Alone in a Land of Giants at Congaree National Park

In the middle of South Carolina is a truly magical place. Along the northern banks of the Congaree River lies a swamp that is home to the largest collection of giant old growth hardwood trees in the world. Because of its remoteness, and because of the inhospitable nature of the flooded forest, this one small area has escaped the ravages of man’s relentless desire to exploit his environment for power and profit. Even before Europeans began to colonize the Atlantic Coast, Native Americans were hunting and fishing around these same trees, some of which might be as much as 1,000 years old. The perfect combination of climate, water, and inaccessibility has guaranteed that these remarkable behemoths could prosper through wars, hurricanes, fire, and drought, and reach towering heights rivaled only by the Redwoods of California. No less than nine trees in this primeval enclave can claim the rare distinction as “Champions” of their species. A Champion tree is one that attains a height and a base circumference greater than any other tree of its kind in the entire world.

One man, conservationist Harry Hampton, recognized in the 1950’s that the Congaree forest was one of the few remaining ecosystems of its kind, and began efforts to protect it. Two decades later, when logging threatened the area’s giant trees, a public campaign led to establishing Congaree Swamp National Monument in 1976. In the following decades, the park was expanded and thousands of acres were designated as wilderness. In 2003 it became Congaree National Park. Today the park is a sanctuary for plants and animals, a research site for scientists, and a peaceful place for you to explore a forest of towering trees and diverse wildlife.

So you can imagine my excitement when I pulled into an empty parking area on a recent Thursday afternoon, and realized that I would have the entire National Park to myself. Where else but here could that ever happen. Remember to click on each photo to see the full screen version. I like the photos much better that way……

Congaree Boardwalk Giants
Wooden walkways and boardwalks guide you deep into the swamp, and allow you to be at one with these quiet giants. Shumard Oak, Hickory, Loblolly Pine, Bald Cypress, American Elm, American Beech, Tupelo, and many other well know species share this ancient sanctuary.

Congaree Park Champions

Congaree Canopy Giants
Many trees soar to over 150 feet high, with one Loblolly Pine, below, reaching record heights over 170 feet.

Congaree Loblolly Champion
Congaree Loblolly Illustration

Congaree Cypress Giant
This old Bald Cypress stands in the middle of a “Cypress Knee” garden.

Congaree Cypress Illustration

Congaree Cypress Knees
Remember when people thought it was cool to own a lamp made from Cypress Knees? Not anymore.

Congaree Cypress Knees Growing

The swamp floods many times each year as the Congaree River overruns its banks. Often, the walkways are under water, and closed to visitors. The health of these gentle giants is supported by this constant flooding and cleansing of the low, soft soil.

Congaree Cypress Swamp
Water meanders through the forest in its relentless march to the sea.

Congaree Cedar Creek
Cedar Creek bisects the park, and during periods of higher water, is a favorite of canoers and kayakers.

Congaree Cedar Creek Reflections
The slow moving water is high in nutrients, which is exactly what these trees need, and the eight foot thick swamp “mud” filters out pollutants.

Congaree Walkway Giants
The midday sun manages to find a rare opening in the thick canopy, giving the smaller plants just enough light to grow and reproduce.

My walk took me almost three miles into the forest, but I turned back before I reached the Congaree River. I’ll leave that hike for another time. Suddenly on the walk back, I heard the squeals and grunts of wild hogs, and four of them crossed right in front of me. I managed to get this short video before they disappeared back into the dense woods.

Museum Hopping in Savannah

Although every house inside the historic district has a history and is a work of art unto itself, Savannah still has some top notch museums and galleries to fill those moments when you’ve seen just too many hand carved Colonial staircases for one day. For the purposes of this post, the Jepson Center for the Arts, featuring the Telfair family home and art museum, will be the focus of the photographs. In between, I’ll slip in some really cool places that you see on the way to and from the museums.

Telfair Academy Museum
The Telfair mansion was completed in 1819, and the last Telfair occupant donated the house to be part of an art museum in the 1880’s. Telfair Academy opened in 1896, and features two large rooms furnished in 1840 style, along with two massive galleries, and many smaller exhibition spaces. This photo is from Destination America Travel…

Telfair Mansion and Museum
This drawing was made before the museum was begun in the 1880’s. The front part is the original mansion, and the rear addition housed the giant exhibition rooms on two floors.

Telefair Rotunda Gallery

Telfair Skylight

Telfair Rotunda Discussion
This upper floor space in the museum addition from the 19th century displays the largest paintings in the collection.

Fugitive Slave by Houston
“The Fugitive Slave”, by John Adam Houston, anchors an exhibition of selected pieces from the Johnson Collection of Southern fine art in Spartanburg called “Romantic Spirits”. The painting was completed in 1853, and supported the Abolitionist cause with its sympathetic depiction of a runaway enslaved man.

In Sight of Home Henry
“In Sight of Home”, by Edward Lamson Henry (1841-1919), continues the slave theme with a much less passionate approach. Children run to greet their mother and father who are returning from a trip to town, while a young slave child hitches a ride on the back of the wagon.

Cherokee Co NC Romantic-Spirits
This idyllic mountain scene is called “Falls of Tamahaka- Cherokee Co. NC”, and was painted after 1855 by Belgium artist William Charles Anthony Frerichs (1829-1905).

Andrew_Melrose French Broad
“Morning on the French Broad”, circa 1880, by Andrew Melrose (1836-1901), is one of the earliest depictions of this ancient Western North Carolina stream. On a high bluff sits a blockhouse that seems to be the remnant of a decaying fort.

Lost Cause Mosler
You can’t have a show about Southern art without featuring a well known work that depicts the futility of the just ended struggle. “Lost Cause”, 1868, was painted by a Jewish artist named Gustave Henry Mosler (1841-1920). We see a dejected soldier leaning on his firearm, while behind him is the broken shell of a log cabin. We also see a Spring landscape and rising moon that shows the infinite possibilities of rebirth and renewal.

Savannah Mahogany Door
This Mahogany door was surrounded by thick vines, making a most welcoming portal.

Savannah Mansions
On a nearby Square, two dowager mansions retain their grandeur after almost 200 years.

Jepson Center Front Wall
With Telfair Academy clearly visible through its front wall of glass, The Jepson Center across the steet is a modern tribute to light and space.

Jepson Center Staircase
A sweeping grand staircase leads to many galleries on the second level.

Jepson Center Glass and SHadow
The ingenious use of glass and aluminum creates ever changing patterns on the many surfaces of the 2006 structure.

Owens-Thomas House
Don’t let the surly and disinterested tour guides spoil your visit to this 1819 Oglethorpe Square masterpiece by English Architect William Jay. It is the third piece in the Telfair Museums collection. Elements in the remarkable house include internal cisterns for running water and sewerage, a bridge connecting the two sides of the upper floor, and furniture actually from the original families. The house is a treasure trove of amazing architecture and engineering.

Owens Thomas House 19th century
This is one of the earliest photographs of this magnificent residence.

Savannah Lutheran Church Tower
The tower of the 19th century Lutheran church glistens in the noonday August sun.

Savannah Post Office Building
The Old United States Post Office and Courthouse- 1894

Savannah Post Office Courts
Designed in the Second Renaissance Revival style, the original portion of the building is constructed entirely of white Georgia marble, and features the typical Italianate tripartite facade divisions characteristic of the style. Today the building houses Federal Court offices. It is on the National Registry of Historic Places.

The French Market Building
Today, it is the home to The French Market retailer, but 125 years ago, this 1870s building was where the streetcar turned off of Broughton. Many historic buildings along this venerable thoroughfare have been restored to their late 19th century appearance.

Broughton Street Postcard

Marshall House Facade
After a long day at the museums, our hotel is a welcome sight. The Marshall House was originally The Marshall Hotel, built in 1851, but it was used as the main hospital during the Civil War. After extensive rehabilitation, it reopened as The Marshall House in 1999, and is now one of Savannah’s premiere hostelries.

Marshall House Lobby
The lobby is comfortable and full of 19th century treasures.

Marshall House Rug
A modern rug really sets off the antiques and artwork.

The Marshall House Suite
The guest suites are spacious and beautifully furnished. 18th and 19th century artifacts, prints, and documents hang throughout the hotel, and are a treat to explore.

Bohemian Hotel Deck
Having your favorite cocktail while watching the sun set from the roof deck of the Bohemian Hotel on the Savannah River is the best way I know to end the perfect Savannah experience.

Savannah in August After Dark

We have come to know the beauty and history of Savannah in the daytime, but after sunset, the city takes on a different personality.

Broughton Street Savannah
Broughton, the “Main Drag” has recently recaptured its glory from the 1950’s, mostly because of the Savannah College of Art and Design, or SCAD. People line up at Leopold’s to get the best ice cream in town on a balmy summer’s evening.

Lucas Theater Savannah
The restored Lucas Theater is also now part of SCAD.

Marshall House Savannah
Just across the street is the restored Marshall House Hotel. Built in 1850’s as Savannah’s first major hotel, it became a Confederate hospital during the Civil War. On the spot originally stood Savannah’s first printing press, and in 1763, the first newspaper, The Georgia Gazette, was published.

Levy Jewelers Savannah
Adjacent to the hotel is the “new” Levy Jewelers, now proudly illuminated. Levy’s has been a fixture in Savannah for generations.

Savannah Lutheran Church
A block or so south and you’ll find the Lutheran church, looking like a wedding cake.

Gordon Monument Savannah
The Gordon Monument in Wright Square replaced a mound that honored Chief Tomochichi.

Dodge Lancer Savannah
This vintage 1960 Dodge Lancer was parked just across from the monument.

Savannah Glass Store
Although most stores on the side streets close before dark, their windows remain inviting destinations all the same.

Old Pink House Cellar
When it’s time to eat, check out the cellar of The Olde Pink House facing one of the squares. You can’t beat the atmosphere, and the food is always memorable.

Between the Ridges in Tryon, North Carolina

Just north of the border between North and South Carolina, is the small town of Tryon. Lately, it’s become the equestrian center for these mountains, and a new “Horse Park” has just been completed in eastern Polk County. It’s an old town with roots back to the Revolutionary times, but it has nurtured a quiet ambiance that is attracting new residents from Atlanta and Columbia. These photos were made while visiting a home just north of Tryon. The location is on a bluff above the Pacolet River

Tryon North Carolina Ridges
To the southwest are three peaks. The one on the left is Piney Mountain on the North Carolina side. The right peak is the taller Melrose Mountain, still in North Carolina. The far distant peak is 3,200 foot Hogback Mountain in South Carolina, and it has a TV tower at its summit for a Spartanburg station.

Tryon Mountain
To the north is Tryon Peak at 3,300 feet, and Miller Mountain at 3,000 feet just to the west of Tryon Peak. Interstate 26 follows this ridge on it’s westward climb through Howard Gap to the Green River Gorge, and over the Eastern Continental Divide.

Hogback Mountain View
How would you like to have this view from your southern windows…

Tryon Peak Windows
…and this view to your north?

Pearsons Falls Torrent
Legendary Pearson’s Falls is just a short 15 minute drive due west of this home.

Hogback Mountain at Sunset
Even at sunset, the ridges are especially magical through the picture window.

August Color along Otter Creek

The corn field along Otter Creek hides its best color underneath the stalks.

Blue Morning Glory
Blue seems to be the rarest color of all…

Pink Morning Glory
The pink is especially vibrant next to the red clay soil.

Otter Creek Red Wildflower
These red wildflowers grow from beneath the water’s surface where the creek is most swift.

Otter Creek Red Flowers

Otter Creek Meadow
This large meadow along the creek seems quite urban after a recent mowing.

Otter Creek Cabin and cattails
A small pond just above the creek reflects a cabin on a high bluff…

Apple Caterpillar
This lone apple on a small tree has a caterpillar guest…

Otter Creel Log Cabin
A new log cabin next to Otter Creek blends in with its surroundings…

Acer Maple at Otter Creek
This Acer Maple tree shows signs of an early autumn along the creek…

Early Autumn Color Along the Blue Ridge

After an unusually cool summer, with many mornings reaching the upper 40’s, the trees and shrubs on the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge are already beginning to display those colors that make this area so popular with tourist in the fall. We’re still two months away from the peak of color along the Blue Ridge Parkway around Grandfather mountain, but you wouldn’t know that by looking at the woods today.

Dogwoods of Summer
Dogwood and other waxy leafed trees are getting a head start on Fall.

Blackberry Leaves
The Blackberries that gave us their fruit for all those cobblers and homemade ice cream now show us the reds and oranges that signal the end of summer.

Tulip Poplar Leaves
The Tulip Poplars are turning yellow already, and fluttering in the breeze of late summer storms.

Waxy Red Leaves

Red Leaves at Sunrise

Morning Sunbeams in North Carolina
The days are getting shorter, and the forest is reacting to the change.

Red Rocks and Red Leaves
Where everything was green a week ago, now color is appearing everywhere you look.

Corn Fields of Montford Cove

Just south of Interstate 40, and ten miles north of picturesque Lake Lure, is a fertile bottomland valley known as Montford Cove. The “Cove” refers to Cove Creek that flows south towards the Broad River east of Lake Lure. Corn and soybeans are the major crops, and Black Angus cattle graze in the expansive pastures.

Montford Cove Corn Fields

From mid August until September, the corn will be ready to harvest.

Long Mountain at Montford Cove
Pinnacle Peak and Long Mountain dominate the southeast horizon.

Montford Cove Hybrid Corn
Most of the corn here is a special hybrid that produces more ears per acre. Because of the heavy August rains this year, it should be a good crop.


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