Thursday, October 1, 2009

Tennessee River (Oct 1 - Nov 8)

We stayed a full day at Green Turtle Bay - processed the mail and had dinner with Bob and Theresa (Theresa) to celebrate their one year anniversary on the boat. The next day we went through a short canal connecting Lake Barkley to Kentucky Lake and stopped at Pebble Isle Marina. It is another popular stop for loopers and we were immediately invited to a good sized happy hour gathering. There we met up with some old friends, but also met some new ones. Ron and Margie (Meander) were there, and we decided to start out together the next day heading south, although up-river.
October 3, we and Meander started out on Kentucky Lake. The scenery early in the day was nice - trees, mostly still green, on low rolling hills with the occasional cedar tree islands. Later we came into areas with high, limestone bluffs. Occasionally we'd pass by groups of houses perched on the edges of the cliffs. Some had over-hanging, scary looking decks and some had long, long stairways.
Lady Finger Bluff is a limestone cliff so named because of a legend of a pioneer woman jumping to her death to escape attacking indians.
Because of the dams, the Tennessee River is made up of a series of lakes. Charts for the area give water depths and bridge clearances stated at "normal pool." The river can actually be significantly above or below normal pool depending on how much water is being let through the dams. There are gauges along the way so you can see the river level. The photo is a gauge on Guntersville Lake - normal pool elevation is 595' above sea level - which is right about what the gauge was showing that day. The Tennessee River is navigable for about 650 miles to a short way past Knoxville. Kentucky Lake is at 359' above sea level at normal pool and Knoxville is more than 800'. The other issue with the changing water levels and water released from the dams is current. Carolyn Ann only goes about 9 mph, so a strong current against her can be a problem. We'd heard conflicting information concerning the trip up the Tennessee, but we decided to start out and figured we could turn around if we didn't like it. As it turned out, we went all the way to the end - just above Knoxville where the Holston and French Broad come together to become the Tenessee.
Instead of the chronological description, I'll just mention some of the high points. Overall, the trip up and down the Tennessee, in spite of marginal weather, will be remembered as one of the high points of the trip. Even though we had to retrace our steps, so to speak, coming back down the river was not boring. The foliage had dramatically changed during our month long trip. Also, Joe had ordered me not to look back as we went up river, so the perspective was completely new coming back down.
We over-nighted in some nice, low cost marinas and some beautiful anchorages. Each lake has a character of its own, and the farther along we went, the more beautiful the scenery. On the way back down the river we were treated to some spectacular foliage.
The tour books we used for the Cumberland and Tenessee Rivers were written by Fred Myers who lives in Florence, AL. Joe had been in contact with him through our mutual friend, Mike Borum. Fred came to the marina and gave us some first hand recommendations as he related stories of his travels. He and his wife have spent many years on the rivers and re-verify all the information in the books for each new edition. It was a great visit and we soon learned how they could spend so much time on one river.
Near Florence is the highest lock on our trip. The Wilson Lock lifts us up 93 feet. The only higher lifts in the US are on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. When built in 1925, the Wilson Dam was the world’s largest dam and is now designated as a Historic Landmark. Actually, the picture of this lock is deceptive because of the size of the chamber. This up-dated chamber was built in the 1950’s and is 600’ x 110’ to accommodate the barge traffic. Different things can influence our decision to go to a marina instead of anchoring out. We stopped at Goose Pond Colony Marina because some bad storms were predicted and also because they had a courtesy car we could use to take care of some business. We got back from running our errand and decided that with the threat of rain, we’d eat dinner on the boat instead of joining friends at the nearby restaurant. Next thing we knew, the tornado warning siren was going off! We all dashed up to the marina building – maybe not what you would call a secure structure, but a structure none the less. The rain poured, the lightning flashed and the thunder boomed, but we didn’t see the tornado that passed about seven miles away.
The next day we saw one of my favorite boats on the trip. Sundancer is a genuine shrimp boat converted to a trawler – complete with tires for fenders!
As we approached Chattanooga in Nickajack Lake, we passed through an area sometimes called the Grand Canyon of the Tennessee. Nickajack is one of the shortest lakes and is relatively narrow. Near Chattanooga the mountains rise on both sides of the narrow river. The water is more than 100’ deep in places. Driving through Chattanooga on trips to Florida really whetted our appetite for this. The view from the river was just spectacular and they've really done a nice job on the waterfront area of the city. While in Chattanooga, we did the tourist things: Ruby Falls (cavern with high waterfall inside), Incline Railway (steepest passenger railway in the world), Aquariums, and Rock City.
Rock City turned out to be one of our favorites on the trip. A pathway winds around and through rocks on Lookout Mountain reaching a point claiming to have a view of seven states. They don't have those border lines like on the maps, though, so we'll just have to take their word for it. We were with Neil and Peggy (Early Out) for most of the sightseeing and had some great weather to do it in. Another place Joe and I enjoyed was the Hunter Gallery of Art. There was a display of studio glass that was just incredible. <
Across the river in Coolidge Park there is an old carousel that has been restored. Artists from across the country came to contribute new animals to it. They are definitely unique!
After leaving Chattanooga we traveled about 150 miles farther up the river to the Little Tennessee River and Tellico Lake. It is easy to understand why we hear of so many people retiring in this area. Once we reached the Little Tennessee, we met up with Neil and Peggy (Early Out) again. We lucked out with the weather and spent most of a day together on a dinghy tour. We had been told by some that Tellico Lake was lined with large, unattractive homes on small lots.
That was true in some areas, but we were also rewarded with some beautiful views of the Smokey Mountains as we traveled up the Little Tennessee and Tellico Rivers. The final leg of the upriver trip was to just beyond Knoxville where the river begins. Again, we'd heard mixed reviews on this part of the river. The scenery was not as spectacular, but some of the houses were.
This section had many older homes, sometimes in unique settings. After viewing the convergence of the Holston and French Broad, we went back down to a free dock in Knoxville.
Having checked the football schedule, we were alone on the dock. The UT football stadium is nearby and on home game days, the docks are inundated by the Vol Navy. Evidently hundreds of boats raft together to nearly block the whole river. Our last sightseeing stop on the Tennessee was the Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL. The nearby Redstone Arsenal is where Wernher von Braun and his team developed missles and rockets. The Saturn V, the vehicle for the Apollo missions, was developed here - and one is on display. It is huge. Joe grew up on and around air force bases, and had even met Wernher von Braun, so he really enjoyed the exhibits and talking to an "old timer" that he met.
Outside they have more rockets and several interactive exhibits (carnival rides?) with cautions about heart conditions, pregnancy, etc. We passed on them but the busloads of kids that we shared the museum with seemed to enjoy them. We did watch a movie about the Apollo moon landings in the IMAX theatre - pretty impressive.
So after spending a month on the Tennessee River we were back at the entrance to the Tenn-Tom Waterway that will take us south to the Gulf of Mexico. I'd taken a picture of the trees under cloudy skies on our way up river and got another of them with a lot more color on our sunny return day.

If you'd like to see more pictures, follow the link to our picasa albums:

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