Last month, we described our volunteer work with our first ever NOMADS project-- helping to paint the common areas at Magnolia Manor, where Lucille’s parents now live. The project overlapped into the beginning of March but our write-up last month pretty much covered all our NOMADS-related experiences.
The day before we left Fort McAllister, Dixie and Lou pulled in. We worked with Dixie at Desert Haven Animal Refuge in Williamsburg, New Mexico, early 2005. We hadn’t seen Dixie since then, although we’ve kept up with our respective travels. We also hadn’t met her husband Lou, whom she’d married after we left the area. After they got settled in, we all met at It’s Five O’clock, the Tapas bar outside the park boundary. It was our last night out dining with our fellow NOMADS volunteers. Alan, maintenance head at Magnolia Manor, and his wife Beth joined us. Jim and Mary Jo had bought us all gag gifts – we had a good laugh over our respective gifts. Dixie and Lou were probably wondering if all the paint fumes had gotten to the rest of us.
The next morning, we left Fort McAllister, heading for Camp Carr (our nickname for Pat and Yvette’s backyard when we park back there.) It was raining when we left and continued to get worse. Very few times have we had to either pull in or leave during heavy rain – we can usually wait it out but today, we needed to meet up with Karen and Galen, who had overnighted at the nearby Wal-Mart. They were going to be parked with us at Camp Carr for the next week or so and had to follow us in. By the time both our rigs were parked, we were all soaked and enjoyed some hot soup for lunch.
The main reason we all hustled to connect up with Karen and Galen and get set up in the rain is that we had tickets to see Mannheim Steamroller in concert at the Johnny Mercer Theater in Savannah that same evening. Backtracking a bit – the night we had our NOMADS orientation at Jim and Mary Jo’s, they mentioned that Mannheim Steamroller was going to be in the Savannah area – we all decided on the spot we wanted to attend, so Jim and Mary Jo got tickets for the eight of us. We told Karen and Galen about the concert and they were interested, so we got two more tickets. It had been years since we’d seen them in concert – they were as awesome performing that night as they were back then. We had balcony seating with a great view of the stage. As we noticed the last time we attended their concert, people of all ages attend. Their music doesn’t attract just one specific age group – we saw people our own age, children and their parents, teens, grandparents. We had a great time. The music was loud enough to enjoy but not so loud our ears were ringing at the end of the performance. And what an end! They were asked to do an encore and did not just one song but three!
The next morning, with our tour guides Pat and Yvette, we all hopped in our truck and drove to downtown Savannah, parking at the Visitor Center, where we met up with Dixie and Lou. We took the Old Town Trolley tour, with Denise our guide. She did such a great job, with such feeling, that we stayed on the entire loop, making notes of which stops we’d revisit after lunch. Back where we started, we had lunch at the Whistle Stop Café, a small restaurant located in an old dining car. Alas, the location was the best part of the meal. Service was atrocious! We couldn’t find two tables next to each other so we had to split up into two groups of four. The other table got served and finished before we even got our meals. By the time we finally got our meals, they were cold – we don’t know if they were shorthanded or what their problem was, but after expressing our displeasure, we got our meals at half price.
Our first stop was the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, built and dedicated in 1876, almost destroyed by a fire in 1898, and repaired shortly afterwards. The last major renovation was completed in 2000 – fifty stained glass windows were removed, cleaned and re-leaded, the slate roof replaced, and the interior restored to its original architecture. Factoid: a church is dedicated when it is ready to perform religious functions and consecrated only when it is debt free. So although the cathedral was built in 1876, it wasn’t consecrated until 1920.
From the cathedral, we walked to Colonial Park Cemetery, Savannah’s primary burial ground between
1750 to 1853. Several prominent people are buried here, including Button Gwinnett, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Vandals had knocked down several headstones years and years ago… Because records didn’t indicate clearly where the stones belonged, they are now mounted on the back wall of the cemetery.
We ended our tour that day on River Street, supporting the local merchants by buying pralines and other goodies. Savannah’s celebration of St. Patrick’s Day was less than a week away and already events had started. We listened to a little bit of Celtic music at the Irish Festival, then headed back to the Visitor Center, where we said goodbye to Dixie and Lou till the next time we meet them on the road.
A few days later, Karen, Galen, Pat and the two of us went back to Savannah. Parking at the Visitor Center was impossible – the parade (2nd largest one in the US) was just days’ away. We started off our tour at Old Fort Jackson National Historic Site, just a few miles from the city’s downtown area.
Old Fort Jackson, maintained by the Coastal Heritage Society, is Georgia’s oldest standing brick fort. The site was known as Salter’s Island and fortified for use during the Revolutionary War in the 1740s. In 1808, construction began on Fort Jackson, named in honor of the Revolutionary War officer and later governor of Georgia, James Jackson. During the War of 1812, the fort was garrisoned by American troops but did not see any action. It was then enlarged and strengthened between 1845 and 1860, being used as headquarters for Civil War river defense. The ironclad ship, the CSS Georgia, was scuttled in the Savannah River by Confederate forces during their evacuation when General Sherman arrived in Savannah in his “March to the Sea”. A buoy marks the site of the sunken ship. Artifacts from the ironclad ship as well as cannon and other military memorabilia are found on display throughout the fort.
Next stop was Bonaventure Cemetery, made famous by John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The book brought Savannah a lot of notoriety it wasn’t comfortable with at first until it realized the tourists coming to visit the locations described in the book brought in a lot of dollars. Unfortunately, all the tourist traffic was starting to disrupt the cemetery’s grounds and historic stones, so the Bird Girl statue (described in the book) was moved to one of the historic homes on Savannah’s squares. There are several interesting headstones and inscriptions found throughout the cemetery. We saw one that said “She Did What She Could” – wonder what that means?
Back to town for lunch – parking was non-existent at the Visitor Center – the crowds are coming in for the parade just a few days’ away. We located a parking spot at the civic center, walking to River Street from there. We had a wonderful lunch at the Cotton Exchange Tavern, and then walked it off by visiting the squares found on Bull and Barnard Streets all the way to Forsyth Park and back. Savannah was originally planned around 23 squares – 21 remain, two of which were taken over for parking garages and government buildings.
One day, we drove down to Magnolia Manor and introduced the folks to Karen and Galen. We gave Karen and Galen a quick tour, then enjoyed another of Magnolia Manor’s fine lunches. Rich, the Manor’s administrator, did a double take when he saw us sitting at the same table we had with the NOMADS – he thought the NOMADS were back in town!
Yvette asked us to put on a mini-concert for the residents and guests at Lakeview Manor in nearby Springfield. That evening was our first official performance as a ‘group’. We work for cupcakes!
One Friday evening, with a little coaxing, we got Pat to fix his wonderful seafood chowder. We rounded off the meal with Lucille’s first (and quite successful) attempt at making Chef Richard’s (friend Rich from Palmdale) peanut butter pie – great meal from beginning to end!
All too soon, it was time to leave Camp Carr for our next destination – Hunting Island State Park, just south of Beaufort, South Carolina. The state park is located on a spit of land surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the low country marshlands. Karen and Galen lucked out and got a beach view site while ours was in the treed section. The park stayed full the days we were there with families and college students on spring break.
A little bit about the park: Hunting Island State Park comprises 5,000 acres of marshland, maritime forest and the longest public beach in the South Carolina Lowcountry. It is among the most popular state parks since the Civilian Conservation Corps built it in the 1930s. There is a lighthouse, nature center, eight miles of trails, a long marsh boardwalk and a large inlet with fishing pier.
The Hunting Island lighthouse is halfway between Savannah and Charleston and was a beacon for ships passing by. The original brick lighthouse, on the north end of the island, was built in 1859. Confederate soldiers destroyed it in 1860 so the Union forces would not be able to use the light (St. Simon’s lighthouse was also destroyed by Confederate troops for the same reason.) The existing lighthouse was completed in 1875 and was built of curved cast iron plates (each weighs 1,200 pounds and is 1-3/4” thick.) Why cast iron plates? Engineers designed it using this material so it was movable should the ocean encroach upon its territory, which it did by 1889. It took four months from start to finish to dismantle and move the lighthouse 1-1/4 mile southwest of its original location – pretty ingenious! This lighthouse is the only one in the state accessible to the public. We paid our admission fee and climbed the wrought iron staircase to the top, over 170 feet, and approximately that many steps. The view of the Atlantic and the marshlands from the top is outstanding but it was pretty windy that day – we didn’t stay up there too long. From the ground, you could hear the wind blowing through the rails on top, sounding similar to blowing into a glass bottle. Another day, we walked the Marsh Boardwalk trail which led to an up close view of the salt marsh. It was low tide and we saw thousands of fiddler crabs skittering around in the mud. The fishing pier extends 1,120 feet into Fripp Inlet – still breezy that day so we hung onto our hats while we walked its length. There’s a Nature Center near the pier but it was undergoing renovations and was closed.
Another day we visited the town of Beaufort, voted the best small southern town by Southern Living readers. Karen purchased a map of this historic village and we set out on foot to see several of the beautiful homes and buildings, some of which date back to the early 1700s. The huge sprawling live oak trees added to the beauty of these homes.
We also toured St. Helena’s Episcopal Church, one of the oldest churches in continuous service in the U.S. St. Helena’s was established by the Colonial Assembly in 1712 and received her charter from the King of England –a marble plaque at the west door commemorates that event. Built in 1724 and enlarged twice, it is constructed of brick, much of which came from England as ballast for ships. On display is a silver communion service given by Captain John Bull in 1734 in memory of his wife, who had perished in an Indian massacre. This communion service (chalice, paten, and tankard) is still used today on special occasions.
During the Civil War, the Union Army used the church as a hospital. Slab gravestones, from the cemetery surrounding the church, were used as operating tables by placing them across the tops of pews. St. Helena’s oozed history – well worth a visit.
One day, we visited Parris Island, home of the Marine Recruit Depot. Interestingly, South Carolina history starts on Parris Island. In 1562, France established a strategic foothold on Port Royal Sound in present-day South Carolina. This settlement was known as Charlesfort (the French were there just a couple of years.) In 1566, Spaniards built a fort and the town of Santa Elena on the site of the French Charlesfort, overlooking the sound. An ongoing archeological excavation continues to unearth artifacts of these early European settlers.
We explored the Parris Island Museum and learned about the long legacy of the Marine Corps as well as the exciting history of the Port Royal region. There are thousands of artifacts and other materials within the exhibit galleries. Exhibits also feature Marine memorabilia from all eras. Since 1915, Parris Island’s primary mission is to train new Marines. Over a million men and women have trained there since then, and continue to train there. We’d read about a self-guided 15 mile driving tour but were unable to track down a map or find anyone with information about it.
The general public is welcome to tour the Marine Corps Depot after presenting a driver’s license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance. (Public access to the Depot is dependent on prevailing security measures.) .
On the way back, we stopped in St. Helena to visit the Chapel of Ease, a tabby church that was built in 1748 for the convenience of plantation owners too far away to attend church in Beaufort. The church was damaged by a forest fire in 1886 and was never rebuilt. The tabby walls are still standing, as is a single column out front (not sure what the column was for.) Surrounding the chapel are several small plots where people are buried, including a pair of young girls who died within days of each other in 1833 – must have been typhoid or something similar. There’s also a mausoleum with the name Fripp above the door – the front doors were missing. Looking inside, we saw that it was empty – creepy!
It was time to leave Hunting Island State Park – we enjoyed the several days we were there. But we didn’t enjoy trying to get out of our site. It is listed as a pull-thru and for smaller RVs, it’s doable but we had to back out of the pull-thru site, carefully negotiating all the trees that were trying so hard to jump out and do some damages. Larry did notice several scrapes on the front cap of the RV – apparently one of the trees was successful. Sites with a beach view appear to be a little larger – something to keep in mind on a return trip.
Time to move on. Karen and Galen went onto the Charleston area – we went inland to the military campground at Shaw Air Force Base, just west of Sumter. We’ll meet up with them again in about another month or so.
The campground here at Shaw isn’t very big but is well laid out with lots of walking trails behind us. Other than the occasional military jet taking off, it’s been fairly quiet. Most of the time we spent at Shaw was downtime, just goofing off. We did venture out to be tourists periodically.
Swan Lake-Iris Gardens is located in Sumter. In 1927, Hamilton Carr Bland bought a parcel of land known as the Greenswamp Plantation, planning to use it as a fishpond and eventually as a garden and bird sanctuary. Mr. Bland and his workers cleared the area and built islands out of old magazines, newspapers, tin cans, mud from the bottom of the lake and finally dirt from nearby Hampton Avenue, which was in the process of being paved. Mr. Bland didn’t have success with some Japanese iris he had planted in his home garden, so he dug them up and tossed them, along with clippings and trash, along the shore to build up the land. Amazingly the following spring, the iris grew up out of this ‘mess’ and thrived with blooms six to ten inches across. Mr. Bland continued to add plants, with the emphasis on Japanese iris. He later acquired several English mute swans and a pair of black Australian swans (some of the swans in the gardens today are descendants of these original swans.)
In 1938, Mr. A. T. Heath deeded to the city 70 acres of land across the street from the Bland garden with the stipulation that it be developed as a garden under Mr. Bland’s supervision. In 1949, Mr. Bland deeded his tract of land to the city. The city then laid out paths and developed picnic areas. The annual Iris Festival, held during their peak blooming period the last weeks in May, honors the beauty of the iris, over 120 varieties.
Swan Lake is home to all eight species of swans and may be the only place in the world where all species can be found. There are Mute swans, Bewick swans, Whistling (tundra) swans, Whooper swans, Trumpeter swans, Black swans, Coscoroba and Black-necked swans.
The Bewick swan, from Japan, has a long black and yellow beak. The Black swans, from Australia, are all black except for their red beaks and a fringe of white underneath the wings. They don’t have the typical loud honk but almost sound like a yipping dog – we did a double take when we first heard them. Such a huge bird with a tiny voice. The Black-necked swans, native to South America, are all white with a black neck and head and a red lobe on their beaks. The Coscoroba is the smallest breed of swan, weighing an average of 8-11 pounds. Also native to South America, they have pure white feathers with pink beaks and pink legs (really pink legs.)
Mute swans, originating from the British Isles, have orange beaks with a distinctive black knob. The Trumpeter Swan is a native North American bird known for its distinctive call. It has a long black beak and is the largest of the swans – at full height reaching six feet. Until recently, it was considered endangered and is still a rare breed. Whistling swans are similar to Trumpeters but have a small yellow marking below the eye. Whooper swans are similar to Bewick’s but larger with yellow beak markings. They are native to Europe and Asia and are as noisy as their name implies.
It took us a little while, but by walking around both ponds, we finally spotted each of the different swan species. They were beautiful and graceful in their movements, and funny in their antics. One particularly friendly swan was in a honking contest with a young girl. And the best part of Swan Lake-Iris Gardens is that it’s free!
Congaree National Park is just a short drive from Sumter. Within the 22,000 acres of the park is the largest contiguous area of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States. Up until the latter half of the 1800s, there were more than 52 million acres of floodplain forests in the southeastern United States, with more than one million acres in South Carolina alone. In the 1880s, the lumber industry began harvesting these forests. In less than 50 years, most of these forests were decimated.
Congaree’s trees escaped large-scale cutting due to the difficulty of logging in a wetland area and the timber conservation ethic of Francis Beidler, whose lumber company purchased bottomland forests in South Carolina. In the 1950s, conservationist Harry Hampton recognized that the Congaree forest was one of the few remaining ecosystems of its kind and began efforts to protect it. It took two decades and the renewed threat of logging the area before Congress established Congaree Swamp National Monument in 1976, becoming Congaree National Park in 2003 – a fairly young park in the overall national parks system.
First stop was the Visitor Center where we watched a short video on the history of the park. From the exhibits throughout the Visitor Center, we learned more about the types of trees, plants and wildlife found throughout Congaree Flooding occurs in the Congaree floodplain an average of ten times a year, usually in winter and early spring. The water flows through a network of creeks, sloughs, and guts, some of which are former riverbeds. Once these are filled, water disperses across flat ground, depositing rich soils whose nutrients support the complex plant community, including the giant trees for which Congaree National Park is known. There are at least twenty champion trees here, including loblolly pines, hickories, and bald cypress. One bald cypress measures 27 feet, 5 inches in circumference.
We walked the self-guided 2.5-mile boardwalk trail to Weston Lake and back – a trail guide helped identify the points of interest. In 1989, Hurricane Hugo damaged a section of the forest – it was interesting to see the re-growth in that area. The trail was well built and well maintained and the weather was ideal that day as we meandered down the boardwalk. We spotted several species of birds; lots of huge, tall trees – you felt like you were going to tip over backwards looking up to their tops; one snake that slithered away quickly after it was spotted; several bright green lizards; and a variety of marsh and swamp plants. There are scheduled ranger-led tours, primarily on weekends. One tour, the Owl Prowl, is at dusk – walking the boardwalk searching for owls and other night critters – sounds like fun but it’s only held every other Friday and we weren’t going to be around for the next scheduled tour.
Last tourist stop for the month was a visit to the South Carolina State Museum in Columbia. Not since we visited the Cole Land Transportation Museum in Bangor, Maine (see our June 2004 travels), have we been this captivated by a museum. This museum is awesome!
Located in the former 1893 Columbia Mill textile building (that alone is interesting with the original floors and support structures throughout), there are four floors to explore that tell the history of South Carolina. On the first floor, in addition to the ticket desk and Cotton Mill Exchange (gift shop), is the art collection. The second floor is devoted to natural history; the third is science (learn all about transportation, communications, manufacturing, natural resources industries, agriculture and power production all related to the state), and technology (a cool hands-on Stringer Discovery Center where kids of all ages have fun with the displays); and the fourth floor is cultural history (covering 14,000 years of the state’s cultural heritage.)
We arrived shortly after their Sunday 1 pm opening and just about got chased out by 5 pm, having only seen the third and fourth floors. There is that much to see-- time flew by. When we realized we’d spent almost two hours just on the fourth floor, we knew we wouldn’t be able to see the entire museum in just one afternoon. We’ll have to return next time we are in the area and make a day of it. The museum is easy to find, has a large parking lot, and a café to take a break mid-museum.
Coming up in April: a change in plans… As fulltime RVers, we are more flexible with our schedule than most of the rest of our family. Our plans had been to meet up with Karen and Galen in the Outer Banks in North Carolina, then visit with Barry in Virginia Beach before spending a week near Cape Charles on the Eastern shore of Virginia. One of Lucille’s aunts (Lorraine) in Tamarac, Florida, needs surgery and has asked us to come down and stay with her older sister till she’s back on her feet. We’ll leave our home on wheels at “Camp Carr” in Georgia, pack our bags, and spend whatever time we need to in Tamarac before resuming our travels.