Looking Back, Moving Forward Part Three

Message From The Director

It’s summer in the mountains, the sweltering days of summer. Bare feet, cut-offs and the predictable afternoon thunderstorm provide not only relief from the heat, but also the opportunity to go down to the creek, get my feet muddy and feel the cool waters of Table Rock. The creek is just behind our campsite and across the creek is a huge hill, strategically located to hide the road and the White Oak shelter just beyond. My goal: cross the creek and climb the hill to see for certain what’s on the other side. The hill is at least 500 feet high and scaling it in your bare feet nearly impossible, but I did it! Coming down was easy and the seat of my pants provided evidence to that fact.

I visited this site again just a few days ago and reflected on those great memories. Today it’s campsite 78, though I’m sure that was not the site number back when the Gaines family camped there. The number has changed, as has the world just beyond the hill.  On my recent trip, I realized the creek is scarcely visible from the campsite and the hill, well, it’s not much of a hill at all. Nevertheless, to a young kid it was the greatest adventure of the year: camping at Table Rock and conquering the creek and that hill. Childhood memories include places that are larger than life and recollections that are only good. As I'm nearing retirement, I've been reflecting on my favorite things to see and do in South Carolina State Parks. You can check out the list of my first sixty here and here. To kick off the latest installment, number 39 on my list is campsite 78 at Table Rock’s original campground. And so, on we go with the countdown:

38. The vista of Lake Joccasee and the Blue Ridge from the dock at the boat ramp at Devils Fork.

37. Shelter 1 at Kings Mountain.

36. Pride Rock, Table Rock style. The “Lion King” rock along the Pinnacle Mountain Trail.

35. Raven Cliff Falls at Caesars Head, especially in winter.

34. The Lodge at Table Rock. Its view, its parkitecture, its memories.

33. The view of the Jones Gap Ranger Station and Visitors Center from the trail- perfect parkitecture even though it was built in the 80’s.

32. The Barnwell cabin area at dusk, making plans and making memories at the Chiefs’ Retreat.

31. The view of Hampton Plantation from under the Washington Oak.

30. Silver Steps Falls along the Jones Gap Trail.

29. The historic Poinsett Tea Room, with its parkitecture and coquina rock.

28. Station Cove Falls at Oconee Station, easy to get to and always beautiful.

27. Carrick Creek Trail at Table Rock.

26. Chester “Falls,” made up of the dam and spillway at Chester. When there’s a lot of rain it’s a great waterfall.

25. The courtyard of Atalaya at Huntington Beach. The Huntingtons got it right!

24. Iron Mike at Oconee. A thank you to the Civilian Conservation Corps.

23. The lily overlook at Landsford Canal.

22. The Civilian Conservation Corps bridge at Paris Mountain.

21. Wildcat Falls at Wildcat Wayside in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area, between Caesars Head and Jones Gap.

20. Governors’ Rock at Table Rock, looking out on pure wilderness.

19. Myrtle Beach Nature Center, alive with critters and a personality!

18. Fall Creek Falls at Jones Gap, my favorite South Carolina State Park waterfall. It’s hard to get to but well worth it.

17. The Camp Buckhorn Lodge at Paris Mountain. Everything about it.

16. Jones Gap Falls at Jones Gap.

15. The view of the entrance to the Legare Waring House at Charles Towne Landing. It includes the oldest tree in state parks and is pure Lowcountry magic.

14. Fort Dorchester at Colonial Dorchester, looking out over the Ashley. One of my heroes, Teddy Roosevelt, stood in that exact place.

13. Cabin 5 view of Table Rock Mountain, the inside is magical as well.

12. Devils Kitchen at Caesars Head.

I’ll end this 30 with a general place in a lot of state parks. Morning in a campground. This perspective is that of a park ranger, not a camper. I love to ride or walk through a campground in the early morning, before everyone is fully engaged in his or her day.  A time where campfires have just restarted, the smells of fresh coffee and bacon cooking. A peacefulness that will soon be replaced with laughter and activities, for now it’s the start of a new day. For a ranger, it’s an unmistakable smell, the best time of the day, the promise of a new day.

Next month I’ll round out this list with my top ten things to see and do in South Carolina State Parks. By now, you may have figured out a lot of them by what is missing from the first 90. I have them written down, but to be honest I have changed them at least three times already! Maybe it will all become clearer in the morning. Now if I could just find a campground and smell the bacon!

See you in the parks!