Back to the Ultimate Outsider Challenge
When Jenni and I purchased our state park pass in February 2021, we never imagined we would only be a third of the way through the forty-seven parks after two full years. Of course, in those two years we logged nearly 30,000 miles visiting another forty states. But it was time to get serious about checking off a few more South Carolina parks.
With some recent improvements to our van Wanda, as well as a check-up at our favorite dealer Egolf Ford in Brevard, NC, we were ready for a trip to the Low Country. We set out on a Friday with a goal of getting our Ultimate Outsider book stamped at four or five different state parks.
First up was Sesquicentennial in Columbia. It’s a beautiful park in what I would consider to be the city. The splashpad looked like it could be entertaining for children during the hot summer days that always seem to settle so heavily on Columbia. On the day we visited, we were playing hide-and-seek with rain showers so we limited our activity. We loved the look of the tall pines around the playground and gift shop. We took a stroll along the lake to the spillway. The stairstep waterfalls at the spillway made for great photos but we made our way back to Wanda as it started to drizzle. After fixing a sandwich for lunch in the parking lot we headed to I-20 and Goodale SP near Camden.
It was obvious Goodale had seen better days. The ranger office had a blue tarp on the roof and most of the windows were boarded up with plywood. The ‘playground’ was a small fenced area with equipment that reminded me of my elementary school days in the 1970s. Because we committed ourselves to walking some at each park we visit, we took a short walk to the spillway where a couple boats were tied down. It did give us a closer view of a cypress tree grove that stands permanently in the water. This was a gray winter day with fog and mist in the air; the scene did little to lift our spirits. Our dog Annie kept trying to herd us back to the van. We found the box with the park stamp and then left for the next park.
Before reaching Lee State Park, we took a short detour to the Pearl Fryar Topiary Gardens near Bishopville. Mr. Fryar’s topiaries had been featured in many southern magazines over the years and we had always wanted to stop to see them but had never taken the time. If we had known how close they were to I-20, we probably would have gone sooner; it would have been better to have seen them several years ago. While the gardens are still interesting, they don’t hold quite the same charm as the photos we had seen ten or fifteen years ago. Nevertheless, they are easy to find and worth a ten minute stop if you are in the area.
We pulled into Lee SP on the other side of Bishopville by mid-afternoon. I walked into the ranger office to get a stamp in my book where I was greeted by a very friendly ranger. She asked what brought me to the park that day and I honestly answered “to get a stamp in my book.” But I’m a people-pleaser and didn’t want her to be disappointed, so I glanced quickly at an information sheet on the counter and said I liked to photograph water features and was interested in the artesian water wells. Whew, dodged that awkward moment! She gave me directions to the artesian wells and also told me where to find a boardwalk, so I got Jenni and Annie from the van and we walked around a few old fish ponds and went down a boardwalk about a hundred yards. The trees were thick and we could not tell where the boardwalk was going to end so we turned back to the van.
We had a campsite reserved in Cheraw State Park that night and fully intended to drive straight there next, but a few miles before our destination we saw the signs for another park on the list—H. Cooper Black Recreational Area. Rather than backtracking the next morning, we decided to hit it that afternoon. The long, sandy entrance road gave us some concern but there were only ruts in a couple places. If you do not have a horse or hunting dog, you probably don’t have a reason to go to this park. There are stables and kennels galore. I think we would have enjoyed touring some of the horse trailer/RVs parked in the campground if that had been an option! When we pulled up we watched a couple people riding mules. The only walking done at this park was for me to walk the ten feet from the van to the box where the stamp was stored. We then circled one of the stables, gave our greetings to a couple horses in the stables, and left via the same sandy road.
We pulled up to the Cheraw SP Visitor Center shortly before 5 PM to get our book stamped. The campsites were on the other side of the lake and would require driving back to the highway.
I was very thirsty at that point and grabbed a disposable water bottle that had been sitting in our console for a few months. I thought I remembered hearing the seal crack as I untwisted the lid and took a swig. First swallow tasted fine but the several gulps I took afterwards had an odd taste—somewhere between dirt and the smell associated with a stink bug. We reached our campsite on the lakeshore at Cheraw State Park with enough time to get settled before sundown. After twelve hours of travel, we had checked off five state parks!
I left Annie in the van with Jenni while I explored the dam spillway and a boardwalk that leads from the dam to the visitor center. About the time I returned to the campsite, the colors of the sunset were pouring out like an energetic kindergartener using finger paints. The reds and yellows spread across the sky for a very generous time. When the sun dropped, so did the temperatures. We were thankful to have electricity so we could plug in a space heater and blanket that night as temperatures went below freezing.
Now that I’m diabetic, getting ready for bed has become a whole routine. I have to take a pill first thing in the morning and wait thirty minutes before ingesting anything else, so I like to have the pills and water beside my bed so I can pop them as early as possible (so I don’t delay my morning coffee more than necessary.) I put the pill bottle next to where I sleep and then grabbed what was left of the water bottle in the console. As I lay in bed, I looked at the plastic bottle and thought I saw something in the water. On closer inspection, there was some type of black stuff growing on the inside of the bottle! It was too late to pump my stomach but I dealt with stomach issues for several days after that.
In the brisk morning air, we enjoyed mirror-like reflections of the trees on the still water of the lake. The sub-freezing temperatures had rendered my blood sugar testing equipment useless until I could get it warmed up. I learned at that point to leave it on the counter during the night since temps in the drawers and cabinets get much colder than the cabin area. Jenni had experimented with an “omelet in a bag” before we left home. She had all the ingredients mixed together in a sealed bag and only had to add the bag to boiling water before we had our omelets (which we promptly put in a heated tortilla and turned into a breakfast taco!) Of course, based on the previous evening, I refrained from adding any hot sauce to mine.
The restroom and shower facilities were top notch at Cheraw SP. We enjoyed a hot shower before breaking down camp and preparing to move on.