We’ve spent a few nights at Aiken State Park outside of the lovely town of Aiken, SC. We were happy to hook up with our friend Janlyn, who left Connecticut a couple of weeks after us. From here, we will continue traveling south together.
We visited Aiken last year and really liked it. Aiken has been on Southern Living magazine’s list of the best small towns in the south for a few years. It’s got a lot going for it including a vibrant downtown with thriving shops and restaurants; it can be hard to find a parking space on the streets. This is very unusual in most small towns that we’ve visited, as most have lots of shuttered stores. Aiken is horse country, and even within walking distance of downtown you can find properties surrounded by fencing with horses grazing. I wouldn’t even try to guess how many horse farms there are, with lots of practice jump set-ups, race tracks and polo fields. Horse farms don’t exist without money, and lots of it, so it stands to reason that the town itself is prosperous. We’ve been told that during polo and steeplechase seasons, the local apartments fill up with renters as well as during The Masters golf tournament in Augusta, GA, less than 20 miles away.
The state park is a 30 minute drive from downtown Aiken, so we mostly stayed in the park. The camp host here is a very friendly fellow and keeps the campground immaculate. He’s been the host here for more than a year so he knows the area well. One of the first things he did was inform me of all the wildlife that is in the park — mostly deer, raccoons, possums, armadillo, etc. But, he was sure to tell me that there are two kinds of rattlesnakes, copperheads and water moccasins here. I was glad to know that before tromping through all the pine straw and kayaking among the cypress! Our first full day at the park, Janlyn and I took the dog for a walk and surprised the prettiest snake slithering across the road. We took a picture of it and showed the camp host and, later, one of the park rangers. What we had seen was a coral snake, and both the host and ranger were jealous of our sighting as they had only heard of one other coral snake sighting in the park, and neither of them had see one. Well, lucky us! We also learned that this is one of the most deadly snakes in North America, and our host taught us a rhyme to remember for the future: “If red touches yellow, you’re a dead fellow. If red touches black, you’re ok, Jack.” Yikes!!!
We kayaked the river trail through the cypress trees. It was a challenging trip with lots of sharp bends in the river, fallen trees under water and low hanging branches. The current was moving us along and the river was narrow and crooked enough that we had to be vigilant or we’d end up driftinginto the trees along the edge, so none of us were able to take pictures. There was an eerie beauty to the cool, shaded river with wild cardinal flowers along the bank mixed with pointy things called pneumatophores that grow up from drowned roots just below the surface, bringing air to those roots. Janlyn gets the award for upper body and core strength as she was first to arrive at the exit dock and had to figure out how to pull herself out of the kayak and onto the dock without losing her boat! If I had arrived first, the rangers would have an APB out on me as I’d probably have floated 15 miles further down river!
All in all, we had a great time sitting Aiken. Time to move on to historic Charleston!