Less Traveled

Page Ivey

SOUTH CAROLINA INSIDER

 

Escape the heat and head upstate to discover bridges, views and more

Posted 7/4/2012 10:56:00 AM

It’s hot. It’s sitting-on-the-sun, can’t-think-straight, need-a-gallon-of-water-a-day hot. So what should you do in South Carolina?

Go north, of course. South Carolina’s Upstate is hot, make no mistake about it, but the elevation makes it feel a little cooler even when it’s over 100 degrees.

A great way to see some of the great less-traveled sites of the Upstate is by way of S.C. 11, the Cherokee Scenic Highway. You can make a day, a weekend or a whole week of it.

There is one short stretch of the byway that lets you see a pair of old bridges: a covered bridge from the early 20th century and the oldest intact bridge in South Carolina.

Built in 1820, Poinsett’s Bridge was one of three stone structures on a toll road that ran between Asheville, N.C., and Charleston. The surviving bridge was the only one of the three that featured a gothic arch, which spans Little Gap Creek.

The northern tier of the road with the bridges was laid out by Joel R. Poinsett, who was elected to Congress while the road was being built. Poinsett later went on to serve as ambassador to Mexico, where he discovered the plant that bears his name, the poinsettia. He brought it and hundreds of other botanical specimens to the U.S. while he served as president of the National Institute for the Promotion of Science, which later became the Smithsonian Institution.

The second bridge is Campbell’s Covered Bridge, one of the last covered bridges in South Carolina, though it has been closed to traffic since 1984.

The 12-foot-wide, 38-foot-long bridge harkens back to another time when life moved a little slower. Built in 1909, the bridge spans Beaverdam Creek, where visitors can stop and dip a toe in to get a little refreshment from the summer heat. Also on the site are the remnants of a grist mill and a 19th century home.

While you’re in the general area, one place that will provide some relief both visceral and spiritual is Symmes Chapel, also known as Pretty Place, above the YMCA Camp in Greenville County just this side of the North Carolina state line. It is quite a ride to get to the chapel. You’re more than halfway there when you pass the camp. But the views are well worth the trouble. The chapel is often booked for weddings or special events, so double check at the camp before making that last drive to the top of the mountain to be sure it is open to the public. Your best bet is to go either early in the morning or just before sunset on weekdays. The view is indescribably beautiful and will take your breath away.

On a recent visit, a couple was getting engaged on one side and several patrons were praying in the seats and near the giant cross that stands at the front of the chapel. If you come, be respectful of others and remember, it is a church, so no alcohol or smoking.

If you decide you want a little more get-away-from-the-heat time, the Foxfire Mountain cabins are a perfect place to stay between Jones Gap and Caesars Head state parks. (That is, if you don’t want to camp a little more rustically at the state parks.)

A one-bedroom cabin sleeps two and is $135 Friday-Saturday nights, a little less during the week. If a loft or sofa bed is used, it’s $10 extra per night for up to 2 children. Two cabins are pet-friendly.

Foxfire is owned and operated by Jimmy Vaughn, a wonderful guide to all things to do while staying at his six-cabin retreat. All the cabins come with their own manmade moving-water feature to create the sounds of a babbling brook, because as Jimmy says, “There’s no flowing water at the top of the mountain.” From here, all the Upstate activities: horseback riding, paddling and hiking are available.