by Emery Tumbleston
The mighty oak-hickory forests of the Upstate, the patriarchal longleaf pines of the Midlands, and the stately live oaks of the Lowcountry comprise a truly one-of-a-kind landscape across the face of the state we call home. In a little over four hours, one can go from scraping gummy red clay off your hiking boots in the high hills of Jocassee Gorges Wilderness Area, to picking sandspurs off your flip flops at Edisto Beach. South Carolina offers an unparalleled opportunity to experience some of the most beautiful natural areas that the United States, rather, the Earth has to offer. From the Grand Strand to Port Royal, from Congaree National Park to Francis Marion National Forest, from the Chattooga River to the ACE Basin, our state has it all! Now, I ask you to close your eyes and dare to take a journey with me to discover an all-too familiar, yet strangely unfamiliar world that lies waiting to strike wonder into the lucky souls that take the time to search for it… the glorious, uncharted unknown that lies just beyond the back porch.
Have you ever heard the melodious brays of beagles trailing cottontail rabbits into overgrown hedgerows on the edge of a fallow, red clay field on a crisp fall afternoon with leaves of every shade of yellow and red gently falling past your shoulders? Or hiked the edge of a meandering mountain stream on a bright Spring morning to search for the reclusive, yet elegant Oconee bells modestly hiding amidst the other flora inhabiting the forest floor? What I just mentioned are only quick snapshots of what the Upstate has to offer. More than just the Gateway to the Smokies, the South Carolina foothills always seem to connect one with nature the way very few landscapes can. The rolling mountains allow you to kiss the face of the sky and look endlessly on into the wild blue yonder. The clean mountain air breathes into you a sigh of tranquility that makes all your stressors fade away like the evening amber sun behind the amethyst silhouettes of the Blue Ridge. Much of the Upstate has been irreversibly altered by unsustainable land use practices over the past two centuries, but one can still find seemingly untouched tracts of wilderness nestled like sparse oases in a vast desert just waiting to be havens for any wandering creature lucky enough to encounter the Eden-like landscape.
The foothills give way to the gentle rise and fall of the Midlands as you journey toward the coast. Everything from the exciting two-note whistle of Bobwhite quail in the sandy pine forests of Edgefield, to white-tailed deer browsing the agriculture fields of the Catawba and Pee Dee sub-regions await those who look beyond the well-trodden path of prior footsteps. As has been well-studied in recent decades, the near-complete demise of the indispensable longleaf pine ecosystem and the illustrious rise and fall of southern cotton has drastically changed the face of South Carolina’s interior. The tantalizing beauty of an eastern diamondback rattlesnake slithering across the pinelands or the spine-tingling bellow of the prehistoric beast known as the American alligator cruising across Lake Marion would be enough to satisfy any thrill seeker. The quiet, charming beauty of the Midlands is often overlooked by most, but the lemony scent of magnolia blooms lingering in the May air or the glittering first frost, crowning a food plot with nature’s diadem are the ordinary occurrences that make this area extraordinary.
Meeting the mighty Atlantic in all its understated glory is the Lowcountry. I confess, the Lowcountry is my home, my love, and my life, so I fully admit I am biased when it comes to the allure of the coast. Explorers many centuries ago would have first encountered the enchanting magnificence of the region by sailing past the shifting Sea Islands, up the meandering saltwater rivers, and finally to inland swamps teeming with gargantuan cypress trees. The ACE Basin, touted as one of “the last great places,” is a pillar of the Lowcountry landscape, reminding us of a time when rice plantations were great drivers of habitat manipulation in the early coastal plain. A plethora of species including waterfowl, shorebirds, and even secretive bobcats call this region home amidst the blistering bustle of unprecedented development. One cannot help but stand breathless at the sight of lightning bugs dancing on a summer evening with the crescent moon gently illuminating Spanish moss with a silvery cloak as it lies draped over the outstretched arms of a majestic live oak. The enduring stench of pluff mud permeating from the saltmarsh and the haunting whisper of the sea breeze through the palmetto fronds will always stay with me no matter where the Lord leads me.
Our state is undoubtedly one unlike any other. Our natural marvels astounded the great Mark Catesby in the colonial era, as well as prompted many wealthy businessmen such as Bernard Baruch (father of Belle W. Baruch, who established the sprawling Baruch Institute at Hobcaw Barony in Georgetown County) and the DuPont family to call this place home. Species like graceful wood ducks, intriguing pitcher plants, stunning loggerhead sea turtles, and so much more make South Carolina a reservoir for a plethora of natural wonders ready for seeking individuals to discover. Everyday beauty is something that we often take for granted. We fail to realize how blessed we are to live in a state that truly lays the world at our feet. I will ask a final question, are you ready to lace up your boots, perhaps pull a pair of binoculars over your shoulder, grab your favorite hat, and take the leap into the known, yet unknown world beyond your back porch?
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on South Carolina Wild are solely those of the authors, and do not reflect official policies, positions, or endorsements of activity or products by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.