Percy Priest Lake Adventure (Hunting Old Roads)

Percy Priest Lake is the largest and closest lake to my house in Hermitage, TN and as such, makes for an excellent place to explore via canoe when the weather is perfect and the wind is just right. The lake provides us landlocked folks an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city and the quiet solace of the tides lend themselves to leisure. Most people, myself included, likely take the lake for granted, simply enjoying the cool, inviting waters on a nice summer day without much thought, but just like Nashville Shores (I used to lifeguard there in 2003) it is a more recent phenomenon.

The lake was formed after the completion of J. Percy Priest Dam in 1967 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The name of the dam project and the reservoir was originally the “Stewarts Ferry Reservoir” but was later changed by an 1958 act of Congress to its current name. Nothing against Congressman Percy Priest (I never knew the guy) but I wish the lake had retained its original name since it payed homage to the regional history better than the current name. Stewarts Ferry, as I’ll show later in pictures was in most recent times (pre-1967) a cable ferry across the Stones River. Before the invention of a cable system, it was likely a boat ferry, although the latter is purely speculation on my part as it is rather difficult to find information on the subject.

Before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flooded the low lying farmland to create the lake, several of the present-day disconnected sections of roads, most notably: Old Hickory Blvd, Stewarts Ferry Pike, Smith Springs Rd, Lavergne-Couchville Pike, and Bakers Grove Rd, all ran through the network of farming communities. This is quite easy to see using the “Satellite” view on Google Maps.

Flash forward to the perfect day that was yesterday and bearing in mind the aforementioned information, I set out from the Nashville Shores Marina in the “Big Blue Beast,” aka my dad’s 17′ Blue Hole whitewater canoe, with the intent of finding the “lost” sections of Old Hickory Blvd (OHB) and Stewarts Ferry Pike (SFP). And for those who are wondering where the canoe’s name came from, if you’ve ever tried to tandemly maneuver a 17′ canoe in whitewater (that just so happens to be blue), its analogous to a semi-truck merging across 4 lanes of traffic: a beast of a thing to do! After 2 km of paddling around the Nashville Shores peninsula I arrived at the sunken section of OHB, which is quite easy to miss from a distance unless you know what to look for!

Photo Apr 02, 10 26 53

View of Old Hickory Blvd looking south from Percy Priest Lake. This worn piece of road is all that remains after 47 years of lake tidal action!

Photo Apr 02, 10 27 47

View looking north from above position with the submerged section of Old Hickory Blvd heading into the center of the picture. In the clearing in the center of picture is the present-day road.

Continuing south for 0.5 km around the shoreline I came upon another section of OHB, this one quite large and above the waterline! After landing the canoe on the shoreline, I got out to walk the old road and explore the area! From the beer bottles and other bits of trash it appears that those people with faster modes of nautical transportation have frequently been here. But no matter, it was still good fun exploring and shooting photos of the area! I even came across what appears to be a bald cypress tree! I was quite surprised to find one in the lake as they’re normally found in swamplands and other wetland areas.

Looking north of an exposed section of Old Hickory Blvd with the Big Blue Beast beached on the shoreline.

Looking north of an exposed section of Old Hickory Blvd with the Big Blue Beast beached on the shoreline.

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The most surprising find of the day: a bald cypress tree in the lake!

Bald Cyrpess Cones! I never thought I'd see these naturally in Middle Tennessee!

Bald Cyrpess Cones! I never thought I’d see these naturally in Middle Tennessee!

NOTE: From here OHB continues to the Cook Public Use Area, a local park and boat launch ramp. The area is quite lovely, especially now with the flowing trees, and has plenty of picnic areas and pavilions for outdoor entertaining.

After packing my things, the Big Blue Beast and I continued for another 8 km to what I’ve named “Stewarts Ferry Island” since this section of SFP is normally encircled with water during higher water levels. Upon arrival it is immediately apparent that this used to be the cable ferry crossing station. I’m glad that vandals or others interested in sign memorabilia haven’t torn down the signs and removed some of the last remaining historical elements of this pre-lake history! Although my pictures don’t show it, the area does have several places to camp. The cable crossing sign and some building foundations are all that remain of this once important river crossing point.

View looking east of Stewarts Ferry Island with old cable crossing sign and the Big Blue Beast on shore.

View looking east of Stewarts Ferry Island with old cable crossing sign and the Big Blue Beast on shore.

View looking west from the island of Stewarts Ferry Pike. This was once a cable crossing point of the Stones River. On the far shoreline you can see another blue sign and the old section of SFP.

View looking west from the island of Stewarts Ferry Pike. This was once a cable crossing point of the Stones River. On the far shoreline you can see another blue sign and the old section of SFP.

View looking east from Stewarts Ferry Island toward eastern shoreline. Only the island-section of the road remains. Note on far shoreline the old section SFP continuing through the woods.

View looking east from Stewarts Ferry Island toward eastern shoreline. Only the island-section of the road remains. Note on far shoreline the old section SFP continuing through the woods.

View looking south of the eastern side of Stewarts Ferry Island.

View looking south of the eastern side of Stewarts Ferry Island.

View looking west from Stewarts Ferry Island. Note the old building foundations. I looked around for clues of their purpose but was unable to find anything.

View looking west from Stewarts Ferry Island. Note the old building foundations. I looked around for clues of their purpose but was unable to find anything.

Unfortunately, due to time constraints (I had to make a birthday dinner) I wasn’t able to continue to the last remaining lake-section of SFP, which is another 20-30 minutes of paddling east. I will save that for another day. After taking the above photo, I returned to the canoe and the Big Blue Beast and I set off for the Nashville Shores Marina. All in all, I paddled 18.2 km and had plenty of adventure to show for it! Its amazing what can happen when a persons says “I wonder…..” and then follows it up with action!

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Road Trip to Signal Mountain, TN

22 February 2014:

Today marked the warmest day of the new year, a whopping 66 degrees! And my father and I spent the day driving to Signal Mountain, TN and made a few detours along the way, one of which, afforded a spectacular roadway descent on TN 111 just west of Dunlap, TN. The descent has inspired me to in the future, bring my bicycle, “Icarus,” and make several exhilarating rides down and up the 4 mile descent.

TN 111 just west of Dunlap. Check out that descent! Imagine the speeds you'll reach on a road bike!

TN 111 just west of Dunlap. Check out that descent! Imagine the speeds you’ll reach on a road bike!

Also, on this route is a roadside pullout/picnic area with a spectacular waterfall!

One great spot for a picnic!

One great spot for a picnic!

After Dunlap, we continued onward on TN 111 to a beautiful roadside overlook affording incredible views of the Sequatchie Valley! As we neared Chattanooga we detoured to the small, cliffside community of Walden, TN to check out “Falling Water Falls.” This detour required navigating a series of switchbacks very similar to those found on the hairpin, mountain roads of Europe to reach East Brow Rd on top of Walden Ridge. This road is amazing! It literally rests upon the shear ridgeline and provides spectacular views of the Tennessee Valley. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to pull over and take pictures due to the narrowness of the road, but you’ll just have to take my word for it, or better yet, see for yourself!

Sequatchie Valley as seen from roadside overlook. Dunlap, TN and previously mentioned descent in the center.

Sequatchie Valley as seen from roadside overlook. Dunlap, TN and previously mentioned descent in the center.

After Falling Water Falls, we made our way to Signal Mountain and the Cumberland Trail section near Signal Point, part of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. The trailhead begins just below Signal Point, so named due to its strategic importance to the Federals during the Confederate Siege of Chattanooga during the Civil War. The Federals set up a series of signal points on the tops or exposed ridges of the mountains surrounding Chattanooga in preparation for the Confederate destruction of their telegraph lines prior to their siege. Pretty neat actually and from the vantage of the point you can really see why the area was chosen and subsequently named. After gleaning a bit of history from the plaques, we began our hike on the Cumberland Trail. Eventually we arrived at an incredible overlook. The view was of the Tennessee River heading out of Chattanooga and onward to the “Narrows,” a difficult to navigate section of the river, as well as the spectacular Julia Falls plummeting into Middle Creek.

View of the Tennessee River and valley from Signal Point with Lookout Mountain in center-right background.

View of the Tennessee River and valley from Signal Point with Lookout Mountain in center-right background.

Julia Falls as seen from overlook. Off-picture-left is the Tennessee River heading towards the "Narrows."

Julia Falls as seen from overlook. Off-picture-left is the Tennessee River heading towards the “Narrows.”

The picture, due to my 50mm lens, does NOT due the scene justice and I would highly encourage the reader to experience this incredible view in person! After the overlook we made our way to the suspension bridge crossing Middle Creek where, with sunset upon us and light slowly fading, we decided to turnaround.

Our turnaround spot. I sincerely wish we could've stayed longer. Their is a spectacular series of camping locations just behind me to the left.

Our turnaround spot. I sincerely wish we could’ve stayed longer. Their is a spectacular series of camping locations just behind me to the left.

Afterword we made our way to the North Shore area of Chattanooga where I got to experience some of the tasty brews of Chattanooga Brewing Company, I highly recommend their Imperial Pilsner and their Chickbock! We spent the next hour or so wandering around Chattanooga, crossed the Walnut Street pedestrian bridge, and had a great time. Chattanooga is the coolest part of TN!

It was a very good day!

 

 

A Long Walk on the 1st of February

February 1, 2014 was one of the first warm days of the year, which was especially nice after the recent descent of the Polar Vortex. So, with a high of 63 degrees, and a desire for adventure I decided to walk the 11 miles from Hermitage to East Nashville along the Music City Greenway in the lovely “summery” weather. Please note that all photos are from my iPhone 5.

The walk began at the “Welcome to Donelson” sign on Lebanon Rd just after the old steel truss bridge that was the original gateway on the Donelson-Hermitage line. After crossing the bridge, the greenway heads uphill and continues along the bluffs next to the Stones River. Its quite scenic at all times of the year and during the spring and summer months, with everything in bloom, you forgot that you’re in the suburbs. One of the best parts of these fall/winter saunters are that without the foliage obscuring the woodland views, its quite easy to see the hidden gems along the path: such as old bridge abutments, an airfield, stonewalls, and more! During the warmer months, I like to take my bicycle ‘Icarus’ and ride the greenway to Nashville as it is definitely my preferred method for going downtown.Photo Feb 01, 12 24 13

 

View of the steel truss bridge from the greenway

View of the steel truss bridge from the greenway

One of my favorite parts of this walk, especially when riding Icarus, is the hills at the beginning. Once you climb them, they give you a great boost of speed during the descent, allowing me to reach speeds of nearly 30 mph! However, on this day, since I was walking, it was still nice as the light afforded me many spectacular scenes, especially as I approached the still active farmland, surrounded on half its perimeter by the greenway. Its funny in a way, with the propensity of Scottish heritage in this region, that the rich hues of yellows, browns, and orange, afforded by the dried/dead species of grass would replicate many a scene of the Scottish countryside. After the farmland, you come to a bend in the river, with a tree providing a smidgen of shade, as well as a bluff that provides quite a view of the mouth of the Stones River emptying into the mighty Cumberland River. This is my favorite part of the greenway, and a great spot for a picnic.

Walking the farmland perimeter

Walking along the Stones River bluffs.

Walking along the Stones River bluffs.

Photo Feb 01, 12 52 27

Photo Feb 01, 13 02 48

Once you pass the farmland and the low lying soccer fields, climb the big hill up to McGavock Pike, walk behind McGavock High School, you reach Two Rivers Park. On this day, as on many a sunny day, the skate park next to the Wave Pool was filled with aspiring skaters, BMXers, and skateboarders; although, my picture doesn’t show it!Photo Feb 01, 13 47 20

After Two Rivers is the descent towards the bridge crossing the Cumberland River, where, during the warmer months, its quite common to see the General Jackson Showboat heading towards Nashville, its topside decks filled with tourists in revelry. This is generally the halfway point in the hike as once you cross the bridge, you have 5 more miles until you reach the Shelby Street bridge, the official eastern gateway into the city. Once you cross the bridge and walk the spiral-descending path, you reach the Shelby Bottoms greenway path which parallels the Cumberland River into Nashville.

Western side of the Cumberland pedestrian bridge.

Western side of the Cumberland pedestrian bridge.

The Cumberland pedestrian bridge. As an engineer, I enjoy inspecting the cabling and trying to deduce the loading profiles of each member.

The Cumberland pedestrian bridge. As an engineer, I enjoy inspecting the cabling and trying to deduce the loading profiles of each member.

The Shelby Bottoms greenway tends to be a corridor of foliage, more so in the summer than winter, so I didn’t take a photo of the pathway as it really isn’t particularly interesting. From the bridge its around 3.5 miles before you reach the Shelby Bottoms Nature Center and a spectacular railroad bridge! On the other side of the river is the famed Omohundro water treatment plant. Its notable for two reasons: 1) it was Nashville’s first treatment facility and (2) it was the ONLY treatment facility that wasn’t compromised during the 2010 flood! An interesting story really: local prison inmates were used to pile sandbags as the waters rose and word is, had the waters of the Cumberland rose one more inch, we’d have lost all three of our treatment facilities and the entire Davidson-Metropolitan region would’ve been under a “boil water” advisory for months. But I bet most of the non-local people reading this blog never would’ve known that, as the national media did a complete disservice to our city and barely covered the flooding “story.” Most of us haven’t forgotten this. Alright, off the soapbox now.

Shelby Bottoms Nature Center with the spectacular railroad bridge in the background.

Shelby Bottoms Nature Center with the spectacular railroad bridge in the background.

The spectacular railway bridge which crosses the Cumberland River and Shelby Bottoms area.

The spectacular railway bridge which crosses the Cumberland River and Shelby Bottoms area.

The railway bridge and the mighty Omohundro treatment facility. I love the brickwork!

The railway bridge and the mighty Omohundro treatment facility. I love the brickwork!

Checkout the length of the bridge!

Checkout the length of the bridge!

Once you cross underneath the railway bridge, you entire the Shelby Bottoms park with its many baseball diamonds, golf course, and lake! On this day since it was just after the descent of the Polar Vortex, the lake was still frozen, which the park conveniently mentions is “unsafe ice,” which, during all times but the winter, is a bit odd. Its a “Nashville thing” I guess. Anyways, be wary of unsafe ice in all your activities!

Better watch out for that unsafe ice!!!

Better watch out for that unsafe ice!!!

After narrowly avoiding the unsafe ice, I continued on my walk to East Nashville as my favorite wine store, Woodland Wine Merchant was having a tasting of some great Beaujolais and Bourgogne wine. After the tasting, and seeing my acquaintances there, I caught a ride back to Hermitage to prepare for an art crawl later that night.

Nature walks such as these are my inspiration as well as my “reset button.” Things just make sense during long walks among forests, deserts, or mountains. I highly encourage everyone to take some time for themselves and saunter about through the nearest forest, desert, or mountainous region. You’ll emerge a different person than when you started, I can promise you that!

Drinkable Hot Toddy (sort of)

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A week ago on that day-of-days known as MLK, I decided to make a drinkable hot toddy to combat the bout of cold that had overcome me. A bit of lemon, a bit of ginger, my go to Bourbon, and a jar were all that was necessary, oh and time, lots of time, like a week’s worth, before I could sample my infusion.

Well, that week’s worth of time has arrived and today I gave it a taste: not too bad, ginger presence is minimal, but the lemon presence is noticeable, especially on the finish. This is important since this infusion is meant to be a Potent, with a capital “P,” addition to a honey-tea to make that fabled panacea known as a “Hot Toddy.” This “lemony” characteristic had reached desired potency so it was necessary to remove the lemon pieces from the infusion.

Using a mesh sieve, I strained the liquid into another jar and removed the lemon pieces. After which, I  returned the ginger pieces to the jar to continue the infusing process for 3 more weeks. It will be necessary to make weekly tastings to track the ginger’s progress into the Bourbon and I will update this post accordingly!

Cheers!

Brett

UPDATE: 3 February 2014

Today I tasted my infusion to check the progress of the ginger and the result was lackluster. I can’t really make out much ginger presence within that tight bourbon “jacket.” As a proxy, I also infused a vodka-lemon-ginger version of this and when I tasted this, I did notice a small bit of ginger presenting itself in the neutral spirit. Granted, after 1 week, the strength of the lemon flavoring is quite high, almost like a limoncello but without the high sugar content. This small ginger presentation gives me hope that in another week or two I will have the desired flavor profile I had envisioned at the start of this endeavor.

UPDATE: 17 February 2014

Today I filtered and strained both the whiskey infusion and its clear analog, the vodka-lemon-ginger infusion. Unfortunately, the taste profile of the whiskey infusion is not as balanced as I would’ve hoped: Lemon immediately presents, with bright flavors, with bourbon rounding out the mid-palate with a slightly astringent ginger finish. Ginger intensity is not as I hoped and may improve with aging. A simple syrup and glycerin addition could mask the astringency and round out the flavor profile as could the additional infusion of nutmeg, clove, and other spices. The vodka infusion actually tastes decent, without too strong an astringent presence from the ginger but a delightfully bright, almost limoncello-esque lemon flavor. The addition of simple syrup and glycerin would round out the flavor profile.

All in all this wasn’t a bad first attempt at a drinkable hot toddy and this recipe will improve with time.

UPDATE: 17 May 2014

The bourbon infusion has remained sitting in my closet for months, gathering dust, and I’ve had great difficulty figuring out what to do with it. With my recent acquisition of chocolate shells  I decided to try another infusion, hoping that the shells would round out the ginger-lemon presentation on the finish. I added 1/4 cup of the shells and let them infuse for 12 hours. After straining/filtering I gave it a taste and was pleasantly surprised by a more rounded body, however the finish is still lacking. On my next attempt at this liqueur I’ll let the chocolate shells infuse until the finish has chocolate on the front end with a light, lemon-ginger presentation on the back end.