Saturday, April 12, 2014

The 2014 Annual Commissioner’s Cup BBQ Cook Off and Festival, Columbia, South Carolina

001 140322 Farmers Market Barbeque Contest (18)

(Click all photos for a larger version)

One of the many advantages of living in the South Carolina Midlands is waking up each morning smack dab in the middle of American barbeque culture. With all the State’s barbeque opportunities no more than a three-hour drive away. Of course, some of the best are right here in the Columbia area.

001 140322 Farmers Market Barbeque Contest (1)

Late last month I drove across town to the third annual Agriculture Commissioner’s Cup Barbeque Cook Off and Festival held at the State Farmer’s Market in West Columbia. The festival began Friday night, but I attended only Saturday morning and early afternoon.

001 140322 Farmers Market Barbeque Contest (22)

What an event! Serious barbeque cooks from all over South Carolina gathered in two of the Market’s open-sided buildings, offering samples of their culinary art. Why, there were even a few from other states. Here to study and learn, I suppose….

001 140322 Farmers Market Barbeque Contest (72)

There was still room to park when I arrived. But traffic increased rapidly. Latecomers faced quite a hike from their parked cars to the barbeque displays.

001 140322 Farmers Market Barbeque Contest (74)

All that walking must have increased appetites since barbeque was running low by the afternoon. Click this link to hear Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers explain to WIS-TV how that was handled.

This event wasn’t all barbeque. Cody Webb from Ridge Spring, South Carolina, provided music that went well with barbeque. He’s enjoying some success these days on the country music scene. Well deserved, judging from his performance at the Cook-Off.

Here’s a quick look at some of the contestants and their booths.

(If your browser does not display the video above properly click here to view on YouTube)

When you were full of barbeque ‘n fixins’, there was special popcorn, snow cones, lemonade, corn dogs, and a huge selection of Canebrake Farms’ preserves and fresh fruits and vegetables. That was just the beginning. Kids were running around with brightly painted faces, begging parents for another turn on the jumping pillows. A great family event.

I left the Farmer’s Market around two o’clock and drove back through town along the Charleston Highway, or Route 321. Or 176 or 21, for that matter. Plenty of social and natural scenery throughout. Then, look what came up on the right-hand side of the road? Well! I had to stop.

140409 Piggy Park BBQ (6)

Piggy Park is the first restaurant in which we had dinner upon moving to Columbia from Washington, D.C. Talk about lucky!

140409 Inside

Mr. Bessinger passed away back in February. But the barbeque and fixins’ are as good as they’ve always been. I made a special effort to confirm that. The only difference I noticed was that the display tables inside the restaurant now are devoted exclusively to barbeque and Piggy Park’s signature mustard-based sauce. No political literature in sight.

Piggy Park still serves the barbeque and fixins’ by which I judge all other barbeque. ‘Nuff said.

(If this video doesn’t play properly in your browser, click here for the YouTube version)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Popular Animal Exhibits at the Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, South Carolina


Last week I stopped by Columbia’s Riverbanks Zoo to see their elaborate western lowland gorilla exhibit. Click here for some photos and video.


Animal exhibits at the Riverbanks Zoo, though, are like potato chips. You can’t stop at just one. The elephants, for example, live right next to the gorilla exhibit. Riverbanks is home to four female East African bush elephants. In a comfortable setting that includes a bathing tank.


But elephants are just the beginning. Here are a couple of short videos that provide a glimpse of a few of the more impressive displays. Enjoy.

If the videos embedded above fail to display properly in your browser, click the links below to access them directly from YouTube.

Elephants, Grizzlies, and Lions

Vultures, Hornbills, Flamingos, and Baboons

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Western Lowland Gorillas at Columbia South Carolina’s Riverbanks Zoo

01 Gorilla

Last week I visited Columbia’s remarkable Riverbanks Zoo again. This time to see “Patrick,” a twenty-three-year-old male gorilla who arrived from Dallas late last year. Click here to read the Zoo’s recent press release on his arrival.

In the event, Patrick wasn’t on display. But I did get to spend time watching the Zoo’s three other male western lowland gorillas:  Chaka, Mike, and Ajari. Ajari’s the youngster of the group at only 13, while Chaka, 29, is the dominant male. I think that’s Chaka you see in the photo above.


Two USC anthropology students were observing the gorillas and taking notes when I arrived. Field research for a class project, I suspect. They knew a good bit about gorillas in general, and about these gorillas in particular, and kindly explained what was going on.

Here’s a short video I put together from video clips and photos taken during the visit. These are magnificent animals.

As usual, if the video fails to appear in your browser, click this link to go directly to YouTube where it’s hosted.

It’s impossible to walk more than fifteen feet at the Riverbanks Zoo without snapping photos or recording video. More to come, including elephants, grizzly bears, and lions.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Sunday Afternoon at Columbia South Carolina’s Riverbanks Zoo

03 ride mgr 1

Columbia’s Riverbanks Zoo is another of those must-visit spots in the South Carolina Midlands. Its innovative displays and activities have earned national and international awards for years.

Last Sunday I accompanied our daughter and two of our three grandchildren on one of their frequent Zoo visits. A real treat.


Click the photo above for a better view of the Zoo’s new “Zip the Zoo” zip line canopy tour. And click here to view the Zoo’s zip line promo video. There are two courses. One over the Zoo and one over the nearby Saluda River.

Now, this is a pricey addition. Zoo members have to pay $30 for the Zoo route and $40 for the River route. And even at that price reservations are required. We resisted the temptation, in spite of heavy lobbying from the grandchildren contingent.

Here’s a short video of some of the popular features and exhibits at the Zoo.

Should the video fail to display properly in your browser, click here to go directly to the YouTube iteration.

Just after the elephants and before lunch we visited “Sky-High Safari.” Another relatively new Zoo attraction. I resisted the temptation to climb the exhibit’s carefully arranged ropeways. Watching two grandchildren romping up and down was more than enough cardiovascular exercise for the day. Here’s a video of the event.

Again, if the video embedded above fails to play properly in your browser, click here.

So there you have it. A pleasant Sunday afternoon at Columbia’s Riverbanks Zoo. We’ll be back soon to report on new exhibits. So stay tuned to

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Visit to Camden, South Carolina


Camden is only a stone’s throw from Columbia. Well, a half-hour or so up scenic Route One. I drive through Camden fairly often during travels around the State, but rarely stop. Week before last, Thursday and Friday, I drove over just to have a look around.

Camden is one of those South Carolina towns that decided long ago to become the beneficiary of its history rather than its victim. And it shows.


Thursday I visited the Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site. Click this link to visit their website.


I spent only a couple of hours walking and driving around the grounds. A proper visit will take at least a full day, probably two. Maybe more, to do justice to every exhibit. Somebody’s put a lot of thought and effort into this facility.

IMG_4608You can wander the battlefield -– it’s 107 acres! – any day. Except major holidays, of course. They’ve done it right, with several reconstructed fortifications from the battle, accurately placed and described.



Be sure to take a look at the Craven House, pictured above, which stands near the Park entrance and parking lot. The house was moved from Camden’s Mill Street to its present location in 1970. Look inside to get an idea of how a prosperous accountant in the Camden area might have lived during the late 18th Century. Here’s a short video:

Should the embedded video above fail to display properly in your browser, click here to go directly to the YouTube iteration.

There’s much more to tell about the Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site, but it will have to wait for future programs. The Cunningham House, the McCaa House, and of course, the impressive Joseph Kershaw house all are popular, but only the beginning.


If you hurry you’ll be able to observe a restoration in process. The photo above is from the McCaa House. Historic Camden is restoring the building as a typical 18th century tavern. Drop by soon to have a look at the “nuts and bolts,” so to speak.

Returning home I passed the Palmetto Coffee Shoppe pictured above. It’s right on Broad Street. Downtown Camden’s main drag. This coffee shop is relatively new. In Camden terms, anyway. Phyllis Morris Wainscott opened it only a couple of years ago.

08 hats and chinaThe coffee and pastries were so good my wife and I drove over again on Friday for lunch. Terrific! Well worth the trip. Brent Murray’s in charge of the coffee. Fresh, and locally roasted. He knows what he’s doing, and it makes a difference. This is real coffee.

I’m hoping to persuade Phyllis and Brent to sit for interviews in the near future. So stay tuned. In the meantime, here’s a short video.

As above, click here if your browser doesn’t properly display the video.