Swamps dominate this region of the South.
Once the ride was over, we did a little shopping in the marketplace, then returned to the car to drive on; this time we went via Route 17 over the massive cable bridge over the river to enter South Carolina; This is a cultural corridor, with all the signs of local culture; the first thing you see is a gentlemen’s club with live entertainment. Shortly after that is a billboard advertising a fully automatic shooting range. Then the cap it all off, there is a billboard advertising hospital services for those who did not fare well at the first two cultural establishments.
Driving on to Charleston seemed to take longer, but we made it just before sunset, so we could see the bridge to Mt. Pleasant.
The road to Savannah
We awoke with the area in such a thick fog that even the bridge was invisible as we drove back across it through Charleston. It cleared up into a half decent day, despite the best forecasts from the weathermen – who predict a blizzard in New England this week. Honestly…
Driving the highways here is a monotonous task, with it hemmed in by trees, with the occasional open swamp here and there.
Our first stop was the Eighth Air Force Museum in Pooler Georgia – it is parallel to Savannah on Route 95, and I had not bothered to explore those possibilities. But Trixie’s boy called on the phone and suggested it – and he wanted a challenge coin from it. So in we went.
Like many of the great American Cities founded before independence, Charleston is ringed with fortifications large and small. Fort Sumter stands tall amongst them. Others have been forgotten, and have vanished to the rush of tides and time, reclaimed by nature or buried by progress. We passed one of the smaller forts on the tour, Castle Pickney, an overlooked and abandoned site that nature is slowly reclaiming. And to the north edge of the harbor, Fort Moultrie stands out on its point. To the south, nature has all but swallowed up Civil War sites that were used to bombard the city.
Fort Sumter, is much further out, and much lower than one would suppose – it was originally three stories tall, an impressive shield-type island fort that was a sight to behold. After the sieges, the upper decks were shot away, and the stumpy ruin was halfheartedly rebuilt, measuring 25 feet tops, as opposed to the former 55 feet. Adding to the decrepitude of the ruin is the massive black bunker in the heart of the old parade grounds – a relic from the Endicott era of coastal refortification, a massive concrete block laid down on what some might call hallowed ground.
We got off the boat and went into the fort, past the curious black and white birds that populate the area. Inside, the ruins cling onto life, the damp salt air and the sinking man-made island slowly degrading them. Mum and Trixie listened intently to the ranger as Pops explored within earshot, examining the lazily leaning wall on one side in former magazines that were now open to the air above. Only the lower deck – the parade grounds – is really intact, and in some ways bears a striking resemblance to the Coliseum in Rome from its fragmentary survival.
Church Spires of Charleston, South Carolina
The boat, Spirit of the Low Country was a three decked tour boat, made up to look like a side wheel paddle wheeler; the façade of the wheels hid stairs to the upper level, and it was propelled by screws. Mom and Trixie settled down in the aft of the mid-deck cabin, which was the deck we got on the ship from the dock. I would circulate from side to side, taking tons of photos during the two and a half hour tour.
The boat left the dock and followed the city’s eastern coastline, providing splendid views of the more developed areas – the warehouses and the cruise line dock – before reaching the older part of the city, out at the point. Charleston Harbor is vast, and the audio tour indicated it was one of the five largest ports in the United States, and one of the two largest on the East Coast. Having seen Miami, Norfolk, and New York, I am not so sure about that – but in New York’s case – and Philadelphia – it may be that the ‘port’ is fragmented beyond the city proper, and hence does not count in their way of considering things.
We eventually had to stop and refill the car, but nice filling stations seem to be few and far between here. But we did find one. Presumably a prosperous town lies nearby, because the gas station attendant was busy locking up and rolling down steel shudders that would have been about adequate to keep the walking dead at bay. Yes, North Carolina was shaping up to be everything Pops had heard it was.
We made it out of that state and into South Carolina under the cloak of darkness – and the entertainment of “Captain’s Duty” – an audio book by Captain Phillips, who had been seized by Somali Pirates in 2010, and was rescued by Navy Seals.
Approach Charleston at night, and you won’t see the city – its too dark, and low. You will see the highways, which snake around like they were laid out by a kid gone crazy with a hot wheel stunt set. Luckily, we found out way across the bridge to Mount Pleasant, and to the hotel – far too late for Trixie’s tastes, but the room was quiet, clean, and when you’re tired, that’s all that really counts.
Sunset seen from I-95 in the Carolinas
If you look at I-95 on a map, you will be astonished at how few historic places there are – or other points of interest once you get south of Richmond, Virginia.
Pops had imagined it would be mostly farmland, with the odd town here and there. In fact, it was mostly swampland, transversed by mostly elevated highways, girded in by tall pine trees, and offered more desolation and isolation than the heart of Utah or Wyoming. Perhaps it was the tunnel vision, blocking out views of anything for mile after mile, just monotonous trees, and the same collection of cars zooming along with you. The still bare bushes revealed stagnant black water, pooling in vile oily streaks, trying to drown pine forests, and creep up the road. Here and there, trees had topping into the ludicrously small grassy area – indeed, there were no breakdown lanes to note, not like it was in the north or west.
North Carolina took a painfully long time to pass through, and we were helped in part with the passage by a call from Trixie’s boy on the phone, a little bummed out with school. Mum had a fine chat with him, and filled us in as we approached a spot he had identified as “South of the Border” a chaotic attempt to create a theme park with a Mexican mascot and the sort of things that would attract any sensory-deprived Southerner to its doors, with offers of fireworks, tobacco, and other amusements of note.
The Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Walnut Grove
After returning to the gift shop, we get back on track, and drive to Walnut Grove.
Compared to the prior two shrines to Laura Ingalls, this is like comparing a flute to a brass band. The highlight of the collection aside from a few articles of Laura’s that are set aside like a saint’s relics are items from the television show that raised the book series to an American legend. The rest of the collection are period pieces from the time of the Ingalls, and when you have seen one vintage cookstove, washtub or quilt-covered bedstead, you have really seen them all.
The tiny village outside and other exhibits are really more geared for younger children, which is fine – kids need a place to learn about local history too.