Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Twin Lakes COE Park, SC

We Left Aiken, SC on Thursday 3/8 and headed northwest. We chose a COE park up on Lake Hartley called Twin Lakes. It was about a 130 mile drive through the countryside of South Carolina. Other than a stiff north breeze it was a nice drive.

The only problem was they were almost full over the weekend, so we had to make reservations. This is one of those things that just bothers me. Here is a park that is open, but they have many of their loops closed. The problem with making reservations is that we traveled on a day that I normally would not travel on. The wind was up and it impacted both safety and fuel mileage. The COE needs to pay more attention in their off season and open more of their parks when they are filling up.  OK, rant over...

The park was very nice. Each site was built along the edge of this lake. Here is a shot of site #25:

We don't normally like pull throughs, but this one was very large, so it worked just fine. The rate was $28 per night with water and electric. We got great Verizon signal and OTA TV, so it was a great place to chill out for a few days. We ended up staying 5 nights to get through the weekend and let some bad weather move through.  Here is a shot of the view out the side windows:

It looked like every site in the park had a similar view. We love COE parks and this one is one of the best we have stayed in.

They have 4 loops in the park. I walked all of them and all were very well built with great lake views.
I did a little photography while we were there.

Water bird with fish in it's mouth

We could see Clemson University on the other side of the lake from us. We saw rowing teams from Clemson rowing up and down the lake on the days when the winds were not too bad. We could also see part of the famous "Death Valley" football stadium. Clemson was the National Champs in football for 2016 and runner up this past year.

Some times we just like to read and relax. That is exactly what we did at Twin Lakes and it was great. Our plan was to go straight north to Great Smokey Mountain NP, but that changed when Kim decided she really wanted to see Biltmore in Asheville. So, as I said in my last entry, our plans changed and we turned a little east and north to head to Asheville. That turned out to be a memorable visit. Come back to see why it was so memorable.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Aiken, SC

I am writing this from Cherokee, North Carolina on Monday, March 19. It is raining right now and that is the only reason we are not out hiking and fishing in these beautiful Western North Carolina Mountains. We came here to see the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and found the rest of this awesome place. I will write all about this area in coming entries. For now, I will go back a couple of weeks...

We left Poinsett SP on March 5 and made the drive over to Aiken SP, just south of Aiken, SC. We loved this campground. The cost was about $20 per night with water and electric. The park was almost empty the three days we were there. They have good Verizon cell service and good OTA TV, but we had very little time to use either. There is a paddling trail in the river and a few hiking trails in the park. I would have loved to take advantage of the area, but we had other plans. I took almost no pictures while we were there, so this will be a short entry.

I was in Aiken to visit an old friend. Tony and Debby are friends from my working days. Tony was my boss at one time in my career. He was by far the best boss I ever had. I learned what it meant to be respected and appreciated. I really enjoyed work back then. Oh well, that all changed when I got to see what the other side of the fence looked like after Tony retired at 47. Tony and Debby came to see us in Missouri last July, and invited us to come see their home in Aiken when we were in the SE US. 

While we were thee, we went on a tour of Aiken to see the history of the area.

There are many old homes that look like plantation homes. This is also one of the top horse areas in the US. The sandy soil is perfect for training horses. We saw horse farms everywhere we went.

The thing that Tony and I have in common (other than work), is golf. We both love to play. They live in a gated golf community and he plays 4 times a week. They have a very active social calendar including poker and ladies activities for Debby and her friends. We played 27 holes and had an awesome time on two of the courses in the development. We played with his normal mens group, which are much better players than I am, but they made me feel quite welcome.

Here is one of their signature holes. A downhill par 3. We both ended up in the bunker on the left off the tee.
One of the best people I know.

We had a great visit. Kim really enjoyed her time with Debby also. The plan from there was to head north to the Smoky Mountains. That was the plan, but it changed. We had to make a detour to Asheville, NC along the way. That is the best part of traveling the way we do. If Kim sees something she wants to do, I quickly agree and off we go. That will be a repeated theme to our trip back to Missouri.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Congaree NP and Poinsett SP

I am writing this entry from Asheville, North Carolina. We had an interesting day today touring the Biltmore Estate. I will write about that in a coming entry. We are moving tomorrow about 60 miles to the west. The next stop is one that both of us have been really looking forward to, but for now I will write about a stop we made in South Central South Carolina.

We left Huntington Beach State Park on February 28. We drove north on mainly state highways out of the low country along the coast. We came to a small town and saw a Walmart and I made a quick decision to make a stop and pick up a few things. We rarely do that while towing and here is why...
I made my purchases and we put them in the back seat of the truck. We had a short drive to our campground. As I was making a turn out of our parking spot, I was looking back through the mirror to make sure I missed a car that was parked next to us. Just as I looked forward, a car was in front of me. They were coming through the parking lot and obviously not paying any attention to me. I slammed on the brakes and I felt all 8 disc brakes grab and we came to a sudden stop, just inches from the car. They never even stopped. It took me a second to gather what is left of my wits. Good news, nothing hurt and a lesson learned.

We drove on to Poinsett State Park. It is a small SP that is in a beautiful forest near Sumter, SC. The ground is very sandy. The roads getting into the park are a bit rough, but we made it without issue and backed into site #5. It was $16 per night with water and 30 amp electric. We decided to stay 5 nights. We had excellent Verizon and good OTA TV.

The reason we chose to stop at this park was it's proximity to Congaree National Park. Don't feel bad if you have never heard of Congaree, we were surprised when I noticed it on the map.

Congaree became a NP in 2003. Before that, it was Congaree Swamp National Monument. A local group worked hard and got the designation through congress and signed by the president. What makes this place special? This is the only area East of the Mississippi that has never been forested. This huge tract of land is all old growth. The area has 11,000+ acres of these old trees. They currently have 25 Champion Trees that they know about, but are sure there are some they have not seen.

We were ready to make the 35 mile drive from the park the first morning we were there.

We started by going to the visitor center and talking to the volunteer about what to do in the park. We really wanted to paddle, but were concerned about some weather over the next few days. We watched the film and went through the small exhibits. We decided to do the 2.25 mile boardwalk from the visitor center. They give you a sheet with numbered stops along the boardwalk with explanations of what you are seeing. The diversity is very interesting. Just a few inches of elevation change create habitat for a totally different set of plants and animals.

We learned about Cypress and Tupelo trees and much more. Kim did all of the reading and I just enjoyed taking pictures of everything that I found interesting.

This is a shot straight up a mammoth Loblolly Pine
We did see this one little White Tail deer
That is a Champion Loblolly Pine Tree that Kim is leaning on.
We enjoyed out trip around the boardwalk and then went to check out the places to put the boat in the water. Unfortunately, that was not to be. The weather got bad on the drive back to our campground and it was cold, rainy and windy most of the rest of the time we were in the area. On our way back, we saw this sign by the road:

What is it with military and the places we choose to camp. Of course, I don't mind. I spent much of the time we were here hearing and watching the F-16's from the local State Guard practicing at the range.

F-16 Loaded for bear
The weather did not stop me from hiking at Poinsett SP. The park is full of mountain bike trails. I hiked almost every day we were there.

Just a random picture while I was out hiking
On Sunday, they had a mountain bike race through the park. I went out and got a few pictures of the riders. It is not a whole lot different than a motorcycle race except they are going much slower and they are so quiet, they talk to each other while racing.

A couple of single digit riders. I think they were the fast guys.

One other note to my motorcycle friends: This location is just a couple miles away from the site of the Sumter National Enduro held earlier in February.

Well that is about it for a fun 5 days at Poinsett SP and Congaree NP. Next up was a visit with an old friend up in Aiken, SC. I will write about that visit in my next entry.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Huntington Beach State Park

I am writing this on Friday, March 9th from Lake Hartwell in northern South Carolina. We have had a great trip across the state, which I will write about in the next few entries. I have a beautiful view out of my window of the lake, but it is about 50 degrees outside with a strong north wind. It was much warmer at the beach a couple of weeks ago.

We left Buck Hall Recreation area on February 23 and made the short drive up the coast through the town of Georgetown and on to Huntington Beach SP. We were in a very unpopulated area around Buck Hall, but now it was getting populated as we approached the resort town of Myrtle Beach. I have to admit I was concerned that we would be surrounded by high rise condos and tourist traps. I was pleasantly surprised when we pulled into the SP. This SP was donated to the State of South Carolina by Archer and Anna Huntington. It is the site of their winter home. Mrs. Huntington was a famous sculptor. The SP is now an oasis of non-development along this very developed coast. 

The park itself is very nice with large well spaced sites that are a short walk through the dunes from the beautiful beach. All sites are a mix of gravel and sand. Ours was back in the woods, but some are out in an open grassy area. The rate was $22 per night while we were there, but will increase to $55 per night starting March 1 for water and electric. We had excellent Verizon and OTA signals.

It was about a quarter mile walk to the beach and I was amazed when we went through the dunes and it opened up into this view:

Looking left

Looking right 
The sand is beautiful white and soft. There are plenty of shells to gather and the water is clean and beautiful. Huntington Beach is one of the best beaches we have ever been to. It was just gorgeous.

I could not wait to get back to the campsite to get my fishing gear together and hit the surf. It was close to 80 degrees and I knew the fishing would not be great, but who really cares when you have surroundings like these.

I fished for the rest of the day with no luck except the wonderful day.

It was so warm, I could wade out in the water. I even took my shirt off to get some sun and keep my shirt dry. 
Kim, of course, walked along the beach looking and finding some very cool shells.

The next day we decided to take a walk to a jetty that was at the north end of the SP. This jetty was protection to the entrance of the bay and docks just to the north. As it tuned out it was much further than we thought. We ended up walking about 7 miles to get to the end and back. We had a blast and got a bit more sun than we expected.

Some birds along the way
Seashell decorated plant
The jetty was paved to the end

The end channel marker

Waves breaking on the rocks looking back to the SP. Notice the lack of development.

Life is good

The fishing was slow, but this guy was catching a few.

Happy Birthday to our Grandson Cameron
The next day, I had to go out and try my luck on the jetty. So, I packed up my gear and drove as far that direction as I could and then walked the last 2 miles to get to the end. I was all by myself on that Monday. It was a beautiful day, but still no fish.

The tide was lower than the previous day. I saw this sailboat that had ended up on the rocks. If you look close you can see the winches.
My view for the day. 
When I got back from my fishing trip, I had a conversation with our neighbor from Illinois. Jerry and Kathy have 24 grandchildren and are awesome folks. We enjoyed talking and even went to the beach together the next day. I tried to fish some more, but ended up 0 for South Carolina.

We saw this little alligator in the marshy area near the beach. 
 We stayed busy most of the time we were at Huntington Beach. They have some nice boardwalks that go out over the marshes.

I have to take pictures of Military hardware - There was a Marine base close by.

Jerry and Kathy had told us about touring Atalaya. This is the house of Archer and Anna Huntington. It is just $2 each to take the tour. The house is made totally of bricks. It is worth taking the time to see it. 

Every room was heated by a fireplace. The place was very impressive. 

We ended our last day with some silly pictures in the oversized chairs at the visitor center. You just have to do that.

This ranks up there as one of our favorite stops on this entire trip. That is saying someting because we have had some great stops along the way. We stayed for 5 nights and never even left the park. We were planning to see Myrtle Beach, but we never had the desire to go see the large high-rise buildings and tourist traps. Some will tell us we really missed it, but I guess that tells you something about how we roll. 

Next up was a trip north through the great state of South Carolina. I will tell you now, it did not dissapoint. Come back to see what we did next.