We spent the week of our 8 year wedding anniversary exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains in South Carolina and Georgia. The majesty of the Rocky Mountains harbored our heavy hearts on countless occasions. 5 years of infertility, 4 years supporting my mom in her fight against stage 4 cancer, a complete renovation on a 100 year old house, T.J.’s intensely demanding job while I struggled with my introduction to Annabeth and motherhood sure do combine for a bit of strain. We would escape to the mountains on a moments notice and fill notebooks with the adventures that healed our hurt. I was leery about going to the Blue Ridge Mountains, well aware of the disappointment potential. Then it hit me. We aren’t seeking refuge. We are in a different place both geologically and emotionally. The Rocky Mountains are incomparable, just like our revived lives.
Researching the 47 South Carolina State Parks led me to reserve a campsite at Keowee-Toxaway State Park in Sunset, SC at the entrance to the Jocassee Gorges. We stopped at the visitor center to buy an annual park pass for our future discoveries. A ranger shared the story of how the parks system is no longer a government entity. We were wondering why every state park we’ve visited is meticulous! They run Historic sites (including an active excavation site near us that was the original Charles Towne colony), a 7000 acre recreation area that is the site for national-level field trial and retriever competitions, and a Golf Resort state park on the shoreline of a 71,000 acre reservoir that includes a restaurant, lodge, skeet shooting and archery ranges plus an 18 hole championship golf course! Once we get a stamp from every state park in our passport, we get a free T-shirt. Challenge accepted.
We set up camp quickly and tucked Annabeth’s tent into the large “garage” entry of our tent. She has been eager to sleep all by herself since the incident this summer when we planned a backyard camp-out that was cancelled last minute due to T.J. losing the air mattress that was later discovered inside our tent… where he put it earlier that day. She successfully and proudly slept alone, although she did shout in her sleep, “Mom, I want to come sleep with you!” I found her clutching on to her glow-in-the-dark flashlight, snuggled in her sleeping bag. We also spent 2 nights in Helen, GA. It has been on my list of places to visit and when I saw rain in the forecast, I used the excuse to book a hotel room. We had a bunch of fun swimming under the stars and being tourists. One of the highlights of our entire trip was visiting the Cabbage Patch Babyland General Hospital. We witnessed a birth and Annabeth gave the baby her middle name, Dandi.
When the weather cleared, we went on a mission to hike as many waterfalls as possible. We hit 8 waterfalls in 3 days and 17.5 miles! I admit that we approached the challenge with a bit of overzealous confidence, being that we have hiked all over the Rocky Mountains! Yellow Branch Falls was 3 miles round trip and took us an hour and a half. On our way back, Annabeth says, “This is a long walk.” We had hiked to three waterfalls and a walk into the Stumphouse Tunnel prior to that one! Stumphouse Tunnel was dug with hand tools prior to the Civil War, then used by Clemson University to grow bleu cheese for 20 years because it remains at a constant 50° with 85% humidity. Issaqueena Falls is named after a Cherokee maiden who fell in love with a white settler and pretended to jump over the falls in order to escape pursuit from her tribe for the illicit love affair. Whitewater Falls is the highest waterfall this side of the Rockies and was accessed by a bunch of stairs! Annabeth kept her swimsuit on under her clothes and slipped it off at the first glimpse of water. Needless to say, she was in heaven.
We stopped off at Sassafras Mountain on the way home. I cannot believe that we forgot to go check out the new viewing deck but there’s always next time! Sassafras Mountain is the tallest point in South Carolina reaching an astounding 3,554 feet into the sky- that’s something coming from sea level, I guess. Then we stopped at Chuy’s in Greenville, which was really fun. Plus, it was the first time we’ve seen the words ‘Hatch Green Chiles’ since our move. As we drove home, we passed the time talking about how the Blue Ridge Mountains did not disappoint. The Rocky Mountains will never vacate their space in our hearts but that slot will shrink. We are excited to replace that space with everything from the Atlantic Ocean to the Appalachian Mountains.