From the mountain to the Valley

By Stacy Thompson

So how to follow up climbing to the Rooftop of Africa? Head to the lowest dry point in North America!  When my mom first suggested a hiking and camping trip to Death Valley, I of course had to wisecrack “the one in Clemson or Baton Rouge?” (for my non-sports-obsessed readers, the football stadiums at LSU and Clemson are nicknamed ‘Death Valley’)  She responded with a well-deserved eye-roll, and then said she was serious…she wanted to hike in Death Valley.  With very little knowledge of the region, but, as ever, trusting my mom’s keen sense of adventure, I repeated the words I respond with whenever she suggests a hike…”I’ll never say no!”

So last month we hit the trail again, but this time in the confines of a 3.4 million-acre US National Park that is the largest in the contiguous US.  Not only is Death Valley the driest (about 2 inches of rain…annually!) and the hottest (record high of 134 degrees) place in North America, it also has the lowest dry elevation of -282 feet in Badwater Basin.  Legend has it that the Valley was named by gold-rushers who spent several miserable months trying to get through to California –after suffering dehydration and near starvation, when they finally reached the edge of the desert, one turned and looked back to exclaim “Goodbye Death Valley.”

I’ve visited deserts in my travels, and have spent numerous weeks inside of and around the Grand Canyon.  My past experiences in no way prepared me for the diversity of Death Valley.

From mudstone hills and canyons…

To serene, magnificent sand dunes…

To the salt pan surrounded by distant peaks…

Every day, and even several times in a day, we were experiencing inspiring vistas and dramatically varied terrains.  As always, Mom kept on hikin’…

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And although we didn’t get to see much wildlife (did you read the part above about the lack of rain and extreme heat…don’t blame them!), we did manage to spy on this little guy on one of our treks…

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In all, it was another amazing adventure to one of the more unusually beautiful places in our country – I’d highly recommend it, but may want to avoid the summer months!!!

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Happy Trails!

By Stacy Thompson

If you’ve read my earlier posts, you know that I enjoy a good hike and, even better, a good challenge.  Although I’ve always loved the outdoors, hiking only recently became a favorite pastime, as I decided to follow in the footsteps of a pretty incredible mother (mine) who felt the pull of the peak.  Since her first climb six years ago, we’ve been on some incredible journeys together – but in finding joy in our journey, we have to prepare and prepare hard.  In truth, the hikes are amazing, but our prep time together is the greatest gift that leads to our ultimate goal.

So how do two land-locked, Lexington County natives living at 292 feet prepare for Machu Picchu (7,972 feet), base camp of Mt. Everest/Kala Patthar (18,514 feet) and Kilimanjaro (19,431 feet)??? One foot in front of the other, in stairwells, steps and trails anywhere and everywhere we can find them!  Maybe our fellow hikers with the benefit of high altitudes in the vicinity have an advantage, but we make the most of what we have available to us, and to date we have met every challenge.

Here are a few of our favorite spots to train and enjoy the outdoors in the Midlands (leaving out the parking garage, of course!)—

  • Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park – still a work in progress and still recovering from the Great Flood – the flattest path you’ll find and a great place to train for a 5k, 10k or ½ marathon – particularly nice on cooler days, as most of the paths are sun-filled!
  • Sesquicentennial State Park – probably better for the bikers, but these trails are accessible and have campsites available for overnights, if that’s your thing
  • Congaree National Park – I’ve only explored the shorter trails and the area by kayak, but plan to venture further into the area to see what this National Park has to offer
  • Cayce Riverwalk – accessible from the amphitheater off Gervais or the lot off Naples in the Avenues of Cayce – one of the easier boardwalks and trails for bikers, runners, hikers and dog-walkers – this trail is continuing to improve/expand and cannot be missed – and speaking of ‘don’t miss,’ be sure to check out the chainsaw artistry of Wade Geddings while you take in the beauty of the Congaree
  • Timmerman Trail – venture down the 12th Street Extension in Cayce toward SCANA to find this gem of a trail – eventually downtown Soda City will meet River Rat as the Timmerman Trail / Cayce Riverwalk will join with the Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park for miles and miles of enjoyment – until then, Timmerman Trail does not disappoint!
  • Harbison State Park – we’ve been hiking the park for a couple of years now, but still manage to find new areas, new parts to get (semi) lost in, and new trails that have us marveling that we are still within the county limits! Trails for bikes, hikes and pups – what could be better (nothing, based on the look on my boy Lincoln’s face!)  There are trails for newbies, those wanting a little challenge and those looking to take it to the next level!