Sunrises, Sunsets and a Bit of Magic

The park service is gearing up for a busy summer season and there are lots of activities and programs in store for you on your next visit. There will be cooking competitions, nature hikes, campfire and living history programs, Lilyfest, photography contests and much, much more.

On these trips expect to find a little bit of magic. Over the years I have discovered the best programs and the best memories are often found in “the small stuff”— those moments that turn into memories that last a lifetime. They can be found in evenings spent by a campfire where laugher is contagious, or when the unexpected rain shower turns into a memory told again and again at Thanksgiving dinner. South Carolina's state parks are in the memory business, and 2014 is the year for memories.

During the last week I’ve made some of my own while out at your state parks. I was captivated by a couple of unplanned programs and how you, our visitors, enjoy the great resources of the Palmetto State. At Myrtle Beach State Park, I spent some time talking to the staff and visitors, and checking on the progress of the renovations to the retail outlet at the pier, which is going to look great.

The next morning I decided to get up early, walk along the beach and catch a sunrise. A sunrise over the Atlantic is different every morning, and never fails to impress and inspire. As dawn was breaking, I noticed the isolated beach that I had been walking on was suddenly filled with people, anxiously awaiting one of these impressive sunrises. I know what you are thinking. “Phil, a sunrise happens every morning.” That may be true, but they are still special, and one that appears over the ocean; well it’s magical.

As groups of people slowly populated the beach, cameras captured the moment and people watched quietly in anticipation. A sleepy-eyed, little boy announced the arrival of the sun. “There it is…whoa!” That’s the magic I’m talking about. We need to see more sunrises.

The following week I was attending the sunrise hike to the top of Table Rock Mountain. This unique program only takes place four times a year. The hike begins at 3 a.m. and gives hikers just enough time to get to the top to experience the moon set and the sunrise. The night before the big hike I decided to catch a sunset at Caesars Head. The night was clear and very cold. Freezing, even, for a native South Carolinian who, by Easter, is ready for warm temperatures. As I stood at the overlook, taking it the changing colors of the sky and the granite face of Table Rock in the distance, I noticed something that caught my eye. Just like the sunrise at Myrtle Beach, people were slowly gathering to catch the sunset from the overlook. There was quiet followed by “oohs” and “aahs,” and I heard the word “beautiful” uttered more than once. More magic.

The cold and a 2 a.m. wake-up call took me down the mountain as I prepared for a moonlit hike to see the sunrise. The hike to Table Rock is always special, filled with the challenges of a difficult hike and the amazing features of an iconic mountain. We took time to watch the moon, Mars and Saturn at Governor’s Rock before we found a seat on the overlook at Table Rock Mountain, looking towards Caesars Head. The cold air and wind were waiting on us, but it didn’t seem to matter as the sky suddenly begin to change. Black, pinks, reds and blue dotted the sky. The 17 people on the hike were silent and then, much like my experience at the beach, someone excitedly said, “There it is! Wow!” as their cameras captured this memory for a lifetime. Magic.

Everyone needs to see more sunrises and sunsets, and we have just the places. From Dreher Island to Lake Warren, a sunrise or sunset awaits you. It’s one of those reminders we need every now and then. Even though they occur every day, we often take these moments for granted. On your next visit to a state park, ask a ranger where the best place to catch a sunrise or a sunset is, and then feel the magic.

See you in the parks!
Phil