Thursday, February 14, 2013

Road Trip #1 - Day 5 - Continued - Parris Island, Hunting Island & Beaufort

The Gullah Grub Restaurant - our St. Helena Island focal point - Country Hearth Inn in background
My last post on this Road Trip was just a brief note about the final day in Gullah country. This is the detailed report of the day and includes lots of photos. Frankly, I was really tired by the end of Day 5, a Friday night. We had made our way over to I-95 for the trip back north to Virginia and ultimately my base camp in West Virginia. We slipped out of character as far as our evening repast and found a local Mexican Restaurant in Walterboro, South Carolina near a Super 8 Motel we pulled into for the night. All I wanted to do was catch some shuteye, so I didn't take any time to truly journal the day.

Day 5 began as a beautiful sunny day as compared to Day 4 when we experienced rain most of the day and night. We actually got quite wet on Day 4 so the warm sun was very welcome. We decided that since we were within about 15 minutes of the Parris Island, U.S. Marine Recruit Training Camp and there was a free museum there, that we'd start our day off visiting "The Few and The Proud." It just so happened that Day 5 of our road trip was graduation day for a class of recruits who had just completed the 13 grueling weeks of basic training. Believe me, these young men and women have every right to be proud after they complete this first phase of their Marine Corps career. There are a substantial number who wash out during this first phase of training - which is why they also are "the Few."

I didn't take a lot of photos while there, but at first glance, you'd think this was some kind of semi-tropical resort as we drove onto the base. But, it's not what the visitor sees on the surface that is the reality of this base, it's what they don't see including the swamps, jungles, desolate areas, obstacle courses and so on. When I went through Air Force Basic Training during the Vietnam era I had about a half day on the rifle range were I learned to field strip, clean and reassemble an M-16 automatic assault rifle. The Marines still use that rifle today, 44 years later. During my half day of firearms training I learned to fire the weapon and qualify as a trained killer. That meant I could hit the targets down range and preferably in a tight pattern in the "kill zone." That was it. If I qualified, I had completed my firearm training. The Marine recruits spend as much as a week or more on that firing range and know more about their weapons and utilizing them than I could imagine. It seemed that every Marine I saw on Parris Island had an "Expert Rifleman" badge proudly displayed on their uniform.

The museum was very interesting. It had the complete history of Parris Island, a very informative video presentation about the recruit-training program at the camp and the three phases every Marine has to complete and pass before he or she is may be called a Marine. There were displays of uniforms dating back to the early days of the Marines in 1775, weapons, battles, campaigns and other information that truly gave me a much better understanding about this group of warriors. We also met many families who were visiting their young men and women (most who arrived at Parris Island as teenagers). It was inspiring to see the young recruit graduates in their uniforms and with their stiff, military bearing. The parents were proud mothers and fathers. There were some families that may have had three or four generations of Marines there for the graduation. One gentleman we met had been out of the Marines for decades, but he was there in his uniform, standing straight and proud as could be of his grandson. His son, the recruit's father, was still actively in the Marines, in uniform, of course and equally as proud.

I have to say, it was an inspiring visit and a heck of a great way to spend a part of a glorious day. Here are some photos. As I said, there are not too many, but just a small taste.

The bridge to Parris Island - the green signs on the right
are pointing the way.

Here we are, the starting point for a lot of young men and
 women who desire to be part of "The Proud and The Few."
It looks very pretty from this vantage point. But, after the
young recruits pass this sign, they are about to experience
13 weeks of Hell, if they can make the grade.

The main gate - I expected there to be a lot of security, car
searches, mirrors under the car, lots of questions, at least
that's what I experienced at Lackland Air Force Base, in 2003
and that was my old basic training base when I entered the
Air Force in 1969. But, we were surprised. The Marine guard
at the gate just gave us a big smile and waved us through.
But, then again, with thousands of Marines on that base
with lots of weapons, I guess they weren't as concerned
about us as we thought they might be.

Isn't this lovely. This is a Marine Boot Camp. I feel more like
I'm in a beautiful park. But, looks can be deceiving. 

We had no problem finding the museum - here's the sign at
the entrance. We also passed the base exchange or post
exchange, whichever they call it. A very large, modern
structure not unlike the newer Walmarts being built around
the country. There were also a variety of food establishments
 and other recreational facilities, all very modern.
 It was quite impressive.

This building is where the Parris Island Museum is housed.
It also houses a number of other offices and functions for
the camp. You can see how modern this building is. None of
the World War II structures, Quonset huts or wooden
barracks apparent anywhere. Even the base housing
 looked like a modern suburban sub-division. 

After we left Parris Island, we had learned about Hunting Island and the Hunting Island Lighthouse. Hunting Island is a South Carolina State Park and the island is uninhabited. Actually, it's very tropical. Another of the South Carolina barrier islands, its beach is right on the Atlantic Ocean, which, of course, is why a lighthouse was built there to help steer ships away from the shallows and shoals. The woman who owned the Country Hearth Inn motel we stayed at the previous night told us about the island. She also said to stop back if we had any other questions. So, we did. We said tell us where we can get some more good "grub," it's lunch time and we're starving. She directed us toward Hunting Island and said we'd find a few isolated places on the road to the island including the Shrimp Shack. Boy! That sounded perfect! So, off we went east toward Hunting Island to climb to the top of the 132-foot structure (167 steps in all). The photos and captions below tell the story of the afternoon's adventures.

Lunch is served at the Shrimp Shack

Yes! It is literally what appears to be a shack.

No waitress service here! Place your order and come
and get it. Great Eats! And it's inexpensive, too.

No fancy table cloths, cloth napkins or silverware here.
The green baskets have the condiments and they get
passed around. This wasn't unlike an old fish shack I
found in Amagansett, NY on Long Island where I had
The BEST fish & chips I've ever eaten in the U.S. 

On the bridge to Hunting Island. The island is a state park
and is uninhabited. It gained it's very practical name because
this is where the early settlers to this region came to hunt
 the abundant wildlife on this island. 

We're on the island and are paying our $5.00 per person
admission charge. Very economical for the beauty and
nature on the island, not to mention the lighthouse.

We were told the island was like a tropical jungle and they
weren't kidding. Now I know how Gilligan felt. Loving it.

Believe it or not, this is the Visitor Center - it's actually very
modern with all the modern conveniences inside, but I
really wasn't sure that we might not see Jungle Jim here.

Yeah! And not to mention that it's DANGEROUS, too!

And here she is right outside the Visitor Center sunbathing.
The light green is actually a very edible plant growth on the
pond surface. The gators eat it as do many of the water foul
that inhabit the island at different times of the year. And
while it may look like moss or algae, it is neither. 

And here's Junior sunning himself right next to the small, low
bridge we crossed to get to the Visitor Center. He's really not
all that far from me, and no, I'm not that brave. He couldn't
come up on the small wooden bridge very easily.

"I've got my eye on you." And, yes, this is another view of
Junior from another vantage point and yes, that is his eye if
you look closely and he is watching me.

Ah! Our main objective for visiting Hunting Island.
The lighthouse. It's about 132 feet up to the observation
deck just below the light. It was first commissioned in
1873 and is made of steel plates that can be taken apart
and moved if required ... and it was in 1889.

Here's a photo (obviously I was using my telephoto lens)
of the top of the lighthouse. The objective is to climb the
167 steps to the top and take some photos from the
observation deck.

The mouth of the beast. It's hard to see, but each of the
plates that make up the structure of the lighthouse are
about 1200 pounds each. They are numbered so they
can be disassembled and moved to another location.
There is an additional $2.00 fee per person to enjoy the
privilege of climbing the 167 steps to the top. The funds
are used to maintain the lighthouse and the rest of the
site's buildings. The lighthouse was decommissioned
in 1933 and stands as a monument of a time past.

Okay! So, here goes. This is the spiral staircase that goes
to the top of the lighthouse, as I said, 167 steps, with
landings ever so often. The original light in this lighthouse
burned oil and the lighthouse tenders had to carry a bucket
weighing 50 pounds when full of oil, up these stairs to the
light everyday and maybe more than once a day. The
of the lighthouse is bricks to strengthen the steel shell.

I huffed and I puffed and I made it to the top! Actually, I
pleasantly surprised that I made it all the way up without
being out of breath. It was quite a climb, but as out of shape
as I probably am, I made it without any difficulty. And this
is my reward. That's the Atlantic Ocean. It really does have
the appearance of a tropical island not unlike the island
that Gilligan and the Skipper were marooned on in
Gilligan's Island. Oops! For those of the younger set
who are reading this, that was an old TV show, probably
before your time. If you look carefully, you can see a man
walking on the beach. The horizon is about 40 miles away.

This is a view looking back over Hunting Island in the
direction of St. Helena's Island. The sky is beautiful on
this day we chose to explore this neat place. 

This is a view from the rail looking down at the foundation
remains of the lighthouse tender's quarters and one of
several small storage buildings and quarters for the other
assistant lighthouse tenders. It was a lonely job, but one
that was, obviously, taken quite seriously. 

Earlier I mentioned that the lighthouse was moved in 1889.
The original location of the lighthouse in in the ocean just
inside the sandbar that you can see. That location is 1 1/4
mile from the current location where the lighthouse has
stood since 1889.

If you look carefully, off on the horizon in this photo is
Edisto Island and the community on that island. The
small white dots are actually homes along the shore.
This is about ten miles from Edisto. 

Okay, I couldn't resist, Dave, was taking some of his really
terrific artistic photos on the trip and he captured on of the
lighthouse's shadow from the observation deck. So, I
grabbed one, too. Dave really is an artist. I'm a documentary
type photographer. I shoot photos to document an event.
Once in a while I capture a magical one. Dave looks for  the
magical ones. One day, when I find the negative I'll put up
a fantastic shadow photo I took in New Zealand from a
hot air balloon. 

Okay! Nothing exciting here. But the day and the clouds
were just so right for taking photos, I had to take one.

Yep! Another arty photo. On the way off the island we
stopped at a nature look-out. So, I saw these Palmetto
Palm leaves with the low afternoon sun shining through
them and I just had to take several shots just . . . well,
just because I could. Isn't digital photography wonderful?

As we left Hunting Island, dinner time was approaching and we decided that since I needed to be back to West Virginia base camp by Saturday night (or Sunday by noon or so) that we'd find a place to catch some dinner and then begin heading toward I-95. It was not our druthers to use I-95 or any interstate highway, however, in plotting our trip and planning our time, I-95 would get us back to Virginia by around 5 PM on Saturday and if I was up to the trip, I could drive the additional three hours or so to the West Virginia base camp that evening and be back between 8:30 and 9 PM. So, to we headed back to Beaufort from our tropical island odyssey hoping we'd find something there. The town of Beaufort is lovely. It, of course, has Civil War history there. But, alas, we didn't find anything in particular that tickled our taste buds, so we just walked around the historic downtown, over to the small park on the shore of the Beaufort River separating the town of about 12,000 from the next of the barrier islands, on the way toward St. Helena Island and Hunting Island. These few photos will give you a small taste of the pretty little town.

This was a lovely old home, I guess this would be considered
and antebellum style home. There were lots of them in
Beaufort. I caught this one as we were driving by.

This is the historic downtown, Main Street, area of Beaufort
It was around 5 or 5:30 PM when we were there, so I guess
this might be "Rush Hour" in Beaufort. It's a pretty street,
about three blocks long with lovely old buildings. And,
please note, just because I'm in my later middle age, doesn't
mean I don't spot and stealthily capture a pretty young
southern belle strolling up the street. It keeps me young
and keeps the heart pounding. 

This is the end of what was darn near a perfect day and
certainly the best day of this short road trip. I was in this
park at the north side of Beaufort several years ago on
another trip to this area. We were actually staying in
Charleston and passed through Beaufort on the way to
Savannah, Georgia, about another 50 miles south. We
stopped in this park for a few minutes then traveled on.
This is a pretty view looking out over the Beaufort River
toward St. Helena Island. The bridge is out of sight
just to the right of this photo. The End!

We left Beaufort as dusk was approaching and made our way on U.S. Highway 21 to where it merged with Rt. 17 and finally over to I-95. We went north for a few miles until we came to Walterboro and decided it was a good place to fill up the gas, fill up the stomach and catch some shuteye for the approximately 500 mile trek back to northern Virginia, just outside Washington, DC, where my travel buddy, Dave, lives. We found the Mexican restaurant, checked in at the Super 8 and that ended Day 5.

Here's one interesting side note. Last night I caught some of the latest American Idol qualifying performances on the Fox Network and as I was watching the screen, they were putting up captions with the contestants' names, age and where they came from to be in the Hollywood try-out portion of the contest. One of the young women was from St. Helena Island, South Carolina. It was just great to see this young woman, most likely from the Gullah culture and island I had just visited less than a week before. It may sound strange, but I felt a kind of connection and a certain pride to see her make it this far in the contest. This is one of the main reasons I've chosen my living free, nomadic lifestyle. It's a fantastic way of connecting with history, the people and cultures that make up our great melting pot and the places in our country that provide such diversity.

I'm going to do a very short Day 6 recap as the last entry for Day 5. No photos - it was interstate all day and nothing interesting to see. They all look alike. On Saturday, Day 6 of this road trip, buddy, Dave, and I got up, grabbed our stuff, had a free breakfast at the Super 8 motel and hit the road. Dave set the cruise control at 65 mph and we headed north making one stop for a Subway sandwich for lunch (I brought half of my foot-long back to base camp for dinner that night). We arrived at Dave's place just a few moments before 5 PM.

After a quick pit stop, I was back on the road by 5:18 PM. I ran into a bit of traffic on I-66 heading out of the Washington, DC area and probably lost about 15 minutes. I stopped in Front Royal, Virginia to fuel up "My McVansion" because I know that's where I can get the least expensive gas in the region. That cost me about another 15 minutes. I arrived at base camp in Keyser, WV at 8:45 PM, approximately 3 1/2 hours after leaving Dave's, including the 30 minutes lost in traffic and refueling. This ends a short, but very interesting, educational and enjoyable road trip - the first of 2013.  

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