Saturday, March 28, 2009

Kayaking on Lake Keowee at Keowee-Toxaway State Park, SC

Click here for the first post in this series.

To enjoy direct access to Lake Keowee from Keowee-Toxaway State Natural area you must rent the lakeside cabin I mentioned a few posts back. We RVers and tent campers have to travel a few miles to reach one of the Lake’s several public access boat ramps. Be sure to go, though, even if you don’t have a boat with you. The scenery there is worth the trip.

On Wednesday, the 11th, I checked the Advanced Elements Expedition inflatable kayak in the back seat of the car, and headed for Crowe Creek Landing. It’s just over four miles from the Park, about halfway down on the eastern shore of the Lake. It’s a great drive, down Crowe Creek Road. Known less poetically as Route 133. Meandering through typical foothills country. By late morning on Wednesday, weather was perfect for a paddle. Overcast sunshine, with temperatures hovering around 80 degrees. And just enough wind to keep the voyage interesting.

[Click each photo for larger version]

This Lake Keowee landing, like many of the others, was built and is maintained by Duke Power. The folks responsible for the lake. They keep it in good order. Few signs of wear or vandalism. At least, on the days I visited. The newly blacktopped road in from Route 133, with its bright yellow double center line suggests recent attention to the facility. At the top of the hill leading to the ramps, there are plenty of elongated parking spaces for trucks pulling boat trailers. And even a two-door privy! Down at the water’s edge, the landing boasts two solid boat ramps and a nice floating dock. All maintained in tip-top condition. The ramps appear to be substantial enough to accept most any size boat that could be comfortably trailered.

Having scouted out the area the day before, I drove straight down to the concrete turn-around you see in the photo above. Two teenagers sat out on the end of the dock enjoying the sun. As I unloaded and began to inflate the kayak, the young man walked back to ask if I needed any help. I didn’t. But it was a nice gesture. Characteristic of folks living here. He watched with interest and answered questions about the area as I prepared the Expedition for launch. Though he balked at the suggestion of a photo! In twenty minutes or so, all safety and paddling equipment was stored in the boat.

But I’d forgotten the water bottle! A foolish mistake. One that for a longer paddle would have been a trip-breaker. Plenty of snacks, but no water! The bottle was on back the Aliner table, right where I’d left it. Live and learn.

Speaking of water, I mentioned before how clear the water is in Lake Keowee. Here’s a photo taken right near the ramp. From a distance it appears to be blue. Might be drinkable. But I didn’t take a chance.

It seemed wise to bring along the collapsible kayak cart. In case of unanticipated take-out on another part of the lake. So I strapped the Expedition to the cart, and headed for the ramp. The young man who so kindly offered to help with the preparations watched the whole procedure out of the corner of his eye from his perch at the end of the dock. Trying to be inconspicuous. I’m sure he doubted that an elderly kayaker wannabe would be able to launch that big yellow boat without mishap. And he was ready to spring to the rescue!

As usual, the launch was easy; without mishap. No unanticipated dunking. Though I’m always prepared for one, with everything in the kayak tied down and dunk-ready. And me always wearing a good life jacket. Or PFD (personal flotation device) as the boating people now call them. [Don’t even mention “Mae West” these days …] Aided, in part, by the gradual slope of the concrete ramp out into the water.

I’ve been paddling a kayak now for only a year. So it’s still a thrill to glide out quietly from the shore into interesting territory. The rhythmic swish of the paddles and that soft gurgle of the bow slicing through the water adds to the sense of peaceful excitement. If there is such a thing as peaceful excitement! I’ve got nothing against power boats. But can’t imagine one providing this sense of serenity or accomplishment

Oh, and speaking of power boats, there are quite a few of them on Lake Keowee. Certainly outnumbering kayaks and canoes. Some quite large. Others smaller two-person fishing boats with small sputtery outboard motors. A number of them zoomed by my kayak during this paddle. Yet every one slowed upon seeing me to reduce the force of their wake. I’m sure there will be exceptions. But such courtesy in my experience is common on South Carolina’s lakes and rivers. Nice to see.

Development along the shores of Lake Keowee is quite spectacular. Maybe I just selected a special part of the Lake. But the “cottages” pictured below were not at all unusual. Enormous houses! On large, beautifully landscaped lots. Quite a sight from the water.

Many of them were built around or near golf courses. I never saw so much territory devoted to golf courses in one place. I’m not a golfer. But these all looked nice.

Paddling along the eastern shore of the Lake, admiring all of the fancy houses and golf courses, I was delighted to find at least one community with a somewhat different character. It was on a point of land extending out into the lake. Beautifully situated. No golf course in view there!

A wind of about 10 miles per hour blew fairly steadily from the northeast. Enough to provide a cooling breeze. I’d paddled directly into it, knowing the return trip would be easier on the paddler than the trip out. About three-quarters of a mile along the wind intensified. So at a narrow spot, I crossed over to the other side of the Lake for some protection. It helped. And before long I found an inviting sandy beach that looked ideal for a rest stop and a snack. No water to wash it down, now. Just the snack. It’s remarkable how far out one can see through this clear water.

The trip down the lake and back to the boat ramp was even more pleasant than the trip up. In part because the wind was at my back, making paddling much easier. But also because of the stunning view of the mountains in the distance throughout the paddle.

All too soon I was back at the Crowe Creek boat ramp. It would have been nice to continue the paddle past the landing, and explore further down the lake. But by then the wind had picked up a bit more, and there was a hint of rain in the distance. Better not to take the chance.

So, after only a short detour, I paddled back into the ramp to haul out the boat. Again, the gradual slope of the concrete ramp made for a dry and simple landing. The teenagers were gone by then. Replaced by a couple of fishermen. They were standing on the landing, casting up under the floating dock. Of course, I stopped to ask what they were doing. “Fishing for bait!” Small brim, they said, hide under the dock. They’re easy to catch, they said, and make ideal bait for larger fish. Learn something every day! These fishermen too turned out to be lifetime residents of the area. In response to my questions they provided interesting background on local developments.

The whole paddle, according to the GPS, lasted only an hour and 45 minutes, for 3.43 miles. It seemed longer. Not from tiredness. But from the diversity of interesting scenery visible from the kayak. I’m eager to return to Crowe Creek Landing. And to try some of the other public boat landings on Lake Keowee.

Speaking of inflatable kayaks, those of you who find such craft interesting should visit the Inflatable Kayaking in B.C. blog. As the name suggests, it’s hosted from British Columbia. Beautiful photos and all sorts of advice on kayaking successfully with inflatable boats. Steven’s owned a number of different inflatable models from different manufacturers, and knows what he’s talking about. Enjoy.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

"The Market" Near Keowee-Toxaway State Park, SC

Click here for the first post in this series.

Modern RV-traveling man lives not by grilled hotdogs and marshmallows alone! He must have access to a wider range of foodstuffs and beverages. As important, he needs ready access to a reliable WiFi internet connection! Especially if he publishes a blog. Yes, yes. Some purists insist that computers and camping don’t mix. Well …. It’s an opinion. But not one I share.

This internet access requirement can create problems. Some of the best RV camping sites are miles from any internet connection. Or even reliable cell phone service. In fact, I’ve found an inverse relationship between availability of convenient internet access and beauty of campgrounds’ natural surroundings!

At least, that’s how it used to be. Things are changing, though. In this case, for the better. Last year, South Carolina’s State Parks system began launching WiFi service at some of their more popular facilities. I know of seven so far. And have connected successfully at three of them. A good start. Though Keowee-Toxaway, unfortunately, isn’t on the list.

So, what’s a person to do? In the case of Keowee-Toxaway, “The Market” just down the road solves the problem.

[Click each photo for a larger view]

I don’t normally feature commercial establishments on this blog. But “The Market” deserves an exception. It allows the RV traveler to enjoy the beauty of Keowee-Toxaway State Natural Area without abandoning access to the internet and supplies. It’s just 2.4 miles from the Park entrance. Exiting the Park, turn right, and drive southwest. Highway 11 here cuts across Lake Keowee.

You’ll see some beautiful views. Be sure to pull well off the roadway, though, if you stop to take a photograph. This is a straight two-lane road that seems to encourage super-highway speeds. “The Market” is on the left-hand side. You can’t miss it.

Park as close as you can to the front of the building. Then fire up your laptop and connect to the WiFi service provided free of charge by The Cliffs. No password is necessary. I connected several times during my stay at Keowee-Toxaway. The link proved completely reliable. This alone, in my book, makes The Market worth mentioning.

Once you’ve checked your e-mail and read the news, you’ll probably be anxious to see Highway 11 from the other direction. Don’t blame you. The roadside scenery’s even more spectacular on the way back to the Park. Try for at least one photo of Lake Keowee from the top of the hill. But don’t charge off quite yet. Take a moment to go into The Market to have a look around.

This is hardly your typical South Carolina country store! Nothing wrong with South Carolina country stores, now. They’re great places to visit, and to learn. Social scenery at some of its best. But few South Carolina country stores offer the diversity of products found at The Market. I visited three times during my Keowee-Toxaway sojourn. Prowling the aisles with camera at the ready. Talking with as many of the employees and customers as I could without arousing suspicion.

According to my informal informants, the store’s been open for about 18 months. Sponsored by the developer of The Cliffs. Several high-end gated communities in the area built mostly around golf courses. The Market at first sold only natural foods and grocery products. As part of The Cliffs’ emphasis on health and wellness. Soon, though, they expanded to include regular items as well. The sorts of things the rest of us buy in everyday grocery stores.

The result is a most unusual shop. Most important for us, one less than three miles from Keowee-Toxaway State Park! Here’s an example. Look carefully at the shelves of cooking oil displayed in the photo above. On the lower shelves, huge containers of Crisco, Corn Oil, and the like. For less than five dollars.

But right above them, a wide variety of fancy cooking oils in much smaller bottles. Each priced well above ten dollars. The whole store is arranged that way! A wide range of higher-end, expensive products right beside standard supermarket fare.

For me, the produce section was the most impressive. Anyone who’s worked in a grocery store knows how hard it is to keep the produce section clean. Well, this one was spotless. Not a single potato, onion, or orange out of place. And all of it fresh.

Here, and throughout the store, the emphasis is on healthy cooking and eating. Impressive! Oh, and don’t forget something to drink. A great selection of wines. I don’t know the first thing about wine. But judging from the prices, they have to be “fine”! And a dairy section that includes even fresh buttermilk!

I’ve never understood why otherwise normal people are willing to pay for bottles of water. Even the lightly flavored variety. But most everyone seems to these days. The Market offers row upon row of it. Even a few of the more down-to-earth plastic gallon jugs you can see in the lower right corner in the photo below.

The meat and seafood counter was another surprise. Here too the emphasis was on diversity. But the prices on all but the most exotic offerings were quite low. I even picked up a nice steak for the Mobile Studio’s grill.

One end of the store has been turned into an interesting sandwich/lunch area. They offer made-to-order sandwiches and the like for take-out, or for eating at the inviting tables you see below.

People from all over the country – even the world – have come to live at The Cliffs. So, given the diverse clientele this store serves, I doubt that any sandwich order would surprise the folks working behind the counter. I asked two of the sandwich makers to name their most unusual sandwich request. Both wisely declined to answer. But talk about “fusion cuisine.” Have a look at the sign board for the lunch session!

Now, if that doesn’t take the cake! [They have cake too, by the way. About 10 varieties.] Can you imagine a restaurant featuring tomato and goat cheese soup, while at the same time offering a “blue plate special” of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and fried okra? I mean! The contrast is interesting. The daily blue plate special, by the way, is only $8.00.

So, there you have it. “The Market” at The Cliffs. Just 2.4 miles from RV camping surrounded by some of the most beautiful woods and hills in South Carolina. High-speed internet access. Anything you could imagine in the way of groceries and supplies. And a restaurant that combines high-quality health food-type dishes with down-home style blue plate specials at very reasonable prices. You won’t have to suffer internet or latte withdrawal while enjoying the incredible beauty of the Keowee-Toxaway State Natural Area.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Cherokee Interpretive Center: Keowee-Toxaway State Park, SC

Click here for the first post in this series.

After a quiet lunch in the Aliner I drove late Tuesday afternoon to the other side of the Park. Across Highway Eleven. To visit the Cherokee Interpretive Center, and to walk the associated trail. It’s an experience you shouldn’t miss. This side of the Park too has been meticulously maintained. Again, I didn’t find a single scrap of paper or trash. Though some of the facilities and displays are long overdue for replacement. Undoubtedly the victims of budget cuts. But, as you can see in the photo of the split rail fence and greenery below, the overall effect is pleasing.

[Click each photo for larger view]

Those split rail fences are beautiful, but expensive to build and to replace. And the trail through the interpretive center is lined with them.

Note too the camellia bush to the left of the railroad ties. It’s one of several mature specimens in this section of the Park. The blossoms are beautiful.

The Interpretive Museum building is open only by appointment now. So I didn’t get to look inside. It used to house the Park’s main offices, as well as displays of Cherokee artifacts. Still, there’s plenty to see along the trail.

Walk down the path pictured above, and turn to the right at the sign. Four kiosks positioned here and there along the trail offer text, illustrations, and photos describing some aspect of Cherokee life. The trail leads straight through each of the kiosks, right past the large display windows. So visitors are sure not to miss a thing. The displays originally included artifacts as well. But, according to a sign pasted to a window, many of them have been removed for safekeeping.

The first kiosk is devoted to Cherokee hunting, styles of dress, shelters, and usage of indigenous plants. The removed artifacts have been replaced with photographs. The combination of photographs, drawings, and text conveys a lot of information about Cherokee life in a most pleasant natural setting.

The second kiosk offers a look at relations between the Cherokee and Europeans as they arrived in the region: trade, diplomatic relations, treaties, and finally warfare. All open to interpretation, of course. But well done. With the information presented effectively for visitors of all ages. No easy feat!

While walking back up the trail to the third kiosk, pictured above, be sure to take enough time to appreciate the variety of surrounding shrubs and trees. They alone are worth the effort. Kiosk number three describes the first Cherokee War. With a focus on Fort Prince George.

The Fort was situated on what then was the Keowee River, around six miles from the Park. According to the supporting material, anthropologists made a frantic effort to excavate as much of the Fort’s site as possible before it was covered by the water that turned the Keowee River into Lake Keowee. The model pictured above gives visitors a good idea of just how the Fort was constructed.

The fourth and final kiosk in the series provides information about Cherokee participation in the American Revolution, and the subsequent fate of the Tribe, up to the 1970s. Including the “Indian removal” campaigns of 1838 and 1839, and the “Trail of Tears.” This kiosk too is well done, leaving visitors with something to think about as they climb the path to the trail exit.

There are several attractive picnic shelters on this side of the park, just down the hill from the museum building. All an easy walk from the parking area.

They are clean and well maintained. One even boasts an impressive stone fireplace. These shelters can be reserved in advance, or occupied on an as-available basis. What a great place for a family picnic before or after walking the Cherokee Interpretive Trail!

It’s possible that the Park Service has plans to integrate much of this interesting exhibit into the Jocassee Gorges Project display under construction in the main park office on the other side of Highway Eleven. I hope, though, they find the additional funds necessary to preserve this remarkable exhibit. It certainly seems worth maintaining.

Those of you interested in RV travel and interesting photographs should have a look at the Old Fat Man Adventures blog. You can find it at:

Nearly every day, Barney, the old fat man, publishes a post about his life full-timing in an RV in Texas. It's great entertainment, and you're sure to learn something along the way! I certainly have.

Click here for the next post in this series.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Lake Trail: Keowee-Toscaway State Park, SC

Click here for the first post in this series.

This morning, not long after daylight, I decided to walk the Lake Trail at Keowee-Toxaway State Park. “Walk” may be a better term here than “hike.” Since this trail too is so “accessible,” as the Park folks politely put it.

This is the newest of the Park’s hiking trails. I couldn’t find it on the Park hand-outs. In fact, it doesn’t yet even have a sign or map at the trailhead. As you can see in the photo below.

[click each photo for a larger view]

According to folks at the Park, it was a logging trail many years ago. So early loggers already had done much of the back-breaking work involved in building a relatively flat path through such rugged woods. Here and there the trail goes over hard-packed earthen bridges spanning impossible-to-avoid gullies. Imagine the sweat involved in hauling and packing down all of that dirt and stone! Of course, since the trail hadn’t been used in years, Park personnel still had a lot of work to do to get it into the shape you see below.

To enter the trail, walk down the ridge from the RV campsites, past the bath house, coming out just below the entrance to the tent site loop. The tent site area is just up the road to the right in the first photo. The trail meanders from there down the ridge to the shore of the lake. Coming out near the Park’s three-bedroom cabin I mentioned a day or so ago. I didn’t carry an altimeter during my walk. But according to Google Earth, the drop from the top of the ridge where the RV sites are to the lake shore is about 300 feet. Giving the trail plenty of character in such a short distance.

Speaking of character, this Lake Trail has very steep banks on one side for most of its length. As you can see in the photo above. Not a place you’d want to meander off the path for a closer look at an interesting tree or bush. Better to bring the field glasses! Or a rope and tackle to get back up! It doesn’t show up in the photo, but a small brook runs through the gully at the bottom. From time to time, its water rushing over rocks provides a welcome sound. Just faintly, though. The other side of the trail, of course, is as steep back up the ridge. All of this rugged terrain makes the trail more interesting. At least for me. It gives a greater sense of really being in the woods.

The photo above illustrates recent maintenance efforts. Modern chainsaws certainly beat the old-style cross-cuts we used until a few decades ago in the woods OverHome. But even chainsaws require more effort to operate than one might think. Try it sometime, on a log that size. Especially in a confined area like this, where footing’s limited, and cutting angles are bound to be difficult. Many of the trees here are huge!

Even after completion, these trails require lots of work to maintain their beauty. Even their accessibility! From beginning to end today, I didn’t encounter a single obstacle – rock, eroded soil, or downed tree trunk – blocking the path. In fact the only obstacles were planned. “Grade dips,” those bumps of hard-packed earth, built here and there into the trail to discourage erosion from down-rushing rain water. And all of those were smooth enough to walk over comfortably. I meant to take a photo of one, but forgot.

About two-thirds of the way down, crystal-blue Keowee Lake begins to flash through the trees from the west. A few more yards and it looks like the photo above! Incredible. Watch your step, though. The bank toward the lake here is steep! The water in this lake is incredibly clear. As is that in Lake Jocassee, to the north of Keowee. When boating, it’s possible to see clear to the bottom quite a ways from shore. More on kayaking Lake Keowee in another post.

This Lake Trail ends just below the Park’s single rental cabin. Cars were parked in front of the cabin, and I could see two people paddling a canoe just off the cabin’s private dock. So I resisted the urge to go closer for a photo. Instead, I walked the other way, toward the shore of the lake, on what turned out to be the remains of an old road-bed. At first I thought it was an abandoned boat ramp. Since the crumbled pavement led right into the lake. Later, the Park folks told me it’s the remains of an old road that led across to the other side of what now is the lake. Long ago flooded, with the rest of the valley, when the lake filled in. The roadbed is still clearly visible, they said, much of the way across.

This is the view to the north when standing on the edge of the old road bed. Notice those mountains in the background, and the natural sandy beaches along the shore. An incredible view! The photo doesn’t do it justice.

With more of the Park to see today, I decided to walk up the paved two-lane road that leads from the cabin to the Park entrance, rather than back up the Lake Trail. I’ll save that for another time. But even this paved road presents beautiful views around every turn. So it too is worth the walk.

The whole walk took me not much over an hour. All very slow and careful walking. With frequent stops to admire the scenery, and to take photographs. Not to rest, you understand. But to enjoy the scenery! This afternoon I hope to venture across Highway Eleven, to the other side of the Park. For a closer look at the Cherokee Interpretive Trail.

By the way, if you find any of this interesting, let me recommend a website that has it all, when it comes to enjoying the outdoors through your computer. You will find Tamia Nelson's "Outside Up North" at:

Take time to click through all of the menu items at the top of the page: "Practical Cycling," "Outside Afoot," "In the Same Boat," and even "Help Turtles Cross Roads." Then look through the headings in the left-hand margin. Tamia is an experienced cyclist, canoeist/kayaker, and hiker. Even cook! Here's where you'll find all sorts of interesting advice on how to enjoy the out-of-doors. The writing and photography will keep you coming back day after day. Make it easier on yourself by subscribing to Tamia's blog. Just click the little RSS button on the left, near the top, for instructions.

Click here for the next post in this series.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Natural Bridge Trail: Keowee-Toxaway State Park, SC

Click here for the first post in this series.

Keowee-Toxaway State Natural Area boasts several hiking trails. As do most of the South Carolina state parks I’ve visited. Most facilities have both “accessible” trails and “more challenging” trails. “Accessible” here meaning that even less mobile Hiker Wannabes, like me, can enjoy them without too much strain. Just remember to wear stout shoes, and to carry a walking stick! Preferably one that also can help to steady your camera for those low sunlight pictures.

There’s usually a map of the trail around somewhere. Like the one in the photo below. But it’s best for less experienced first-time hikers to ask for more detailed information before starting out. I’ve found South Carolina’s Park Rangers knowledgeable and willing informants. Without exception. Sometimes maybe a little too cautious in their advice. But better that than the other way around!

[Click each photo for larger view]

The Natural Bridge Trail you see outlined in blue in the photo above begins just beyond the parking lot behind the Park office building. Most of the trail slopes gradually, and is clearly marked. It would be hard to lose your way. Just follow the markers! The photo below is typical of the trail’s early section. Note that it parallels Highway 11 for a ways. Until it turns left to begin the loop.

Now, I’m no trail design expert. But there must be a trade-off between improving trail surfaces for ease of access, and maintaining the sense of a “natural” environment that we’re all hoping to find when we venture out. This “accessible” Natural Bridge Trail manages to accomplish both. It has a fairly smooth surface for most of the way. And yet hikers can enjoy that soothing sense of being in the woods.

The trail soon turns sharply left [west] and begins its descent to a stream below. Here the trail becomes a little more challenging. Though, as you can see in the photos below, the designers have included steps here and there to make the descent and climb easier.

Like the rest of the trail, the sections with steps are well maintained. Making travel much easier for those of us who go along carefully and slowly. And free of trash. I saw only one piece of trash on the trail. A six-inch section of red tree tape used to mark trees for removal. It was so unusual I was tempted to take a picture! And this is a well-traveled trail.
Below is a photo of the most difficult part of the Natural Bridge Trail I encountered. It was steeper, and the roots you can see required careful attention.

Truth be told, though, even this section presented no real difficulty. Either up or down. I only had to make good use of my walking stick, and be careful where I placed my feet. This, with a left knee that’s about to be operated on! So, most anyone able to walk along on a flat surface should be able to navigate this trail. It’s certainly worth the effort.

About halfway to the natural bridge for which the trail has been named, I began to hear water running along in a small stream. What a treat! The sound became louder as I walked along. Until I could see the small waterfall pictured above. I went off the trail for a short distance to grab that photo, and just had to stand there for a while, enjoying the sight and sound.
Now, confession time. I failed to follow my own advice. I didn’t consult one of the Rangers before hiking the trail for the first time. Nor did I take a map! So, after an hour or so of very slow, careful walking, I turned around and hiked back the way I’d come. I missed the natural bridge. And I missed the rest of the loop you can see on the map at the top of this post. I was a little tired, and didn’t want to over-tax the knee. So, back up I went.

One of the Rangers later told me I was within 100 yards of the natural bridge and the bottom of the loop when I decided to turn around. Live and learn! Though the results of that decision weren’t all bad. I got to see the trail from the opposite direction. As you can see in the photo above. Quite a different sight. I got to see a very large brown bird – probably an owl – fly noiselessly away from the trail at my approach. I saw a bed of trout lilies, pictured below, that I’d missed on the way down. And, I have an even better excuse for hiking this trail again as soon as I can return to this part of the country! So the decision to turn back was hardly a loss.

All too soon I was back at the beginning of the trail at the rear of the Park Office. What a way to start the day! Remember, none of these photos do justice to the environment here. It is much more beautiful. I’ll certainly be back as soon as I can arrange the trip. And hope you can arrange a visit too.

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