Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Charleston Tea Plantation, Angel Oak

On August 28 I made a trip to Charleston, SC, where I visited the Charleston Tea Plantation, the Angel Oak, the Morris Island Lighthouse, and Bessinger's Barbecue.

The Charleston Tea Plantation on Wadmalaw Island is the only tea plantation in the United States. Charleston's sandy soil, high average temperature, high humidity, and high rainfall are ideal tea-growing conditions. The farm dates back to 1963, but the plants themselves are descendants of ones from a tea farm started in 1888 in Summerville.

The crops resemble manicured hedges because of the way the leaves are harvested - they are trimmed off the top, just as hedges are trimmed. Several trimmings are made each season.

There are two tours offered - one is a trip around the grounds in a trolley for a fee (at $10 it's a bit steep, but I think it's worth it, as you see all the grounds as well as learn a lot about the history and operations); the other is a free tour of the processing facility, where you see the machinery used and watch videos along the way detailing the process. One interesting thing I learned that I did not know is there is only one species of plant (Camellia Sinensis) used for tea; all variations (green, black, oolong, orange pekoe, etc.) are based upon processing methods and gradings, such as oxidation time.

Their custom-built harvester, the only machine like it in the world.

I saw several garden spiders on this trip; this guy was hanging out at the plantation waiting for his afternoon cup of tea; you can see the harvester in the background.

From there I headed back up the island toward Charleston and stopped to visit the oldest tree on the east coast, the Angel Oak, a live oak believed to be around 1500 years old. It is mindblowingly massive!

I then headed out to Folly Island, which was seriously crowded due to a regional surfing competition. I made my way through the crowds to the quiet north end of the island to see the Morris Island Lighthouse. It was completed in 1876 and once stood on Folly Island, but erosion has led to its isolation. Look to its right and you'll see in the distance the Sullivans Island Lighthouse (with its light flashing) that I visited back in April.

And, what would a roadtrip be without a good meal? You may be familiar with Maurice's barbecue empire in the Columbia area - well, his brother runs his own barbecue restaurant in Charleston, called Bessinger's; it's on Highway 17 near the western terminus of I-526. It was some mighty fine barbecue ... better than his brother's. I'd make a trip back just to eat there. It was the perfect way to end a great day of adventuring.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Abbeville, SC

Donna and I recently made a day trip into western South Carolina and eastern Georgia. We didn't really have a plan; we just picked a direction and headed that way, and Donna found some destinations in our travel guide as we drove. The first place we came upon was the Park Seed Company in Hodges. It is primarily a gardener's source for plants and seeds, but their grounds, including lots of experimental growths, are open to the public. They grow some truly beautiful and spectacular plants.

Next we headed to Cokesbury, named for Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury, the first two Methodist bishops in the United States, and visited the remains of Cokesbury College, built in 1854. It first served as a girls school and then as a boys school until 1882 when it became co-ed; it remained operational until 1954. You can go inside by appointment, which we didn't do on this visit, but would like to do on a future one.

Right across the street from the college is this neat old church. And a bunch of ants in the field. Ask me how I know.

We then headed into downtown Abbeville and first visited the town's oldest church, Trinity Episcopal, built in 1859. It features a massive 125-foot steeple and a rare functioning tracker organ.

We then wandered around the town square, checking out the various shops and such. We bought a couple of ice cream cones and sat outside in a pair of rockers and enjoyed the quiet, the fresh air, and a cool breeze. Best ice cream I've had in a long time!

Neat old ad painted on the side of a building.

We then continued a bit further west to visit the Georgia Guidestones. I visited back in February but Donna had not seen them, and I certainly enjoyed visiting again. We bumped into a couple who live in both Texas and Ontario, splitting their time between the two; they were in the midst of a journey to their home in Texas and had made a special side trip to visit this unique site.

By then we were sufficiently pooped, so we enjoyed an awesome Cracker Barrel meal and then headed home. An excellent day of adventuring.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

VIR Motorcycle Races

The weekend of August 14 I traveled to Alton, VA for the AMA Superbike races at Virginia International Raceway. I left home Saturday morning and got to the track around 1:00. Throughout Saturday and Sunday I watched qualifying action and 5 races, interspersed with visiting the vendor booths and the paddock. Both evenings I headed down to Raleigh, where I stayed with my friend Hanna. He used to live in Columbia, and we worked together at USC. We had a good time hanging out and catching up and eating Hanna's good cooking.

Nice custom paint job showcasing the desmodromic valve system unique to Ducatis.

Nice exhaust

One of the Michael Jordan's team's bikes

New this year is a Harley XR1200 race class; there were around 10 racers in that class. The bikes went surprisingly fast and with decent lean angle for Harleys, but they were a far cry from the other classes.

Bike belonging to one of 3 females racing this weekend.

I stumbled upon this covered bridge between the track and Hanna's house. It's relatively new and not historic, but cool nonetheless.

Another site found between the track and Hanna's. I love building murals.

Monday morning I departed Hanna's and headed to Raven Rock State Park, about an hour southwest of Raleigh. Its namesake is a 150-foot tall rock left behind from erosion of the softer rock around it. There are several trails in the park; I took the Raven Rock loop that goes to the top of the rock, and the "fish traps trail" spur that leads down to the Cape Feat River. It made for about a 2-hour, 3-mile hike.

Now atop the rock looking down at the river where I previously had been.

Steps take you down to the base of the rock; looking up at it is quite impressive.

From there I took back roads to the east side of Charlotte, where I enjoyed a very tasty barbecue dinner at Sonny's, followed by a bit of shopping at Concord Mills and Ikea - I scored some drapes for my living room and a cool print for my bedroom. Sufficiently pooped, I headed homeward, and what should have been a 2-hour drive turned into about 4 thanks to a collision between a tanker truck and a car on I-77 just south of Charlotte. The tanker exploded, resulting in all southbound lanes being blocked, and with it being rush hour, all diversions were clogged. It was a mess, but I safely got through it and arrived home around 11pm. A quick feeding of the cats and a bit of sleep, and I was back at work bright and early Tuesday morning. :-)

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Kalmia Gardens in Hartsville, SC

Donna and I recently made a day trip to the northeast corner of the state, an area we don't find ourselves in all that often. We first went through Hartsville and stopped to visit their city museum, which is housed in an old post office building. It contains lots of history of the area, including a great deal about Sonoco, a worldwide packaging company that calls Hartsville home. It features a beautiful stained glass skylight made up of several individual panels representative of SC plants and animals. It's a great free museum that is certainly worth visiting.

From there we headed over to Coker College's Kalmia Gardens, a beautiful 35-acre botanical garden. Also free and highly recommended.

We then headed up Highway 401 through Society Hill to Bennetsville. En route we encountered the grave of Colonel Abel Kolb, a Revolutionary War Patriot who was murdered while surrendering to a group of Tory raiders on the night of April 27, 1781.

We then made it into the city of Bennettsville, which was our destination, but we ended up being less than impressed with what we found. There were a few cool old buildings, but we found navigation very frustrating due to many roads being closed for repairs, and eating options were very limited. We didn't stay long and continued on, finding ourselves at South of the Border at the SC / NC border, always a fun and interesting place to visit. Donna captured some good photos of their giraffe statues.

Gotta love their water tower! The acronym stands for "South of the Border" ... what'd you think it stood for? ;-)

Big honkin' spark plug ... hope they have it gapped properly.

We were pretty hungry by then and started looking for a good place to eat, when I realized that we really weren't all that far from Florence, home of our favorite steak house ever, Redbone Alley, so we were able to stave off our hunger a bit longer and were rewarded as always with a most excellent meal. Perfect end to a very good day of exploring!