Saturday, October 13, 2018

No Vacancy Saturday

White Pelicans didn't seem to be bothered by the drizzle as they drifted by our campsite on the shore of Lake Barkley while we enjoyed breakfast in the van.
Having our fill of bison sightings we left Land Between the Lakes  behind and headed towards Nashville. We reached downtown in just over three hours to find food trucks being filmed for a tv show and parking lots filling up for a football game. Last time we tried to come to Nashville we were warned off due to street closures for a big bicycle race.  We parked for a few minutes in Victory Park, but were starting to get penned in by cars, so decided to move on.

We had chosen two different Harvest Hosts for the night, but both were having big functions so didn't have room. Beth started calling state parks along I-40, but none of them had any open spaces. Saturdays in the fall can be prime camping time.
Deciding we needed to stop and reconnoiter, we pulled into a railroad museum in the small town of Monterey, TN.
Beth asked if we might be able to park in their visitor's lot overnight and one of the docents said there is a new campground just down the road, dialed them, and handed Beth his phone. Turned out the campground had room, so we enjoyed the Monterey museum, then headed a few miles down the road.
Belle Ridge Retreat turned out to be a gorgeous campground owned and being developed by a young couple.

We ended up in a tent sight because we didn't need utilities and promptly set out to explore the campground. Here's a view from the overlook near our site.
Trails for walking and for ATV's are well marked.
There are caves, lakes, and waterfalls on the property. This place didn't show up in "Allstays" our favorite app and website for finding campgrounds, probably because it is so new. We highly recommend staying here if you find yourself anywhere near Monterey. It is very convenient to I-40 and has full service sites for big rigs, tiny cottages, and tent sites further from the highway. Click on this link to their website: www.BelleRidgeRetreat.com.
We hiked to this pretty pond in a limestone grotto with tiny streams of water falling over the cliffs.
A bit further on we had to duck under limestone outcroppings.
Beth made up the ladder to reach...
...a porch swing in a gazebo with a spectacular view of the Appalachian mountains. There is an easier path, but this hike was more fun.

We closed the day returning to the overlook near our campsite to watch the sunset over the hills.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Bison Between the Lakes

A short drive from Paducah took us to Kentucky Dam Visitor's Center. This turbine would be quite an upgrade to our little Pentastar Engine.
The Army Corp of Engineers manages the dam and locks here. The visitor's center offered a good view of the outflow.
The control room sits vacant as everything is now controlled remotely.
Gates control the flow of water in the Kentucky River.
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Cement is the the material of choice for most Army Corp of Engineers buildings.
Great Blue Herons wait below the dam for fish to roil to the surface. We counted at least twenty herons.
A heron on patrol.
A successful catch and landing.
The same bird with a fish in its normally skinny neck.

Just over a berm, barges and tugs exit the lock.
Work is underway to widen the locks so they can accommodate larger barges.
Barges passed close enough that we could see the cables used to connect them. Crew walk up a standard extension ladder from the deck of the tug to reach the higher decks of the tethered barges.
Outbound tug and barges passed by the construction crew working on expanding the locks.
Switching lenses we got one more look at the barges as they headed for the bridge passing over Kentucky Lake.
After lunch we headed to Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area where we checked in at the visitor's center. There is a little of everything here, including a large telescope for viewing the night sky.

Rangers explained the various options for camping in the park. We opted for a three day back country camping pass which was a true bargain at $7 per person!
Heading south into the park we found this furnace built in 1854 to make pig iron. Only in use for two years, it closed in 1856 due to a lack of ore and a slave insurrection by the furnace crew. It was in amazingly good shape considering how long it has been abandoned.
Just down the road is the South Bison Prairie, a fenced area where Bison roam the woods and fields.
This is about the closest the bison came on our first visit to the prairie.
Looking out over a bay on Kentucky Lake from our "back country" camping site. Though without utilities, it still had a level parking spot, picnic table, and fire ring.
The bay opened onto the main section of Kentucky Lake...
...where barges plowed up and down the lake pushed by river barges like this one.

Benches provided a great spot from which to view the setting sun. Several camp sites were on the main lake, but they were getting a chilly wind from across the lake. These would be highly desirable in the summertime.
Rangers told us that the best times to see Bison were early morning and just before sunset. With this in mind, we violated our rule of not moving the van until we have each had two cups of coffee to head to the North Bison and Elk Prairie just after sunrise. This pond contained water much warmer than the surrounding air.
Here, you drive into the fenced area on a three mile loop road where you may find bison and elk. We spotted a herd just around the first bend.
Around another corner, we found the herd coming closer to the road.
Roads were not an impediment to the grazing bison. They came right up to the van and leisurely crossed in front of and behind us. I rolled down the window and captured photos while listening to chewing and snorting at very close range.
Using a hoof to scratch your ear must be a pain.
We bid goodbye to the bison after they wandered off into the woods. Pulling off the road, we made breakfast and enjoyed our delayed cups of coffee. After breakfast we drove the three mile loop two more times and didn't see another bison. It is well worth getting up early if you want to experience a bison herd. They have 700 acres in which to hide.
After breakfast, we drove out of the park to refill propane. With the drop in temperature we wanted plenty of propane to run the furnace overnight.
 Coming back into the park, we stopped at the south bison prairie again. The herd came right up to the fence. We stayed over an hour and captured lots of photos and videos.
This area must have lots of burdocks because the animals were covered with them. They probably wouldn't take kindly to being brushed.
Young bison like this one are called "red dogs" due to the color of their fur and their behavior. This one cavorted around the whole herd like a puppy, then came up to the fence to check Beth out.
All of the adult bison were tagged on their right ear.
Flies didn't appear to bother the bison, but it would drive me crazy.
Scars mark many of the animals.
A little older "red dog."
A red dog and mom.
After getting our Bison fix, we headed to the Nature Station to listen to a naturalist discuss red wolves. We met this active bobcat while on our way.  All the animals here aren't able to live in the wild or are in a captive breeding program for future wild releases.
These newly paired red wolves may have pups in the spring.
Though deferring to the female, the male didn't have any problem catching meat tidbits thrown his way.
Hyper alert, the wolves paid close attention to everything going on around them. It was fun to hear, in Tennessee, how important the North Carolina inner banks are to the future of wolves in the wild.
One smart groundhog headed into a container knowing that he would be able to spend the night in a heated building instead of an outdoor cage.
Our second night was spent on Lake Barkley at the Taylor Bay Backcountry Campground.
Again we had a very nice site on the water with a picnic table and campfire ring. We snagged the spot early in the afternoon, then left our "gone exploring" flag on the site. After our return we found nice neighbors in a tent visiting from Minnesota. The young couple brought guitars and a banjo. Another camper joined with a guitar and we enjoyed singing and chatting around a warm campfire.


Here's a short video of bison up close.



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