Sometimes your hike doesn’t turn out the way you plan. Sometimes is becomes a singular event that will forever be memorable. An April 2012 run down Horsepasture Road to Jumping Off Rock proved to be such an event.
While the Oconee Bell is a well-known South Carolina plant, it is equally rare. Existing only in specific environments in Pickens and Oconee counties, even most Sandlappers have never seen one or even know where to go look for them. One of this writer’s long-held quests was to someday find an Oconee Bell.
Horsepasture Road goes through the prime habitat for the Shortia Galacifolia; that is, stream banks and slopes of gorges in high rainfall areas, usually in deep shade. So much so, that not just a few plants can be discovered. In fact, it hard not to discover the Oconee Bells at this location because there is a literal carpet of them stretching on both sides of a small stream, as far as the eye can see up the mountainside.
At the time of the visit, the early 2012 summer has caused the flowers to have already bloomed out, although their obvious, purple stem stalks still stood straight and tall. One can only imagine the plethora of white flowers that covered that creek bank the week before.
Trying to shake the feeling that nothing was going to top this sight, the trip continued on to Jumping Off Rock. A 180 degree view of 40-mile vistas in all directions is spectacular enough but it really becomes something special when a pair of nesting Peregrine Falcons put on a 30 minute air show.
Since Jumping Off Rock is 1000 feet above the surface of Lake Jocassee, the birds would soar another 1000 feet above that, hitting the wind at impressive speeds and, occasionally, folding their wings and dropping a full 1500 feet. Their aerobatics were spectacular. It is possible the male’s efforts were part of his courting ritual.
Our day was a stunner. We expected, and found, the views at Jumping Off Rock to be as good as any in the state, but the discovery of the Oconee Bells and the Peregrine Falcon air show made this one for the memory books. A special, special day.