Friday, April 29, 2016

Myrtle Beach to Charleston

Thursday we continued our exploration of South Carolina’s lowcountry as we went along State Route 17 South to Georgetown,  South Carolina, sometimes claimed as one of the oldest settlements in the United States, and from there to Charleston, an easy hundred or so miles. 

Georgetown's Rice Museum
We didn't see any exhibits on rice, but they had a nice shop

More views of the town

The view from the inlet

On the way, however, we found ourselves at Hopsewee, a mid-18th century rice plantation, one of the earliest extant.

The view of the house as you approach it from Highway 17. This is the back of the house. The front of these houses faced, of course, the water

The water

The front of the house

What is remarkable here is that the original house, hewn from the old growth “black” cypress which were cleared from swamps by African slaves to create the rice fields, stands intact and largely unmodified having passed through the hands of just five owners in the 270 years it has stood. Sadly this is another house that does not allow inside photography.

From there it was a relatively short shot into Charleston, at least until we hit the city outskirts when the heavens opened up. As had been the case in New Orleans, the last few miles were the hardest. This time it was not blocked streets, but lightning, hail, two grade-level train crossings and more rain than either of us has ever seen. It was fun.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Marshes and Myrtle

We spent Wednesday in and about Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. To be honest, we had no expectations for this sprawling beach resort. We’d heard of it, of course, but did not know what to expect. And in some ways it is similar to Virginia Beach, our last stop, but mostly were you to hang about in town, which we did not do.

Interestingly, part of our itinerary came from a server in one of the restaurants at the hotel where we stayed. The rest was of Sharon’s devise.

We began the day at Brookview Gardens, which was pulled together out of four old low country rice plantations in the 1930s by Archer and Alma Huntington, of the railroad family. It was initially meant to showcase Alma’s sculpture but would then grow beyond that. Today it bills itself as the world’s largest sculpture garden.

But what interested us most was the Lowcountry exhibits which presented lowcountry life and work on the rice plantations of the 18th and 19th centuries and, of course, slavery and the lives and culture of the African and African-American slaves.

Amazing range of foliage colors

A statue and an egret

The bird takes wing, statue (out of frame) remains

Interestingly it is hard sometimes to see the sculptures in these images, they are easily enjoyed in three dimensions

The gardens interpret the plantations' rice growing history by presenting the lives of the workers (through markers)  alongside a recreation of the rice fields as they would have been in the first half of the 19th century. In those days the work was quite literally killing
Today the fields commemorate the lives of the slaves and make for great Kodak moments

Apart from walking the lowcountry, visitors could also take a boat ride through the creeks to learn more about rice culture

And wildlife, in creeks

and on land

From there, we decided to explore Huntington State Beach. There we were able to walk along a boardwalk into the marshes. The vistas and wildlife were a treat.

Coastal marshes that are just across the creeks (and today's highway) from the Brookgreen and other plantations that make up the Huntington's gardens

The state of South Carolina is working to restore the oyster beds which you see here

View of the marshes

The marshwalk allows you to peer down into the oyster beds and to see them and the crabs that are so plentiful

Colonies of tiny crabs. How many can you see??
A cormorant preens

Oyster beds in the marshes

This large crab, feeding on a dead jelly, drew a crowd

Next came dinner  at Murrell’s Inlet, which had been suggested at the hotel, and from there we concluded the day with a drive along the beaches up to the city of Myrtle Beach itself. The area sprawls across several beach resort communities and some of it rivaled Gatlinburg and Virginia Beach for pure honky-tonk, but over all the gorgeous setting trumps (you should pardon that word) the pitiful human attempts to degrade nature.

Monday, April 25, 2016

A Bit of Virginia

Having spent a wonderful weekend celebrating Passover with family in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, Monday saw us heading eastward through Virginia, destination Virginia Beach, our launch point as we head across North Carolina to Myrtle Beach. We bought lunch and drinks for tomorrow at the local Harris Teeter. We also gassed up and will buy only enough gasoline to get us out of NC.

On the advice of my cousin Ron, we took backroads through the Shenandoah Valley, into the Blue Ridge mountains, where we ran across Blue Ridge Pottery. After a brief stop to buy several pieces, including one from 1990 we headed on to the Piedmont. As we drove along Highway 33, we saw a sign advertising tours of Montpelier, the home of James Madison, the father of the Constitution and our 4th president. It was not in our plans, but we had to stop. The property was deeded to the National Trust for Historic Preservation by the DuPont family who had owned it for most of the 20th century and is now being managed by the Montpelier Foundation who are, in my opinion, doing a fine job of restoring and interpreting all aspects of this 5,000 acre plantation where Madison was born and lived most of his life, a slaveowner from cradle to grave. Sadly, this is another property that does not allow interior photography, but I was able to get some pictures of not just the house, but the archeological work being done in the slave quarters. It was a fine stop.

Some scenes from the Blue Ridge and Shenandoah

Alan Ward, founder and chief potter. As soon as we entered the shop he invited us back to the workroom and gave us a very interesting bit of history and background.

Just a part of the showroom. If you want to see what we bought you will have to stick around until the end of the trip when we unpack.

In the distance you can see why the Blue Ridge mountains are so named.

The approach to Madison's Montpelier

Mr. Madison

A closer view of the house.

A staff archeologist explains the work being done on the near in slave quarters (the field workers' cabins were further out and much less finished) and the stables in the background

The back of the house with statues of James and Dolly

This gives a sense of the vitality of the place.
In the mid 1980s we were able to visit Jefferson’s Monticello, which at that time had not been restored. Today, I gather, it is a showplace, probably far more elegant than Mr. Jefferson would have known, just as colonial Williamsburg (see last year’s trip) has been restored to eye-popping perfection. Madison’s house is a work-in-progress. We enjoyed a couple of hours there learning what the Montpelier Foundation is doing to fully interpret life and issues pertaining to the Madison family. It was a fine visit.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Trees and Water

We had just one full day in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and we spent it walking in nature and driving through it. The walk was a 2 ½ mile stroll up to Laurel Falls and the drive was a random ramble along the main and back roads.

From there we went northwest through some of the most intense rain I have driven in to Harrisonburg, Virginia to spend Passover weekend with cousins. On Monday we will go to Virginia Beach, there to provision for the trek across North Carolina, which we hope to do with just one necessary stop for enough gas to get to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, no food, no shopping. We had hoped to do some touring in North Carolina, not this time.

The walk up to the falls was relatively easy and picturesque
Been playing with black and white

The falls were, as you might expect, crowded. After shooting a few images I sat down on a rock bench next to someone with a big DSLR and tripod and we got to talking. Turns out she is a professional nature photographer from San José right near us. She comes out here every year to photograph the falls and she was good enough to school me a bit, so you have here some images in black and white, slow shutter speeds and other effects