Now that I have published the Georgia fragment of our recent trip, it makes sense to write about the South Carolina part as well. Particularly because I made a promise to, and because my memory will surely fail me if I wait a month or two longer.
South Carolina is our penultimate state on the East Coast which we were planning to be done with at once. Sadly, the weather betrayed us yet again, and Charleston along with Myrtle Beach remained unseen. Since leaving out two arguably most interesting cities would not do South Carolina justice, this post will have a sequel once we redress the omission. Besides, there are already plenty of pictures for one post; adding more would surely be overwhelming.
Our exploration of South Carolina began with a one-day trip to some of the coastal areas just north of the Georgia borderline. The main reason for visiting Bluffton among those places is its once amazing thrift stores; the other reason is Pinckney Island National Refuge. Alas, the stores’ selection and affordability have greatly diminished, and the refuge can be summarized in one (quite flattering) picture:
It would not be an overstatement to say that Hilton Head is at least as well-known in the nation as Charleston, despite unmatched historical significance. A decent-sized island resort, Hilton Head is not only a home to some of the wealthiest southern retirees, but also a culturally and environmentally diverse town—a rare package for any beach retreat.
In our itinerary we initially included only two places on the whole island: the Sea Pines Forest Preserve Foundation and the Harbour Town Lighthouse. Yet we ended up exploring at least a dozen of attractions and even some of the residential areas of Hilton Head.
One of our first stops was the Lawton Stables, partially due to my wife’s affection towards horses and other four-legged domesticated animals. Had we not been pressed on time (surprise, surprise), we might have spent more time petting sheep and perhaps talking our son into a pony ride, but would have to be planned in advance, and we could not afford to linger on at any one place.
One of the next stops was the Harbor Town, a lively waterfront area comprising a mid-size marina, a golf field, a compact shopping plaza, and a few lodging amenities. There was also a bright-colored lighthouse, undoubtedly the center of our attention as tourists given how upscale the rest of the area was.
Though pictures from the top did not turn up overly impressive (a common disillusionment about lighthouses), the experience of climbing up was far from usual, in the positive sense. Not only did I get to enjoy soothing jazz music played through a file of wall speakers reaching the very last flight of stairs, but I was also presented with a number of educational exhibits along the entire track. Awesome work.
After a brief stroll and an improvised ice-cream sit-down, we resumed our course along the coastline and advanced to the next point of interest, the South Beach marina.
Even more so than the Harbor Town, the South Beach area seems to be a major gastronomic center of the island. I am not talking about grocery stores, of course, which there were none in sight, but the cluster of restaurants (and busy restaurants I may add) that the place was studded with.
It was here that, on the way to some of the island’s wildlife preserves and natural parks, we started noticing the abundance of the southern flora and, to a greater extent, fauna. Though we shot primarily birds and reptiles (that is, on camera), I am sure a knowledgeable botanist or zoologist would have a lot more to point out.
The birdies sure knew how to pose. The turtles also photographed well, but I am not so certain they modeled deliberately.
As for the following fella, my wife swears that I was standing six feet away from him while trying to get a close-up of a turtle. I seem to think that he was in the water at the time. I cannot reliably say that his skin appears dry, but I have to admit that the surface of the water is undisturbed on the photograph.
Having really enjoyed our time on the island, we have made a few final loops through some residential sections and proceeded inland towards Beaufort.
We did not cover too much ground in Beaufort, but of all we did see only the Waterfront Park and areas adjacent to it looked interesting. There is little to be said about those places; just quiet shady neighborhoods perfect for an afternoon summer-day stroll.
A few amusing sights not too far away.
Within thirty minutes north of Beaufort there is a very interesting historical site, the Old Sheldon Church Ruins. These majestically austere remnants of once glorious architectural achievement would certainly give creeps to anyone who dared roam here at night. Forgot to mention a couple of graves spread around the ruins here and there :)
Even we started seeing ghosts rising up from their burial vaults, and it was far from dark :)
But what a fascinating sight.
We had long known that Americans have a few popular town names that repeat in every state, but we did not expect Cleveland to be one of them. Anyway, now that we have finished Ohio (report to follow in one of the next posts), I am assured that Cleveland, SC, bears no similarity to Cleveland, OH.
If you find the location of Yemassee on the map and compare it with that of Cleveland, you might wonder how we ended up in the northwestern mountains of South Carolina just minutes away from the Georgia borderline after having just explored the coastal area of the Southeast. The answer is simple: we did it in two chunks, the second one after we have traveled through most of Georgia, as explained earlier.
Our destination in Cleveland was the Caesars Head State Park, which lies at one kilometer above sea level in the midst of Blue Ridge Mountains. As we approached the starting point of our ascent, we had a chance to observe some of the fine mountain-side landscapes and be astonished by the fastidiousness of the local traffic regulators.
I cannot say that the climb to the Caesars Head park was unfruitful, but all the surrounding beauty revealed from above can be summed up in the following shot.
Though I sincerely enjoyed the views, the place probably delivers a more rewarding experience to hikers than to wheeled weekend tourists like ourselves.
At the entrance to Greenville we were greeted with a hypocritical wall ad from Pepsi.
Most others sights we passed by did not look any more promising.
However, as we neared the West End and the Falls Park on the Reedy, we started seeing much nicer things. For instance, peculiar street art.
Especially the Falls Park area seemed like an oasis in the otherwise homely town.
The above pictures are a great example of how one artistic area can liven up the entire neighborhood.
In the remaining two days of our trip we were planning to still visit two more dozens of places in Columbia, Charleston, Myrtle Beach, and around. Sadly, the weather turned bad overnight, and instead of heading to the Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Gardens—supposedly, on the best zoos in the nation—we were forced to drive around and take pictures of whatever we could in the cold nasty rain.
With the zoo ruled out, there was little else to do in Columbia besides taking a traditional picture of the State House (above) and visiting the local Military Museum. The museum was admission-free, so I should not complain much about the exhibits. Yet very few displays grabbed my attention without a detailed read of the accompanying narration.
The exhibits that I found most interesting were the Nazi paraphernalia (despite all the viciousness the dudes had a great deal of style),
the Cold War prototype weapons,
and the Norden Bombsight, a high-precision bomb-targeting device.
With the realization of a boring six-hour ride ahead of us, we lazily got back in the car, slowly drove out of the town, and hit the highway, as there was nothing we could do in the bad weather that settled for the following two or three days.
South of the Border
Since at this point we were in no hurry to get home, and we had temporarily outrun the rain clouds headed north, we decided to halt for a bit at South of the Border, a well-known Mexican-themed roadside “oasis” off I-95 just before the North Carolina border. We had passed South of the Border numerous times before as we had suspected it to be a tourist bait mainly consisting of restaurants and gift shops. Only that now we got a chance to prove ourselves right.
I can totally picture a weary male driver zipping away towards a bright-red setting summer sun, wishing to call it a night and enjoy a few frosty beers at one of these welcoming crowded bars, plenty of lodging prudently available next door. Fortunately or not, that was not our situation, so we reluctantly continued our passage home, making guesses as to when we will be able to see the rest of South Carolina.
To be continued.