Saturday, the wife and I ventured east to west on the Cherokee Scenic Highway (11) along the ‘roof’ of South Carolina. The road is the northernmost highway in the state, running from Cherokee County in the east, near the N. Carolina state line all the way to Oconee County in the west, near the Georgia state line. Our trip took us from the I-85 intersection to near Table Rock state park in Pickens County.

Highway 11 is everything its four (to six lane) highway to the south, Interstate 85 is not. It is just a state road along some of the more pastoral scenes in the state. Like many of the old roads in South Carolina, its historic connection is that the highway follows the precolonial Cherokee hunting path. Probably no other section of road in the state represents what the Upcountry was once like, before the New South era of superhighways, strip shopping centers and the like.

Though not directly on Highway 11, once you enter the road off I-85, you cannot help but to notice the “Eighth Wonder of the World”, the Gaffney Peachoid. There are many, many things I love about America. For example, this is the sort of country where if a local municipality needs a new water tower, a local official can say in the late 70′s “Let’s build it in the shape of a Peach!”And by golly, it gets built.

No wonder polio was defeated, the communists wilted under pressure and microwave popcorn revolutionized the convience food market. The “Peachoid”, over 10 stories tall and holding over a million gallons of water, is just off I-85 and is there to declare to the world, and especially the Peach State of Georgia, that little Cherokee county produces more peaches than all of Georgia combined.

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About five miles away, westward of here is the little community of Cowpens and the Cowpens National Battlefield, site of the January 1781 Patriot victory over a British calvary and light infantry regiment. I did not stop there on Saturday, I have been there before and it is really best to see it in January about the anniversary of the battle. Historical accuracy demands it! Ha!

Or if you just want to see the Hollywood version, watch the Mel Gibson movie, The Patriot, that has as its climatic scene this battle, though in great Gibson form, the battle has all the bad guys speaking Oxford English accents, lots of slo-motion blood splatter and plenty of explosions.

For the next 30-40 minutes or so, Hwy. 11 is just a pleasant country road. You will notice the further west you travel, the greater the hills and then on the right, the Blue Ridge mountains rising in the northwest, or the “Blue wall”, as known in these parts.

The ride takes you through small towns like Chesnee, Campobello, Landrum and Fingerville. All have been dominated in the past half century or so by the textile industry and the local Miliken manufacturing concern. The small downtowns are becoming time capsules, because they are not being modernized by much new growth. Probably the only way to ‘save’ the center of these towns is by gentrification, where the old becomes idealized nostaligic, barring of course any new major employers moving into the area.

This is peach country. Peaches on the roadside, peaches in the ditch… peach and assorted vegetable roadside stands pop up every few miles. Orchards, streching as far as the eye can see spread out on either side of the road. Like much of the agriculture industry in the state, smaller farms are being swallowed up by larger farms, or just selling out of the business altogether. One of the larger, and more successful farm operations is the Cooley Farms, Strawberry Hill operation, advertised in all the mid-American kitsch that you can imagine down the road.

Sure, Strawberry Hill has a very large peach stand, complete with palmetto trees, but the diner across the street has everything for that a traveller across mid-america could want: a player piano, classic cars, a 50’s juke box, ice cream, great short order food, etc.

Further west from Strawberry Hill, and into Greenville County’s former “dark corner”, you will see an amazing transformation taking place. In a former relatively obscure area, filled with small farms are arising the Cliff’s golf communities and just south of Hwy. 11 is the growing North Greenville University. Both are rapidly changing this rural area. Soon to be seven golf communities and the home and operations center of golfer Gary Player, The Cliff’s have opened up a floodgate of development into this area just miles into the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Further west in Greenville and into Pickens counties, lots of land has been set aside for public use though in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness area incompassing parts of Jones Gap, Ceasar’s Head and Table Rock state parks. A relatively new conservation preseve, the Ashmore Heritage Preserve is just off Hwy. 11, and probably completely invisible to 99% of folks that pass through this area on the way to the better known state parks.

The preserve is over 1,000 acres of land that has not really been touched since the Civilian Conservation Corps started and then stopped a development on the property. The land is a botantist and biologist dream with many rare species of plants and animals living in obscurity, where they will likely remain. If you go, bring your bug spray. The gnats and moquitos have no fear of humans.

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And if you would just as soon stop traveling a bit and rest and eat after a day’s drive down Highway 11 and a 5 mile hike through the wilderness, you should probably stop at the best pizza and pasta restaurant in the wider region, just north of Highway 11 in the small resort community of Tryon, NC, Side Street Pizza and Pasta. Arrive early though, folks come from all around and you will find, like I did that the wait is about 45 minutes or so on a Saturday night.

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