Friday, January 18, 2013

Tennessee Trip

This weekend is the Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival, and since we've never taken in any of the attractions of Chattanooga, we decided to come a day or two early. After driving through rain, wind, sleet, sunshine and lightning within ONE MILE, we made it to the hotel. Chattanooga has gone green, and we caught the free electric shuttle bus down to the famous Chattanooga Aquarium, a great way to spend a rainy windy afternoon. We were almost the only people there though. The aquarium is well designed, using their space effectively as visitors move around the building, with clear directions to find the next exhibit. The best part is that they do not limit themselves to just fish in the exhibits!  We began at the top of the building with a touch pool of stingrays, including this ultra-friendly guy who kept waving and coming above the water to peer at us!

The Aquarium has a building for salt water and another for fresh water. We stood there peering in all the hiding places for each group of frogs, beginning with these green tree frogs.

Who can resist penguins! I've never seen so many different species of penguins in one place, including these macaroni penguins. A map with Antarctica as the center showed all the places (including the Galapagos Islands) where penguins can be found and I was surprised at the many places they live, all south of the equator, of course. New Zealand and Australia are big on the list.

Aquariums are always a special challenge to the photographer. First there are the distortions between air and water. The thick glass/plastic of the tanks do funny things to the light, which is none too bright by the time it reaches wherever I am standing. If you use a flash, you must stand at an angle to avoid a huge white blob in the middle of your picture. With no flash, the animals move too fast to capture without blurring. Grrr!

Most of all, we enjoyed all the free-flying birds at the aquarium! Especially in the fresh water building appropriate birds for the environment were loose in the enclosure. This Wood Duck and a Snowy Egret were together in the delta exhibit, along with Blue Birds and some kind of warbler! A volunteer said they all had some sort of injury and were non-releasable. Who knew to bring binoculars to an aquarium!

This morning we headed for Lookout Mountain and the Incline Railroad. At first, it was fine, silently rising past the houses and trees. As you reach the bluffs near the top, the incline reaches 72 percent, which seemed to be going straight up! UGH - agoraphobia began to strike, but I made it to the top OK. How in the world, I thought, do they keep this thing from crashing to the bottom again before we get off it! And there was snow at the top. This is looking more dangerous all the time, and we still have to ride it back down.

Lookout Mountain was part of a Civil War battle that is still a big thing in Chattanooga. The National Parks Service has a historical site explaining how the Union forces managed to defeat the Confederates here and on nearby Missionary Ridge to solidify their position in this Confederate city. Did you know that Gen. Sherman began is march through Georgia to the sea from Chattanooga? I always thought he went all the way across the deep South from the Mississippi River. I can't imagine how they ever got all those cannon to the top. There must be another route that doesn't have to climb a vertical cliff face.

Safely at the bottom of Lookout Mountain is the Chattanooga Nature Center and Arboretum. Even in January, we found plenty to look at hiking around the property. Look, isn't that hellebore over there? Hellebore actually blooms in January, and, as always, once you find one example, you notice it everywhere.

What in the world is that big bird in the tree ahead? It isn't a vulture... Ah, in the yard below the tree was a flock of about 12 wild turkeys, and when we opened to car door to get the camera, they all flew up into the trees. How cool! I've never seen turkeys fly like that! Well, tomorrow we go to the Hiwassee Refuge to Sandhill Cranes. More to come...

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