"You know that TV show, Inside Edition? They was here. Set up cameras and bright lights early one morning before the sun come up. Wanted to know all about it. 'Animal Planet' was supposed to come but they never did."
Dan Daniels leaned against his counter covered in newspaper clippings and fantastic items. An alligator head grinned between us, while the glassy stares of dozens of taxidermy projects held us in their gaze. The din of hundreds, maybe thousands of crickets filled the space between his words. Here was a man who claimed he had seen the elusive "swamp ape," a Bigfoot-like creature of the Southern wild and he trulty enjoyed telling the story of the encounter so long ago. We had entered the cabinet of curiosities known as the Low Falls Landing Bait House and our horizons had broadened to the very edges of belief.
There is indeed a place in South Carolina where a vast swamp challenges the senses, where cabins and shacks float precariously between trees adorned by Spanish moss and a mighty river flows from the highlands of two states and disappears into a vast lake of cypress and water lilies on its way to the sea. One way to get out into it all is to put in at Low Falls Landing in Calhoun County. From there you can explore Stumphole Swamp where the mighty Santee River forms from the two most "Carolina" of rivers, the Congaree and Wateree. For generations people would anchor small fishing cabins among the trees. Recent laws have discontinued this and will even require their removal, but they are still a sight to see among the cypress.
From Stumphole Swamp you can enter the main channel of the Santee River. With waters brown from rainstorms in upcountry fields and valleys passage on the Santee is like an adventure on the Amazon or the Congo. Indeed when the river finally gives out and disappears into a vast field of lilies and other aquatic plants, you will travel among sparse forests of cypress and not be surprised if Bogart and Hepburn appear from around the bend in the African Queen as refugees from another time and place.
Recently we took this passage through the swamp and along the Santee and were overwhelmed by the beauty and abundant wildlife. Osprey dipped and called, alligators roared and songbirds called among the trees. Our final stop with Dan and his Bait House filled with strange creatures and tales of myth and legend only confirmed that we had entered another world and we would return to Bluffton and never be able to view the swamp quite the same again.
Stumphole Swamp and the Santee River are very accessible. The public landing at Low Falls is only two hours from Bluffton and provides free parking for a good entry into this world. The swamp and Santee are accessible only by kayak, canoe or small boat. A good take out would be one of several landings at the head of the lake. We took out at Poplar Creek Landing near Santee. There is a $3 landing fee at Poplar Creek but this well-run and friendly place is well worth the visit in and of itself. There is no fee for Low Falls landing but the price of admission to Dan Daniels' Low Falls Landing Bait House is simply to have an active imagination, a friendly smile and willingness to pass the time considering the power of legends. Dan's store is worth a day trip in and of itself and he welcomes all visitors. In addition to friendly chats he provides snacks, bait and guide services on the lake. He is at Low Falls Road in Cameron. Call him anytime at 803-823-9074 for info on the swamp, the river or even the elusive swamp ape.
BARBECUE AND BLUEGRASS
For many years the town of Lone Star South Carolina was a center of agriculture and a thriving community in Calhoun County. The town may have faded but the memory lives on at the Lone Star Barbecue and Mercantile in Santee, South Carolina. Comprised of several authentic buildings moved from Lone Star and the surrounding area, you can enjoy world-class barbecue made the old fashioned way. This all-you-can-eat buffet is served in an old general store that functioned as a community post office until 1997. Now it is a thriving family gathering place on a Saturday evening where a local bluegrass band will serenade and storytellers will share knowledge as you enjoy the bounty of the local countryside. The restaurant is at 2212 State Park Road in Santee and opens 11:30 a.m. till 8 or 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and open 11:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays. Details: 803-854-2000, www.lonestarbbq.net
Bluffton resident Matt Richardson enjoys taking day trips with his family and exploring the Lowcountry. To see more pictures from his adventures, go to www.Flickr.com and search on the username "greenkayak73." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.