March 24, 2019 (by Angela)
Since Jim and I arrived in the South Carolina Upcountry three weeks ago, most of the weekend days have been cold or rainy (or both). Thanks to the magic of long-range forecasts (magical sometimes), I was able to foresee a potentially beautiful weekend this weekend. The forecast was correct this time. Jim came home from the frozen tundra sick. I pulled out all of the tricks in my “Doctor Mom” medicine bag, and I was happy and relieved when he said he did feel better and up to the plans I’d been making for us for Saturday the 23rd.
About 6 or so miles from our campground is the most eastern portion of SC 11, the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway. It was my hope that we’d spend the entire day driving the highway and taking some side trips to see even more. Honestly, one could spend a week doing this, but we had a day, so we made the best of it in 11 1/2 hours, including the drive back to the campground.
After an early and hearty breakfast at the Waffle House along Hwy 11 in Gaffney, South Carolina, Jim and I began our trek. Since we had taken a couple of hours to visit Cowpens National Battlefield Park the week before, we drove on past this time. It didn’t take long before Jim and I realized that late spring is the best time to drive the eastern portion of this road as it ran through acres and acres of blooming peach trees and still-covered strawberry plants. The blooms were beautiful to see, but my mouth was watering thinking of fresh, in-season fruit to be found at long-time farm businesses like Strawberry Hill and others in the area. Strawberries should be ready to pick in May and June, followed by blueberries and blackberries. Peaches probably will start to ripen in June and continue through August.
Jim and I admired the scenery as we drove, getting ever closer to the mountains. To grab a quick shot of the mountains, we stopped next to a large field with only one horse visible. Evidently, the handsome equine wanted some company. He began “chatting” with me as soon as he saw me get out of the car. I yelled a greeting back to him, and he responded. I waved to say good-bye, but he wanted to visit more and began trotting across the field to me. I sadly told him I had to go. Jim was parked on one side of the two-lane, and he was telling me to hurry up. I felt sad to leave the horse without a chat or pet.
Our first stops for real exploration involved two historic bridges. The first was Campbell’s Covered Bridge, the only remaining covered bridge in South Carolina. It was beautiful there, and Jim and I were able to explore it by ourselves with others only arriving as we were leaving. We got off the scenic highway once again for a second mini side trip to see another historic bridge, the oldest remaining intact bridge in the state known today as Poinsett Bridge. It was built in 1820. The history of both bridges is interesting, and you can learn more by clicking the links above.
Now, Jim and I were at the base of some real mountains, so it was time to go up. We chose to drive to the top of one mountain to visit Caesars Head State Park. Being suckers for an opportunity to see a great view, we stopped about half way up before entering the state park at a point known as Bald Rock. I could’ve done without the graffiti on the rock, but it still was an amazing view!
When we successfully conquered the snake-like road that took us to the top, we were over 3,500 feet in elevation. There is an fantastic view on either side of land included in two neighboring state parks: Table Rock to the west and Jones Gap to the east. The photo below is looking toward Table Rock and it’s reservoir. You also see Pinnacle Mountain, the tallest mountain completely inside the state of South Carolina, though Sassafras Mountain is the highest point.
We continued to follow SC 11, and before long we came to Aunt Sue’s Restaurant and shops. It was a nice stop, and Jim and I were hungry. Now, here’s my thoughts on Aunt Sue’s, but keep in mind, we’re way out in the country in the off season, so don’t let this discourage you from going there. They were about 20 minutes late opening for lunch on the Saturday we were there, so we spent the time looking in the shops. He and I loved the glass work and bought something there. The restaurant was welcoming, and the food was very good. When one considers what was included in our order, it was decently priced. The servers were friendly and didn’t let anything seem to stress them. All of that said, we had to wait a good while to be seated and a good long while for our food to be served; they weren’t that busy when we arrived – maybe 7 – 8 other tables seated along with us. The place did get busy, but it shouldn’t have impacted our being seated and our food preparation, which was cooked to order. Jim and I were there about an hour and a half for hamburgers and fries/tots, with drinks, and ice cream for dessert.
Running out of time since we had to return as far as we were driving the same day, Jim and I knew we wanted to hike to some of the waterfalls. Our first choice was Twin Falls, not too far from where we’d stopped for lunch. The hike is described as easy. However, with all of the roots and rocks to potentially trip over as we made our way up to the falls on what at times was a narrow and wet path, it’s not THAT easy, but it isn’t bad. It IS certainly worth the effort! In a few weeks everything will be really green and awesome, but even surrounded by mostly bare trees, the Twin Falls were spectacular. On a side note, as we walked to the falls, we saw this tree sitting on a rock with roots that looked like legs stretching to the ground from all directions. This tree wanted to grow here, and it found a way.
Unfortunately, I made a bone-headed choice in stepping up on a rock with my still tender knee I injured last month, so Jim and I had to choose carefully our next hike. I was not up to another mile or more hike, especially if not pretty easy after re-injuring myself. Finally, we found one that was appealing in both the legend that goes with the falls and the effort it would require to see the beauty of the waterfalls: Issaqueena Falls located inside Stumphouse Tunnel Park.
The legend is written a little differently each time I’ve read it, but it always evolves around an Indian woman, her white lover, a warning of attack, and her eventually having to hide at the falls to save herself. I’ll let you explore the legend variations yourself, but the one posted at the falls is included with the photos. As for the falls, just like Twin Falls, Issaqueena Falls is worth the visit, even while the trees around are pretty bare. There is the easy route to the viewing area, or you can be brave like Jim and continue on to hike the short but very steep walk to the bottom (he went about halfway to the bottom) of the falls. After viewing the falls and we were headed to our car, we once again crossed the little stream just a few yards from the top of the falls (pictured below). I shook my head in wonder that such a small, shallow stream can feed such a huge waterfall.
I wish we’d had more time because it was the perfect weekend for this type of exploration. Truly, you could camp somewhere central of the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway and explore in each direction for a week and not see and do it all. We highly recommend this adventure.