Nickajack Lake

Roadside view of Lake Nickajack

Roadside view of Lake Nickajack–I needed a hedge trimmer

On Sunday, our journey through the Tennessee River Gorge ended when we got to the portion of the river where it becomes Bennett Lake.  This corner of what is nearly a 180 degree bend in the river marks the first time a major road intersects Mullins Cover Rd, the road we were on, after a lot of slow miles.

We opted to stick to major roads at this point.  In part because we’d had enough sitting in the car and in part because we were starting to get low on gas and we hadn’t seen a gas station for many miles.  We worked our way back to I-24 and headed back towards Chattanooga.  We were surprised to discover we were in the Central time zone and on the Nashville side of Nickajack Lake.

I decided we should stop and get some shots of Nickajack lake since we hadn’t managed to get any really great shots from down in the gorge.  Unfortunately, I didn’t decide this until after we had passed the best exit for views of the lake.  We went down several dead ends trying to find a road to the lake.

Another roadside view

Another roadside view

We ended up driving up the ridge around the lake a ways when just by chance I saw a break in the trees.  We parked down the road and I walked back to the spot.  It wasn’t much of a break in the trees, but it at least provided a view of the lake.

Driving through (the highway literally goes right over the middle of the lake) Nickajack lake is one of my favorite parts of the drive to Nashville (or the West end of Cumberland State park), although almost all of the drive is full of great views.

When we got back on the freeway to make our way rapidly towards food, we soon found ourselves in a traffic jam.  I started taking pictures from the car.  It’s always a bad sign when I start shooting through the windshield, but it gives you an idea of the kind of scenery that unfolds as you drive through this part of Tennessee . . . uh . . . Georgia?  No, this was Tennessee.  Barely.  We crossed the Georgia state line about a mile after this image was taken.

Scene from the actual road--a "through the windshield" image

Scene from the actual road–a “through the windshield” image

That’s another interesting thing about driving from Chattanooga to Nashville–you have to go through Georgia to get there–at least if you take I-24.  I-24 dips across the state line for about 3-4 miles as it winds it way through the mountains.

Every time we drive down I-24, I am amazed that such spectacular scenery surrounds the freeway.  Having grown up in flat Columbus, Ohio where you could drive for 2 hours in either direction and barely see a bump in the landscape, the ancient mountains of the Southeast make my mouth drop open.  I used to always think I preferred the Rockies.  I do love the Rockies, but the gentler slopes of the Appalachians have equal, if different, charm.

The moment Georgia entered my mind

The moment Georgia entered my mind


Final Point

Moccasin Bend one last time

Moccasin Bend one last time

I have a few photos from Point Park to wrap up on.  I shot one last look from the overlook with my DSLR vs a panoramic on the iPhone (which I have rapidly become addicted to).  With my 24-70mm lens on the camera, this was as wide as I could go.  If I would have stepped back a few feet, I might have been able to get all of the Tennessee River into the frame as it winds its way around Moccasin Bend.  But then I would have had more crap in the foreground.  Perhaps I will through my 17-35mm lens on the next time we go up to Point Park.

After enjoying the view from Ochs Museum overlook, we headed back up the slightly more rugged trail than the asphalt trail that circles the main portion of the park.  Tisen didn’t seem to want to leave the cool shade next to Ochs museum as we made our way back.  It wasn’t that hot out, but perhaps it feels warmer to someone wearing fur?

Tisen trying to go the wrong way

Tisen trying to go the wrong way

The trail heads uphill on the way back.  When you walk down it, you don’t realize you’re going downhill.  Yet, when you walk back up it, you definitely do notice the uphill.  Fortunately, the entire path is well-shaded so even our hot dog didn’t overcook.


As we got closer to the asphalt paved and landscaped part of the park, I noticed a crooked tree highlighted in a beam of bright sunlight.  It was perched on the sharp edge of a fallen rock and growing with a 90 degree bend in the middle of its trunk.  I had a sudden vision of the rock having once been part of the mountain and this tree deciding it would conquer this rock some day as it spread its roots into every crack and crevice.  I imagined this bent and tiny tree feeling victorious for having brought down the rock after so many years of patient growing.  I wonder if a tree or water dripping is faster when it comes to carving off chunks of stone cliffs?

The victorious tree

The victorious tree

We made it safely back to the asphalt path that circles the landscaped part of the park.  We walked slowly around the park, allowing Tisen to sniff and explore as far as his leash would reach.  He paused to heed the call of nature more times than seemed physically possible, but you know how male dogs are about marking new territory.

As we waited, a female dog came over with her humans to say hello.  After a little doggy socialization, we headed back toward the park entrance.  Along the way, I spotted Sunset Rock off in the distance through the trees, looking much further away than I remembered.  I smiled sheepishly since I had wanted to walk all the way to Sunset Rock, believing it to be less than a mile from Point Park.  Pat gave me a side-ways glance that said, “Less than a mile, huh?”



Taken last June before the drought dropped the water levels

Taken last June before the drought dropped the water levels

Water, water everywhere

Water, water everywhere


We had ridiculously warm weather last week accompanied by what looked likely to be 40 days of rain, which brought with it gradually colder temperatures.

Today, they predicted of a dusting of snow downtown and up to 3 inches at higher elevations.

For those of you who have never lived in the South, there aren’t any road crews with snow plows and salt trucks to keep the roads ice and snow free.  And, while the mountains may be relatively small down here, they’re still plentiful and steep enough to send vehicles careening off the road with only a bit of ice.  So while it might seem a little silly to get all worked up when you’re from Ohio and living in a flat part of the city, it actually makes sense as to why the town is shutting down.

It started at noon with early dismissal of the schools.  Given that it was still in the 40’s at noon, that seems a little overly cautious, but the kids were sent home early to ensure the bus drivers weren’t having to navigate steep slopes coated in ice.

Then, the businesses started sending people home and closing early.  I was supposed to get my hair cut today.  In fact, I was supposed to get it cut last week.  My stylist was sick last week and they decided to close a hour before my appointment this week.  I guess I will let my hair grow for a while.  That’s OK–if it’s going to be cold, I’d kind of like a little extra insulation.

Not getting my hair cut also freed up some time to walk the dog.  Since my husband’s building closed early, he came home at a decent time and joined us for the walk.  We walked through Renaissance amazed at the water levels.  The manmade wetland has turned into a pond.  The barriers that slow the flow of water are completely submerged.  The little creek that runs through the park swelled and overflowed and turned the woods into a swamp.  There is no division between the creek and the wetland.

When we walked along the river, we realized the Tennessee River was higher than we’ve ever seen it before and rushing downstream so quickly, I’m surprised there weren’t rapids.  But I guess all the things that would cause rapids were too far below the surface.

The boat launch ramp under the Market Street Bridge has disappeared.  In fact, it looked like the sidewalk across the river was submerged as well.  We began to imagine the city being swallowed by the swelling river.

While I don’t think there’s much danger of that, I did make time to go shoot from the common area balcony again.  I’d taken a shot from the same spot while attending a photographic society field trip here last June.  I dug that up and was amazed by the comparison.

The good news is that it’s supposed to stop raining for a while.  Just in time!

Secret Island

In the Tennessee River, between the Bluff View Art District and the North Shore, there is an island.  Most people call it Maclellan Island.  The owners call it Audubon Island.  Long ago, it was Chattanooga Island. Before that, it was Ross’s Landing Island.  Whatever you call it, it’s a tough place to get to.

It’s a place I’ve wanted to see since we first came to Chattanooga.  It’s inaccessibility made it that much more desirable of a destination.  I tried a group who does kayaking tours, a business that rents paddle boards, and a water taxi service to no avail.

But finally, the Chattanooga Audubon Society is offering a tour.  Today is the big day with the Chattanooga Duck Tours providing transport.

Captain Alex takes us through downtown Chattanooga, educating us on the history of the buildings.  We had no idea that so many of them had been around since the 1800’s.  Then, we take a running dive into the river in our 1940’s DUKW vehicle, built by Rosie Riveters during WWII.  She still holds water.

We make it to McClellan Island safe and sound–and knowing a lot more about the riverfront development effort, too.

The island has 1.5 miles of trails that have been freshly groomed, but there is already poison ivy reappearing all over the trail.  Now, poison ivy is a native plant that’s good for birds and I have nothing against poison ivy.  I just don’t want to come in contact with it.  We step gingerly to avoid coming in contact, although it’s pretty much impossible.

A great-crested fly catcher sings a greeting for us, although we only catch an occasional glimpse of him flying from one tree top to the next.  We also hear a wood thrush, an Eastern towhee, and many other common birds.

Sadly, it’s hard to see anything through the dense privet, honey suckle, and vinca taking over the woods.  It makes me sad to see how devastated this tiny island is by plants that have invaded here.  Poison ivy is by far the most prolific native growing on the island, but even it is out-competed by the invasives.

The first wild-growing oak-leaf hydrangea in this county was discovered here on this tiny island just days before.  It represents a glimmer of hope that the ecosystem of this tiny green space can still be saved.  The clusters of white flowers shine through the shadows and remind us how beautiful nature, on its own, can be.

Back on the duck, we get the best view possible through fully leafed-out trees of a heron rookery.  There is also an Osprey on its nest on a platform at the end of the island.  As we come around the far side of the island, a group of double-crested cormorants perch in the trees.

I only wish we could spend more time sitting (far from poison ivy) and listening for all the birds that call this tiny sanctuary home.

Sunrise Spectre

This morning, as I wait for Pat to get ready for our morning walk along the riverfront, I decide to take my camera.  After all, I missed some really great shots on our last walk and I hate that.  As I change the lens on my camera, I look out the window and see a large cloud hanging so low that it has to be fog rising off the river.

It’s lower than the roof of the 4-story building across the street and stretches in a long tube just over the trees along the river.  I call Pat to come look while I finish getting my camera ready.  Pat comes out and says, “It’s like the Smoke Monster!”  That is exactly what it looks like–the smoke monster in Lost.

By the time I can get a shot, it’s already shrinking.  I rush to get out the door hoping we can get down to the river and get another shot before it dissipates all together.  Pat is walking better today–his pulled hamstring is still somewhat touchy, but it’s healing.  We make it down to the river, but all that is left is a puff of cloud hanging over the water.

Although I’m disappointed that I missed the smoke monster at its peak, I’m happy that I’ve brought my camera with us this morning.  The sun is rising behind Veteran’s bridge and fog continues to swirl and rise off the surface of the water.  I play with getting different angles of the rising sun, but make a note to myself to do some reading on dealing with shooting directly into the sun–I can’t seem to avoid sun spots, even with my polarizer on.  But I love the effect of the sun backlighting the scenery anyway.

As we work our way along the riverfront with me shooting from various vantage points and Pat patiently waiting for me, we spot a hawk sitting on the paddle wheel of the Delta Queen.  The Delta Queen is an old riverboat that’s been converted into a permanently parked hotel.  It sits at anchor in front of Coolidge park and adds a nice touch to the riverfront scenery.

I, of course, did not bring a telephoto lens this morning, not wanting to have to do any lens changes while on a walk or have to carry my tripod.  I do not immediately recognize the hawk because it’s backlit.  I’m hoping to get a few shots good enough to blow up so I can identify it later.  With a 17-55mm lens and low light, that’s not going to be easy.  I snap as many shots as I can, trying to get as close as possible without spooking the hawk.

As we get closer and on the front-lit side of the bird, it appears to be a Red-tailed Hawk, but it doesn’t have a red tail.  Probably a young one, but I will double check when I get home.  Now that I am less worried about getting a shot good enough to ID the hawk, I go back to shooting landscape shots.  The hawk must like being the focus of my attention, because it flies up onto the Walnut St Bridge and perches in the sunlight for me.

About this time, a woman walks up and start asking me about my camera.  She is shooting with a point-and-shoot and carrying the smallest tripod I’ve ever seen that still has plenty of height.  She is a small person, so I suppose it might even be at eye level for her.  She also carries a larger tripod.  She tells me she’s shooting with her point and shoot this morning but that she has a Canon 7D in her bag.  She asks what I’m shooting with.  I feel embarrassed to tell her it’s a 40D for some reason.  She talks about the zoom in the point and shoot she’s using, which I guess is why she’s using it in lieu of carrying around multiple lenses, but I’m still confused as to why she would have a 7D and leave it in her bag.

This morning, I alternately yearn for a full size sensor that will allow me to include more of what I see before me and the full 400mm of my telephoto zoom lens on the smaller sensor of my current camera so I can shoot the hawk.

When I was at a photo workshop at the Tennessee Aquarium and asked one of the instructors for advice on selecting a focal length, she told me that it just depends on whether I like to be tight on my subjects or if I prefer a wider view.  She went on a bit of a diatribe about how some photographers preferred one look over the other.

I was completely perplexed by this.  In my mind, some scenes call for a wide angle and some call for a telephoto.  Isn’t that the whole point of having a selection of lenses in your bag?  Given that we were shooting wildlife in tanks, it seemed clear to me that getting up as close as possible on individuals would make the most dramatic images, but maybe that’s where others have a different opinion.

Another woman in the class started talking about how she never changes lenses and does’t even use a zoom lens.  She has one focal length and that’s what she works with.  I am reminded of a story I read where a photographer took a 35mm fixed focal length lens (on a 35mm film camera) on a trip and how it forced him to be very creative in his photography because the lens was so poorly suited for some of the things he wanted to shoot.

This is a constant battle for me–is the effort required to carry extra lenses and the risk of changing lenses worth the difference it makes in my shots?  Given that I tend to shoot very wide or very telephoto, I have to say yes.  After all, a shot of a hawk 100 yards away perched on the side of a bridge shot at 30mm makes the hawk a tiny surprise–the photo is all about the bridge.  A shot of a hawk 100 yards away at 400mm eliminates everything except the hawk–the photo is all about the hawk.  They aren’t comparable.

This morning, I point out the hawk to the lady with her point-and-shoot.  She doesn’t seem interested in the hawk.  This surprises me, too.  What kind of person isn’t interested in a hawk?  She tells me about going on some photography workshop with “real photographers” and how they are all using point-and-shoots, too.  Apparently justifying the use of a point-and-shoot is more important to her than shooting.  I am no longer following what she is saying.  The only parts I pick up are when she asks where we’re from two times and I tell her “just over there” with a vague gesture two times.  I gather she’s trying to identify our origin by our accent, but I’ve gotten to the point where I stop explaining that we recently moved here from Ohio.  We are, after all, from “just over there” now.

Eventually, she stops talking at me and goes off to shoot some more or leave, I’m not sure which having given up on our conversation about the time she took no interest in the hawk.  The peace of my morning was somehow disturbed by this strange little woman with her point-and-shoot.  I am left with the vague sensation of having been in a competition that I didn’t enter or participate in but somehow managed to lose anyway.  I find myself wondering if she is somehow related to the smoke monster.

I try to shake away the ghost of the little woman and return my focus to the rising sun, Pat, and our walk.  I set aside my camera for now, reach for Pat’s hand, take a deep breath, and just look.

The Last Vacation Day

One thing I have learned through experience that I try to do with every vacation, but especially one involving international travel: Always fly home 2 days before returning to work. Best case, it gives me a day to unpack, do laundry, get caught up on mail, nap at will, and settle back in. Worst case, if Pat gets detained in immigration (or a storm rolls in) and we miss a connection, it gives us an extra day to get home. We have needed that day for travel three times now, but when we don’t, I always appreciate having that day at my disposal. This is doubly true when my body has gone through a time change of more than 3 hours. I don’t do time changes well. Coming back from the West Coast actually messes me up worse than coming back from Europe, but I still need a few days to get back on schedule.

We managed to get into Atlanta last night without incident. The drive from Atlanta to Chattanooga was killer. When I booked our flight, I thought, “Oh, we’ll get into Atlanta at 7:30PM, that won’t be too bad for the drive home.” I failed to add 6 hours to that–our bodies were still on Germany time. To us, it felt like we arrived at 1:30AM. Then, it took another hour by the time we got our luggage and found our car in the “economy” lot (which turned out to cost almost double what the economy lot in Columbus costs). We hadn’t made it half way home before I was nodding off in the passenger seat and Pat was soon struggling to keep his eyes open behind the wheel. We had to stop and find a place to buy some water, stand up, get some fresh air. I don’t know which exit we took (I was probably asleep), but as we drove down the main drag, it seemed every building was boarded up. Some had signs that said “open during construction.” Others look abandoned. I remembered that tornados went through the area earlier in the year before we moved from Columbus and was astounded by the remaining devastation after so many months. We pulled into a gas station that had a trailer for a building. A large building was about halfway built behind the trailer. It’s a creative solution to staying in business. My mind shifted from the misery of being overly tired to the fortune of not having gone through a tornado. Unfortunately, this didn’t keep me awake for long once we were back on the road.

When we pulled into our parking lot, Pat told me that he’d been nodding off again for the last 10 miles. I said that he should have pulled off and found a place to take a nap. He had thought about it, but decided it would be weird to pull off the road so close to home. I replied, “Better weird than dead.” He agreed, but we were already home so it was a pointless conversation. We drug our tired selves upstairs, not even bothering to take all of our luggage with us, and fell into bed.

So, here we are, we’ve made it home without incident and now it’s Sunday morning. I managed to sleep through the night and wake up at 6AM after our long drive home the night before. I have no desire to do laundry or anything else that isn’t vacation-like. However, I don’t want to end up laying on the couch all day because it will slow down my adjustment to the time change. I talk Pat into walking across the bridge for breakfast in the Bluffview Art District. On the way back, we decide to walk down to the aquarium and find out about their River Gorge Explorer tour. They have a really nice boat that they use for tours of the river gorge. We confirm the schedule at the aquarium, but don’t buy any tickets. On the way back to the apartment, I talk Pat into going on the sunset tour tonight. I purchase tickets online when we get home just in case there is a big rush and the boat fills.

We do a little unpacking and a little laundry, but we spend a couple hours relaxing, dozing off and taking a short nap before it’s time to walk back over to the aquarium. We stop in member reception because the online ticketing didn’t have a way to get our membership discount. The guy is extremely nice and apologetic in crediting back the discount. The aquarium also credited us for 3 adult tickets we had purchased when we signed up for our membership. With the $10 we save on the cruise, we’re now exactly even on the cost of the membership–it’s a really amazing deal.

We walk around trying to figure out where we need to be for the boat ride. The boat is still out on the previous tour. When it returns, we watch it spin in the water and then slide sideways over to the dock. When we get on the boat, there is a video playing that explains how it was built and then transported to TN from WA. Two of the boat captains actually picked it up in Florida, tested it, and then brought it up the river to Chattanooga. It’s a very cool boat that goes very fast, but I lost interest in all the details about what it could do. We have to remain seated during the fast portion of the ride. We get up to speeds over 60 MPH, but the captain stops suddenly whenever he’s approaching other river traffic or docks, etc. The wake rises above the windows when we stop, but the guide explains that the fast stops and starts actually minimize the amount of wake, preventing rocking other boats.

The guide is actually a naturalist and, apparently, a history buff. He talks us through the history of the area going back to the Native Americans and the Civil War. He also talks about the wildlife in the area and points out anything that he sees as we go down the river. When we get to a wide open area, the boat cruises slowly and we all go stand up on the deck, watching for wildlife. We pass the convergence of Suck Creek with the Tennessee River and the naturalist explains that before the river was dammed, there was a huge whirlpool at the confluence that would suck down boats, etc. Apparently, it’s still there, just in deeper water. I wasn’t clear if it was still dangerous or not, however. In any case, he solved the mystery of why someone would name a creek “Suck.”

I have brought my big lens in the hope of seeing exciting wildlife, although I’m not exactly sure how well I will be able to shoot from a moving boat. We see many, many Blue Heron. I knew they had recovered well in Ohio after the banning of DDT, but the number along the Tennessee River is amazing. The most exciting bird (to me) we see is the Belted Kingfisher. Unfortunately, we’re too far away for a good shot. We also spot a huge gathering of Turkey Vultures circling above the river. I keep my eyes peeled for masses of dead fish floating on the water, but we never do spot what’s attracted them. While Vultures are always a little creepy, having had a large die-off of fish in our pond when we lived in the country many years ago, I have tremendous gratitude to vultures–I didn’t have to clean up a single dead fish.

When we return to the dock, we are all invited to go up on the deck to watch the captain spin the boat 360 degrees using a remote control. We stand on the boat while it spins. Then, the captain steers it sideways to the dock using the same remote. It’s a little crazy that a boat can maneuver like that. As we de-board and walk up the dock, we discover the lights on the pier have interesting patterns that shift as we move. We can see these lights from our apartment, but they just look like normal lights with interesting shapes from across the river. Up close, the light shoots up a post that has metal shaped in parabolas and a metal reflector at the top. The parabolas reflect the light so that it looks like the entire post is in motion as we walk. The reflector at the top doesn’t appear lit at all looking at it from below, but from across the river, it looks like it is the source of the light.

As we return home crossing the bridge, we discuss our day and decide that it was the perfect last day of vacation.