Vacation in a Shady Forest

I let my daughter choose our vacation destination this year, and she picked the mountains of southwestern North Carolina.  My wife and I readily agreed to this choice as an escape from the horrible heat of Augusta, Georgia.  On the way we stopped at the Georgia Guide Stones just outside Elberton, Georgia.  40 years ago, a mysterious organization paid to have these monuments erected.  Each stone is inscribed with 10 rules that society should live by.  The rules are written in 9 different languages including English, Spanish, Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Hindi, Russian, and Swahili.  Among my favorite rules are a suggestion that earth’s population should be limited to 500 million people, and more room should be left for nature.  The Guide Stones are located in the middle of a cow pasture not far from soybean and sorghum fields.

The Georgia Guide Stones.

Before we checked into our hotel we visited Whitewater Falls.  It is wheelchair accessible, but I had to push my wife up a steep half-mile incline for her to get a view of the falls.  Bystanders were impressed with my feat of strength.  The woods around the falls consists of maple, tulip, locust, rock chestnut oak, rhododendron, hemlock, and white pine.  Bear foot, a yellow flower with unusually large leaves, was in bloom.

Bear foot also known as leaf cup (Polynmia uvedula)

Whitewater Falls.

We stayed at the Mt. Toxoway Hotel, a mom and pop operation with 8 rooms and maybe half a dozen cottages.  They still use old-fashioned room keys.  Toxoway is the Cherokee Indian word for red bird which in this region could mean either cardinal or tanager.  The air smelled sweet here–the hotel is located in the middle of the woods, though busy route 64 is 30 feet from the rooms.  The traffic does die down between 11 pm and 7 am.  I heard several species of crickets, frogs, tufted titmice (or cardinals imitating tufted titmice), and rufous-sided towhees.

That night we ate at a golf course pub, about the only place open on Sunday in the area.  They serve $14 hamburgers and $6 beers.  We sat on a deck with a nice view of the golf course and nearby mountains.  The view likely explains the inflated prices.  After we finished eating I was ready to pay our bill, and I went looking for the waitress because we were in a hurry to get back to the hotel to watch the season finale of Naked and Afraid XL.  Our waitress wore a mask when she served us, and I saw a woman who might’ve been her, but she was standing behind the bar and not wearing a mask.  I wasn’t sure it was her.  I decided to go behind her to see if I could recognize her ass, but luckily she saw me and took the money, and I didn’t have to resort to that awkward method.

The next morning we visited Gorges State Park.  The trail goes through a shady maple-dominated forest with some shortleaf pine, hickory, and rhododendron.  Maple is a shade-tolerant tree, but oak is not, and I think I saw just 1 oak tree.  Some areas of the forest are really dark, even during the middle of the day.  I could smell a skunk that walked along the trail, probably a few hours earlier, but I saw no wildlife, other than an horsefly that kept biting me whenever I stopped to take a photo.  There were lots of people on the trail.  We walked for an hour but didn’t quite make it to Rainbow Falls before we experienced a lightning storm.  It rained all afternoon, and I stayed in the hotel room and read a fictional biography of Sherlock Holmes.

Patch of Ferns in Gorges State Park.

View of the Gorge in Gorges State Park.

Moss-covered boulder.

We went to eat supper at a pub with more reasonable prices than the establishment we patronized the previous night.  The pub is named the Ugly Dog Cafe` in honor of their signature chili dog topped with cheese and jalapenos.  I ate a gyro, my daughter had a salmon BLT, and my wife enjoyed a portobello mushroom sandwich.  We slept good that night because it was nice and cool.  The temperature dropped to below 60–20 degrees cooler than Augusta mornings during summer.

On the way back home we stopped to take a stroll through part of Clemson Experimental Forest.  The University purchased worn out farmland decades ago, and the woods have grown back.  The trail we followed went through an open woods of shortleaf pine.  Somebody planted pawpaw trees by the sides of the trail, and 1 specimen was 20 feet tall, but none bore fruit.  A powerline right of way was a welcome respite from the shady forest we hiked through the day before.  I saw a couple deer here.  I prefer rural piedmont fields and woods over shady mountain forests.  They host a greater variety of landscapes and hold more wildlife too.  On the road we passed farms where bison, longhorn cattle, Brahma bulls, horses, and goats were pastured.  Seeing a beautiful black bison in South Carolina was the biggest surprise of the trip.

Trail in Clemson Experimental Forest.

Look how red the soil is at Clemson Experimental Forest.  Farming eroded all of the top soil at this site decades ago.

Butterfly Pea. Legumes grow well on poor soils.

Power line right of way at Clemson Experimental Forest.  I prefer the mix of fields and woods in the piedmont over shady mountain forests.



2 Responses to “Vacation in a Shady Forest”

  1. Benjamin Klass Says:

    I find it fascinating how bison and horses are farmed in these open areas. Reminds me of game farms in South Africa. At least humans take care of megafauna when they benefit us (yes I know a bit selfish, but its something).

  2. Ina Puustinen Says:

    A beautiful ‘sketching’..of a family and in memory. Thank you, ina

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