South Carolina is hot! During my first evening, I tried everything to get cool – max AC in my car, taking a cold shower, chomping on ice cubes – until I decided to simply embrace the heat.
And with that mentality I began my first day at Congaree National Park by taking a 12-mile hike. I figured that with enough water I could enjoy some solitude and see one of America’s largest old growth bottomland hardwood forests.
Thoroughly doused in bug spray? Trail map? Double-knotted shoes? Check, check, and check!
I set out and immediately became entranced with the complexity and serenity of the Congaree ecosystem. I also became immediately drenched in my own sweat and draped with a multitude of spider webs. Yet the hike was good! There were so many little things to notice: salamanders, crawfish burrows, brightly colored dragonflies, and an assortment of earthy smells. The trees alone were fascinating. You’d think that an entire forest would become mundane after a couple of hours, but I kept noticing particular things that made these trees diverse and interesting.
I came across one person on this particular hike: a park rancher on her way to check out some bat trees for the sake of data collection. We exchanged pleasantries regarding the weather* and then went on our ways.
Once I returned to my car, I was tired, dehydrated (my 3 liters ran out near the end), and cut up from bush whacking through a tricky section of the hike. But I was so happy and completely mesmerized by the natural world that I had experienced. In fact, as I fell to sleep that night, I could’t wait to go back and learn more about this magical slice of paradise.