Getting There: Volcano Tours and South Carolina Gardens

South Carolina gardens are the place to visit for travelers who want an immersive experience, while those who prefer a birds-eye view might appreciate volcano tours.

volcano tours - small plane flying past Mt. Rainier

Take a close look at Mount Rainier on volcano tours from the air in the Northwest.

Photo courtesy of Ashford Air Service

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This month’s affordable travel ideas take us to opposite corners of the U.S.

Pacific Northwest Volcano Tours

Since Mount St. Helens' series of eruptions began in 1980, there's been a growing interest in all of the Pacific Northwest's volcanoes. One of the easiest ways to see these impressive giants is from the air.

Tim Surface of the Ashford Air Service flew timber owners, government officials, geologists, and other scientists on more than 190 trips to Mount St. Helens in 1981 alone. He's now organized a new series of low-level tourist flights that will allow visitors to take photos of the snow-carpeted crater of Mount Rainier from an altitude of 1,000 feet above the peak; view the rapidly growing, grayish-brown lava dome of Mount St. Helens from a vantage point just a few hundred feet away; or fly past the giant, steel-blue glaciers and roaring steam vents of Mount Baker.

Tim's 1 1/2-hour tour of Mount St. Helens (for a group of four people) is priced at only $90 ... a 2 1/2-hour tour of Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, and Mount St. Helens runs $185 ... a 3 1/4-hour trip that includes all that and Mount Hood is $250 ... and a 5-hour flight, encompassing all the previously mentioned volcanoes and Mount Baker runs $350.

You can arrange to fly from the Ashford, Washington airfield or be picked up at Seattle/Tacoma International Airport.

Spectacular South Carolina Gardens

At least once in their lives, people who love flowers should indulge themselves in a visit to South Carolina's gardens at the peak of their blossoming season (from mid-March to May). The most famous of these beauty spots are Middleton, Magnolia, and Cypress Gardens (near Charleston), all of which, in distinctly different ways, reflect the charm of the Old South.

Middleton Place was the home of Henry Middleton, a president of the Continental Congress; his son Arthur, a signer of the Declaration of Independence; Arthur's son Henry, an ambassador to Russia; and his son Williams, a signer of the Ordinance of Secession. This distinguished family's gardens, laid out in 1741, are believed to be the oldest in America. It took 100 gardeners 10 years to create the ornamental butterfly lakes, rolling terraces, and walkways that mirror the symmetry and elegance of formal European gardens. A self-guided tour takes visitors past a sprawling 1,000-year-old oak and along petal-strewn paths where three of the estate's original camellia trees still bloom. In addition, a restored house is open to the public. Built in 1755, it served as the gentlemen's guest wing of the plantation mansion, which was destroyed by Sherman's troops in 1865.

(Originally, the land was part of the dowry of Mary Williams; it changed family hands when she married Henry Middleton in 1741. After its wartime destruction, local legend says the ghost of a little lady in gray wandered among the ruins, grieving for the neglected garden. She supposedly stopped her haunting visits in the early 1900's, when JJ. Pringle Smith, a direct descendant of the Middletons, began to restore the place to its former grandeur.)

Four miles away, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens — acquired in the late seventeenth century by Thomas Drayton, Jr. — offers masses of fiery red azaleas, soft pink camellias, golden yellow Lady Banksia roses, and other flowering shrubs framed by trees draped in Spanish moss.

A visit to Magnolia can include a canoe trip through a 125-acre waterfowl refuge, as well as a walk (or bicycle ride) along the trails in the estate's 500-acre wildlife sanctuary. Furthermore, the garden's petting zoo includes rare miniature horses, and the plantation house features various styles of furniture and a gallery of local art.

While Middleton can be described as formal and Magnolia as romantic, Cypress Gardens—with its black, reflecting water and its ancient bald cypress trees—is best termed mysterious. Originally a part of the Dean Hall rice plantation, it offers miles of flower-bordered canals and paths that can be explored by boat and on foot.

Some other well-known South Carolina gardens include Brookgreen, near Murrells Inlet, which features the nation's largest outdoor collection of American sculpture ... Edisto, in Orangeburg, best known for its roses ... Swan Lake, in Sumter, where six million irises bloom each May ... Kalmia, in Hartsville, noted for its mountain laurel ... and Hopeland, in Aiken, which houses the Thoroughbred Hall of Fame. These and other plantations, along with historic Charleston's own gardens, make spring in the South something special!

For more information, contact the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism.