Right in the middle of the dusky woods hangs a wooden porch swing. In the few minutes it had stopped raining, I walked outside of our little cabin in Table Rock State Park
and down the hill towards it. Wet red and yellow leaves slid under my feet. If it had been daylight and not so foggy, I could have seen the lake, and perhaps even Table Rock itself. But because a thick mist had settled in the trees, mostly bare of their leaves by now, I could only see a few feet in front of me as I sat on that swing and swayed back and forth.
That, it turns out, was enough.
Leaves fluttered down, the fog moved in waves, birds called plaintively. In a few minutes, my husband Alex joined me. A few minutes after that, we heard the crunch of little feet running and skidding through the woods.
"I found you!" my seven-year-old daughter sang through the heavy, swirling fog. She climbed right up on the swing and stood, held onto the chain, planted one foot onto the armrest, and reached out one fist into the mist. "I'm Pirate Mary! Sailing into the storm! Aaargh!"
She pulled on the chains until the swing, now her pirate ship, was flying wildly back and forth. We sailed on through the mist until it started to rain again. Then we all ran back up the hill and into our cozy cabin.
Alex stoked the embers in the old hewn-stone fireplace and threw on another log and some kindling. In seconds, we were warming up in front of the fire again. Jimmy was reading his book on the couch, with the Jenga game all set up on the table and ready to play. I made some grilled cheese sandwiches and warmed up a can of tomato soup.
I've never felt more at home at a place that wasn't my home. In fact, it felt like a much cozier version of home.
Table Rock State Park contains a treasure. No, I don't mean the massive rock outcropping that gives the upstate
park its name. I mean the handful of Depression-era cabins that still stand in the forest at the base of the mountain. These cabins were built by the young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps, during the darkest days of the Great Depression, with little more than pickaxes and hammers. They found the materials for the cabins in the park itself, and built them by hand.
The cabins have been lovingly restored and updated, and are available to rent overnight. The cabins are equipped with modern kitchens and bathrooms, and come complete with linens and dishes. All you need to bring is food and clothing. (The options for eating out are extremely limited.)
But the best thing we brought were lots and lots of games. We pulled the two big armchairs close the fire and squeezed all four of us into them. During an especially heated game of Apples to Apples, we heard arguments for why hot dogs would be the best example of "pretty" and the Tooth Fairy the best choice for "stinky." The most brownie points were scored by Mary Frances, who chose "my mother" to illustrate kindness. Santa Claus will keep that in mind.
There was no television in sight, and no one asked for it.
While we were there, it mostly rained. During a few drier hours, we ventured out to hike the Carrick Creek Trail, which climbs up the mountainside besides its namesake creek. At times the rushing water spread out and slid over the granite riverbed which was worn smooth and polished. Other times it carved a deep trench into the solid rock. The trail led us to one little waterfall after another.
Both kids got their feet wet (of course) crossing the stream but neither seemed to notice. They were too entranced by the boulders to hide under and climb, the fallen trees to scramble across, the sticks to throw in the creek and the colored leaves to collect.
It started to drizzle, and then rain, just as we were arriving back at the cabin. Luckily, there was hot cocoa and chocolate chip cookies inside, and a fire ready to be brought back to life.
It might be, with no exaggeration, one of the nicest, and certainly the coziest, weekends of my life. We never got to actually see Table Rock. A thick cloud, like a blanket, lingered over it the whole time we were there. But in truth, we didn't need to.
Table Rock State Park is located on S.C. 11 in Pickens
. To make reservations to rent a cabin, click here
or call 866-345-PARK.
In the cabins, there's a piece of paper on the table with helpful tips on how to have a successful fire in the fireplace. Please read that piece of paper, and please follow the tips. Please. The first tip, making sure that the damper is open before lighting the fire, is especially key. We didn't notice that piece of paper at first. When we got there, Alex set to work right away building a fire in the big stone fireplace. By the time the kids and I finished exploring the two-bedroom cabin, he had a blaze going. By the time the kids and I had complimented said blaze, all the alarms were going off and we were all choking on smoke. Double check that the damper is open. Then check again. Trust me on this.