Sunday, March 21, 2010

Calhoun Falls State Park, S.C. Part II. The Drive Over.

Click here for the first post in this series.

Hitched up and ready to go at 10:15 this morning. Earlier than expected. But this is a three-hour drive. At least. So might as well start early, leaving time to get lost once or twice along the way.

Today’s weather forecast was far from encouraging. A 90 percent chance of afternoon thunderstorms in the Calhoun Falls area. While an overcast sky in Columbia with periods of sprinkles reinforced the credibility of that ominous prediction.

Oh well. We couldn’t appreciate good weather if some bad wasn’t thrown in from time to time for the sake of comparison. I’ll just have to maintain that philosophical perspective during what’s likely to to be a moist, if not soggy, set-up at the Campground. Fortunately, all of Calhoun Falls’ campsites are nicely paved. So even in a downpour, setup won’t degenerate into a mud-wrestling contest between man and travel trailer.

This will be the new Garmin 260W GPS’s first long trip test. I have it mounted in the lower left corner of the windshield for now, rather than smack dab in the center. This new location has worked quite well while driving around Columbia for the past week. It occupies less windshield space there, and is closer to the driver’s line of vision.

No sense tempting fate, though, so I’ve brought along the comprehensive South Carolina Atlas and Gazetteer, as well as a MapQuest print-out of the whole route. Why circle any more than I have to! Some observers -- even some close family members -- maintain low opinions of my sense of direction. Hard to understand, after all this travel ….

This new Garmin GPS is far from state of the art. It’s a discontinued model from 2008 for one thing. And on the lower end of Garmin’s product scale for another. That brought the price down to a fraction of what a newer more sophisticated model would have cost. But it’s still loaded with the very latest 2010 maps and driving directions. Which should help. We’ll see.

The navigation settings on this new GPS show promise. Especially its “Avoidances” menu. I’ve encouraged it avoid highways, toll roads, ferries, and carpool lane roads. Most important, I’ve insisted that it avoid “unpaved roads.” After that hair-raising experience with a single-track soft dirt “road” last trip, I was most grateful to find the “unpaved roads” selection in its “Avoidances” menu. Let’s hope it understands the term. One more incident like that and I’ll have to look into a Humvee tow vehicle!

So, off we went. From the start the Garmin performed exactly as I hoped it would. No irksome demand that I “turn back in 500 feet” to find the on-ramp of some SuperHighway I had no intention of taking. Or the condescending “recalculating” message that inevitably followed. Only to be repeated over and over and over again. As if the machine had taken personal offence at my failure to follow its instructions. None of that this time.

Down Route 1 we went. Affectionately known in this part of the country as “Two Notch Road.” What a great name! Through downtown Columbia, past the majestic State House, Columbia’s new Vista grown-up recreation area, past the State Museum, and on to the beautiful bridge across the Broad River. All very nice to see at this time of day on a weekend. Though the narrow lanes of that beautiful bridge require full attention to driving. Especially while pulling a travel trailer. Even a small one.

Well before the bridge, “Samantha” of the GPS cautioned me about an upcoming right turn onto Route 378. The GPS screen too presented an excellent visual explanation of the turn. Understandable with only a quick glance. So, right we went. Past the chicken processing plant and Shooters Choice, on toward Lexington.

This good behavior continued throughout our travel on Route 378. It provided excellent audio and visual directions for even the potentially confusing traffic circle just before Saluda, and the sharp, counter-intuitive [at least for me], turns encountered a moment later in downtown Saluda. Nary a snarky “recalculating” admonition the whole way.

In McCormick the GPS turned me northwest onto Route 28 until the left turn to Route 81, near the John de la Howe interpretive trail. The town of McCormick, like Saluda, has a lot to offer. I hope to write more about it in the near future. So stay tuned!

Route 81 meanders through the northwest corner of McCormick County, into the southwest corner of Abbeville County. Through some of South Carolina’s most beautiful natural scenery.

It’s a drive worth taking. Though here and there, it passes through some desolate areas where pine forest has been clear-cut on both sides of the road.

I know, I know. That's why the trees were planted in the first place. And, like any other crop, they must be harvested. Perfectly understandable. But when driving through a recently clear-cut area like those here and there on either side of Route 81 it's hard to maintain that sensible perspective.

Then, a few miles shy of the Town of Calhoun Falls, the new GPS suggested I turn left to reach “Calhoun Falls Park” near the Russell Dam Overlook. Hmmmm.

Having studied my detailed South Carolina Atlas and Gazetteer, I knew that was incorrect, and drove bravely on, to, and directly through, the town of Calhoun Falls, to the sign a few miles up identifying Calhoun Falls State Park Road. Good to have the Atlas and MapQuest directions along.

So, what happened? Did the new Garmin 260W GPS, with its 2010 maps, let me down? Well, it did and it didn’t. Come to find out, I mistakenly nominated “Calhoun Falls Park” as the destination for this trip. Well, Calhoun Falls Park is indeed part of the Russell Dam Overlook complex. So, the GPS was right.

However, the new GPS’s “points of interest” data set doesn’t seem to include an entry for Calhoun Falls State Park. Or, more accurately, for Calhoun Falls State Natural Area. Imagine that! I’ll have to send them a stern note. The oversight can be corrected easily, I imagine. So future travelers will not be misled.

Calhoun Falls State Park has yet to be blessed by the Parks Service with a WiFi cloud. Indeed, unless I’m missing something, the whole town of Calhoun Falls awaits its first public WiFi access site! Which will delay upload of these programs somewhat. Sorry about that. But stay tuned. More to come on this beautiful Park.

Click here for the next post in this series.

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