It was the second Saturday of the month, and time for another Lowcountry Unfiltered outing. For this excursion we were headed to the heart of some Civil War history along the Savannah River. The plan was to paddle a 5 mile stretch from Beck’s Ford Landing to Millstone Landing. It turned out to be a momentous trip for a variety of reasons.
I drove down right after work Friday evening and crashed at Matt’s place in Bluffton. The next morning we loaded up the boats at met the rest of the LCU guys at their usual meeting place, Grace Coastal Church. It was a small group – five of us met at the church, and James Martin came down from Columbia to meet us at the landing.
As we drove through the town of Hardeeville, small signs with the word “Pow Wow” and arrows pointing in the general direction we were going. When we got to the turn off for the take-out at Millstone Landing, we saw the following sign…
Apparently there was a big Pow Wow at the landing. We were starting to wonder if this was a good idea.
When we got to the landing there were tents set up everywhere and things were just getting started. Parking was just starting to get scarce, but we found places for two of our cars. We loaded up our boats into the remaining trucks and drove on up to our put-in at Beck’s Ferry Landing.
Even though there wasn’t a pow wow going on here, there was still quit a bit of activity. Lots of boats had already launched, and parking was at a premium. We unloaded our boats and gear and prepared to launch.
Since the route was shorter than one of our usual trips, we decided to do a couple of side explorations. Well, actually we do that anyway, but this time we knew we had a bit of spare time. So, instead of heading downstream, we paddled north a bit toward Meyer Lake.
The current out on the river was not overpowering. Still, we clung to the side until we got to the lake, where the channel narrowed. The waterway was typical of a lowcountry channel, with cypress trees and Spanish moss.
A couple of straight channels broke off to the east. These were/are used by SCE&G for power production. There was one main channel, then another that looked like it was no longer in use.
Last month when we paddled Sparkleberry Swamp we saw a barred owl that posed for us. This time, down another small side channel we spotted a pair of owls. They stayed just out of lens range behind a mass of limbs. These were the bet shots I got. I think Matt got a better one.
We continued on up the channel. Despite the recent rain, water levels were down, as evidenced by the waterlines on the trees.
The lake split and we headed down the east channel. Pretty soon, though, we ran out of room and water. At higher levels we would have been able to continue on through to another lake.
We retraced our steps and turned down the west arm of the lake. It looked like it came to an end, too, but we wanted to check for a route back through to the river.
As we got closer to the end of the channel, Matt almost paddled across a small alligator. It startled the beast, who splashed around in front of his boat, then hid under some limbs.
Despite the warmth of the day, this was the only gator that we would see. Maybe that was a good thing.
We paddled back out to the main river. As soon as we crossed the invisible barrier between lake and river the current picked up.
There was quite a bit of boat traffic out on the river. Most of these were small john boats, and all were quite respectful of our presence. They slowed down to no wake until they got past us.
As we paddled down the main river we began hearing loud reports from the west bank of the river – gun shots. Jimmy informed us that this was the first day of wild hog hunting on the Georgia side of the river. Most of the boats that passed us had hunters in international orange attire.
Just a little ways down from Beck’s Ferry we entered a channel to the west that led to an old oxbow lake. This was another narrow channel away from the main river’s current. Small boats had tied up to the west bank, and we encountered one hunter that was apparently lost. Another boat pulled up and gave him a lift.
Most of these boats were loaded with hunters, and we wondered how in the world they would get a wild pig in the boat, even if they did score one.
On the back side of the lake was a memorial, perhaps to some careless hunter? Hard to say.
We continued on down the river, finding a nice beach for a quick respite on the east bank. With all the gunfire we wanted to avoid the west bank.
Just around the corner from our stop was the entrance to another oxbow lake. We paddled in and and as far back as we could. Eventually our route was blocked by lily pads and duck weed. We paused again to watch a cattle egret take flight.
Back out at the main channel we saw more wildlife. An osprey flew over, and in the distance we could see a bald eagle. Unfortunately it didn’t get close enough for a decent photograph.
By this time it was after noon and we were getting hungry. We find another nice beach, but it was on the west bank. We hadn’t seen any hunters’ boats in awhile, so we figured we’d be OK as long as we kept to the beach area.
Pretty soon we can to a large bend in the river that marked the Purrysburg Township. Right at the bend was the wreck of an old wooden barge. Barges plied these waters from Savannah to Augusta until as late as the 1970’s. This one looked like it had been abandoned long ago.
Matt slipped around the corner, and when he returned he had a new hood ornament for his kayak – a water moccasin. We weren’t sure if it was alive and just playing dead, or if it really was dead. After awhile, though, it became apparent that it was, in fact, deceased. Matt said the back end of the snake looked like it had bullet wounds.
Matt paddled with his new hood ornament for quite awhile. At one point it fell off and he retrieved it with his paddle.
Purrysburg was settled on the banks of the Savannah River by French Huguenots from Switzerland in the 1730’s. At one time it was the second largest settlement in Beaufort County, next to Beaufort itself. Unfortunately, the town died out. Now Purrysburg consists of several very nice homes on the banks of the river.
Right in the middle of the area there is a sunken tug boat. Actually, there was a bit of discussion as to what type of boat it actually was. I’m thinking a tug is the most likely explanation, given the amount of barge traffic on the river. We stopped to explore, and Matt and Alan actually boarded the relic.
In between Purrysburg and Millstone Landing there had been a ship building dock for Confederate forces during the Civil War. The only thing left as a reminder were a few wooden pylons.
As we continued on down the river we began hearing the drums from the pow wow. The sound reverberated from the river bluffs, giving an ominous feel to the river. I recorded a bit of the audio later. Imagine this echoing across the river at a distance…
As we approached Millstone Landing we could see lots of activity going on.
However, we weren’t quite ready to end our trip. We continued on about a half mile below our take-out to a place marked “Indian Mound” on our maps. This was a high bluff that apparently had been a settlement or something for the Yemassee Indians. We beached the kayaks and climbed up the bluff. The sound of the drums still wafted over the river, adding an eery feel to the climb.
At the top of the bluff we found a nice dry area shaded by huge live oaks. Down at the bottom of the hill the area gave way to another swamp.
We made our way back down to the river and along the bluff. On our way back down to the kayaks we found clay pottery shards, confirming that this had been a settlement.
I was getting very tired at this point, and struggled to paddle back upstream to our take-out. Unbeknownst to me, my boat had taken on lots water in the dry well when we parked the kayaks at a steep angle. I had to use the bilge pump to empty it, but not before I lumbered up to the boat ramp.
We retrieved our vehicles from Beck’s Ferry and loaded up the boats. Our 5 mile trip had doubled to nearly 10 miles with all of the side treks we took. Here’s a map of the excursion. You’ll need to click it for the full view.
The rest of my comrades were ready to hit the road, but the pow wow intrigued me. Laura was on her way back from Florida, and when I called to check on her progress, she informed me that I-95 was at a standstill. That gave me an excuse to linger and let traffic clear.
I paid the entrance fee and entered. Tents were set up with various wares.
There were lots of folks walking around in various colorful costumes.
In a way, this reminded me very much of the Scottish Highland Games at Furman. There was similar merchandise, and it gave people an excuse to wear traditional clothing and celebrate their heritage.
A dance circle had been set up in front of the main tent, and those wearing the traditional outfits were invited to join the dance. Two different drum circles traded off with singing and drumming between dances.
At the end of a song the dancers would stop and tickets were pulled from a hat for prizes for the dancers. This continued for several songs. Here is a video clip showing some of the dancing.
It was a great trip, full of history and culture. I was glad I stayed for a bit of the pow wow, but I still had a four hour drive ahead of me. I took TONS of photographs, and didn’t embed them all, so here is a slide show of the ones seen here, as well as the rest I didn’t use.