Carolina Life: Solitude among the skeletons

07/14/2008 12:01 AM

07/14/2008 9:31 AM

BULLS ISLAND — Summer in South Carolina lures thousands to the coast to escape the sweltering temperatures and sticky humidity.

Attracted by cool offshore breezes and the rhythmic chop of surf, throngs of people — from Myrtle Beach to Hilton Head — unfold beach chairs and sculpt castles in close quarters to the sound of shag music.

But for those searching for solitude and a chance to see Mother Nature’s version of unfettered coastal development, Bulls Island is a top destination.

In the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge about 20 miles north of Charleston, the inhabitants of Bulls Island live as they have for centuries.

More than 275 documented species of birds — from small warblers to large raptors — soar above its salt marshes and nest in the maritime forest. American alligators lounge openly in brackish water impoundments, feeding on fish. The undulating flipper tracks of loggerhead sea turtles that have come ashore to lay eggs in the sand dunes outnumber the footprints left by human visitors.

However, for many, the highlight of making the 30-minute ferry ride out to the barrier island is the dead trees.

Trekking northeast brings visitors to a primordial scene. Dozens of leafless oak, cedar and palmetto spring from the sand and jab their twisted branches toward the sky.

All are bleached white by the sun and saltwater, their trunks cracked and ravaged by the wind and time. They are the skeletons that give this place its name: Boneyard Beach.

For Nicholas Johnson, pictured, visiting 11 times wasn’t enough. On a recent weekday, the Mount Pleasant resident made his 12th trip to the island, walking solo through the surf among the trees.

“It’s your own piece of beach,” Johnson said. “It’s private, it’s beautiful. There’s nothing else like it.”

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