The Jocassee Gorges in the South Carolina Upcountry might have the greatest number of salamanders anywhere in the world, but you'll have to trudge through the woods, wade into streams and search under rocks to find them.
In Columbia, it's much easier to spot the lizard-like amphibians-at least one in particular. Sally Salamander, a wide-eyed bronze sculpture of a spotted salamander, lurks out in the open on the walls and ledges of some of the capital city's most notable landmarks.
The official state amphibian of South Carolina, the seven-inch critter has become Columbia's most beloved ambassador and tour guide. Unlike her spotted salamander kin who live in the wild and emerge from their hiding spots only at night, Sally has taken up permanent residence in plain view at 10 different locations within an eight-square-block area of downtown.
Embarking on a hunt for Sally will take you to some of the city center's coolest sites and most interesting historic buildings, allowing you a close-up look at Columbia's diversity of architecture, public artwork and century-old hangouts.
The interactive Sally Salamander walking tour guide will help you locate the life-size metal sculptures as you stroll along a two-mile loop through the city. You can pick up a brochure and map of the tour at your first stop-the Columbia Regional Visitors Center at 1101 Lincoln St.
1. Sally makes it easy on you to start. You'll spy her near the entrance to the building just below the information sign.
2. As you make your way to her second haunt on Main Street, you're encouraged to take a quick detour and visit the South Carolina State House. Here, you can go on a different kind of hunt. See if you can find the six bronze stars on the building that mark the spots hit by cannons fired by Sherman's troops from across the Congaree River during the Civil War.
3-4. The next several stops are on Main Street. At the Arcade Mall, Columbia's first indoor mall built in 1912, Sally has found a quiet place between two columns where she can watch the sidewalk traffic stroll by her. Her perch on the century-old Palmetto Building offers another opportunity to examine some of Columbia's beautiful historic architecture.
5. A block down the road, Sally lies in wait near artist Blue Sky's famed giant welded steel chain connecting two other historic structures-the Kress and Sylvan buildings.
6. Across the street, she's crouched high on one of the columns surrounding Boyd Plaza at the Columbia Museum of Art. Be sure to check out some of the other public artwork on the grounds, including the Keenan Fountain and Apollo's Cascade.
7. From here, you'll start making your way toward the Vista, Columbia's popular downtown dining and shopping district. The seventh stop on the tour is at the Richland County Public Library. Don't bother looking for Sally outside the glass building. She's lounging indoors near the Children's Room.
8. Stop No. 8-the Big Apple-is just down the block on Hampton Street. A 1930s-era African-American dance club, it's credited with starting "The Big Apple" dance craze and inspiring the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra's hit song by the same name.
9. Sally's next post is at the Blue Marlin restaurant, formerly the Seaboard Airline Railroad depot. The last passenger train used the station in 1991.
10. Sally ends her tour at Adluh Flour Mills on Gervais Street. Founded in 1900, the company is the only flour mill still operating in South Carolina. You can pick up some of their stone-ground grits, flour, corn meal and baking mixes at a small store near the back of the property.
You can get more information on the Sally Salamander walking tour or download the brochure and map at her website. Happy hunting!