More than a Swamp
Not all National Parks are created equal. There’s the Grand Canyon and then there’s a swamp in the middle of South Carolina. To be fair, the fact that there are 11,000 protected acres in the middle of South Carolina is a miracle since most of the eastern seaboard land got used up by development. Congaree National Park was created in the 70’s in a fit of environmental passion.
Mother Nature made her best effort to protect the Congaree Swamp from big bad loggers by flooding it every year, allowing the last groves of giant old-growth Bald Cypress and Loblolly Pine to tower over the swampy basin of the Congaree river today.
The Rainy Season
In a steady downpour, we traversed the Boardwalk Loop Trail, 3/10 of a mile from the Harry Hampton Visitor Center and 2.4 miles around through the floodplain. Segments of the trail were marked Do Not Enter as flooding causes unsafe conditions for walkers. Longtime readers know that we are not often deterred by scenery blocking signs.
The boardwalk winds through several different habitats and a few feet of elevation change is the difference between dry walking and wet slogging. The Ranger had a good laugh when we asked about the Congaree River Trail – “What are you gonna do? Swim it?” she asked. With the rain coming harder, water shin deep and getting deeper, we pressed on hoping not to get schnoodled in a washout. Debris fields indicated that the high water mark was some three feet higher so we scurried along passing a wild Momma boar moving her brood of eight to higher ground.
At the end of the hike we were soaked and cold but that’s the spirit of adventure. You play the cards you’re dealt. While this visit wasn’t a flush, it wasn’t a fold either. We were the two solitary boardwalk hikers in our 2 hour visit. Most of the tourist action stayed in the Visitor Center, just where we wanted them to be.
Camping Near Columbia
Since Congaree only offers tent camping, we stayed 30 miles northwest at Sesquicentennial State Park, which is 11 miles from Columbia, SC’s state capitol. It happened to be the first Thursday in March which meant First Thursday on Main festivities, so we headed downtown to check out the capitol and 6 blocks of art and eat activities.
Columbia the Palmetto State Capitol
Starting at the Capitol building where SC legislators passed a landmark education bill earlier in the day, we walked through the House and Senate chambers then headed underground to The Whig for a celebratory Columbia Lager in the Trophy Room.
It might have been the rain, the cold or the Coronavirus that kept people inside on this first Thursday cause nothing was happening anywhere except the Columbia Museum of Art where free admission, a community organizer happy hour and the exhibit It’s Alive drew a respectable crowd.
Horror Movie Classic Art
It’s Alive is Classic Horror and Sci-Fi Art from the Kirk Hammett collection. While Sheri was checking in to get the free admission sticker, Eric was reading the Wikipage on Kirk Hammett. Hammett is lead guitarist for heavy metal band Metallica and, coincidentally, the guy standing in front of us, literally.
We followed Kirk and a few camera people into the exhibit where he explained what each piece of Horror Movie Art meant to him. A crowd of groupies began to gather which is probably par for the course if you are a rock star. Kirk showed us his posters, paintings, toys, mannequins and guitars that he had manufactured with replica art from his collection. For ten minutes or so we played Metallica groupie, shooting photos, and hanging on his every word. We hoped he did not ask us our favorite Metallica song. Well, we knew that Enter Sandman one, but after that it was going to be awkward silence.
A flooded swamp and a mostly rained out First Night downtown event were all we had to show for the day. Alternatively, we shared the beautiful soundscape of a downpour among 200 foot old-growth Bald Cypress with a wild boar, and met a rock star who showed us his guitar collection. Life is as good or bad as you think it is.