Winter Grinch Gathering – South Carolina

December 23, Monday: After celebrating Christmas with family on Dec. 21, we departed Meadows of Dan. We had taken the unprecedented step of draining the water pipes in the log house. We ran one electric heater in the kitchen and one in the water stove/pressure tank building. The weather forecast while we were gone was for mild weather until the week of our return (January 6-12). We were unable to engage a house sitter on short notice, so we bundled the dogs and their gear for the trip (I had previously transferred my red-tailed hawk, Blizzard, to my apprentice for the season, so I was birdless for the first time in 28 years).

We’d arranged to meet John and Mary at Hunting Island State Park in SC to be away for the holidays. We left after my third post-op appointment in Blacksburg and I got the go-ahead from the nursing staff there to leave town.

Our first night was a midway point somewhere between Charlotte and Charleston at a Pilot/Flying J truck stop with a Wendy’s attached. We awoke Christmas Eve morning to lots of holiday lights on both sides of our little trailer, as two enormous semis had scrunched in on either side of us, and they left their running lights on. Since we were running our own furnace, we didn’t hear much of the noise of their arrival or engines—just background to our sleep.

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Christmas Eve day: The first thing we noticed about Hunting Island State Park was the standing water everywhere. There had been a storm that dumped 7 inches of rain, and much of the park and the campsites were flooded. It was difficult to even see the paved drives because there was so much water everywhere. While all the “waterfront” sites and the premium areas near the beach were useless (with many folks awaiting the reconnaissance of the park ranger to see what sites they might move into) John and Mary’s and our sites were uphill and mostly dry, back off the beach.

The signage around the park is pretty awful, too, and there is but one dumpster at the exit area of the campground. That’s the only place to throw away doggie poop bags, so we set aside a collection/trash bag onsite, hung from a tree—and periodically disposed of the poop as we hiked around.

Our site, #168 presented us with an interesting uphill slope on which it was difficult to level the camper front-to-back. But the site was large enough to put up a dog run, although we elected not to erect the screen house. While the site offered both elec and water, we remained winterized and so used the electric only.

The really great news about this campground was that all over the park the wifi connectivity was robust. When lots of folks are online, of course, there was a dip in power. 

The really bad news was that it was infested with raccoons, and we saw a troupe of them ambling down a tree across the road from us, and into the woods. You cannot leave ANYTHING out for any length of time at all, lest the pests get into it and strew it all about. And, of course, the dogs went crazy when they spotted the beasties (there was also a ton of squirrels, but they were at least not so invasive).

Before dinner and to learn our way around, we took the dogs for a walk along the main road to where John pointed out a long-legged waterbird wading in the creek nearby.

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We strolled over the dune and to the beach—en route, in the looser sand of the dune area, the sand burrs were prolific, and all the dogs picked up the spiny devils in their paws. Riley had an especially bad go of it, as his fur is long. Removal was as hazardous to the human as pick up was to the canine.

The tide was out and we had a nice stroll along the beach (no sand burrs there).

Mary and John (and Riley) had set up several sites along from us, and Christmas Eve evening, we went to their site to share leftover lasagne, which Mary had made to take to John C’s down in NC for a meeting. It was delicious.

Christmas Day: We awoke to see 7 of Santa’s 10 (rein)deer out our front window, taking their leisure after a hard night delivering gifts to the world’s children.

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While we had hoped there would be the option for a seafood Christmas Dinner, with the rains and long drives to get here, none of us was able to get into town to obtain shrimp or whatever. 

We did take a drive out to the Visitors Center, and walked along the beach amongst what the locals call “The Bone Yard.” This strip of shoreline had made the news a short time before we arrived, as the state decided to bulldoze some section of the beach (not where we were) for safety. 

To access the area we crossed a bridge over shallow water (since the tide was out). Under the bridge, we saw a wading waterbird that offered a pretty neat reflection photo op.

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The Bone Yard was a section of shifting sands in which the carcasses of trees figure prominently in the landscape. Some were freshly drowned, others had been there long enough to have become bleached or bark-stripped. It was an amazing sight, and I took lots of photos. We also saw a very small horseshoe crab shell and a starfish. We really loved that part of the walk.

Our Christmas Dinner was Chorizo/Kale soup with Jack’s special bread, and J n M ate with us at our site. We enjoyed a bonfire and exchanged gifts.

Many, many people bring their dogs here to camp, and one of those Mary had met before we’d arrived stopped in during our bonfire hour and said, “I hate to be a bearer of bad news, but you’re Mary, right? Over at your site the raccoons are getting into your trash and coolers and making a mess. You might want to go back and interrupt them before they do real damage.”

Up they jumped and were able to save everything except some grapes stored in a cooler. They had quite a mess of garbage to clean up, though. Bloody raccoons!

December 26th (Thursday): Shortly after arising and using the bath house, a water main was either shut off or damaged during the staff’s management of the floodwaters. No fresh water anywhere in the campground.

The State Park offered many walking trails through neat mixed woods (palmettos and long-leaf pine) and we found some rudimentary maps around and about. John wanted to try one of the forest trails that would end up at the lighthouse. 

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We were almost stymied by an enormous pool right in the middle of the trail, not terribly far along the walk, but we managed to bushwhack around it.

The second, deeper and wider pool, however, confounded us. We could see no real manageable way to bushwhack around with the dogs (and the ticks were out, too) so we turned around and walked back to the car, parked at an access point off the main road.

So we drove to the lighthouse instead. Once there, first on our agenda was to use their restrooms. 

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Upon our return, we lounged a while and Jack roasted some game hens on the grill while I fixed some roasted winter vegetables in our Dutch Oven as John prepared some hassle-back potatoes in his DO. Delicious meal, and another campfire (solo stove).

December 27th (Friday): With another camper we had met (she also had a dog and camped nearer the waterfront in a conversion van) named Donna, we headed into town for fresh seafood, lunch, and a visit to the grocery store.

Back when my parents lived on Lady’s Island (nearer Beaufort than Hunting Is.) we frequently visited a little place along the main road called The Shrimp Shack. You order at the window and try to find a place to sit either inside or out. The place was still open, some 20 years after my parents had moved away.

Naturally, their shrimp was the best (I had a “shrimpburger” which is like a crab cake sandwich, only with shrimp instead of crab). But anything you order at the window is bound to be delicious. 

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Across the road is a fresh seafood place with shrimp boats moored alongside (another throwback to when my parents lived there, still in operation) and that’s where we got fresh shrimp to skewer and cook on the grill.

After our grocery stop, I took a lovely walk with the dogs as the shadows grew long at the beach. Saw some neat sand patterns, too.

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December 28th (Saturday): Fellow Alto owners, Hope and Elaine joined us in the campground coincidentally—with their two beagles. Their 2114 was “perched on an anthill” in a different section of the campground, elevated quite high above the road (and still-pooled rainwaters). 

We walked with them and Donna and her standard poodle along the beach all the way to the lighthouse. The tide was going out on our way to the lighthouse, so we had limited choices to get there. But the sand was wide and firm on our return to the campground. Elaine found several sharks’ teeth in the sand and we all looked for shells and more teeth on our way back to the campground. But she was the lucky one.

We all brought our own leftovers to J n M’s site just as the rain began to pour in the evening. We crammed ourselves under the awning, and for the most part, stayed moderately dry. It was fun spending more time with Hope and Elaine, whom I’d met for the first time this past October at the Watauga Dam informal Altogather. 

Soon after we’d finished our meals, the rain abated somewhat, and we all called it a night. Mary, John, and we were all set to leave in the AM, while Hope and Elaine were staying additional time at Hunting Island SP. J n M had a long drive all the way home, and we were headed more northeasterly to Carolina Beach SP, near Wilmington, NC.

 

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