Your Corpse Will Not Be So Majestic: Boneyard Beach

January 27, 2013 — In some timeline on some more boring version of Earth, our drive from Savannah, Georgia, to our hotel in Charleston, South Carolina, was not worth remembering. Maybe we stopped for food. Maybe we almost hit an armadillo. Maybe this pair of fake pink and gray elephants was the highlight of the trek.

Fortunately, that wasn’t our timeline. Because we discovered Boneyard Beach.

We’d finished our day trip to Savannah earlier than we’d expected, and on the way home thought we might find something en route worth spending some of the waning daylight on. My wife was driving at the time, so I was on smartphone duty. I fussed with the finicky touchscreen, persevered through spotty connections at highway speeds, squinted at sites meant to be viewed on much bigger panes of glass…and came up empty-handed.

So my wife asked me to find her an avenue of live oaks so that she could take some pictures. Live oaks are those massive trees that never lose their foliage and can be found on just about any of the southern coasts of the United States. They’re big and have long, snaky, dramatic limbs that are always leaking Spanish moss. They’re pretty cool, and so far I don’t think I’ve published a single article about the Charleston area that didn’t contain a reference to them.

They often line paths and back roads with startling effect as the branches meet overhead and create an arboreal tunnel that seems like a portal to faerie lands. These kinds of avenues are plentiful in South Carolina, and it didn’t take me long to find one near us.

But it’s where that avenue led that was the surprise: Boneyard Beach. Much better than a faerie land.

The name is enough to make you want to visit, and the images online enough to make you think it a place computer-generated for wallpaper and screensavers. However, it’s actually a part of Botany Bay Plantation on Edisto Island.

Botany Bay Plantation is a 4,680-acre wildlife preserve that includes the remains of pair of 18th Century plantations, Bleak Hall and Sea Cloud. The area is used for a variety of recreational pursuits, but the centerpiece is a six-mile driving loop that takes you through excellent natural vistas and historical buildings from the plantation days.

But we were really only there for Boneyard Beach.

It didn’t cost us anything to enter, but we got there about an hour before its dusk closing time. Fortunately the Boneyard Beach access was the first stop on the loop.  We pulled into the small, dirt parking lot and set out on the half-mile walk to the beach, racing the dropping sun. 

And what a walk.

The path cut right through a vast salt marsh that extended on either side of us all the way to the horizon. Unidentifiable birds and animals rifled the tall, golden grass and strange noises erupted variously from its muddy depths. It was the kind of landscape that makes me want to run across it at full speed, even though I knew the first step would suck me down into disgusted flailing.

Eventually, the marsh terminated at a thin grove of oak and palms that a sign designated as one of the state’s 3,500 hammock islands, each of which is less than 1,000 acres. I’m not even going to pretend to understand the geography that we’d traversed since exiting the highway. All I know is that just past the grove was sand, ocean, and the bleached skeletons that give Boneyard Beach its name.

The skeletons were the remains of a veritable forest of dead trees, most of which still stuck steadfastly upright in the sand pretending to be the trees that they used to be. So ghosts as well as skeletons. Depending on the tide, some of the trees were surrounded by water turning them into giant claws reaching up from some monster ocean cave or doomed vessel far, far below the surface.

The denuded forms of these dead live oaks obviously gave an odd aspect to the beach. It certainly wasn’t a place to throw down a blanket. Not a place to show the uglier parts of your body. Not a place to blast Rob Bass.

The tree were killed where they stood by the constantly eroding environment of this unsheltered shore, the salt air blasting them, the soil impoverishing into silicate, the briny water drowning their roots.

Trees can’t run from impending doom. It’s what makes them such symbols of heroism in literature and art.

Not me on the branch...but it should have been.
And we accidentally hit the place at a great time. The sun was sinking like it was suffering the same fate as the trees. Looking in one direction, away from the sun, the sky was pink and blue, the details of the tree corpses easy to pick out. Looking toward the sun, everything was gold and black, the trees ominous silhouettes sneaking up behind us.

As a bonus, at our feet was one of the richest collections of intact seashells that I’ve ever come across, many of which still had tenants. And, naturally, you're not allowed to collect any of them under penalty of fine and ghost pirate curse.

We remained less than an hour, and during that time only ran into one or two other couples. Botany Bay Plantation has only been open to the public since 2008, so the destination is still a bit on the obscure side, I think.

Anyway, I’m not a guy to include a moral in my stories unless I need to pad out a piece. But with online photo archives, review sites, and, hell, stupid travel sites like mine, you more often than not bring to every new destination a load of preconceptions, both right and wrong. Showing up without any of those when we just narrowly missed out spending that time at a Bojangles made the experience more ours. So you’re dead in your rights to curse me if you’ve made it this far into the article.

The downside to visiting the plantation at dusk was that we didn’t have time to make the full six-mile circuit. And we couldn’t go back the next day because the area would be closed for hunting and all my hats have antlers.

But we got to see the best part.

And in some other timeline we got to see the rest. Cheers to those guys.