October 26, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Shady Valley, Tennessee is an idyllic circular mountain valley nestled between Bristol and Mountain City. Surprisingly remote for being relatively close to the Tri-Cities, Shady Valley retains a rural, agrarian charm.
Route 421, the main road through the valley, is well known across the region as a favorite for motorcyclists and ordinary cyclists because it is one of the twistiest and scenic highways in the area. Bicyclists can also ride several one-lane country roads around the valley, and the road from Damascus is the best way to access Shady Valley from Abingdon.
I tend to think of Shady Valley as Tennessee’s analog to Burkes Garden. With few houses on the hillsides and national forests on the perimeter of the valley, Shady Valley has one of the best mountain viewsheds in Northeast Tennessee.
October 23, 2012 § Leave a Comment
This weekend I snuck in a few hours of afternoon fly fishing at Beaverdam Creek. This creek flows out of Shady Valley, Tennessee and through a wildlife management area within the Cherokee National Forest and into Virginia. The Virginia portion runs for just a few miles until it enters Damascus, where it crosses right through the main town park.
After catching a couple of rainbow trout, I exchanged my rod for a camera. Wearing waders, I was able to capture some interesting colors from the middle of the creek. Note the orange and yellow reflections in ripples in the center of the creek. The 2012 fall colors have been the best and brightest in years in Southwest Virginia.
July 8, 2012 § Leave a Comment
This summer we’ve started earnestly fishing the South Holston River, a renowned tailwater trout fishery in Tennessee. The clear water comes from deep in South Holston Lake, making for constantly cold temperatures, even when summer’s heat affects the other mountain streams.
The tailwater is 17 miles from Abingdon, about a half-hour’s drive from town. It’s probably the largest trout fishery in the region, and consequently one of the busiest. I’ll write some more on the SoHo in some future articles, but for now here’s some nice trout we caught this weekend. All photos by Karl Thiessen.
May 18, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Here is a photo identifying the major peaks visible from Buzzard Rocks, the outcroppings about 200 vertical feet below the summit of Whitetop Mountain. Buzzard Rocks provides one of the best vistas towards Southwest Virginia, looking back into both Virginia and Tennessee. The small communities of Whitetop and Green Cove can be seen in the foreground.
Buzzard Rocks can be accessed via the gravel road 89 from State Route 600 near Elk Garden, via the Appalachian Trail from Elk Garden from State Route 600, or via the climb from State Route 601.
The pointy mountain labeled 3700′ is Fodderstack Mountain. This is a promentory that divides the valley towards Laurel Bloomery in Tennessee. Tennessee Laurel Creek runs down this valley between Fodderstack and the Iron Mountains towards Damascus.
Between the Iron Mountains and Holston Mountain lies Shady Valley, Tennessee. Beaverdam Creek runs down this valley from Shady Valley towards Damascus. On the other side of Holston Mountain is South Holston Lake, the TVA impoundement that is the largest lake in region.
Between Holston Mountain and Clinch Mountain (which is barely visible on the far horizon) is the great valley that encompasses most of Washington County, Virginia, including Abingdon.
For a comparison, here is another view in the evening from the same vantage point, slightly below Buzzard Rocks.
April 20, 2012 § 1 Comment
Spring is high season for trout fishing in Southern Appalachia. This evening I was able to get in a couple of hours of fishing on Tennessee Laurel Creek.
Tennessee Laurel Creek starts in Laurel Bloomery, Tennessee and flows north across the Virginia state line into Damascus. There are bunches of turnouts next to Route 91, the road that parallels the creek, where you can fish.
The creek is not limited to fly fishing, so some days—like today—there are way too many fisherman on the Virginia side, where VGIF stocks regularly. I therefore drove across into Tennessee, where the stocking program is not as prominent, but where there are still numbers of wild trout.
The creeksides are now lush and green. The greenery is reason enough to get outside this time of year.
Tennessee Laurel is a typical Appalachian freestone creek, with lots of rifles and pocket water. It has more chutes and slightly slacker water than its sister Whitetop Laurel Creek, allowing for longer and easier drifts in most sections. When the water flow is right, it’s a pleasure to fish.
February 28, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Check out these photographs of falcons and falconry from a new Northern Virginian blog on photography. Falconry, the ancient sport of taking quarry with raptors, is not widely practiced in the United States, although there is a Virginia Falconers Association.
If you investigate a little bit you will learn there is normally an “apprenticeship” whereby an aspiring falconer will work with a more senior bird handler to learn how to trap, manage and train a falcon. The apprenticeship may take years. Falconers must obtain U.S. Fish and Wildlife Permits in order to trap and keep these birds.
Having a falcon return to you and land on your arm would be exhilarating—presuming, of course, that you were wearing a protective gauntlet (otherwise your exhilaration would be tempered by extreme pain as the raptor’s talons clamped down on your forearm).
These photos reminded me of a backpacking trip a friend and I took several years ago wherein we accidentally came upon several wild raptors that flew extremely close to us. It was a bit unnerving to have birds of prey buzz so closely by. A few minutes later we would realize why the birds were flying so close to us.
We were hiking the Appalachian Trail in the Bald Mountains, up on the North Carolina-Tennessee border about 10 miles north of Sams Gap. As we rounded some large boulders, we accidentally came upon the Big Bald Banding Station. There were some individuals near the summit of Big Bald Mountain collecting data, and there were birds of prey that were either nesting or returning to the area. There were also some large bird cages, and, if I recall correctly, we observed several birds being released.
The sheer randomness of our coming upon these guys and watching the magnificent birds was pretty neat. In fact, we were so surprised that neither of us remembered to take our cameras and photograph the birds. We probably could have gotten some shots like those in the article highlighted above. The birds we saw were not trained, but were wild and free and were probably just passing through, stopping briefly on their way south for the winter.
Big Bald Mountain, at 5516′, is one the higher points on the AT (and the highest between the Roan balds to the north and the Smokies to the south). The hike on the AT from Spivey Gap (Route 19W, aka Spivey Mountain Road) to Big Bald Mountain is a steep, rugged hike. The Bald Mountains are a natural bird migration throughway, and both large birds and smaller species cross the mountain during the seasons.
P.S. – North Carolina has a North Carolina Falconer’s Guild; Tennessee does not have any organization that supports falconry, although the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency administers the testing for falconry permits.
February 5, 2012 § 2 Comments
Southwest Virginia, Upper East Tennessee, and Western North Carolina have lots of small creeks that are usually more fishable in winter. In winter the water levels may be higher than the summer or fall, there’s no foliage and less brush to block access to the water, and the creeks are no longer clogged with the fallen leaves. It’s a great time of year to hit these creeks, especially during breaks of mild weather.
You’re not likely to catch lunkers in these waters, but the trout are more likely to be wild and more beautiful than the stockers in the rivers and lakes. They may also be willing to hit dry flies even when there’s no hatch coming off the water. These small creek trout don’t have the luxury of waiting for a full-blown hatch. They’re often stuck within the confines of small pools; this requires them to be particularly opportunistic feeders; and insects on the surface are opportunities to them regardless of season.
There is something especially rewarding about the adventure of hiking where few fishermen have been, where the trout may not have seen men or their fishing gear for a long time before you, and where you have a genuine belief that you are exploring the natural world.
In the Eastern United States, there are not many places that instill these feelings anymore. It has been this way for almost a century:
Most of the truly secret streams were small. The larger streams had names, a public sort of character, commercial importance, perhaps. They were accessible: if they held trout it became known and they were visited regularly throughout the open season. Without restocking they became at last depleted of fish.
But the little back-country feeder brooks were nameless, and inaccessible save by long tramping over the ridges and upland meadows which lay deep beyond the infrequent roads. In such remote rills, known only to ourselves and our most intimate partners, the brook trout swam and lurked to meet his chilly destinies much as he had in the first days of the world. Some of these streams are still where they used to be. . . .
Howard T. Walden, II, Upstream & Down, at 171-72 (First Edition 1938).
In Upstream & Down, Mr. Walden explained that in the East, except for in the “remote semi-wilderness counties,” most small streams were under increasing pressure from development and anglers in the early Twentieth Century. He lamented “the loss of the virgin stream of olden time.”
These days, even in the “remote semi-wilderness counties” of the East (acknowledging that the definition of Eastern “remote semi-wilderness” is probably different today than in the 1930s), there are very few, if any, “nameless” small streams. Nonetheless, the essence of what Mr. Walden wrote back in the 1930s is still true: Remote small streams are still the most likely places to find unspoiled trout waters.
In the reality of our increased population and the informational resources of modern times, there is not just a geographical dimension to being adventurous in the outdoors—whether fishing for trout, or otherwise (hiking, backpacking, etc.). There is also a seasonal dimension. Most fishermen hang up their rods and reels come late fall, and many do not take the sport up again until the traditional opening days of April. Thus the ardent angler is far more likely to have a solitary and adventurous experience in winter than in spring, summer, or fall. This is not to say that small creek fishing is not rewarding in the fairer seasons, just to point out the undeniable fact that it is more likely to hold an excitement that comes from undisturbed exploration in the wintertime.
So I will continue to fly fish in wintertime, even if I catch less trout during this season. For while catching trout is the ”point of the whole exercise” (as fellow small stream enthusiast and Trout Underground author Tom Chandler has stated), it is not the sole—or perhaps even driving—reason that we engage in this sport.
P.S. — I will write more about Upstream & Down, a fascinating book, and Mr. Walden’s thoughts about trout fishing in subsequent articles.
July 8, 2011 § 1 Comment
The Tour de Rocky Top is a metric century ride in Knoxville, Tennessee organized by Race Day Events, a private race organization. This ride is unique in this region in that it starts and finishes at a large pub, Barleys Tap Room.
I did this metric century on Saturday, July 2, 2011. The ride went through downtown, across the Tennessee River, and out into the country to the south and east of Knoxville towards the Smoky Mountains. The ride never got into the mountains, but had many rollers, totaling about 3,000′ in total elevation in climbing (and descending) in the 62 mile course. There were three well-stocked aid stations on the ride.
The staging area for this ride was excellent. It began right next to Barleys Tap Room. Adjacent to the tap room is a six lane off-ramp/overpass. The City of Knoxville has turned the area under the overpass into a very large parking lot. This was a perfect area to park and leave vehicles in the shade while cycling. The ride started cool but became quite hot. Who would have thought riding in Knoxville in July under a noon sun could get hot? On the negative side, there was no place to shower at the end of the ride. You pretty much had to just change into street clothes next to your car or go into Barleys and use the restroom to do so.
This is definitely more of true “tour” than a race. While there may have been a lead group pushing the pace at the front (I don’t know if there was or not since I was at the back side of the starting line), there were about 45 turns on the course. Every time you got up to speed or began to proceed in a good rhythm it seemed like there was a turn. And many of these turns were not your gradual “bear to the right or left” turns, but true 45 degree turns on small country roads, several at stop signs. So this ride was not conducive to a personal best time record, but it was nonetheless a pleasant tour of the countryside around Knoxville. The race organizers did a good job of getting the riders out of and back into the downtown area on roads with relatively slight traffic, which was impressive.
I finished the ride in approximately 4 hours. Actual riding time was about 3 hours, 40 minutes. The average speed on my odometer was 16.2 mph.
The ride ended on a great note. The ride ended at Barleys Tap Room, a restaurant with excellent pizza in the old town section of Knoxville. The Barleys in Knoxville is an open, unfinished warehouse with brick interior walls, large rough-hewn beams, and a nice garden patio. Barleys had two large flat screen TVs showing coverage of the first day of the Tour de France. Watching part of “the” Tour with several hundred fellow cyclists after doing a century ride was a nice way to start off the Independence Day weekend.
A note on getting to the ride: The venue is about 1 hour, 50 minutes from Abingdon. It is a straight shot down I-81. It makes for an early morning to do the trip in one day. There are several nice hotels in downtown Knoxville close to the race staging area, and there are lots of restaurants and boutique stores in this area of Knoxville. Going down the evening before would probably not be a bad idea.
May 7, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Only 45 miles from Abingdon, Bays Mountain Park and Planetarium in Kingsport, Tennessee is one of the nicest large parks in the region. It is right off of Interstate 26, Exit 3, Meadowview Parkway. The entrance to the park is just a few miles to the south of the exit.
With 3,550 acres and an extensive network of 37 miles of trails, it offers a good place to do some trail running or mountain biking in an enclosed, very pretty natural park. The trails are a mix of old fire roads and single track. There are several good annual trail running races within the park, most notably the Bays Mountain 15 Mile Trail Race, which is in September and starts from the nature center area, and the Laurel Run Ascent, which is in April and starts in Laurel Run Park (accessed from Church Hill, Tennessee). I did the Bays Mountain 15 miler several years ago and can attest to it being one of the nicer trail races in the region.
Bays Mountain Park has nature programs and dedicated habitat areas—essentially large pens—for bobcat, wolves, river otters, turtles, and raptors. This area of Bays Mountain Park is similar to the Western Carolina Nature Center in Asheville, North Carolina. There are not as many exhibits at Bays Mountain as at WCNC; however, the wolf exhibit at Bays Mountain is larger and better.
The photo gallery below shows some areas of the park close to the nature center. Click on a photo to see a description of it.
I recently visited Bays Mountain with my son for an elementary school field trip. (This park hosts many school field trips; during our visit there were also school field trips from Scott County, Va. and from Hawkins County, Tenn.). With the school group, we visited the nature center, listened to a lecture on the wolves, and watched a program at the planetarium.
During the wolf lecture, the park official explained how wolves live in packs, their feeding habits and pack behavior, and then demonstrated how the wolves howl. She prompted the wolves to howl with her own human “howl,” which involved cupping her hands to her mouth and then initiating a howling sound and was unlike an ordinary human imitation of a wolf howl. The wolves responded slowly at first, and then all of them seemed to howl together. This lasted several minutes. It was quite loud, actually pretty fascinating to hear, and was the highlight of the trip.
We then proceeded to the planetarium. The planetarium has a modern Carl Zeiss planetarium projector that allows the audience to sit back and look up onto the domed ceiling to watch an accurate representation of the night sky. This was the first time I had seen a planetarium show since I was a child at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, so it was a treat. The Bays Mountain Park website indicates they also have quality telescopes and allow the public to use them at designated times in the evenings.
Bays Mountain Park has a 44 acre lake named the Kingsport Reservoir that was apparently originally used as the major source of water for the city of Kingsport. The lake has many inlets, lily pads, and bass and bluegill that were visible from the shore. Overall, this park is a nice asset to the region, one often overlooked as a place for outdoor recreation considering how close it is to Abingdon and Southwest Virginia. It’s definitely worth a day trip.