Wednesday, September 17, 2014

September 14, 2014 Oconee Station Falls , Fellow Travelers in the Rain

It is raining cats and dogs as I drive down 85 towards Decatur. I take Exit 1 to the right just before the SC/GA border and drive North past Hartwell State Park on Highway 11 (The Cherokee Foothills Highway) towards Oconee Station. Every few miles along the 25 mile trip are signs pointing the way to waterfalls:  Lake Keowee waterfalls, Chatooga waterfalls.  The side roads along the way are Blackjack, Falcon's Lair, and Earth Berm.  I pass the No Sweat Auction, Jehovah's Witness and Seventh Day Adventist churches.
Just after the imposing Spring Heights Baptist church is an apple orchard and a field of orange pumpkins.

Soon there is a left turn onto Oconee Station Rd which takes me two miles down to the entrance on the right.

A green truck pulls into the parking lot in front of me.  There is no one else here, not even a ranger in the tiny ranger cabin.  The couple from the green truck and I read the notes posted outside the cabin, join forces and find our way up the hill to the two stone buildings which were at times, the Indian Trading Post, the outpost to ward off battles with the Indians, a trading post again, a private home and then a vacation home.  From there we find a trail though the hardwood forest which is a kind of orange rivulet from the iron soaked water coursing down the mountain.

Will and Karen are kayakers who have come up from Florence to kayak at Devil's Fork. Their pontoon tour to view waterfalls has been cancelled due to the driving rain and they have left their tent to find their own waterfall.  We find we are kindred spirits, who love the state parks, the woods, the water, the wildlife.

The beautiful trail winds around the mountain where mist is rising from streams below.  After a while we come to the very road we came in on and cross it to continue the trail.  There is a trail that goes off to the right that you can take to Oconee State Park through the woods in 2 and a half miles.

Further on, we hear the high screech of birds which turns out to be children playing at the foot of the  falls. The sight before us is astounding.  We cross the stream over smooth stones, crawl across rocks and breathe in the negative ions of the misty air.  A family is here with two small boys of about 3 and 4 cavorting in the water, skipping across the rocks, their clothes totally soaked.  One boy laughing, gives me a big acorn he has found.  We take photos of ourselves standing on the rocks in the water with the falls behind us.

We are in awe.  We are soaked.  My pants are covered in red mud where I slipped on the trail.

I drive down to Decatur singing along with the radio.

Monday, September 8, 2014

September 7, 2014 Long Shoals Park on the Eastatoee Creek, The Drednautus and the Pit Bell Asteroid

It is still morning when I leave Devil's Fork without walking the Bear Cove Trail feeling sadness and regret.
Driving back on Hwy 11, Rodney Crause and Emie Lou Harris are singing a haunting song saying "I'll always rove your way again...til I can gain control again.."  I cross back over the deep green Keowee River and on the right is a sign for the Long Shoals Park.  I pull over and find a young family getting out of their van, an older woman helping her wheelchair bound husband back into their truck, all hauling picnic coolers.  There is an enticing path inviting me down the sharp incline through the forest. I follow the family and suddenly we come upon the glorious and fantastic sight of the creek rushing across smooth rocks, surrounded by bounders the size of Drednautus, the dinosaur unearthed in Argentina four days ago, as long as a basketball court, two stories tall and as big as 6 elephants. There is a small beach with a few families, children splashing in the cool water. Boofa and I meet a man with a dog on a leash and a fat black and tan puppy named "Flash".  The man tells me he found 8 puppies under a burned out house, gave the rest away and kept Flash.  There is a trail going down by the creek. Muscadines are on the ground.  The magic feeling that a key has unlocked the other world of the woods, the water, the cloud filled sky above is suddenly with me again.

The wayside park is part of the SC Department of Forestry and managed and maintained by the Andrew Pickens Chapter of the Cherokee Foothillls Byway Association.  The managers are Dennis Chastain and Dr. George Smith.

The magic has infused my heart again.  I feel a part of the universe, the universe where the Drednautus skeleton bones were found, the universe where the Pit Bull asteroid is flying by only 25,000 miles away from earth today.  The place where we live.

September 7, 2014 Devil's Fork State Park, The Oconee Bell Trail, Spooked

The blooming wild plants along the Foothills Hwy 11 are announcing the Fall that is nearly here: wild coriopsis in huge yellow  clumps, goldenrod in all its varieties, fields and hedges of purple and red morning glories, the Joe Pye bush in dusty pink profusion, Elkhorn sumac, pink Scottish Thistle and here a stand of Okra, six feet tall with blooms like hibiscus.  Driving Southwest along the escarpment of the mountains, passing Jones Gap, Caesar's Head, Table Rock, Sassafras Mountain, Keowee-Toxaway, over the Keowee River and the right turn toward Salem and then it is  3 miles to the park.

Side roads are Whipporwill Hollow, Chapman Bridge Rd.  A sign nailed to a tree says "REPENT" and then a sign for Jocasse Tours proclaims "Welcome to Paradise".

There are two trails, the Oconee Bell and the Bear Cove Trail.  I intend to walk both. The Oconee Bell starts down some steps at the single vehicle parking lot near the park office.  This park is about Lake Jocassee and the big lot is for vehicles pulling boats.  The park is for fishing, but it appears most visitors are enjoying boating and picnicing and sunbathing on the water.

The Oconee Bell Trail is a lovely loop where in late March you can see the rare Oconee Bell plant in white bloom.  I find the plants with heart shaped leaves along the way.  Andre Micheau, the botanist, first discovered these plants in 1787.  (The French Huguenot ancestors of my family included Micheaux.  It would be nice to think that some were the Micheau Botanist brothers).  The trail moves up and down along a narrow creek, at times the water courses in short waterfalls over black mountain rock.  I counted four foot bridges and one bench near one of the little falls.

This trail was only a mile and since it was cool and lovely, I drove back down from the office area to the day area by going right on Devil's Fork Rd, another right on Buckeye road and up the hill to another park recreation area building where there was a snack bar:  coffee $2.00, hot chocolate $2.00, ice cream and other goodies, kayaks and canoes  in a multitude of colors for rent as well as umbrellas, chairs and other equipment. Here there are picnic shelters and a path to walk in camping. Between the shelters, the Bear Cove Trail winds into the woods.  I am ready to go when a great hulk of a hiker looms beside me speaking to me and plunging into the trail. I notice there are no other hikers and I wait for a while sharing an apple with Boofa.  I am torn. I want to walk the trail, but I decide with immense regret to leave.   I am spooked.  The forest can be a lonely place.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

August 25, 2014 The Cottonwood Trail, There is Always a Gift

Today, there were three.

Entering the trail, I chanced upon a geocache, a plastic box filled with cheerful doodads, tchotchkes, little toys, patterned erasers, even a coiled cell phone charger.  I took a green plastic bug and left a ball point pen.

Rounding the corner from the woods at the creek, I spotted a Cooper's Hawk fishing from a low branch two feet over the water.  For a while, I watched him. Boofa was quiet and still. The hawk leapt into the water and for a time, stood with his yellow talons submerged, head down searching.

Crossing the jetty over the wetlands, three American Goldfinch flitted around the branches of dead bushes in the water.

The day was cool, a harbinger of the fall to come.

There is always a gift.  A peek into the natural world.  An encounter with another human being.  A flash of intuition like a bolt of lightening.  A glimpse into the past.  A challenge overcome.

Unfortunately, my gift from Santee was poison ivy.  A lesson learned.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

August 23, 2014 Santee State Park, The Hottest Day of the Year

Such a relief from yesterday. I walk in the light rain. There are purple blossoms on the kudzu. Confederate jasmine is in flower.  The crape myrtles full of pink, purple and white blossoms and the cane are bending over with their burden of water.Here and there is a dappling of yellow leaves.  In my garden, spider lilies have pushed up and the big red rose bush in is bloom again.  The children have gone back to school.

Yesterday I drove up I-26 from Charleston where  we had stayed overnight in an old Charleston house on the College of Charleston Campus.  I took the exit for the town of Santee and drove up highway 15 past flat fields of dry brown corn and fields of blooming cotton, drooping in the blast of heat.  Along the way are a few old houses set back  surrounded by live oaks and here and there a church, one a tiny colorful steepled building in a field, the kind you might see in a miniature of a Christmas village.  The country town of Santee boasts a large modern convention center, gas stations, pizza joints, tackle and fishing shops and a variety of lounges, sort of an unexpected and bizarre Las Vegas of the sandhills.  It is the world class fishing that brings some of the less beautiful establishments to town.

The Santee dam was built in 1938 through 41 to create Lake Marion and Moultrie.  Santee State Park is located on Lake Marion (the swamp fox) between the small towns of Santee and Elloree.  I take hwy 6 towards Elloree from Santee and in front of the golf course, turn right onto State Park Rd.

After a short drive through the pine forest, Lake Marion, rippled dark blue and deep is before me.  Across the water stands a long row of tall dead as well as leafed trees, the remains of the forest that was drowned to create the lake.

Here to the right is the Fisheagle Tours office. In front of me is the park store with fishing tackle, souvenirs and a snack area overlooking the water. To the left is the fishing pier and the park office.

There are four trails; three short ones and a 7.3 mile bike trail. Oak-Pinolly Nature Trail is near the shop. Sinkhole Pond Nature Trail is off Fox Squirrel Drive and the Limestone Nature Trail is off Cleveland Street close by a picnic area.

I take the Limestone Trail through the sandy pine needled woods and shortly come upon a footbridge over an alligator pond the color of green olives. Humans are not the only ones who catch fish.  The gators are nowhere to be seen today.  Going across the bridge, I startle up Great Blue and a duck. They fly up the pond to the north and I can see the intrusive outline of I-95 in the distance. The trail ends at a road so I turn back and find another trail that ends back where I started.

The park has 25 cabins, 5 of which are on piers out into the lake. It also has camping and a round community building.  But fishing is the big thing here.

I get back on hwy 6 through Elloree, then St. Mathews where lovely well kept old homes alternate with crumbling old houses.  All the yards have flowers, even those that are abandoned.  Cows are standing shoulder deep in the ponds along the way.

Hours later I am near home in the Upstate. Children and their parents, fully clothed, are wading through the Tyger River. A blue-black cloud appears across the heavens before me.
Lightening cracks the sky and in moments, the scorching heat is gone, rain is pouring down on the windshield.  It is hard to see the road, but just as quickly the pop-up storm is gone and fresh fragrant washed earth is left behind it.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

July 29, 2014 Barnwell State Park: Water Lillies with a Possibility of Alligators

A bright green day with temperatures much cooler than the season and low humidity as well.

I loaded up Boofa, water, dates and apples and put oil in the car at Kangaroo Station.  There I found legal moonshine for sale in flavors of apple, peach, strawberry and clear.  The attendant told me that the clear was terrible, the peach so so and the strawberry fairly good.  Not today.

It was 9:00 am before I was driving down the back roads (hwy 56 then at Chappells 39) as the crow flies in the green green of the height of summer. Impossible smooth green meadows stretch for acres to forests of deep dark green trees. There is not a leaf stirring.  The trees stand magnificently and quietly knowing that the work of the green fuse is done now.  I pass cattle farms with signs for Limousin, Brahman and Poled Hereford bulls.

On the Laurens/Newberry County line, Belfast Plantation is on the right (settled by John Simpson of Ireland in 1786) and on it's land a Wildlife Management area.
Later I pass the Jacob Odom house where George Washington spent the night on his trip north in 1755.

I cross the Spearman Bridge over the green Saluda and into Saluda, past the Saluda county Courthouse and a mural on the side of a downtown building for the Saluda Old Town Treaty in 1755 with the Native Americans. I turn past the Saluda Pool Hall, cross over the Little Saluda River, on past fields of Sun Flowers, small crops of okra and fields of cotton blooming with white and red blossoms, signs for Peaches at Cone Farms, Dixie Bell Peaches.  In Wagener, a truck of watermelons is parked in the town median.
In Sally (home of the Chitlin Strutt) I get gas on Walnut St. The station is manned by friendly Southeast Asians.   Nearby a group of men sit in the shade of a giant oak, passing the time.

The welcome sign for Springfield is beside a cotton field and a lonely Palmetto Palm. Nearby is the South Edisto River.  I stop at the Morgan Pharmacy for directions.  It sits in a lovely corner building on the downtown Festival Trail and it has one of the last soda fountains in South Carolina, maybe the world.  They tell me to take Hwy 3 ( the Solomon Blatt Hwy) on to Blackville and then shortly to the park on the right.

This is a beautiful small park, another gem, somewhat the size of the Chester State park, with original work by the CCC. There is a park office (open 11 to 12 and 4 to 5) in the old bath house building with a women's bathhouse on the left and men's on the right.  At the office there is a humming bird feeder and a trap for carpenter bees.   Beyond is the upper pond with 5 children swimming in the roped area, their mothers in black T's and shorts sitting on the shore.  The 1.5 mile Nature Trail runs off to the right and circles the ponds, graced with blooming lilies.  There are a few people fishing, one paddle boat, signs warning the possibility of alligators "a fed gator is a dead gator".  Up in the woods nearby, there are 5 round cabins with landscaping by local garden clubs. Inside I see a nicely appointed kitchen, two bedrooms, a large living-dining area with table and chairs, modern upholstered chairs in front of a flat screen TV.

Leanna McMillan, ranger, tells me the story of the Rosses who were rangers here, she for 24 years until 1979 and he, the husband for 10 years before.  Ranger Ross died of a heart attack on the night he went to the aid of passengers in a car that wrecked at the entrance to the park.  After his death, Mrs. Ross became the park manager and it was she who was able to arrange for the building of the 5 cabins with the help of Solomon Blatt, legislator from the area.

On the far side of the lake, my friend, Great Blue (heron), stands on the edge of the field of water lilies.
The trail has jetties through the woods, one out into the lake for gazing and fishing. Nearing the end of the trail, I come to the spillway with the sign, "Do Not Walk on the Spillway" and see a small path down to and around a little pond.  This is not the way to go. It is passable but covered with branches. A little farther back off the trail is a trail to the road, so that you can walk along the road for a few yards and then come onto a bridge which takes you back to the office.

Leanna McMillan tells me that an Eagle Scout is building another trail in the forest across the road which will connect to the loop trail.  Leanna has come two months ago from working at Hickory Knob where she cleared the trail for a Triathelon last year.  She tells me about the Civil War Battle History site at Rivers Bridge where I plan to go next.

The swimming spot in the lake looks so inviting that I plan to start packing a swim suit and towel on my next hike.

I drive up the road through Blackville, which has a dark green Public Library in a signature Victorian style with cupola.  I get gas at an immaculate station run by our Southeast Asian Highway Guardians.  It has a Subway restaurant and a Blue Bunny Ice Cream stand and anything else you might need on the way.  In the small towns on Hwys 39 and 56 there is always one or two great old mansions with shaded porches with wicker or rocking chairs.  Who sits in those chairs now?

In the small leafy town on Monetta, there is a peach orchard where the ripe peaches lie rotting, ungathered on the ground.

Three deer leap across the road.  The sky is filled with high cumulous clouds in a blue blue field.

I am on an oxygen high with the radio playing "Cecelia, The Lion Sleeps Tonight and Blackbird".

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

June 15, 2014 A Bad Day at Redcliffe Plantation, Beech Island SC

The day began with a wonder of wild flowers along the back roads:  Mimosa, massive clumps of blooming viburnum, orange day lilies sprouting up from the green ditches, fragrant ligustrum, brilliant orange butterfly weed, Queen Anne's Lace.  On Hwy 56, I crossed Little River, Mills' Creek and then the wide green Saluda.  I crossed under I-20 and passed through Aiken with it's lovely old houses and gardens, then a  fleeting glimpse of the nuclear plant.

Redcliffe Plantation was the retreat of James Henry Hammond, once Governor of South Carolina, slave owner and political proponent of slavery.  The home was restored in 1973 by his descendant, John Shaw Billings, Editor of Life Magazine. Billings brought journalists and even the photographer, Alfred Eisenstaedt to the home to photograph it.

Tours of the home are at 11:00, 1:00 and 3:00.  I arrived at 2:00 and missed the 3:00 o'clock tour because I was lost in the woods.

Doug, retired military officer and now park ranger told me that in February of this year, there had been a furious ice storm and that the two mile trail had been severely damaged by falling trees, branches and debris.
He and another ranger had just walked the trail and found the first quarter mile rough but passable and then "down near the pond" extremely overgrown and difficult to even find the way.  He advised to just walk in a quarter of a mile and then turn around and come back.

I walked in a way, over fallen logs and branches and kept going, looking for the pond. I was thinking of turning back when a startled long-legged white spreckled faun lept just in front of me.  In a state of wondrous awe, I followed it into the deep woods.  At last I was lost. At one point, I could see the trail going up a far off ridge and I started down in that direction, but soon came to a small body of water surrounded by brush and had to turn back.  I kept going through brush, brambles and black berries  hearing the stamping hoof beats of hidden deer and wishing I had a machete until I gave up and headed for the sound of cars.  I found a road and began walking in the searing heat from the macadam.  Hitch hiking appeared not to be an option.

Finally, I got a ride back to the site from a man named Tommy Snell in his black truck.  I washed up at the park office restroom and revived myself on the porch, drinking water and collapsing in a rocking chair until I saw the tourists coming down the hill from the plantation house.  They greeted me saying that the ranger had them looking out for me when I didn't appear for the tour.

I do not recommend getting lost and then walking on a highway in 95 degree heat, but the house must be interesting and I did make it up the Atomic Highway to the home of my childhood friend in North Augusta who led me to the shower and put me in a bed with clean cool linens for the night.

I dreamed then of the people who slaved in the unbearable heat on the plantation, bending and chopping, seeding and sowing with no cool shower and clean linens to comfort them.