Charleston, South Carolina
James Island Park Campground: A lovely facility to stay in – quiet, safe, and less than 15-minutes from downtown Charleston. There is a home for seniors right next door so each morning we would wake up to many older folk out for morning walks. Our campsite (in the “primitive” camping area) was right beside a climbing wall, so we’d also hear the vocalized joy of young children trying to make it to the top. By the way, “primitive” campsites are how tent spots without a water spouts or electricity are described. We just think of it as regular camping.
Walking in Charleston: A very nice downtown core to walk around. We admired the architecture, gardens, and various ocean vistas that presented themselves. However, Charleston has one of the darker histories of slavery as 40-60% of stolen African peoples arrived at the Charleston ports. Walking in Charleston, it is clear that the white settler population profited from the history of colonial violence and slavery, and still do. As with much of the south (and much of the world) white wealth and black poverty remain entrenched. It was also interesting to listen in to some of the walking tour guides who consistently glossed over historical responsibility and presented “facts” rife with revisionism. The American South is beautiful, but it’s also a place that would rather deny than recognize and reconcile its past.
Charleston Music Hall: We decided to celebrate one week on the road by stopping at the Charleston Music Hall to see “Women and Young”. Part of a new series, the evening featured almost a dozen local female artists performing the works on Neil Young. It was absolutely fantastic, and unlike many concert venues the acoustics were fabulous.
Bonus: Kudu coffee shop (which had a patio and beer) and Black Tap coffee shop (which did not), the Ashley River Road Scenic Byway, the West Hudson Laundry in Folly’s Beach (probably the most relaxed, clean, and adorable laundromat we’ll come across), walking along the Folly’s Beach pier with a beer. The trees, oh the trees.
The Sentient Bean: A wonderful café in mid-town that seemed to be a hub for progressive community organizing. The food was fantastic as was the beer.
Walking in Savannah: Like Charleston, Savannah was a wonderful city to walk around. There were parks everywhere with beautiful trees, and small shops abounded. The drivers were unbelievably polite and always stopped for pedestrians. Seriously, I have never had so many cars (who so clearly had the right of way) stop to let us cross the road. And, unlike Charleston, there were actually a few bookstores to visit. The vibe in Savannah was relaxed, kind, and they actually had punk kids here.
Bonus: The ridiculously well-organized River’s End Campground and RV Park (while not the most scenic, they have a staff who drive around in golf carts delivering firewood and doing anything they can to help), Integrity Auto Repair (had to take van in for regular maintenance and these folks were great), the hidden big box stores (they’re there, but concealed behind walls of trees), Leopold’s Ice Cream (founded by Greek immigrant brothers in the early 1900’s and it still had the original layout, phone booth, and counter), and Fort Frederica National Monument (an old British fort and national historic site down the coast).
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia
While the main entrance to Okefenokee is on the east side of the Refuge, you can’t camp there so we drove around to the West side where the Stephen C. Foster State Park is located within the Refuge. Getting there meant driving by a giant landfill, losing mobile phone reception about 45 minutes before we got to the park, and driving 30 km up a dead-end road to the campsite.
There wasn’t a lot in the way of hiking (because the Park is basically an island in the middle of the swamp) but we loved the hikes we did do, the boat tour we went on, and our super-knowledgable and enthusiastic tour guide Sarah. If we had more time, we would have rented a canoe or kayaks and paddled the many kilometers of waterway accessible from the camp.
We saw loads of wildlife, including three deer who milled about the island with us, raccoons, squirrels, turtles, a water snake, alligators, hawks, and lots and lots of different types of birds (I won’t list them all here but they were big and awesome).
We had a really great time in Okefenokee. It’s the first place we stopped where we really wish we could have stayed longer. For more on the swamp read Taking Refuge in Nature.
St. Augustine, Florida (the oldest town in North America)
Castillo de san Marcos National Monument: We had picked up an annual national parks pass in Okefenokee, so we decided that we should take every opportunity to learn more about some of the parks and historic sites in the U.S.. Castillo de san Marcos is an old Spanish fortress (construction started in the 1600s) and is in remarkable condition. The cool thing we learned about the fortress and other buildings of the time down this end of the country is that they are all built out of either coquina (a naturally occurring rock composed of shells) or tabby, a cement made from shells. And when you get close, you can make out the hundreds of millions of thousands (etc.) of shells.
Washington Oaks Gardens State Park: A piece of land that extends from the Matanzas River to the Atlantic Ocean, this park was remarkable and offered a lot to do. First, we went on a long hike through the beautiful coastal forest, also referred to as the hammock. The trail criss-crosses the old coastal highway, which now exists in the Park as a kind of ghost highway. The Park was previously owned by the estate of Owen D. Young and so several buildings and his wife’s ornate gardens have been kept intact. The grounds were really lovely to walk through with a small fenced off rose garden, a water garden, citrus trees, and one absolutely stunning oak tree. Finally, across the highway on the coast is a really unique formation of rocks, sitting half-burried in the sand, they aren’t typical of the Florida coast and are speckled with perfectly circular holes in which salt water from the waves and tides sit peacefully.
While we’ve been to a few places we probably wouldn’t go again, none seemed worth mentioning. But, as requested, this week we present one miss:
The Kennedy Space Center: We were probably lucky to arrive at the Space Center on the morning of a windy and rainy day, but it still took 45 minutes to get from the parking lot through the front gates and onto the tour bus. The tour was interesting insomuch as we got to see (through the windows of a bus) the sites of so many historic events including the giant Vehicle Assembly Building, the launch pads used for most of the Apollo and Space Shuttle missions (both of which are currently being converted for use by NASA and SpaceX), and the giant crawler that transports the rockets back and forth. We also got to see a real Saturn V rocket (it’s huge), touch a moon rock (kinda gross because everyone touches it), and see the Space Shuttle Atlantis (very impressive).
Unfortunately, we were also inundated with a lot of propaganda about the colonization of space (humanity’s right to the universe), and the pride and glory of the American accomplishments in space. Though expected, some of the airtime could have been spent providing more information about the science behind all the advancements made in space travel (we learned nothing) and perhaps some discussion of the importance of space travel to science and not just as an “America’s destiny”. But, in the end the real reason this was a miss was the cost $10 for parking plus $50 per person for admission meant the visit cost us $110 USD or $163 CAD! Way to much money for what we ended up experiencing. The tickets note that the center receives no government support … maybe it’s time for the government to step up.