Joanna to Chattooga

Saddle up for Long Creek, pardner, and take in their take on the Wild West.

A Summer Road Trip Across S.C., Part Three of a Three-Part Guide to Crisscrossing South Carolina

In Joanna, on the eastern edge of Laurens County, the Blalock mausoleum dominates the Veterans’ Memorial. Once known as Goldsville, Joanna feels deserted. Beyond its outskirts, kudzu mobs deep woods. This topiary artist gone mad drowns local forests, and somewhere beyond its green masses, I know, farmers struggled to contain red gashes in the earth.

Through Laurens and on to Hickory Tavern. Land rises into green swells as I journey past the silver shoals of the Reedy River and on through Princeton, past aluminum frying pans hanging over some small-but-precious garden plant.

U.S. 178 cosigns with 76 from Honea Path to Anderson – the Electric City, the South’s first city to transmit electricity long-distance. On Nov. 14, 1931, Amelia Earhart flew in to the original airport in her Pitcairn PCA-2 Autogyro, promoting Beech-Nut products. Pondering her fate, I shoot beneath I-85 to La France past Pendleton’s outskirts where Samuel Augustus Maverick was born. Sam moved on to become an ornery Texas rancher, a “maverick” who signed the Texas Declaration of Independence. Thus, did “maverick” enrich our language.

Here in Foothills Country, the land climbs. To the left sits the entrance to the Botanical Gardens of South Carolina and its 295 acres of gardens and bogs. U.S. 76 crosses Lake Hartwell and the Seneca River, where its inundated riverbed joins the Tugaloo to create the mighty Savannah, that great river of sovereign delineation.

Seneca, established 1873, shipped cotton over its rails. Then the mills came. Seneca, today, possesses a homogenized look here and there. Dollar stores, drug stores and Mexican restaurants. On to Westminster, just outside the dark green slopes of Sumter National Forest. All that greenery makes a doublewide trailer’s bright purple roof appear radioactive. The theme of old and new commingled continues: A classic barn near Westminster faces a mobile home across Highway 76.

The Chauga River passes beneath you, a mini Chattooga. Outside local trout fishermen, few know of the Chauga Narrows, a Class VI rapid. There’s where the true Earth exists. The Earth too wild to tame.

The Wild West appears in Long Creek, a strip mall that looks like a Wild West town, a place a cowboy can hitch his horse and get a shot of whiskey. No cacti live here in faux frontier land, but apple orchards fill the green folds and creases.

Now the land plunges, turns and falls away — a roller coaster speed run. Tearing past the Chattooga Whitewater Outfitters, a business owing its existence, in part, to Deliverance and the “land of nine-fingered people.” Straight ahead looms the river of legend, the wild, unforgiving Chattooga. This river surely is like no other.

Highway 76, once a mere line on a map, now lives in your mind. You can place your finger on 76’s thread-like presence and know that here hangs a deer head, here lies a sunken gunboat, and here is great fried chicken. Opera houses, mobile homes, charred mansions and monstrous tractors. The blending of past and present has made your 76 explorations delightfully unpredictable. And best of all, you spent little time on an interstate.

Learn more about Tom Poland, a Southern writer, and his work at Email day-trip ideas to him at [email protected].

Contact us: (803) 767-5711 | P.O. Box 675, Blythewood, SC 29016 | [email protected]