the Jolly Green Giant series is getting a bit of a reputation. “I’ve had out-of-towners ask about it,” said Gray Bat, adding that there are a few other oversized caches in the country. “I’m aware of someone starting a Paul Bunyan series, and someone did a giant mouse trap with an ammo can as the cheese.”
If you’d like to start tracking the Jolly Green Giant, you can use your smartphone and download the Geocaching.com app. This will allow you to browse or search for caches as you hike, and you’ll get hints on how to locate items, while an electronic compass will point you in the right direction.
Some people prefer to use GPS devices for geocaching, because they’re more accurate and durable than phones. With this method, you get cache coordinates from a site such as Geocaching.com, and then enter the coordinates into a GPS.
Once you’ve set up your phone or GPS, head to the Blevins Gap Trailhead in Huntsville, and start following in the footsteps of the Jolly Green Giant.
_ If You Go: _
To reach the Blevins Gap Trailhead, from Alabama I-565 to Memorial Parkway South, take the Airport Road exit. Go east on Airport Road, which becomes Carl T. Jones Drive. Turn left onto Cecil Ashburn Drive. First trailhead is in the northeast corner of the Southeast Huntsville Church of the Nazarene parking lot.