Elizabeth A.S. Brooke

Crafting, traveling and everything in between.


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Cypress Gardens, Monck’s Corner, S.C.

I mentioned Cypress Gardens in an earlier post. This was probably my most favorite place during our trip to Charleston, S.C. It’s hard to believe this is a Berkeley County Parks and Recreation park!

There are 3.5 miles of trails, boat rides, a butterfly house, the Swamparium and lots of wildlife.

We were able to get in a boat ride before the sky opened up and dumped buckets of rain. You can take a free, self-guided boat ride or wait for a park employee to take you on a tour (cost $5). We opted to go it alone. Here’s some of what we saw:

There were lots of lily pads.
Our boat.
This guy was resting close to the boat house. (Look to the left of the pillar.)
We had to paddle or float under two foot bridges.
We got within about six feet of this lazy gator. Close enough to scare him off the log. Oops!

It was amazing paddling around in the water, especially when we could get up close and personal with some alligators. There was a photography club there the same time we were, and one lady asked to snap some photos of us in the boat. We tried to hold the boat steady as she snapped some photos of us from the side of the pond.

A friend used to live near Charleston and told us how snakes are known to fall out of the trees into boats at the park. Aaaggghhh! Luckily, I think, we were in the area much too soon for a snake attack. We also only saw a few gators and they were lazily laying on logs or at the foot of cypresses and other trees.

After the boat ride, it started raining and we dashed into the butterfly house, where we hung out until the rain slowed down and we could make it back to the visitor center/gift shop and then the car.

In the butterfly house we saw:

Quail
The resident wood duck, The Prince. He rules the butterfly house and what he says goes.
Butterflies and flowers

Caterpillars
Cocoons, or chrysalis  

Most of the winged beauties were hanging out at the top of the building and we couldn’t see them that well.

David Davis, butterfly house director, talked with us about the plants, showed us the cocoon house and gave me some seeds for a Mexican flower vine that the butterflies love.

David Davis greets The Prince, who is sitting on top of the bee hive.

Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for kids. Sidney had to stay in the car while we explored the park, but pets are allowed November-February.

This park most definitely should be on your To-Do list if you’re ever in or near Charleston.

I really wanted to walk around the gardens, but the rain wasn’t going to let up so we drove on up the road to our next stop — Conagree National Park, near Columbia, S.C.


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Church Hill, Richmond, Va.

Probably my most favorite neighborhood in Richmond was Church Hill. We spent a lot of time walking around Libby Hill Park and the streets, checking out the historic homes.

This neighborhood is one of the earliest incorporated areas of the city. It’s on a hill that overlooks the James River, downtown and other neighborhoods.
I would love to live in this neighborhood! It’s just so quaint, especially with the Italianate houses, which you know I love. 🙂
Check out this streetscape. So wonderful! I love it.
Check out this sunset.

The statue was erected in 1894 for Confederate soldiers and sailors. It’s at Libby Hill Park, where we saw several kids biking and dogs fetching early in the evening.
We also saw a Segway Tour pass through. The people stopped to check out the view below. The Segway Tours take people to various historic and interesting sites throughout the city. We thought about taking the tour, but opted to explore areas on our own.
Here’s a link to the site for the Alliance to Conserve Old Richmond Neighborhoods and one to Church Hill’s own news website. These are good sites to learn more about the history of the neighborhood and what’s currently happening in the area.
Below the hill, is Shockoe Bottom. We parked at Libby Hill Park one morning and walked down the hill to eat breakfast/brunch at Poe’s Pub. Chris and I both ordered frittatas, which may sound like a light breakfast, but it wasn’t! Both plates were loaded with eggs, cheese, sauce and veggies. We could have easily shared one between the both of us. 
This pub would be a great place to grab a bite to eat or a drink with some friends. The pub hosts several bands throughout the month, from rock and blues to R&B and country.
If we lived in Church Hill, I could imagine us walking down to the pub often during the week.


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Everglades, Miccosukee Reservation and Big Cypress, Fla.

For my final Florida post (it’s taken awhile, hasn’t it?) I saved the best for last. The Everglades! I was so happy to see a part of the park!

We went to the Shark Valley Visitor Center, Everglades National Park, near Miami. That’s the closest visitor center to Chris’ cousins’ house, who we visited the next day. (See my Bill Baggs Cape Florida post here.)

Word of caution … this is a very popular stop. We could not even find a parking spot inside the park. We had to park along U.S. 41 (which, by the way, Chris says runs to his hometown, Evansville, Ind.) and walk in.

And though it was just around lunch time (it took 5 hours to drive from Kissimmee to Miami), all bike rentals and spots on the tram were booked up for the afternoon. So we walked around a portion of the paved, 15 mile look.

No, we didn’t walk the whole 15 miles. There’s no way we could have done that, especially in the blazing heat. We just walked a ways around each side of the loop and along two paths that connect either side of the loop.

Walking along the paved road I felt like we were in a zoo. All the birds and gators were right along the path in pools of water. Interpretive signs explained that during the winter months (we were there in March) the wildlife hang out in the small pools of water. When the spring rains come, there’s more water and the animals move further out.

  All photos by E.A. Seagraves or Christopher Brooke
All rights reserved. Please do not use any photos without permission.

So it didn’t really feel like we were out in the wild. Which is okay. We were able to get a lot of photos of birds and gators, including this fella who was sunning himself right by the path:

Since it was cooler than 80 degrees, the gators weren’t moving around much. The need higher temps to move about and digest food. Lucky for us, I guess. 🙂

Here’s some more photos:

Next we took an air boat ride, courtesy of the Miccosukee Indian Village. The boats were stationed across the highway from the park’s entrance so we just walked across the road. Here’s a shot from the boat:

The tour guide took us into the middle of the grassy river to a former chickee, or home. We got out and walked around, checking out the open shelters were families ate and slept:

Chris and I later ate at a Miccosukee restaurant down the road where I tried fried frog legs. I don’t think it tasted like chicken as many people say. I thought it tasted like fish and was appropriately served with tartar sauce. Though they tasted okay, I don’t think frog legs are something I will order again. It’s too hard to get past the fact I’m eating a frog. Blegh!

We briefly visited the Big Cypress National Preserve, which is just a few miles west of Shark Valley. The visitor center was already closed so we watched some lazy alligators lounging in front of the center:

Then we headed down the road to take the driving tour — the 16 mile Turner River Road Loop Drive.

It took us 3 1/2 hours to complete the drive. The dirt road had been washed out by rain and had lots of large potholes in it. A park volunteer, collecting trash at the trail head, said the road was passable. And he was right, it was passable, but I felt like the car needed an alignment after the long, bumpy trip. 🙂

Here’s some photos:

I would love to go back to Big Cypress to check out more of the park. And, maybe, one day Chris and I will be able to make it down to the main visitor center of the Everglades — much, much further south in Florida.


More upcoming events — June and July

Galax Leaf and String is June 11-12 in Galax, Va. This is a great event with a weekend full of music, arts and crafts.

Wayne C. Henderson Music Festival and Guitar Competition is June 19 at Grayson Highlands State Park. Henderson is a famous guitar player and luthier. This competition draws thousands each year and is always held on the 3rd Saturday of June, the day before Father’s Day.

Another Hillsville Downtown Celebration concert series will be 5:30 p.m. June 26. I wrote about the concert series here.

Also on June 25 and 26 is Grayson County Fiddlers Convention. It’s located in beautiful Elk Creek, Va. I always enjoyed covering this event for The Gazette. I once saw and took a photo of Roni Stoneman. No joke! I also met Justin Robinson of Carolina Chocolate Drops there (I don’t think it was another fiddlers convention, although it could have been. There are several in the area). Good band. Go check them out here.

Smoke on the Mountain Barbecue Festival is July 16-17. This is another not-to-miss event. It’s fun to sample the barbecue and learn who the reigning team will be each year.

I knew most of these events were coming up but couldn’t find a good, complete online calendar. I was able to find info on these events through Davis-Bourne Inn’s calendar. It appears this inn is becoming a good resource. (Another source, and, yes I’m biased because I worked there, is The Gazette and its visitor guide.)


More info on Beaver Dam Trail


A friend wrote and asked for more details about the Beaver Dam Trail, Hillsville, Va. This is the trail that Chris, Sidney and I frequent the most as it is in the middle of town.

The trail is about 2 miles long and runs from Beaver Dam Road to behind the Carroll County Governmental Complex on Pine Street. You can also continue your walk across Pine Street to stroll along Main Street and visit the downtown merchants.
Beginning at the Beaver Dam Road end of the trail, there is ample parking across the road from the trail head. The trail is mulch, so not that great for wheeled transportation such as bikes and wheelchairs.

The trail, unlike the other end of the trail which I’ll discuss next, is level and makes for a nice stroll along side the Beam Dam Creek, horse pastures and wooded lots.

If you are a nature lover, there are plenty of opportunities to see wildlife and plants. As mentioned in a previous post, Chris and I have spotted several type

s of birds, butterflies and plants. There have also been many sightings of deer, turkey and groundhogs. One Carroll County resident has also claimed he spotted a black bear a couple of years ago.

Among Chris and my favorite bird sights are king fishers, cedar waxwings, scarlet tanagers and blue herons.
There is an a

bundance of fritillary butterflies along the trail as well as whites and blues. Last summer was a wonderful year for yellow Eastern swallowtail. Once crossing one of the several red metal bridges that hang over the creek, we were surprised to see a knot of these yellow and black winged insects mudding, or soaking up nutrients, from the creek bank. You should have seen the butterflies fluttering around and crawling over each other. It was just beautiful!
Here is a picture of these butterflies mudding at a different location in the area earlier this year:
Plants include may apples, cardinal flowers, flame azaleas with gorgeous or
ange blooms, joe pye weed, rhododendron, sassafras trees (Chris’ favorite), ever
greens, cucumber trees and jewel weed.
Here is a picture of a flame azalea taken  earlier this year: 
After about a mile, the trail traverses the Hillsville Police Department and Carroll County Sheriff’s Department’s shooting range and former Hillsville Sewer Plant property. The old holding tanks for sewage are still standing and now serve as staging grounds for straw used by the town.
Curving around this open area, the trail then becomes gravel and steep. It curves up and around Magnolia, a manufacturing facility. The trail is closed off from the plant and a horse pasture with chain link fences.

Not much wildlife save for the horses, birds and pine trees in this area. But there is a bench at the top of the first hill to rest and catch your breath before climbing the next hill.

The next stop and over the second hill, you’ll find yourself behind the Carroll County Wellness Center, the town’s local gym. The trail winds around the edge of the parking lot and once again becomes paved. It headsup a grassy hill overlooking the wellness center and heads toward what’s known as the Carter Pines, a stand of trees that was planted in the 1930s, and the Carter Pines Community Park, which is basically a picnic shelter and a granite Community Honor Wall.

Cutting through the stand of white pines, walkers can see a 1924 hydraulic water ram system (listed on the National Register of Historic Places) and undergrowth that provides perfect shelter for birds. Alongside the water ram is a newly constructed deck for bird watchers to catch a glimpse of various winged creatures.

The trail begins a steep climb after leaving the Carter Pines. There’s a wet land area on the left and many blackberries and devil’s walk stick plants along the path. The trail comes to the back parking lot of the county governmental center and circles around to the left of the building and ends on the other side of Pine Street.