A user friendly heart of darkness
The mosquito-ometer at the visitor center of Congaree National Park was set to "brutal."
Had there had been a boredom-ometer inside the center it would have been set to "tres bored," if the attitude of the ranger who was intent in engaging me on every minute detail of his grand trip to Europe a decade ago, was anything to go by.
In the end I had to fake a bathroom break for my daughter and headed outside to take my chance with the mosquitos.
If Congaree National Park doesn't have the profile of, say the Grand Canyon, that's because it's in the middle of rural South Carolina and isn't quite as dramatic.
You can easily blast past on the road to Columbia without realizing you are passing the largest remnant of old-growth floodplain forest remaining on the continent.
But unlike the Grand Canyon you don't have to take a second mortgage out on your home to visit Congaree, which is free, and instead of fighting your way through the crowds to glimpse a ravine, the only pests at Congaree are pests.
Once we had realized foul smelling bug spray was our best friends the mosquitos kept at bay, although they were always buzzing away in the background, waiting for the spray to wear off like scavangers biding their time to attack the laggers in an army of occupation.
At least at Congaree a three-mile boardwalk ensures visitors can see the savage beauty of the swamps and gaze up at the highest trees on the eastern seaboard without descending into the mud.
Not that it's any old mud at Conagree. It's actually called "muck" and it's the famous Dorovan Much which made newspaper headlines in the 1980s, according to the information for the boardwalk trail. I made a mental note to check out those headlines.
My daughter was more interested in the spiders' webs across the trail and the turtles that snapped up the bread thrown to them by a fellow visitor on Weston Lake.
It reminded me of feeding the ducks in the park. You have to hand it to the National Park Service for making America's answer to the Amazon Rain Forest so user friendly.