South Carolina

Hunting Island, South Carolina

View Toad, Charley, and we awoke to in Hunting Island State Park CampgroundThis is the view that greeted us when we woke up at the Hunting Island State Park Campground on the morning of December 17th.  How could we not have seen this when we pulled into our campsite last night?!?  Because it was dark is the reason; very dark with no streetlights.  We could hear the ocean waves and knew it was nearby, but boy-oh-boy were we surprised when we saw this long, unspoiled beach and knew this would be our view for a couple of days (that’s the top of Toad in the foreground) – we were so excited!

Our campsite at Hunting Island State Park Campground

Hunting Island is about 15 miles south and east of Beaufort (BYOO-firt).  It’s one of the few remaining undeveloped sea islands in Lowcountry.  Bridges offer the only access to this wild, marshland paradise.  Just off the beach strands, forests of palmettos and live oaks that are draped with Spanish Moss which, incidentally, is neither Spanish nor moss; it’s an air plant full of biting bugs.  This sand island is laced with sleepy tidal creeks that offers premium shelling for the few beachcombers we encountered during our walk.  The whole sea island is a state park, and our campground was right on the pristine beach strand.

The campground is right on the ocean

The ocean is reclaiming part of the landAs we walked southward down the beach, we came upon a most unusual site.  It seems that surf and ocean waves have reclaimed some of the island as hers.  What stands behind where there once were big oaks and palms is an eerie yet beautiful graveyard of dead trees.

Dead trees on a stretch of Hunting Island where the ocean is reclaiming part of the island

Hunting Island one of the few remaining undeveloped sea islands in the Lowcountry

And much further down, past the 19th-century lighthouse, visitor center, and nature center in the park, is a lone house on stilts out in the surf.  Er… make that a former house.  In researching this queer site, we learned that sometime around 1980, erosion destroyed a portion of the highway and some homes along the then oceanfront, and the frame of the house in the below photo is all that remains.  Erosion is constant on a barrier island like Hunting Island, and up to 15 feet of land is lost each year if sand isn’t pumped back to re-nourish the beach area.

Remains of a house reclaimed by the seaWe really enjoyed the quiet beauty of Hunting Island, and would have loved to camp here longer, but alas, our schedule marches us on south….

Our parade of dead Horseshoe crabsHorseshoe crabs remains we found along the beach and made into a little serpentine.

Wind patterns in the sand at Hunting BeachWind patterns in the shifting sands.

Beaufort Birthday

Chocolate birthday cake and wine - now that's a good way to end a good birthday day!December 16 — I turned 51 today and a great day it was!  We’re still on the move south – leaving Charleston today and moving about 90 miles down the coastline to Beaufort – so we started out the day by doing our routine pack-up & move out activities.

Then to mark my special day, we decided on a visit to the Charleston Tea Plantation on Wadmalaw Island in the heart of South Carolina’s Lowcountry.  Incidentally, there is some symmetry to our tea time here (pun intended!) as back in Chicago I liked to mark birthdays, both mine and Moms, with high tea at The Drake, The Ritz, or a new favorite, The Langham.  So tea it was here, too.

Charleston  Tea PlantationWhile tea is grown all over the world, mostly in Asia, this is the only tea plantation in North America, so lucky for us that we were near it!  As it turns out, the climate here is perfect for propagating tea, so hundreds of thousands of tea plants (Camellia sinensis) are grown and harvested in the fields on this plantation featuring American Classic Tea.

Grand Oaks at the Charleston Tea PlantationArching Grand Oaks greeted us as we approached the plantation, as did rows and rows of tea plants.  After tasting some teas at the Tea Bar, we took a very informative trolley tour all around the grounds, and learned lots and lots about tea.  I used to fancy myself as a tea aficionado – well now I really am!

Field of tea plants, Camellia sinensis, at the Tea PlantationTop on my list of ‘I didn’t know that…’ was that black, oolong, green and white tea all comes from these same Camellia sinensis leaves.  The difference in flavor is where in the world they are grown (like wine; think terroir), the time of year they are harvested, and the processing method.  Green tea, for example, isn’t oxidized at all.  By contrast, black tea oxidizes for 50 minutes which turns it black.  So green tea really isn’t ‘healthier’ as it all comes from the same tea leaves.  And watch out for decaffeinated tea!  The American Classic teas produced here are not decaffeinated as that process introduces really crappy chemicals to take the caffeine out of tea; the same goes for coffee.  We were advised that if you don’t want that much caffeine (and there isn’t that much in tea anyway), brew then discard your first cup of tea, as 65% of the caffeine in tea is with your first dunks of the teabag or first use of loose tea.  Your next cups will all have considerably less caffeine.  Another interesting tidbit of information: herbal teas aren’t really tea as they don’t come from Camellia plants; they’re infusions of herbs or flowers or fruits.  Interesting, eh?  In case my enthusiasm isn’t evident enough in this post, we loved our tour and all we learned here – it was a wonderful place to spend my birthday!

Angel Oak Tree on Johns Island

Then moving on… our next stop was to see the old Angel Oak tree on Johns Island, and I mean this girl is old!  The tree, a Live Oak, is estimated to be around 400 years old, but it could be as old as 1,400 years old – nobody has been around that long to know!  That’s me standing in front of it in the picture above – old and big!  At 65 feet tall, the trunk has a circumference of 31.5 feet, and shades 17,000 square feet of area below.  Its draping limbs and wide spreading canopy present the aura of an angel, but the tree is actually named for Martha and Justus Angel who owned the property which dates back to the early 1600s.  It was humbling to stand beneath this massive tree and think of all that has taken place in the years that it has been growing.  Another highlight of my day….

But we weren’t done with the day yet!  In the late afternoon we arrived in Beaufort (BYOO-firt), another little coastal town we were really looking forward to visiting.  But with Charley towing Toad and the sun quickly approaching the horizon, we drove on through to Hunting Island – a beautiful, remote, unspoiled Sea Island in Coastal Carolina.  Unfortunately we pulled into our campground after dark, and while we couldn’t see the spectacular scenery around us, we could hear the ocean and we knew we were right next to it.   We quickly set up camp in the dark – we’re really efficient at this by now! – but not that enthused to drive the 15 miles back into Beaufort, we decided to find the nearest dining establishment which turned out to be a very unique seafood joint about a mile up the road and across the bridge.

Stapling our dollar at the Johnson Creek Tavern in Saint Helena Island, SCThe Johnson Creek Tavern on Saint Helena Island was the site of my birthday dinner, and what a site it was!  Fred and I were two of about 10 people there in total, and that counted the waitress, the bartender, and likely about three people in the back kitchen.  This was fine, though, as it just gave us the opportunity to wander around the place.  While it was too dark to see the surrounding marsh and creek, there was plenty to see on the inside.  Make that between 35,000 and 40,000 somethings – $1 bills!  Stapled everywhere.  Written on.  Drawn on.  Folded into shapes like flip-flops.  It was gimmicky for sure, but it was lots of fun to see people’s creativity all around this seaside restaurant.  I had to get a ladder (can’t see it in the picture) to find some blank space way up high on one of the walls to staple the Fred & Laura dollar bill.  My salad and basket of fried shrimp hit the spot – washed down, of course, with a couple glasses of vino.  A piece of chocolate cake with chocolate frosting for dessert – could a birthday get any better than this???  I think not….

But my birthday was made all the more special as all throughout the day I got calls, texts, emails, and birthday well-wishes from many friends and family members.  [But no cards yet; we won’t get our mail from our mail forwarder in South Dakota until next week.]  As I get older, I’ve come to appreciate that that’s the best thing about birthdays – hearing from and talking to the important people in your life on your special day.  I am blessed beyond belief to be on this two-year road trip with Fred seeing and experiencing all that we are seeing and experiencing on the road, but I am equally blessed to have such amazing people in my life who are supporting me with love and light and prayers as we are away.  I love you all…!

The Charm of Charleston

Old residential showcase homes south of Broad Street in Charleston
The old, storied showcase homes south of Broad Street in Charleston — anyone for some Pat Conroy??

December 12-15 — Back on the road after four relaxing days and nights with Daddy and Joan, we headed further down the Carolina coast, crossing into South Carolina, where we made our first stop, Charleston.  We had four nights of camping here and little on our agenda; our main goal was to visit Fort Sumter.  As it turned out, our relaxing came to an abrupt end, for with so much to do and see, we were on the go just about every minute of the time we spent here!

Charles Pinckney National Historic Site
Charles Pinckney National Historic Site

Once in Charleston, we realized that Fort Sumter isn’t the only National Park Unit here.  The Charles Pinckney National Historic Site preserves a proud remnant of the prominent Pinckney family’s Snee Farm that once was a 700+ acre rice and indigo plantation.  Charles Pinckney (1757-1824) was a member of an important Lowcountry family.  As was common practice in those days, wealthy families felt a sense of obligation to serve in the government of this young, emerging nation, thus Charles began his public service career at the tender age of 22, and served until he was 64.  Considered one of our country’s Founding Fathers, he represented state and national legislatures, was a four-term Governor of South Carolina, authored parts of the U.S. Constitution, and, appointed by our country’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, served as the Ambassador to Spain.  Who knew this guy did all that?  We sure didn’t!  This is why it’s so interesting and wonderful to visit these lesser-known / unknown park units as well as the big ones!

Also celebrated at the Pinckney NHS as well as all around Charleston and the Carolina Lowcountry is the Gullah culture.  The Gullah are the descendants of enslaved Africans who live in the Lowcountry regions and Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia.  The Gullah people and their language are also called Geechee.  The Pinckney home showcased the lovely traditions, creole-based language, and culture of the many generations of the Gullah.  And yet it’s difficult not to forget the great disparity in incredible wealth of families like the Pinckneys who owned several plantations, and the crushing hardship of slavery that made such southern life possible.

Sweetgrass basket stand and weavers
Sweetgrass basket stand and weavers

Sweetgrass basket weaving is a Gullah tradition that traces back hundreds of years to the people and settlements in Africa. Today all around Charleston women can be found weaving and selling their baskets and other sweetgrass wares, keeping up this lovely artform.

The Civil War BeginsAs I mentioned, the one place we knew we wanted to visit while in Charleston was Fort Sumter, where the opening shots of the Civil War were fired.  We had visited Appomattox Court House in Virginia back in November – the place where the Civil War effectively ended – and now our travels brought us here.

Fort Sumter was one of a series of coastal fortifications built by the United States after the War of 1812.  During this time, Charleston was a large, important port city; home to many plantation owners made wealthy off the backs, literally, of enslaved African Americans.  By the mid 18th century, most of the northern states had moved to restrict slavery, but South Carolina and other southern states, heavily dependent on slave labor to fuel their agriculture-based economy, felt that the Federal government was encroaching on states rights, constitutional rights, human rights and property rights.  Slavery was at the heart of issues involving economics, politics and sectional power.

Fort Sumter 1861-1865 The election of Abraham Lincoln in November 1860 further heightened tensions between the North and the South.  In December 1860, after a half-century of growing sectionalism, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union, with Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana soon following.  By early 1861, the Confederate States of America elected Jefferson Davis as their president.  Texas joined the Confederacy in early March, and by then nearly all the Federal forts and navy yards in the seven seceding states had been seized by the new government of the South.  Fort Sumter was one of the few that remained in Federal hands.

20141215_114512When South Carolina seceded, there were four Federal installations around Charleston, but only one, Fort Moultrie, had more than a nominal number of soldiers.  There, Federal Major Robert Anderson commanded two companies; 85 men in total.  Six days after South Carolina seceded, Anderson concluded that Fort Moultrie was indefensible and secretly transferred his command to Fort Sumter, a mile away in the heart of Charleston’s harbor.  South Carolina regarded Anderson’s move as a breach of faith and demanded that the U.S. Government evacuate.  President James Buchanan refused.

Lincoln took office in March 1861, and vowed he would not consent to a division of the Union.  On April 4th, he ordered the resupply of Anderson and his men at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.  Confederate forces demanded Anderson surrender, but despite his limited personnel and supplies, he refused.  As Union resupply ships approached, Confederate forces made the decision to attack.  At 4:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861, a mortal shell was sent up from nearby Fort Johnson as a signal for the other surrounding forts to begin their fire.  Confederate artillery bombarded Anderson and his men at Fort Sumter for 34 hours, after which time Anderson surrendered the now-decimated fort.  The long-dreaded Civil War had begun.

Fort Sumter National Monument
Fort Sumter National Monument

Fort Sumter remained in Confederate hands until February 1865 when southern forces abandoned Charleston.  By then Union bombardment had left Fort Sumter in ruins.  After the Civil War, Fort Sumter was used as a lighthouse island at the entrance to Charlotte harbor.  During the Spanish-American War in 1898, a new concrete artillery battery was built.  In 1947, this historic fort was deactivated and turned over to the National Park Service to be run as a National Monument.

The Civil War would be fought in 10,000 places once it got started here in Fort Sumter.  Three million men fought in this four-year war, and over 600,000 men died in it.  Our visit to the Visitor Center along the Charleston waterfront, ferry ride out to the fort, and time spent out there was a meaningful way to recall this most important event in the life of our nation.

USS Yorktown at Patriots Point
USS YORKTOWN at Patriots Point
In the briefing room of the USS Yorktown
The Briefing Room on the USS YORKTOWN
Fred reliving his old US Navy days - he served on the USS Albany
Fred reliving his Navy days aboard the USS ALBANY

If that wasn’t enough military history, we spent most of another day at Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum.  The centerpiece of this museum is the World War II aircraft carrier, the USS Yorktown.  Known as “The Fighting Lady,” Yorktown played a significant role in the Pacific offensive in late 1943 and ended with the defeat of Japan in 1945.  Also at Patriots Point are a destroyer and a submarine, a brand new Vietnam Experience Exhibit, and the inspiring Medal of Honor Museum.  We both really enjoyed touring all around the exhibits, but perhaps most fun was seeing the groups of Boy Scouts who had spent the previous night on Yorktown through what is evidently one of the nation’s top educational adventures.  The special energy and enthusiasm of these boys, ranging in age from about six to around 18 was contagious.  Or perhaps theirs was an over-tired energy because they had spent the night probably not sleeping in the berthing areas where heroic sailors once slept, and watched movies where these brave men once did the same.  Whatever the reason for their enthusiasm and joy, it was a treat being there when they were there at this special place that honors our heroes.  It’s a must-see place when in the Charleston area.

In addition to the sites that we visited, we thoroughly enjoyed just walking around in this old, storied city known for its well-preserved architecture.  Known also for its distinguished restaurants, we couldn’t pass up eating out a couple of times.  We had seafood, of course, including delicious she-crab soup; and for Sunday brunch I just had to order a soul food specialty: pecan-encrusted fried chicken & waffles, both topped with Vermont Maple Syrup – a tribute to our Vermont friends, Pam and Stan!  We strolled in the sunshine along East Bay Street and in Battery Park, and visited the historic City Market.  Established in the 1790s, this old historic landmark stretches four blocks long, and today hosts vendors selling all kinds of wares.  After spending four charming days in Charleston, we can see why Conde Nast magazine voted it the #1 City in the U.S. for the past four years!  Do come down here y’all!

Down by the Seashore

We had our pick of campsites and chose an oceanfront site for Charley (the middle rig)
We had our pick of campsites and chose an oceanfront site for Charley (the tan rig in the middle – way back)
View out our door - the Atlantic Ocean at South Myrtle Beach
View out Charley’s door of the Atlantic Ocean at South Myrtle Beach
Charley and Toad both getting a much-needed washing
Charley and Toad both getting a much-needed bath
Beautiful Lowcountry Carolina
View from our restaurant in Murrells Inlet – ahhh Carolina Lowcountry!

We don’t want to rub it in with our friends back up North, but we are so happy to be back down here in the South once again!  As you can likely guess, the primary reason is the weather.  We don’t plan to turn into whimpy snowbirds or anything, but it is rather nice to not be dealing with single-digit forecast, donning scarves, hats and gloves whenever we go out, and traipsing everywhere in snow and slush.

We have spent the past three nights at a campground right on the Atlantic Ocean south of Myrtle Beach.  While the temperatures are only in the 50s & 60s, the sun has been shining, and while it’s been a bit windy, we’ll take it!  We are enjoying ocean walks, fresh seafood, moss in the trees and the scenery in beautiful Carolina Lowcountry.

And if that’s not enough to make us smile, we finally did something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time: we gave Charley a bath!  More correctly, we hired a couple of guys who have a service of washing RVs in our campground who washed and brushed off all the bugs and road dirt, so Charley is riding well and looking better than ever, and the Jollys are happy down at the seashore….

(Sing it with me…) Reunited and it Feels so Good!!

We're back in Charley!
After a 17-day separation, we’re back in Charley!

Remember that Peaches & Herb song from the late ’70s, Reunited?  Maybe not, but music and lyrics savant that I am, I do, and the tune & lyrics fit.  We Jollys have reunited with Charley today and it feels so good!  Wayne, Chris, and all the guys at Dynamic Truck Repair in Columbia, SC, did a fantastic job installing better shock absorbers and an anti-sway bar, and we’re very happy to report that it was money well spent; Charley rides a lot smoother now!

Country Music Hall of Fame
Old costumes in the Country Music Hall of Fame, including Patsy Cline’s fringy dress and Don Gibson’s guitar-studded suit
Country  Music Hall of Fame
Two of our country music faves, Patsy Cline & Glen Campbell, imortalized in the HOF
Kelly Pickler's costume and the coveted DWTS Mirror Ball Trophy
Kelly Pickler’s costume and the coveted DWTS Mirror Ball Trophy

Let me catch you up on these last two-plus weeks…..

We had a really nice journey back to the Midwest a couple of weeks ago – except for the fact that it got colder & colder as we traveled north.  We stopped in Nashville where I finally had the chance to visit the Country Music Hall of Fame.  It was cool to trip down country music lane and history, especially as that’s my favorite genre of music.  I enjoyed reading nearly every placard, watching nearly every video, and seeing all of the costumes these country music stars wore at one time or another during their careers.  And Fred was thrilled to see his country music fave, Patsy Cline, immortalized in bronze right next to one of my old faves, Glen Campbell.  And true confessions:  Dancing With The Stars is one of my guilty pleasures, and it was a thrill for me to see Kellie Pickler’s costume and the Mirror Ball trophy on display!  :)

Friend Dona rolled out her new hardwood floors for us when we spent a night with her (not on her floor; in her guest bedroom!) en route back up to Chicago.  Then friends Kathy, then Eric, each put up with us and our many bags and suitcases for a few nights while we thoroughly enjoyed our visits with friends and family back in our beloved Windy City.

I purposely haven’t posted any photos from our time in Chicago, in large part to conceal just how much vino was consumed (I’m joking Mom!) as we got together with several sets of friends who very graciously hosted dinner parties for us so we could get together with many of the friends we wanted to see.  Honestly, though, I was also ready for a little break from photographing, writing, and posting as I have been doing regularly for the past six months.

Our Thanksgiving Dinner Table
Our Thanksgiving Dinner table – when all the table confetti was still ON the table –       Eric reports he’s still finding it throughout the house a week later…!

We had a really nice Thanksgiving with Claire and Kyle and Tom and Eric.  It was truly a blessing to be back in Chicago with our family on this, my favorite holiday.  We collaborated on a delicious meal together, and as always, we all laughed and drank and laughed some more.  Eric proclaimed this BTGE – Best Thanksgiving Ever – and indeed, we set the bar very high with this one!

Natalie & Elizabeth decorating Mom/Nana's Christmas tree
Natalie & Elizabeth decorating Mom/Nana’s Christmas tree

Following a week in Chicago, we headed further north – up to the frozen tundra of Wisconsin where it was a bone-chilling 3° on our final of the four nights we spent up there visiting my family.  We had nice visits with Mom and my sister and her family.  Kyle, our 23-year-old nephew was home from Galveston where he’s serving in the U.S. Coast Guard.  And Kelsey (21) and Patrick (18) were both home on break from UW-Madison – my Badger legacies!  Also lots of fun, our two youngest nieces, Elizabeth and Natalie, helped me get Mom’s house decorated for the Christmas holidays.

On our way back down south, we had lunch in Milwaukee with my adopted brother, Will – as in, we met in 1980 when we were 16 years old, and adopted one another as brother and sister sometime when we were in our 20’s.  He is still in disbelief that we are actually living this lifestyle – he asked me what happened to all my shoes and jewelry!?! – but he did acknowledge that we must be doing something right, for according to him we looked well-rested, and as we regaled him with stories from our first six months on the road, he could tell we are having the time of our lives….

Cosell & Ali
The Muhammad Ali Museum in Louisville, Kentucky

We made one more stop – the Muhammad Ali Museum in Louisville, Kentucky.   Non-fan of boxing that I am, I must admit that this was a very well-done museum, and I really enjoyed visiting.

So that brings us up to date.  This afternoon we moved our carload of stuff back into Charley, and as the song goes, we’re reunited once again and it feels so good….

Congaree National Park

Cedar Creek in Congaree National Park
Bald cypress and water tupelo trees with their wide bases that serve as buttresses grow in the lower elevation floodplains along the creeks, sloughs, and oxbow lakes in Congaree National Park

It’s really nice when you expect that you’re going to have a good day, and then it turns out to be a great one!  That describes Saturday, November 15th, the day we visited Congaree National Park outside of Columbia, South Carolina.  Congaree is the 17th National Park we’ve visited together in our quest to visit them all, and honestly, we had never even heard of it until we started familiarizing ourselves with the 59 parks and where they are each located.

Ranger Jon beside the second oldest loblolly pine in the country.  This 250-year-old beauty stands 157' tall and measures 15' around.
This 250-year-old loblolly pine stands 157′ tall and measures over 15′ in circumference.  It’s the second largest loblolly in the country; 27 times taller than Ranger Jon here!

Congaree National Park preserves the largest remaining tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States.  At one time, there were over five million acres of this forestland in the U.S., but early in the twentieth century, loggers began harvesting the giant trees found in these hardwood forests.  Cypress was particularly in demand as ‘wood eternal,’ for it doesn’t rot.  Over time, millions of acres of trees were clear cut to meet the demands of a growing country, leaving very few hardwood forests behind.  Fortunately for the Congaree Swamp, early efforts to harvest the trees here were short-lived and unprofitable, so these trees survived.  Today in Congaree, only 26,000 acres remain, and as this is the largest tract of its kind left, it is not surprising that the giant trees here are among the tallest in the United States.

Back to our day… we arrived at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center with plans to take the 10 a.m. ranger-lead interpretive walk and found we weren’t the only ones who had this same great idea.  In fact, a large group of nice teens and their adult leaders from a Venturing group [a co-ed adventure program run by the Boy Scouts of America] were there, so bundled up in warm coats, hats and gloves as the Arctic Blast cold spell hit us down south here, too, some 25 of us set out with Ranger Jon Manchester to explore the park.

Lots of bald cypress trees and their entangled web of 'knees'
Bald cypress trees and their entangled web of ‘knees’

 

Our 2.7-mile walk started out on a portion of the nice boardwalk loop trail in the ‘high grounds’ where Jon explained what types of species did well in this area – several oak species, sweetgum and holly.  Further walking brought us to the floodplains area where water tupelo and bald cypress trees with their ‘knees’ had both adapted for growth in floodplain conditions.  It’s a good thing we had a boardwalk to walk on; the muck looked like it could swallow us up!

Switch cane growing along the boardwalk
A mere one-foot elevation change allows undergrowth like this switch cane to grow

Just a bit farther up the boardwalk, with only about a foot in elevation change, we came to another section of the forest that was just dry enough most of the time to support undergrowth like the switch cane we saw growing, and then other oak varietals and ash trees in these better-drained flats.  It was fascinating to see these changes in the forest and to really understand them.  Ranger Jon also pointed out other signs of healthy life in a forest – the sapwells of the woodpeckers and yellow-bellied sapsuckers (a fun bird name; also in the woodpecker family) and the burls that trees grow on their bark to protect themselves from disease.

Lake Weston in Congaree NP
Lake Weston in Congaree National Park

We ended our walk at Weston Lake where I added a new vocabulary word to my list – oxbow.  An oxbow is a lake that used to be a river.  Sometimes, changes in the environment force a river to reroute, and when a part of the river gets cut off, it becomes an oxbow lake.  While most oxbow lakes usually dry up over time and become sloughs, Weston appears to have a water source that allows it to remain a lake.

It was really a wonderful hike and we got so much more out of it because Ranger Jon guided us and shared his knowledge with us.  Walking back to the Visitor Center with him after our official tour had ended, we came upon a pile of feathers – light gray with pinky-reddish ends.  These were clearly the remnants of lunch for some creature in the forest!  Jon photographed the feathers and looked them up when we got back; it appeared to be a cardinal – past tense.  In addition to the 80+ species of trees here in the park, there are some 170 bird species, 60 reptile/amphibian species, and 50 kinds of fish.

Paddlers enjoying the park
Fred saw these paddlers on Sunday when he went back into the park for some more hiking

Fred and I ate a picnic lunch, then decided on a second, longer hike (4.7 miles) for our afternoon in Congaree.  We looped out farther from the Visitor Center and saw more of the forest and floodplains, and we certainly understood and appreciated the area much better.  We saw just a few more people out in the park – very likely because of the cold near-winter day – but a few brave souls were out, including Neil, and his sweet dog, Wolfie, who shared some of the afternoon trail with us.  From our research, we could see that a very popular use of this park is kayaking and canoeing, an activity that’s all but over now for the winter, but would surely be another wonderful way to enjoy the park.

For this remarkable place, it seems we all owe a lot of gratitude to Harry Hampton, the conservationist, writer, and outdoorsman for whom Congaree’s Visitor Center was named.  Back in the 1950s, he began a one-man campaign to preserve this hardwood forest tract.  His tireless efforts and those of others who joined his unpopular-at-the-time cause paid off; in 1976, this sanctuary became Congaree Swamp National Monument, then in 2003 it became Congaree National Park, most of which is now a federally-designated wilderness area.

So while we knew we would enjoy our time here in this national park, as we do in each of them, we had no idea just how truly great of a day this would be!  This majestic wilderness of towering trees is a magnificent place to hike, canoe, fish, birdwatch, and stroll the boardwalks.  And while Congaree is always in motion as water levels constantly change, it is a place where stillness and tranquility can still be enjoyed.

Hover your cursor over the photo, below, then click on the arrows to scroll through pictures of our lovely day in Congaree National Park:

Cowpens National Battlefield

Cowpens National BattlefieldNovember 13, 2014 — We saw this location on the atlas [yes, we still like to use this old-fashioned navigational tool!], and in our quest to visit as many of our nation’s outstanding national park units as we can, we routed to Chesnee, South Carolina, home to Cowpens National Battlefield.  Cowpens is a Revolutionary War battlefield, and the brief battle that was fought here significantly changed the course of the war.

We were surprised to learn that more Revolutionary War fighting was done in South Carolina than in any other of the American Colonies!  In their ongoing fight for independence from Britain in the 1770s, the Colonists struggles settled into a stalemate in the North.  But Britain, not giving up, mounted a second campaign by bringing the fighting to the South.  From 1778-1780, the British Regulars (paid professional soldiers fighting for the King) had won a series of victories in the region, first capturing Savannah and then Charleston.  This gave Britain’s Lord Cornwallis the confidence that the British could soon take control of the whole South and, with this region in hand, move back north and take care of the rebellious Americans once and for all.  The brash and confident British Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton was full of confidence as he lead his redcoats against the Patriot force commanded by General Daniel Morgan in early 1781.

Cowpens National Battlefield
The battlefield at Cowpens

On January 17, 1781, the two sides met in the Cow Pens, a frontier pasturing ground just off the Green River Road between Chesnee and Gaffney.  General Morgan, knowing that he was outnumbered by Tarleton’s men, sent for militia units from South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia – men who were fighting to protect their homes and their land, but whom Morgan knew were no match for British battle tactics.  But Morgan, well-known for his military abilities, devised a brilliant tactical plan to defeat the larger, more experienced British Regulars.

Monument at Cowpens to honor all who fought here
Monument at Cowpens to honor all who fought here on January 17, 1781

In less than an hour, these local militiamen, partnered with Morgan’s tough Continental soldiers and a small cavalry, gave a “devil of a whipping” [as Morgan described it later] to Tarleton and the British, who sustained nearly 1,000 casualties [killed, wounded, captured, or missing] that morning.  Morgan’s losses were just 24 killed and 104 wounded.

With this battle won so easily, the Continental Army now had the momentum and psychological boost they needed.  Later that year – October 1871 – Britain’s Lord Cornwallis surrendered to General George Washington in Yorktown, Virginia, in the last significant battle of the war; arguably the one that would ultimately lead to the British surrender to the Americans and the end of the Revolutionary War in 1873.

As we always do, we really enjoyed our history lesson in this small, yet hugely important place.  And, as always, we are grateful to all those who work to preserve such important sites in our country’s history.