It started with a turkey sandwich, and the need for a place to eat it. It was a weird day, in terms of exploration, but one that ultimately turned up some interesting discoveries, at least for me.
When I started out I only had two things in mind. First I wanted to get out of the house. With all of the rain and trying to put the house back together after Christmas, I wanted a bit of a break. I wanted to find an interesting place for photos. The second thing was that I was tired of eating out at lunch and wanted to save some money and calories. I’d made a lovely turkey sandwich and, despite it being rather chilly, I figured I could find an interesting place to eat it.
My wanderings really were random at first. I weaved through side streets of West Greenville, not really being inspired. I crossed the Saluda River into Pickens County, then found myself at Bowen’s Mill on the Old Saluda Dam road.
Since I was so close I decided to stop at the Saluda Dam and get a few photos. Much to my dismay I found my usual access point closed off. There were no “No Trespassing” signs everywhere, and “No Parking” signs where I used to stop. This was disappointing. I had thought about using this spot as a launch point for kayak trips on the Saluda.
I guess recent floods have made this area dangerous. The makeshift trails down to the river were already highly eroded. I guess this view, in a photo taken in 2007, will no longer be available to the public.
I made my way across the road to get a few photos of the dramatic railroad trestle across the Saluda. Of course, there were now “No Trespassing” signs on that side, too.
Next up was a weird series of twists and turns with few photos. I drove up the Pickens County side of Saluda Lake along the old Vinland School Road. There were a couple of interesting large estates on this side of the river.
I found myself in Dacusville. I zigzagged along country roads, crossing the Saluda several times. I reached Hunts Bridge over the Saluda, and had planned to take photos of the ruins of the old store across from the bridge. Unfortunately, there was a litter pick-up crew on the bridge and right at the old store site. I kept driving.
Next was an interesting set of criss-crosses. I popped out onto Highway 276 north of Travelers Rest. I drove on up through Marietta, then started taking side roads that I ignore most of the time I’m driving up this one. One in particular intrigued me. North of Marietta where 276 narrows from 4 lanes to 2 a series of roads branches to the right, toward the north. I turned onto Hart Cut Road.
I found myself on a bridge that was unusual for this area. It was over a narrow, steep depression that didn’t look like a typical stream bed. Looking over the edge as I drove across the bridge I could see that it wasn’t a stream. I had found the old path of the Swamp Rabbit Railroad. Fellow explorer Mark Elbrecht has done a marvelous job plotting the path of the old railroad, and his map confirms that this was the namesake Hart Cut. Again, I didn’t get any photos, for whatever reason.
It was getting close to lunch time and I hadn’t really stopped to take many photos. My mind started to run through possible options for where I might eat my sandwich. I remembered Pleasant Ridge Park off of Highway 11, and so I headed that way.
In the age of segregation Pleasant Ridge was established as a separate park facility for blacks. The white community had Paris Mountain State Park. In the late 1960s the parks integrated, but for many years afterward during my childhood I remember the park retaining the stigma among the white community as “the park for blacks.” In the 1980s the park was transferred from the state park system to Greenville County Recreation.
While small by state park standards, Pleasant Ridge is a lovely park. The park seems to be in three sections. The lower section near the entrance has a picnic shelter, a trail head, and a large open field. The main road winds up a hill, where there is a fishing lake, more shelters, and a playground. The park also has a camp and retreat center.
I drove to the upper section and poked around a bit, then headed back to the lower section. It was too cool and breezy for one of the picnic tables, so I had my sandwich in my car. While eating I decided to see if there were any geocaches in the park. Of course, there were. I went in search of the closest, which was just a few feet from where I was. I didn’t have my GPS with me, but just relied on the app on my iPhone. The coordinates bounced around a bit and I searched and searched. Just when I was giving up I spotted it.
The find whetted my appetite for more. “Pleasant Ridge Stonehenge” caught my attention. I decided to go in search of it.
The GPS led me up the Leroy Smith Trail. Leroy Smith was the first African American superintendent of a South Carolina State Park, and the trail is named in his honor. The path ran beside a small stream, and not far up the trail I came to a beautiful little waterfall and interesting set of stone ruins.
The geocache was, in fact, hidden among these ruins. I later learned that these were the remains of an old grist mill. So far I haven’t find any other information about the mill.
I had only brought my little Panasonic Lumix with me and no tripod. Even so, I tried to get some long exposure shots of the falls. One of the reasons I like this camera so much is because it let’s you do manual control of exposure, etc. However, I didn’t have ND filters to help slow down the exposure in mid-day.
I decided to continue on along the trail. Not too far up the trail I found the remains of an old moonshine still (clearly labeled as such.) All that was left were the cooper’s iron rings from the barrels.
Part of the trail branched up toward the fishing lake, but the main part of the trail continued on up the opposite ridge. It was a bit steep and eroded, but I decided to trek on.
The main trail around the park isn’t the Leroy Smith Trail (LST), but the Jorge F. Arango Trail (JFA). This is a 5.2 mile mixed use trail shared by mountain bikers and hikers. Hikers go one direction, and mountain bikers the opposite so that they can see each other coming. Directions switch each month to even out erosion and to present a new trail experience.
On the LST this can get confusing as the JFA runs parallel and crosses the LST a couple of times. I kept thinking I might have gotten back to the car sooner if I’d taken the other trail, but I doggedly followed the LST.
Out on the trail I tried pulling up a few more geocaches. Here’s where the iPhone app fails. I didn’t get a good cell signal, so I couldn’t find the caches. I gave up and just kept hiking until I got back to the car. Several mountain bikers were just getting underway.
It had been a good, if not wildly random day out and about, but I had chores for the rest of the afternoon. Still, it was good to spend a little time in this oft-forgotten park in Greenville. It’s well worth a trek up this way.