Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Edisto Island. Part II. The Shell Mound

Click here to view Part I of this series

Well, there’s no getting around it. Edisto Beach State Park has been downright chilly during this trip. Even cold at night. Down in the mid-20s. And only up to the mid-40s in the afternoon. Still, with a cloudless sky and little wind it’s been comfortable out and around.

Good news! Edisto Island State Park now has WiFi access. Hooray! The router doesn’t reach the campsites. But the signal is strong in and around the office. Progress! This, combined with the excellent connection at the Edisto Bookstore, makes WiFi access while enjoying Edisto a snap.

Today I awoke bound and determined to see Edisto Island’s celebrated Indian Shell Mound. An important archeological site at least 4,000 years old. Right here in the Park! During previous visits to Edisto I wasn’t up to making the hike. Scared off by the Park’s trail map, which describes the “Spanish Mount Trail” as 1.7 miles from start to finish. And there was so much else to see.

Interpretive Center This time I stopped off at the Interpretive Center to ask about a shorter route. I’ve written about this remarkable Interpretive Center in past posts. You can see the front of their facility in the photo above. The rest of the building is just as impressive. As are the many exhibits and programs they offer. For adults and for children.

Map As hoped, the folks at the Interpretive Center did have a suggestion. As you see in the photo of the trail map above, the full “Spanish Mount Trail” is 1.7 miles from beginning to end. But ElderHikers, like me, can easily walk to the Mound by driving to the Park’s boat ramp on Big Bay Creek. There picking up the “Big Bay Trail.” It runs from the Interpretive Center to the Mound, and is only 0.4 miles overall.

Boat RampI paddled the Expedition inflatable kayak up Big Bay Creek from this boat ramp during an earlier visit. Watch out for oyster beds coming and going if you’re paddling an inflatable here! They’re sharp as the dickens, and downright hostile to the hulls of inflatable kayaks. Also take notice of the tides. The current can be quite strong in this area. Really, there are many better kayak put-in sites around Edisto. Especially for ElderKayakers.

Trail In 1Like all of the Park’s trails, this one is smooth and well maintained. From start to finish its surface looks very much like what you see in the photo above. More of a path, or even a road, than a trail. These trails don’t maintain themselves! The Park folks wage a constant battle against the forest, which struggles to reclaim this encroachment on their environment.

Lowland Forest Beside TrailPark personnel also maintain the forest on each side of the trails. Here you can see an excellent example of Lowcountry woods. Look at the variety of trees and vegetation. It’s remarkable! Very different from other parts of the State.

This trail is an ideal place to view Lowcountry forest up close. Especially for those of us no longer as mobile as we once were.

Throughout this post I’ve presented these trails as more of an inconvenience than an opportunity. That’s really not fair. Walking here is a treat in itself. Especially during these cool months. Even for ElderHikers! So take your time to enjoy the walk.

Fork in Trail After only a few minutes of easy walking, this “Big Bay Trail” meets the aforementioned Indian Mount Trail. Turn right here toward the Mound. You’re almost there.

Midden Above In just a few more minutes you will reach the site of the Mound itself. Take your time, though, and enjoy the diversity of natural scenery along this part of the path. Look at the size of some of those trees! If you stop for a while and stand quietly you may catch sight of deer moving quietly through the woods. Or other animals.

Steps to Viewing Platform After decades of erosion and neglect, the Park Service in 2005 received a grant that allowed them to build a sturdy viewing platform and take other erosion prevention measures on this important site.

Midden Before Preserv Here’s an earlier photo of the Mound from the water, prior to the preservation work. Taken from the site information board. Even at the late date of this photo there was much more of the Mound than there is today.

The Mound, according to the information board at the top of the viewing platform, is 4,000 years old. Maybe older, according to some other sources. It appears to be a “midden,” or trash heap.

Midden CloseupComposed of shells and bones: oysters, fish, game animals, and turtles. Here’s a close-up I took from the viewing platform.

But what a trash heap! It had to have been more than that. Robert Sanford, an English explorer, wrote in the mid-17th century that the site was “… discernable a good way to Sea.”

Later observers have suggested that it may have been used for ceremonial purposes. Like other pre-Columbian mounds in the Southeast and up the Mississippi Valley. That hypothesis makes more sense to me than a simple trash heap.

Think about it! At some point, it simply isn’t worth your time to carry shells, bones and other trash clear to the top of a large mound! There has to be more of the story. And what a story it would be. I hope archeological work continues on the site.

Viewing Platform Here’s a photo of the viewing platform taken from the bottom of the steps pictured above. It’s solid as a rock, and provides a close-up view of the shells that make up the bulk of the Mound. Resist the temptation here to reach over to touch the shells. The whole site is incredibly fragile. And important.

Path Back The walk back through this quiet forest is just as enjoyable as the walk in. Be sure to remember to turn left at the “Big Bay Trail,” though, or you’ll end up a good ways from your car.

Track And look here! I’m not the only traveler on this trail. Another recent visitor. Probably watching me from a distance as I walked along thinking about the earlier inhabitants of this area who created that mound of shells and bones.

Click here for Part III

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