Saturday, December 3, 2016

Thanksgiving Celebrations

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The reason we wanted to volunteer here at Santee National Wildlife Refuge (besides establishing some volunteer experience at the national level) was so that we could be close to Nicolas as he completed his nuclear training, and spend the holidays with him.

His program completion and graduation date has been delayed a little due to some facility issues, but two days before Thanksgiving, he finally had completed all requirements and passed his final oral board!  We drove down in the afternoon and took him out for a celebratory dinner!

Newly qualified Nuclear Mechanical Operator

He’s now a qualified Nuclear Mechanical Operator!

He was very relieved to be finished, and although he will continue to work with his crew until his graduation on December 16th, all pressure is gone!

His crew started on midnights the night before Thanksgiving, but since he was qualified, he did not have to go in on Thanksgiving night.  Nice!

We arrived at his apartment in the morning, and got started cooking while he slept.  Once he got up around noon, he helped me in the kitchen.

Making dinner rolls

Awake and helping with dinner

The first turkey cooked in Nicolas’ oven!

Our yummy turkey

He had invited some of his shipmates from his crew to our Thanksgiving dinner, and a couple of them were able to join us.

Happy Thanksgiving!

We enjoyed getting to know these Sailors, and had a great dinner!

On Friday,  Tom and I decided to load up the bikes on the Jeep and find a bike path.

Took our bikes for a ride

We tried Santee State Park first, but their trails were all still closed due to hurricane damage.  I was really surprised – our trails at the Refuge are open, and I thought for sure the state park would have theirs open, since they focus more on the “visitor experience” than we do.

OK, well if we can’t ride there, we decided to try part of the Palmetto Trail.  I read online that the Santee portion of the trail was not useable, but that the Lake Marion section was, so we headed back over the bridge, past the refuge, in search of a spot on the trail where we could leave the Jeep and access the trail.

The Palmetto Trail uses roadways in some areas, and goes off-road in other areas, and unfortunately this section of the trail does not have any official parking areas.  There were a couple of marinas on the trail, though, and we thought we might be able to leave the Jeep at one of them.  We drove through the first, but didn’t feel comfortable leaving the Jeep there, so we continued on, trying to follow the trail on the online map.  That was the other difficult thing – the trail is not very clearly marked, and can be difficult to find.

Our travels took us on an unpaved section of road that we weren’t too sure was going to lead us anywhere!

Taking the Jeep offroad

We passed by cotton fields – some that looked ready to harvest,

Cotton ready to be picked

Cotton field

and some that had already been harvested.

Cotton field -- after picking is complete

We’d never seen bales of cotton before – it was pretty cool!

Bales of cotton

The backroads really did take us somewhere, and we arrived at the next marina, which was actually a fishing resort.  It was pretty nice – cute cabins!

Carolina King Resort

It appeared that some of them were rentals, and others were privately owned, or maybe rented seasonally.

We felt like we could leave the Jeep here without being worried about it, but we couldn’t find the trail.  We parked and went into the store to see if they could direct us to it.  The lady in the store told where the trail was, but she didn’t recommend trying to ride on it.  She said she had walked in a short distance, and there were lots of trees down, and she had heard that somebody else reported seeing lots of rattlesnakes on the trail.  OK, I think we’ll pass on that!

We did drive down to the end of the resort property for a look at the trail.

Well, it’s marked, at least!

Palmetto Trail

We drove a little further along the lake, through the Hickory Top Wildlife Management Area.  Marcie had said she came over here earlier in the week to see ducks.  We didn’t see any, though . . . just an old boat launch at the end of a drive through the cypress forest.

Cypress Swamp

Hickory Top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three strikes on finding a bike trail, so we just headed back and decided to go for a short ride on the refuge.

We saw a few ducks at the Visitor Center,

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and rode out to the Bluff Trail to check out Cantey Bay.

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Cantey Bay

We could hear ducks and geese out there, but couldn’t see any – they are too good at hiding, and since we were in an active hunting season, we couldn’t ride any further out on the bluff.

On the way back, I spotted a beautiful tree and just had to stop for a picture!

Happy Fall

We didn’t get in quite as much riding as we wanted to, but it was still a pretty good day!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Lots of little visitors to the Refuge

The kids are arriving

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, lots of school kids study the history of American Indians.  Since our Wildlife Refuge includes a historic Indian mound belonging to the Santee Indians, we’re a popular location for field trips, and we had a couple of groups visit in the days before Thanksgiving.

Our first school group included Pre-schoolers, 1st graders and 7th graders.  Marcie, the Refuge Manager, had an itinerary planned for the morning that included time in the Visitor Center, a nature hike and a visit to the Indian Mound.  She called in almost all of the volunteers for help – Maria and I were assigned to the Visitor Center, Tom and Mike were in charge of the nature hike, and Marcie and Frank would talk to the groups about the history of the Indian Mound.  After all three groups had been to each of the three locations, they would all gather on the deck at the Visitor Center for lunch.  Marcie’s son was on of our little visitors, so I helped her out by taking pictures.

We started in the Visitor Center with the entire group, where Marcie welcomed everyone and explained the logistics of the day.

Marcie welcoming the group

After she finished, the groups headed out.  Our first group was the Preschool class.

The animals were a big hit with them, and they had a picture scavenger hunt to help them spot all the animals on display in the Visitor Center.

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Petting the River Otter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The alligator skull was another favorite,

The gator skull was very popular

as well as the rest of the “touch table”.

Serious about exploring

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They made their own headresses

 

They had made indian headdresses and brought them with them to wear on the nature walk and visit to the Indian Mound – so cute!

 

 

 

 

 

 

After they finished the scavenger hunt, we had coloring pages to keep them occupied.

Art table

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Before leaving for their nature hike, the group studied the mural in the conference room, where they spotted as many animals as they could.

Finding animals in the mural

Then Tom arrived to take them outside for the nature hike.

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Time for a Nature Hike!

Mike and Tom showed them the garden first, and then took them for a walk on a short trail that follows the edge of the lake.  At the end of the trail, the bus would pick them up and take them to the Indian Mound.

Meanwhile, back at the Visitor Center, the 7th graders had arrived. 

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Maria had an art project for them to do out on the deck – involving pine cones and glitter, so it was a good thing she had it set up outside!  Inside we had a more involved scavenger hunt for them to complete.

When it was time for them to head outside for a hike, Tom and Mike decided they needed a longer route, so in addition to the short nature trail they decided they would continue on to one of the hiking trails that follows Ft. Watson Rd.

Tom leading the 7th Graders

Tom and Mike somehow managed to get lost in the woods, and of course the 7th graders were thrilled with that!  They eventually found their way back, though, but the kids had something to talk about!!

Our last group in the Visitor Center was the 1st graders.  Like the younger ones, they enjoyed the touch table, especially the alligator skull,

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and the coloring pages.

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Maria with the 1st Graders

 

Maria showed several of them the wingspan chart on the wall, where they could measure their own “wingspan” . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and it made for a cute photo op with their teacher.

With their teacher

The other groups arrived and everybody headed out to the deck for lunch.

Time for lunch!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tom sat with his new friends.

Tom and his new little friends

Some of the kids continued to explore,

Looking out at the lake

and others just relaxed and enjoyed the beautiful day.

Frank helping with lunch

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The kids had a really nice time exploring the refuge, and all of us volunteers enjoyed spending time with them.  It’s always fun to have kids around!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Unexpected finds in Sumter, SC

I needed to pick up a couple things at a quilt shop last weekend, so I looked around for some and found two in nearby Sumter.  Sounded like a good plan for a Saturday drive – check out a new town and visit a couple quilt shops.

On our way to the first quilt shop, we passed by a fairgrounds where there were lots of tents set up, and a park that looked interesting.

After finding one of the things I needed at the first shop, we went back to check out the event at the fairgrounds.  It turned out to be a BBQ cookoff by the local Fire Department, but we weren’t ready to eat yet, so we passed on that one.

We did stop in at the Swan and Iris Gardens, though, and it turned out to be quite a nice find!

Swan on the lake

We drove in and parked in the parking lot where workers were busy putting up outdoor Christmas lights.  There was a picnic area and playground for kids that looked really nice.  There was also a small coffee shop/cafe/ice cream shop, but we still weren’t ready to eat.

Across from the picnic area, there was a sidewalk leading to an iron gate with a sign reminding people to close the gate behind them, and not to bring any dogs in.  We weren’t sure where we were going, but we went through the gate.  The sidewalk lead us over to a beautiful lake surrounded by cypress trees.

The lake at Swan Garden

We saw ducks, geese, anhinga, herons and swans . . . lots of swans!

There was a trail following the edge of the lake,

Walking along the trail

and a few more gates to go through as we neared a feeding area for the residents.

Feeding Station

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We weren’t sure what to expect as we walked through the feeding area, but figured it wouldn’t be open if they were aggressive . . . then we saw this sign later . . . on the other side of the lake!

 

 

 

 

 

There were lots of swans milling around in the feeding area, and in the water nearby.  I’d never seen black swans before!  As we continued walking along the trail, there were signs for each of the species of swan in the garden – there were about 10 different ones, some native to the US (Trumpeter Swans) and some native to Europe and Asia.

This area was really smelly!

Black Swans

The lake was beautiful, and I couldn’t resist taking pictures of the swans.

Black Swans and White Swans

We continued around the lake,

The lake is so pretty

over a boardwalk,     Crossing the boardwalk

 

and past several interesting trees.

Interesting trees

Another cool tree

It was a beautiful day for a walk around the lake – we were so glad we stopped!

I just love this lake

Surrounding the lake there were several gardens, including a “braille garden” where all the plants were selected for their fragrance.

Braille Garden

Fall colors

We stopped for a break to watch the ducks at the other end of the lake.

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Trail along the lake

 

We found ducks!

Ducks

One last look at the lake before we leave!

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One last look at the lake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The visit to the Swan Garden alone made the trip to Sumter worthwhile, but we weren’t done yet . . .

On the way to the next quilt shop, we drove through the historic downtown area.  As we approached the center of town, the streets were closed for a Thanksgiving Parade.  We decided to stop and watch, and as we parked the Jeep on a side street, we spotted a car show.

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It turned out to be an all-Ford car show . . . with plenty of Mustangs,

Mustangs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mercurys,

Mercury

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and even trucks!

Ford Trucks

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Tom really liked this Bronco!  That would be nice to take on the dunes!

Nice Bronco

Old Fords in a row

 

It wasn’t a big car show, but there were some very nice cars there.  Another gem!

Too bad Nicolas was working  -- he would have enjoyed this one!

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the car show, we walked a few blocks down to reach the parade route and were just in time to catch the tail end of the parade.

We stood on the corner by a church to watch the parade.

Anglican Church

In addition to some floats, there were Corvettes,

Corvette Club

horses,

Cowboys

and a High School Marching Band!

Marching Band

We’d had a pretty full day, but we had one more stop to make before getting some dinner.  We found my other quilt shop, and I found the 2nd item I was looking for, and we asked the ladies in the shop for recommendations on a pizzeria.

They mentioned a few, but the general consensus was that Marco’s had the best pizza in town.  Really??  Marco’s?  The carryout pizza place – that’s the best pizza in town!?!  They said it was an eat-in place, too, but when we drove past it looked just like the Marco’s back in Michigan, maybe with a few tables inside.  No thanks, certainly we can do better then that!

So, I turned to Yelp, and found one of the other places they had mentioned, Georgio’s II, and it had pretty good reviews.  Following my phone gps, we drove right past the first quilt shop again, and then arrived at the little italian restaurant.  It was empty (but we were pretty early for dinner), and very good . . . although they did forget to put sausage on our pizza!  We enjoyed the pizza – definitely better than Marco’s – and headed back home.

It was a very good day – I found the things I was looking for, and we found some hidden gems that we didn’t even know were there!