Oaks and Palms
It took about a mile on a dirt road with several ninety degree turns to reach the campsites in the Francis Marion National Forest near McClellanville. As we first turned on the dirt road we were met by a young man driving a BMW and I remarked to Jenni that he had probably just completed a drug deal because beamers don’t camp on dirt roads like big white candy vans. At the campground there were already several established campers.
This was a campground primarily used during deer and turkey hunting seasons. The state Department of Natural Resources used it as a checkpoint for hunters. Since we were not there during hunting season, the campers were comprised of tent-camping college guys, fifth-wheel-pulling families, and vehicle-dwelling homeless men. We were only slightly concerned by the latter but it didn’t stop us from picking a nice flat area under some sprawling oak trees.
We positioned Wanda so that her sliding door was on the opposite side from the homeless men. We spread our rug, opened a can of sangria, and enjoyed a surprisingly bug-free evening in the midst of swamps named after the original Swamp Fox, revolutionary hero Francis Marion.
How did we know two of our neighbors were homeless? Well, the one with the two-foot-long gray beard and two large tethered dogs had a minivan parked beneath a canopy of tarps he had strung. He kept a tidy camp, which I thought was a sign of longevity. I watched him sweep the leaves and pine straw a couple times and drop them on his smoldering fire, which could be why we were enjoying a bug-free evening.
We discovered the second gentleman was homeless when he shouted it into his phone in a one-sided angry rant. The ‘conversation’ went something like this: “You brought the opioid dealer onto my property and now I’m homeless. You don’t have enough money in your country to pay me back.” (Interesting choice of words; was he an undercover CIA operative??) And trust me, his verbal attack was not nearly as short as I’ve written. We didn’t hear this particular conversation until the next morning. For the first evening, we just heard angry tones of voice without ever understanding the actual words. This went on for about three hours, into the dark. We pulled out the white-noise machine our son had given me for my birthday and drowned out our neighbor’s conversation. He started up again at 6:30 AM and that is when I opened my window and understood the words. Eventually he crawled back inside his car and cranked the engine, presumably to get warm.
We were only three or four miles from the entrance of Hampton Plantation State Historic Site so we left our camp early and waited at the park gate for the ranger to unlock it at 9 AM. The plantation had been a rice growing plantation starting in the early to mid-1700s. The old oak trees were majestic. All the signage on the grounds made sure you understood the plantation was built and operated on the backs of enslaved people. We did not get to tour the home as it was not going to be unlocked until later in the day. We could stand on the porch and gaze at the massive oak tree in the front yard, named the Washington Oak. According to legend, President George Washington visited the plantation. The lady of the house asked his opinion about removing a then-40-year-old oak to improve the view. He said to let it remain and every generation after that has. Today, it is massive. It contains a bell in its limbs used to call slaves to a meeting point at various times during the day.
When we left Hampton Plantation, we drove through historic McClellanville where we were in awe of more majestic oaks, historic churches, and grand homes. We then did a short hike at the Sewee Shell Island where, 4,000 years before, indigenous people had piled their refuse of oyster and clam shells forming small islands in the marshland. From there we drove to Mount Pleasant for a visit with dear friends we had first met when we lived in San Antonio some thirty-plus years ago.
After sleeping inside on a real bed, we were rested and ready for the next day’s adventures. We crossed the monstrous Ravenel Bridge into Charleston and parked Wanda on The Battery looking out toward Fort Sumter. Jenni and I left Wanda in Annie’s capable paws and walked several blocks of Charleston. We had been to the city many times in our years living in South Carolina, always enjoying something new. This stop was only a cursory look but we spent time on things we had not in previous trips such as St. Michaels Anglican Church where the pews had individually numbered gates that the owner could lock to keep others out if they were going away for a period of time. We also spent time at Rainbow Row where the homes are painted in pastel colors and a lady insisted on stepping in front of my camera at least nine times before I finally managed to crop her out of the frame!
Neither of us had ever visited Angel Oak on Johns Island so we headed there next. The last quarter mile was a study in pothole placement and how to dodge them. I failed. I think Wanda’s paint took a beating from the privet hedges growing beside the road as well. Angel Oak is massive, majestic, and marvelous. It has a 28 ft trunk circumference and a canopy that covers over 17,000 sq ft. Depending who you believe, it is between 500 and 1,500 years old. And it is worth seeing.
We endured heavy traffic to next reach Charlestown Landing and gain another park stamp. This was a place we were familiar with from when our boys took elementary school field trips many years ago. It was different to experience this without the smell of sweaty fifth-grade bodies. We spent most of our time in the animal sanctuary where we viewed red wolves, otters, a puma, an enormously fat black bear, and numerous shorebirds.
It was at this point that I remarked to Jenni that our tour of state parks was more like a seafood sampler platter—we were only getting little portions of the various features available to us. Our original plan called for us to leave Charlestown Landing, cruise to Edisto Beach and then go to Hunting Island all in about four hours, most of which would be spent on the road. So we decided to skip Edisto Beach State Park at that point and go directly to Hunting Island SP where we had a campsite reservation for the night.
About two hours later, with only a slight detour for some church ruins (Chapel of Ease on St. Helens Island) I had always wanted to see, we arrived at Hunting Island. The entrance road winds through a forest of giant palm trees with a few oaks scattered amongst them. It had such a tropical vibe to it, I remarked to Jenni it felt as if we were on an island. Duh.
We parked near the lighthouse and admired it but did not climb it since it was closed for repairs. Then we crossed the sand dunes for a walk on the beach before returning to Wanda and finding our campsite. The second we stepped out of Wanda at the campsite we were attacked by biting gnats and no-see-ums. They were vicious and relentless. There was no way the bug screen was going to keep them out so we sat in the enclosed van for a while. We changed into some suitable clothes for a beach walk, leashed Annie, and headed to the shoreline. It wasn’t too bad until we had to pass through some trees and cross the sand dunes; that’s when the insects struck with a vengeance. Once we were at the beach where there was a strong breeze we were safe from bug bites. We walked and Annie ran along the beach. One of the rangers had told us there were five miles of pristine beaches to enjoy; he was correct. We stayed well past sundown to enjoy the incredible colors before braving the bug gauntlet once more.
Once we were back inside Wanda, we did not want to leave her sanctuary. Before bed, we spent several minutes smacking bugs which had collected on the ceiling.