Sunday, June 28, 2009

Florence, SC

On June 18 I took a day off work and Donna and I made a day trip to Florence, SC to eat at Red Bone Alley and to explore a bit.

We stopped by the Florence Museum of Art, Science, and History, but the building was locked despite several cars being in the parking lot. They should have been open according to their website, and I later sent email inquiries to two addresses I found on their site, but I have received no replies.

Though we couldn't go in, we enjoyed a pleasurable walk around the grounds, where we saw this propeller and sundial.

After leaving the museum we drove around for a while looking at houses and such, and we passed by this little schoolhouse used by Henry Timrod, the poet laureate of the Confederacy.

This angel was in a cemetery we visited.

We also visited a national cemetery.

Florena Budwin, the first woman to be buried in a national cemetery, is buried here. She enlisted in the Union army disguised as a man during the Civil War so she could be with her husband. They were captured and sent to Andersonville, where her husband died. She was later transferred to Florence, and her gender was finally learned during an examination when she became ill and shortly thereafter died right before the war ended. Her grave is isolated from the others; it's a bit sad that despite her efforts to remain with her husband she is now separated from him.

By then we had worked up a pretty good appetite, so to Red Bone we headed. There used to be one in Columbia that we enjoyed eating at occasionally, but they unfortunately closed. So we then ate at the one in Sumter occasionally when we would visit Swan Lake, but it also closed, leaving only the original location in Florence. It was every bit as good as I remember; their steaks are super juicy and have a nice citrus taste from marinating in citrus juice. Yum!

There was a Books-A-Million next door, so we browsed for a little while before heading back to Columbia. A book on the bargain table, The Amnesiac by Sam Taylor, caught my eye right as we entered, so I bought it, and it has turned out to be pretty good.

Blue Ridge Parkway Waterfall Trip

On June 14 & 15 I embarked on a journey on my VFR to visit some waterfalls that I had not yet seen. I sat down Saturday night and decided where I wanted to go and what I wanted to see and then headed out Sunday morning. I headed up I-26 and US276 toward Caesar's Head and stopped to visit Wildcat Falls near where US276 and SC11 split. The lower falls is visible from the road, so I've seen it many times, but I recently learned that there is a much larger waterfall just a bit upstream, so this time I stopped and headed up the half-mile trail to see it. The trail leads past the remains of an old CCC house:

Here is the upper falls:

And the lower falls visible from the road; smaller, but prettier:

Next stop was Raven Cliff Falls, near Caesar's Head; there is a parking area a mile north of the visitor's center, and a 2.2-mile trail beginning across the street leads to an observation area. It was a fairly easy hike and was very nice and relaxing.

A couple of shots from the trail:

I saw a white squirrel along the way. I've read about these in the area, but this is the first time I've ever seen one in person; he didn't stick around long, so I got only one blurry shot of him.

At around 400 feet in height, Raven Cliff Falls is quite majestic.

I continued up 276 towards Brevard and stopped to visit Connestee Falls and Baston Creek Falls, which are about halfway between the state line and Brevard; they are accessible via a short trail that starts at the Top of the Falls Realty office. The observation area is at the top of Connestee Falls, and you look across at Batson Creek Falls.

Looking down Connestee Falls:

Batson Creek Falls:

I continued into Brevard and stopped for lunch at a favorite restaurant of mine, Quotations Cafe, where I had my usual meal of vegetable quiche, salad, and coffee. Very fine meal and relaxing stop.

I then continued up 276 to the Blue Ridge Parkway and went south on it a short distance to view Yellowstone Falls, which is visible from the Parkway.

Cool shot along the Parkway:

I then retraced my steps and headed north a few miles to the Mt. Pisgah Campground where I pitched my tent for the evening. It's a very nice campground with good facilities at a very fair price; I'll have to camp there again.

Once I had my tent up and had put my feet up for a bit and re-energized, I was ready to embark on a hike, and at the recommendation of the ranger I headed up the Frying Pan Firetower trail. It was a decent uphill hike covering around a mile and a half. At the top is the firetower that is open to climb, so I did that and was treated to an incredible 360-degree panoramic view.

Here's the tower as seen from the road level, from where I started my hike.

After getting back to my bike I rode out and back about 20 miles on the Parkway; this is the tunnel-rich section, so I went through around 10 tunnels on the way out, went through them again on the way back, and then one more time the next morning when I left, so around 30 tunnel passings total.

Finally back at the campground for the evening following a very full day, I got in some reading while munching on fruit and granola bars. Once it got dark around 9:00 I listened to a bit of NPR in my tent, catching interesting interviews with the inventor of Tetris (who admits he's not terribly good at the game) and a guy who heads a group of folks who pore over satellite imagery of North Korea looking for items of interest (though Kim Jong Il is an avid and talented golfer, they have found only one golf course in the country) and then drifted off to sleep with little effort.

Monday morning I awoke around 7:00 and broke camp and packed up. A nice thing about camping at that campground is that right across the Parkway is the Mt. Pisgah Inn and restaurant, so I went over there and enjoyed a very good and fairly-priced breakfast before hitting the road.

I rode about 100 miles on the Parkway and stopped at Little Switzerland to visit Grassy Creek Falls (very easy to find; exit the parkway, drive underneath it, and take the first right, a well-packed gravel road - you can either drive down it 3/10mi and park or just park right off the main road if you don't feel like messing with the gravel and walk a bit further.) It was a nice 1-mile hike down to the waterfall, following the water for a while. The waterfall turned out to a really nice one, my favorite one of the trip, actually.

Just as I was about to start heading back to my bike, rain started falling. It wasn't too bad at first but quickly became a heavy downpour. I briefly contemplated seeking shelter and waiting it out, but I figured it may last for quite a while, and honestly, with the temperature where it was, the thought of riding soaked wasn't too unappealing, so I soldiered on. The hike back to my bike was uphill (I alway prefer to get the work done initially so I can then have an easier return, but that's often not the case) but at least the rain cooled me a bit. Fortunately I keep a Ziploc bag in my camera case, so putting it in there kept it nice and dry. Got back to my bike to find my jacket and gloves and helmet soaked, as was the rest of me, but I just suited up and headed on. A couple of bikers seeking shelter under the Parkway overpass watched me the whole time; they probably thought (rightly so) that I was a nut.

I continued down the Parkway toward my next planned destination, Linville Falls and Linville Caverns. Rain fell the whole way, plus I encountered some fog, so visibility was not very good at all, but I kept my speed down and made it OK. It was a good test of the anti-fogging abilities of my new helmet, and it performed very well.

It was still raining when I got to Linville, so I passed on by; that'll have to wait for another day. This is the second time I had to abort that visit; a couple of years ago I had planned on visiting there following the anuual Virginia Highlands camping trip, but heavy fog on the Parkway changed my mind. Maybe the third time will be the charm.

Shortly after getting off the Parkway the rain came to an end, and I enjoyed some good dry riding down 221 to I-40; right before getting on I-40 I passed through Old Fort and saw a sign for the Andrews Geyser, so I detoured a bit to check it out; it was built in 1885 and is powered by water delivered via gravity from a lake 2 miles away; it shoots 80 feet into the air.

From there I rode NC9 to Bat Cave (a favorite twisty road of mine.) In Bat Cave I got on US74, another fun twisty road, and rode up to I-40 and back, and then rode US64 to Hendersonville, where I stopped for a much-needed break and meal and coffee.

Not 5 minutes after getting back on the road, rain started again. I'd already survived one soaking for the day, so I just carried on and got soaked again. The rain lasted about an hour, leaving the final hour or so of my journey dry and sunny, and by the time I got home I was pretty well dried out.

This turned out to be a great trip that was devised rather last-minute. I saw 6 waterfalls that I had not seen before plus an old favorite again (getting my total number of falls visited to 45), plus a geiser, and I got in some great riding and around 12 miles of hiking.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

George L. Smith State Park, Georgia

On May 30 I rode my VFR to the George L. Smith State Park near Statesboro, GA to visit my eleventh of Georgia's 16 covered bridges. This one is unique in that it is not just a bridge, but a bridge and mill in one. The structure is built atop a dam, through which flowing water turns a turbine that runs the mill. Built in 1880, it served as a grist mill, sawmill, and cotton gin through 1973. In 1998 work was done to resume the functionality of the grist mill, and it continues to grind corn.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Charleston - Spoleto and Drayton Hall

Donna and I made an overnight trip to Charleston May 28-29; our primary reason for the trip was to see The Punch Brothers perform at the College of Charleston's Cistern Yard as part of the Spoleto Festival. We left Columbia around 5:00, and with a stop at a Cracker Barrel along the way for some dinner, we got to the area a little after 8:00 and were seated around 8:30 - perfect timing. We sat next to a nice couple from Charleston who were both pharmacists, and we had a nice time visiting with them until the show started. As always, the group put on a spectacular show, and the backdrop was beautiful. The weather cooperated nicely; we were spared from rain and enjoyed a gentle breeze throughout the evening. This was one of my favorite concerts of theirs that I've attended.

On Friday we visited Drayton Hall, just a few miles from downtown. Its construction was completed in 1742, and it was passed down through 7 generations before being sold to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Both the Colonial and British forces used it as a staging ground during the Revolutionary War. It is preserved, not restored, meaning that it is in very nearly the same condition as when it was acquired, with a good deal of it dating back through the years to its creation. It is bare, with no furniture, since it is not restored, and that helps to showcase the house for what it is without furnishings to get in the way. It's a most impressive home, and it is in incredible shape.

Hand-formed plaster ceilings

Intricately carved mahogany

Look how thick the walls are! An important part of why it has survived so well for 270 years, including surviving the 1886 Charleston earthquake and several hurricanes.

Beautiful grounds to accompany a beautiful house