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Gator Hike, in comic form

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We took the kids on a short hike at Lake Apopka. A boardwalk trail leads from the Oakland Nature Preserve, past ferns, palms and Spanish-moss laden trees to the lake. Our 12-year-old son spotted three baby alligators swimming around by the dock.

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Among the cypress trees

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The shores of Lake Marion, S.C., near the Santee National Wildlife Refuge. (c) 1999 J.S. Reinitz

The shores of Lake Marion, S.C., near the Santee National Wildlife Refuge. (c) 1999 J.S. Reinitz

One of my favorite things about exploring South Carolina was the cypress trees that stood silent and ominous, rising up from the ponds, tufts of Spanish moss caught in their branches. We’d rent canoes at Goodale State Park and paddle to the far end of the lake where there was a trail through the trees. We’d pick our way through, trying not to get lost, ever alert for snakes and alligators.

Above is a photo of the shores of Lake Marion, S.C., near the Santee National Wildlife Refuge.

 

Favorite Places: Huntington Beach, S.C.

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I’ve never really been one for big beaches. Sure, the sun and fresh air are nice. The salty spray from the ocean is refreshing, and it’s always cool to find what washes up on shore. But, for the most part, my beach experience has involved being crammed in an overpopulated, sweltering sandbox sandwiched between a full parking lot and brackish ocean water.

So Huntington Beach, located near Murrells Inlet, S.C., between Myrtle Beach and Charleston, is on my list of favorite places because it’s a low-key beach that offers a chance to explore and enjoy nature.

Here’s what makes the place cool:

— A castle. Well, not a real castle, but a replica of a Spanish fort commissioned by a rich guy. The place is called Atalaya (which means watchtower), and it was built in the 1930s as a winter home for Archer Huntington and his sculptor wife, Anna (her stuff is on display on the other side of the highway). Guided tours and audio tours available, or you can just meander through at your own pace.

— Sandpiper Trail. It’s not a long hike but it’s a great one-mile walk (two miles to reach the end and back) through the scrub and dunes.

— A salt marsh and a freshwater lagoon. Populated with ibises (ibisi?), fiddler crabs and alligators. Kayaking is available. Did I mention gators?

— Camping, near the ocean.

— Spanish moss, hanging from trees.

— And yes, there is a beach.

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