We continue our travels through the Southeast U.S. by heading to a state we had never stayed in with our 36LA – South Carolina. We skirt it every time we head up north using I-85, but it's 106 miles of highway we use as a corridor to get from Georgia to North Carolina and beyond, and one of the cheapest places to get gas in the country. Due to low gas taxes, South Carolina gas is usually between $.10 and $.15 cents cheaper than Georgia, so we always fill-up at a Flying J off the north most exit on I-85 before heading into North Carolina when going to New England.
This time, however, we weren't heading north, but south to Charleston, SC. It will be a first-time visit for both Barbara and I, and a destination we had always wanted to see since moving to the Atlanta area nearly 30 years ago. Barbara had almost made it there back in the mid-2000's when I was a county commissioner in Forsyth County, GA. Each year, commissioners were invited to the ACCG – the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia – annual meeting in Savannah, GA. A few days of sometimes informative meetings (and many times not), some wining and dining, and a bit of sightseeing took up 4 days each early Spring. As was usually the case, while I was in meetings, Barbara did some sightseeing on her own. After a couple of years, things got a bit repetitive in Savannah, so she figured she might try a day trip to Charleston, SC one day – until she saw that it would be an over 2 hour drive just to get there. Not wanting to spend 5 hours in a car for a day trip, Charleston was put on hold.
But we're retired now, and since we take our home everywhere we go, driving times don't really matter anymore.
We made reservations at Lake Aire RV Park, which was listed as being located in both Hollywood and Charleston; either way, it was west of the city right off of SR17, which made it a pretty straight shot into the city proper after about a 30 minute drive. The park is set off in the woods, with gravel roads and lots. They have a small pond for catch and release fishing, and a small pool and pavilion on site. A bit expensive for what you're getting in amenities at just over $50 a night, but being only 30 minutes away from Charleston and surrounded by golf courses, it's not excessive. Power and water pressure were both good. Biggest gripe we had was they had some serious puddles and depressions to fill in on their roads after recent rains, and they didn't address them while we were there the entire week.
On our way there, we had what is becoming an all-too-familiar experience when driving this 38-foot long, 13-foot high and 9-foot wide behemoth down the road. We're convinced that we're either completely invisible to most normal car traffic, or that some people simply don't want to ever get behind a large RV to the point where they do some incredibly stupid things to avoid that happening. Note the two jerks at the beginning of this short video below. They rush to pull out in front of us, yet both get into our lane in order to reverse course on the route we're on. In their haste, they need to BOTH turn off into a median, forgetting that I can't exactly stop on a dime in this 13-ton motor home. The idiot in the white car almost rear ended the smaller car in front of him trying to get out of the lane and nearly didn't get off the road fast enough for me to avoid putting his trunk into his front seat!
Charleston itself is a very pretty city which has kept it's early American charm in it's downtown area. Homes and businesses easily 150-200 years old are the norm, and restaurants retain a South Carolina-specific Southern charm and menu offerings. There is a serious focus on grits down here, which to this New England couple still remains a mystery as to it's popularity. Flounder, shrimp, crab and chicken dishes dominate the menus in most restaurants. And grits. Always grits.
Our first foray downtown was strictly sightseeing. Charleston is a very easy city in which to walk around, and the temperatures were mild, even with the ever-present wind coming onshore. After finding a nearby parking garage, our first stop was City Market. Nice place to pick up some trinkets commemorating your visit to Charleston, but the woven Palmetto baskets, while beautifully crafted, were outrageously expensive. Having managed to keep a good deal of our spending money from changing hands, we headed closer to the shoreline to the Joe Riley Waterfront Park; a familiar tourist destination featuring the famous Pineapple Fountain and beautiful tree-covered walkways.
Curling our way around the southern tip of the waterfront, we stopped on Rainbow Row, a section of town where every row house is painted a different color of the rainbow. We did not have time (nor was the weather particularly conducive that day) to take one of Charleston's famous horse-drawn carriage tours, but knowing we'll be back again we were OK with putting that off for now. A quick lunch and our first day was over.
Our second day ended up being a COVID related disappointment. Our intent was to tour Ft. Moultrie on the other side of the Cooper River, so we headed up and over the beautiful Arthur Ravenel Bridge towards Mount Pleasant. The bridge is the third-longest cable-stayed bridge in the Western Hemisphere at 13,200 feet and features a main span of 1,465 feet. It is apparently also a destination for fitness buffs, as there is a good sized walking/running path along the entire span which was populated both days we used it.
Mount Pleasant is a quaint, but large town with some interesting history. The Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley was launched from an inlet nearby, becoming the first submarine in history to sink another vessel when they blew up the U.S.S. Housatonic in 1864. Edgar Allan Poe also spent some time on Sullivan's Island in 1827, and many of his mysteries are based on that area. It was this part of history that had attracted us to Ft. Moultrie.
We expected the Visitor's Center to be closed due to COVID, but did not expect the actual fort to be closed and locked. It's a small fort, and there are no guided tours. It has an interesting history in that it was built and rebuilt 3 distinct times. One version only lasted 6 years, when it was destroyed by a hurricane in 1804. Still, it played a small part in the Civil War, and we were hoping to walk it's walls and corridors. Alas, it was not meant to be. We were able to walk the grounds, and found a small pathway down to a very dangerous beach. Obviously, I did NOT stick my feet into the water with their warning sign, but people who know me know I was sorely tempted to. But what's up with that $1,040 fine? Why not an even $1,000 or even $1,500? Who comes up with a $1,040 fine?
On the drive back to our campground, we took a detour to see the famous Angel Tree. Nothing else needs be said except that it is a magnificent sight to behold.
At least the next day bore more tourist fruit. We had a reservation for a harbor cruise to Ft. Sumter, and that one still allowed for tours. Heading back over the Ravenel Bridge to Patriots Point, we get there the prescribed 30 minutes before the cruise was to leave. Come to find out that the 30 minute early arrival was if you had to purchase tickets on-site. Since we had taken care of all that online the previous day, we had a half hour to kill. The cruise left right on time, traveling under the flight deck of the U.S.S. Lexington, which is permanently berthed in Charleston.
Our boat passed Castle Pinckney, a small spit of land barely above high tide in the center of the harbor. Neither castle nor fort, it has an unremarkable history of fortification, storehouse, prisoner of war housing during the early Civil War, and finally – abandonment. Attempts to restore it as an historical site or commercial venture have all failed, and it is gradually being reclaimed by nature via disuse.
Another 20 minutes brought us to the dock at Ft. Sumter. It also has an interesting history, being the site of the first engagement of the Civil War (or as Southerners refer to it – the War of Norther Aggression), but as a fixed fortification it neither excelled at it's intended purpose, nor did it fail miserably. It was quickly abandoned by Union forces shortly after the war began, and in Confederate hands managed to hold off a poorly planned and even more poorly executed assault by Union gunboats and ironclads later in the war. But as the war raged on, it became little more than a fixed target for Union cannon, which reduced it's once four-story height in half. Nevertheless, it's still an impressive sight, made even more so by a sandbar which reveals itself during low tide. People can kayak to the sandbar, which allows them an up close look at the fort; even to the point where you could conceivable walk to the island (even if you're not allowed to by park rangers). The hour walking tour complete, we enjoy the 30-minute cruise back to the dock and a trip through the obligatory gift shop on site.
Our final day in Charleston was with friends Chris and Abby for a downtown brunch at Virginia's on King Street. Lot's of crab cakes, eggs, and smoked meat products were consumed in a fine southern setting. We then toured some more of Charleston's downtown with them, and brought them back to our campsite to show off our motor home.
But Thanksgiving and Jace time beckoned us back to Georgia, and a trip back to Red Bay for body damage repairs is in our December future.
We're Dave and Barbara Richard, and we're living the ultimate retirement experience - traveling the U.S. and Canada in style in a Tiffin Open Road 36LA Class A motor home, playing golf and stopping at every weird and wacky roadside attraction we can find.