Thursday, June 30, 2016

Columbia, South Carolina

We are heading north and west towards the mountains and some cooler temperatures. In the meantime, we made a two-night stay in Sesquicentennial state park just outside of Columbia, South Carolina. For those that don't use the prefix "sesqui-" in their day-to-day conversatiom, we looked it up and found that it stands for 150 years. So our new home was opened when Columbia was celebrating its 150th birthday.

Many of the camp sites are short and unlevel. But because we arrived in the middle of the week we got our choice of spots and found one that worked nicely. We started exploring our new home and found a nice bicycle trail that surrounds the park. We had to work a little going up and down the hills.

But the real challenge was the sand on the trail. We had to walk the bikes whenever we got bogged down in the sand. We thought we left all this sand when we left the ocean.

With temperatures forecast close to 100 degrees, the most popular part of the park is the splash pad. When the children left at dusk, we had the place to ourselves.

The next morning, we were out exploring the city of Columbia. Since we have gone to all the state capitols on this eastern journey, we wanted to make it to South Carolina's as well.

Those tall columns in front were each carved from a single piece of stone. For anyone keeping track, that makes them the largest monolithic columns on a public building in the United States.

The construction of the capitol started in 1855, but the Civil War slowed its progress. It was still an unfinished shell when the Union army under Sherman came through Columbia. One-third of the city of Columbia was burned before the army left, and the unfinished capitol building received damage from the union cannons. Today, there are six bronze stars marking the places where Union cannon balls hit the exterior walls.  There are two in the picture below.

It was like a civil war easter egg hunt trying to find all the stars. There's one more in the picture below.

The inside of the capitol is beautiful, with its blue granite columns and hand-made brick arches.

The capitol was renovated in 1995, and it is one of the grandest buildings we have seen since we started this marathon of capitol tours.

The legislation is out of session now, so we got to see the empty chambers. We used to think that all state capitols housed that state's legislators, but we are now finding that is not true. But it looks like South Carolina has a beautiful room for its representatives to work inside their state capitol.

Columbia is also home to the University of South Carolina, so that was the other stop of the day. The university mascot is the gamecock, and we were a little disappointed that we didn't find any live roosters on campus. What we did find were sections that felt more like a garden than a university. This shady area is known as "The Horseshoe." In the center stands the Maxcy Monument, designed by a famous South Carolinian (Robert Mills) who also designed the Washington Monument in D.C.

The Horseshoe is the original campus, and it is circled by buildings that were built in the 1800's. These buildings were saved from being torched by the Union Army because they were used as hospitals during the Civil War.

By this time the temperature has climbed to almost 100 degrees, and all those historical buildings were outside in that heat. We toured USC's new state-of-the-art School of Business. Then we headed inside to the air-conditioned McKissick Museum. One of our favorite sections was the collection of ornamental gamecocks inside.

When we were traveling in the dessert, we became acquainted with century plants. They are succulents that grow contentedly for many years. Then they suddenly sprout a once-in-a-lifetime tall stalk that will flower. Now that we know how hot it gets in Columbia, we are not surprised to see this desert plant on the USC campus. The bad news is that this big glorious plant dies after this flowering process.
After leaving campus, we drove several miles to see the Williams-Brice stadium, where the USC Gamecocks play their football games.

It would have been fun to stroll along the Columbia River Walk, or bicycle along the canal by the river. But when our car thermometer topped over 100 degrees we admitted defeat. It's amazing how the heat can zap our energy! When we signed up for this full-time adventure, we wanted to stay warm in the winter, and cool in the summer. This is not cool, so it is time to roll north out of South Carolina.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Little Pee Dee State Park

Mark found an interesting offer on the South Carolina State Park web site. It was enticing visitors that stay in their popular coastal parks to stop at their less-used inland parks. After staying a week at Myrtle Beach state park, we were entitled to a free stay at Little Pee Dee State Park. Since we love free, we headed there! The dirt road into the campground was rough and filled with deep pot holes. But the ranger reserved the best site in the campground for us, and we love our new site! We have a view of a nice little lake.

Mark built a camp fire, and we had a bratwurst dinner with our favorite dessert of smores. That was when the local welcoming committee arrived. We had a whole flock of ducks waddle by to see if we had any leftover scraps.

We don't feed wild animals, so we didn't feed these welcoming ducks either. But they hung around for the rest of the evening.

This flock is obviously used to park visitors, and didn't mind posing for close-ups.

We have been blessed with cooler weather, so we enjoyed a nice walk around our new campground. We found this turtle sunning himself in the lake, and it seems to us that he has an extraordinarily long neck.

Denisa loves chasing butterflies, and this one landed long enough for her to take its picture. Even though it looked solid blue, we realized when we saw the pictures that its upper wings were touched with red. Beautiful butterflies are another of God's wonders.

The flock of ducks on the other side of the lake likes snacking in the water, rather than begging in the campground. There is some delicious-looking green spaghetti hanging out of the front duck's bill.

We also found Mother Duck, guiding her seven little ducklings around the lake. After nine days in busy Myrtle Beach, it's nice to enjoy the solitude and peace of Little Pee Dee State Park!

We were fortunate to meet a local couple at the campground, and they gave us great advice on things to do while we were in the area. We followed their advice to eat at Webster Manor in nearby Mullins, South Carolina. We also took their advice to go early, because there was a long line by 12:00. We would have never found this place on our own, and it was delicious! They are only open for lunch, and they serve the best buffet we have ever tried. We should have taken a picture of the home-made desserts, but all we got was the outside of the manor.

After eating way too much, we waddled down to the South Carolina Tobacco Museum. We learned much here about this crop that has played a big part in this state's economy.

This probably would have been a 30-minute stop, as we would have normally walked aimlessly through displays that we understood little about. But we got a first-rate personal tour from the museum's director. Reggie is a native of Mullins, and he had lots of stories about the items throughout the museum. So our 30-minute stop turned into a very entertaining two-hour stop. He had procured many of the items himself during the 17 years in his position as director.

We noticed a sign for the "Wildlife Action Resource Education Center," so we turned down the road to see what we could be educated about. We are still confused about its mission, but this unmanned area looks to be a site for summer camps and educational field trips. The picture below looks like a green lawn. But it is actually a pond, completely covered with lime green duck weed.

There was a boardwalk that took us out to the middle of the green pond for a closer look.

While we were wandering through the education center grounds, we spotted this group of pitcher plants. A carnivorous plant, the green tubes are actually pitfall traps, filled with digestive juices where they trap their prey. Yummy!

We were on the way to another landmark that our friendly local couple recommended--a kayak float on the Little Pee Dee River. We found the little town of Mullins to be extremely helpful in finding the best place to put our kayaks in the water. The people sitting at the table next to us at lunch didn't know, but they called a fishing friend of theirs for advice for us. The woman at the chamber of commerce didn't know, but she called a friend named Eddie, who gave us his phone number in case we had any problems finding it. Then Eddie actually found us on the river in his motor boat to be sure we were enjoying our float. Mullins might get the award for the friendliest town we have ever visited!

The Little Pee Dee is a black water river surrounded by public land, so it makes for a pristine kayak trip. We paddled up-river until our arms were too tired to continue, then floated back to our put-in site. It was a special ending to our free stay at Little Pee Dee State Park!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

We're Home Alone at Myrtle Beach State park

After eleven days in a row of having guests to explore with, we found ourselves home alone on our last day in Myrtle Beach. We have had some record-breaking heat in the last week, as well as red flag beach days because of heavy surf. Even though the skies were blue, our last day featured double red flags at Myrtle Beach.

Being from Oklahoma, we had to look up the meaning of the different beach flags. This double red flag means that the water is closed to the public. Yesterday a 14-year-old boy was caught in the rip currents and never seen again, so this is obviously a dangerous situation. Most of the week, the state park has been flying the single red flag, but today was even choppier.

On a hot week-end, there were still plenty of people at the beach. But we also saw life guards patrolling the edge of the water.

We even saw a ranger, patrolling the beach on a four-wheeler. He was making swimmers get out of the water.

Mark walked down to the pier, but with his blistered foot, he had to head back to the motor home.

With fewer swimmers in the water, there were more people actually sitting on the beach. That should mean good business for the rolling lemonade stand. We think most people buy her lemonade just because they feel sorry for all the effort it takes to push that cart through the deep sand.

We've been staying at Myrtle Beach State Park for 9 nights, but we have spent all of those days with our guests. We have been leaving the motor home before 9 a.m., and haven't gotten back to the park until after 10 p.m. This has surely broken some record for us--but after 9 days, we haven't even seen the trails or the nature center inside the park where we are staying. So Denisa used the last day here to go exploring. She hiked all the trails in the state park--all two miles of them. They were almost empty, as people obviously come to this park for the beach instead of the trails. Her hike brought her out at the entry road where cars were lined up as far as the eye could see. In fact, on the weekends they are often lined up all the way to the highway 3/4 mile away. All these cars are paying $5/person to enter. Knowing that all the camping spots cost almost $50/night, it looks like this park is a major fund raiser for the state park system of South Carolina.

Denisa's next stop was the nature center, where she arrived just in time for the weekly animal feedings. She had never seen a  sea star's eating posture. The naturalist explained that it covers its food, and then actually spits out its stomach to swallow that food.

We have found whelk shells on the beach, but had never seen the creature that lives inside. That white bulging creature coming out of the shell is the snail that can grow up to 7.5 inches long. As the snail gets bigger, their shells grow with them.

It was also fun to see this large fiddler crab peeking out of his shell. Unlike the whelk, when this crab outgrows his current home, he just finds a larger empty shell to move into.

Those that don't like snakes or mice should look away now, because the next feeding was a corn snake eating a mouse. The mice are already dead, so it's not much of a contest.

Contrary to his name, the rat snake also eats smaller mice. It was interesting to watch the snakes dislocate their jaws to swallow their meal whole.

The naturalist called this "the spaghetti stage" when only the tail is showing out of the snake's mouth.

It was time for more exercise, and Denisa discovered the section of the state park beach south of the pier. We have been here over a week and didn't even realize there was this section of the beach. It looks like others have not discovered it either, as it was almost empty on this weekend afternoon. We wished we would have brought our guests here!

Denisa walked down the state park pier, another place we hadn't visited yet. Who knew there was a huge adirondack chair there for a great photo op?

There were lots of fishermen on the pier, but no one seemed to be catching anything. There was quite a stir when one young guy pulled in this baby shark.

The view from the pier gives a good sense of the crowds north of the pier and the layout of Myrtle Beach. This stretch of land is the last to not be engulfed by high rises in the city of Myrtle Beach. In the sky we see another jet coming in to land at the airport. A few people are drifting into the water, even though the rangers are trying to keep them out.

There was a single kite surfer zipping across the water close to the pier. The gusty winds make this a fast way to move around the water.

When he hit the waves close to the shore, he would fly 6-10 feet out of the water. It was quite a show to watch, and Denisa wondered how tired his arms must be from hanging onto that wind-driven kite.

So after spending 8 nights at Myrtle Beach State Park, it was fun to spend one day exploring what it had to offer. Now we wish we would have spent more time here with our visitors. 

Before we checked out of our camping spot, we went to one more new place in Myrtle Beach. When looking for a church to attend on Sunday morning, Mark found that the private campground just down the road had church services. We got to the 8:30 service early, so we  had time to drive through the campground. They have no trees, and the campers are parked side-by-side and end-to-end. Suddenly we realized how spacious our campsite at the state park was. We walked down their section of the beach to the amphitheater.

We usually don't take church pictures, but this was a special location. Even though it didn't show up well in the picture, we could see the waves crashing on the beach through the big glass windows at the front of the make-shift sanctuary. After some record-breaking heat, we were treated to a cool weekend. They mentioned that it was a nice to have a cool break from the normal "sweat church" they have in the summer.

Before we left our camping site at the state park, Mark climbed on top of the motor home to sweep off the tree clutter that had accumulated. It was the messiest we have ever seen, so he even took a picture. The tall pine trees that provided good shade this week also dropped lots of needles and pine cones on our roof and slide covers.

So after 9 nights, we are saying good-bye to the Atlantic Ocean and Myrtle Beach. But we have new adventures ahead as we head in-land.