We decided it was time to make a quick getaway, so Pat took off from work on a Friday, and we headed to central Tennessee. We booked a cabin at Tims Ford State Park, and planned to do a little dam questing and other sightseeing. It turned out to be a very successful and enjoyable quest!
Friday, February 22, 2002
We figured if we got out of Lawrenceville by noon, we would make the park with time to spare. We ended up leaving a little later because Bellsouth showed up to check out our IDSL line, which had been down since Tuesday when a Bellsouth crew was doing cable work in the neighborhood. Sure enough, they had screwed something up, but this guy found and fixed the problem, and we were back on the air... er, net.
Tims Ford is a small park on Tims Ford Lake, near Winchester, Tennessee. This lake is a TVA impoundment on the Elk River, and the dam is very close to the park... by boat. Its about a 10 mile drive by car. But after getting clear of the Atlanta traffic somewhere north of Cartersville, and a bottleneck on I-24 west of Chattanooga (caused by an idiot in an overloaded pickup truck barely able to maintain the 40 mph minimum speed), we made it to the Monteagle exit, turned southwest, and drove through the communities of Sewanee, Cowan (more on this one later), and Winchester, where we had to make 6 or 8 turns (who thought THAT route up!), to find ourselves on TN 50 headed for the dam. We had crossed into the Central Time Zone after leaving Chattanooga, so it was still early, local time. We opted to go bag the dam before checking in.
The dam was about 10 miles from Winchester, and we found it with no problem. It is a rockfill dam with a concrete gated spillway at the right end (from the downstream side), and is kind of unusual in that the spillway is routed around the powerhouse, which we couldn't get a good shot of, by a combination of concrete structures and natural rockwork. The tailrace from the powerhouse joins that a little downstream, and there is a pool from that back to the base of the dam. We suppose they have some arrangement to keep that pool from getting stagnant, but we didn't see what that might be. From some of the posted literature, apparently there is some work under way by TVA and the Tennessee Fish and Game folks to improve the water quality downstream. We got shots from the powerhouse gate, spillway overlook, lakeside overlook, and a parking area under the TN 50 bridge just downstream, before heading to the park. We had to backtrack on TN 50 for a few miles, then turn on to Mansford Road, before we found the entrance to the park.
The cabins had obviously been recently remodeled, and were very nice. They are all two bedroom, each with two full-size beds, one bath, and an adequate kitchen... no microwave, sparse on the utensils, but since we always take all the "fancy stuff" we think we will need, it was more than enough. They have central heat and air (just heat, this time of year), and we were pleased it was gas heat... no heat pumps. However, they still haven't figured out that if you give folks a little auxiliary heat in the bathroom, you don't need to toast the whole place. In fact, there was almost no air coming out of the duct in the bathroom, so we had to REALLY toast the rest of the place to warm up the bathroom for showers. But we made up for it by keeping the T'stat at 66 most of the rest of time. Nighttime temps stayed in the high 30s and low 40s for the weekend. There are some restaurants/burger joints at some local marinas, but the one in the park was closed for the season. So, we fixed our pre-planned pre-fab supper, and took it easy for the night.
Saturday, February 23, 2002
We had been waffling on exactly what we had wanted to do, so finally we decided that we would go bag Normandy Dam and play it by ear from there. This dam is on the Duck River, about as far north of Tullahoma, TN, as the park was south... roughly 30 miles or so away. So, off we went. We had the Delorme Gazetteer for Tennessee, and had the laptop/GPS with Delorme Topo USA 3.0. Sometimes, these just ain't the best tools for navigating, but the Tennessee DOT map was about useless! We found the community of Normandy, and did find the dam relatively easily (very reminiscent of Tellico Dam), then doubled back to Normandy to continue north on TN 269. This ended up taking us WAY out the way for whatever our eventual plans would be, but in retrospect, we liked the way it turned out. We saw a lot of nice scenery (unlike Friday, Saturday was beautiful, if a bit cool, not a cloud in the sky), and some fantastic old houses. We finally found ourselves in the community of Wartrace (railroad buffs will recognize that one), where we followed the signs to TN 64 and back to I-24. We headed east on I-24 until we saw an exit for Tims Ford State Park, at McMinnville. This was also the exit for several other state parks, Rock Island being one of them. While surfing once, we had come across some stuff that led us to believe that that would be a neat place, so, when we found out it was less than 40 miles, and it was still early (about 12:30 local), off we went. This turned out to be the best decision we have made in a while.
We knew from our previous research that TVA has one dam that is not in the Tennessee Valley watershed, and that is Great Falls Dam, on the Caney Fork River. This is actually part of the Cumberland River watershed. The project was completed in 1916, we think, and TVA bought it from the Great Falls Power Company (or similar) sometime after TVA came into existence in 1933. We can only imagine the interagency interactions between entities like TVA and the Corps of Engineers (who built and controls the dams on the Cumberland River system, AND operates the locks on the TVA dams...(?)). But for whatever reason, it is still a TVA facility. And WHAT a facility... we had no idea what a treat we were in for. After driving through the community of Rock Island, we crossed a bridge over Great Falls Lake, and the back side of the dam was visible. The dam was built right at the confluence of the Caney Fork and Collins Rivers, and the bridge crossed the Collins River channel. There was an older bridge still standing by the new one. Once across the channel, you had the option of turning right, and driving over the dam on a one lane plank bridge... which if course we did. This promised to take us to the Twin Falls Overlook, which we had never heard of. After about 1.3 miles of good dirt road, we encountered pavement, and headed down. We soon saw the falls, a magnificent cascade down the side of a rock bluff, that seemed to come out of the solid rock! The road continued down into the gorge, to a gated bridge that was the access to the Great Falls Powerhouse. So, Great Falls is a diversion dam... news to us! The powerhouse looked to be in full production, and downstream is some world class rapids. Even in February there was a multitude of rafters (we saw two cars with Minnesota plates... I guess they are used to the cold!). So here we are, two dam buffs surrounded by rafters... we took our pictures and left. As we crossed the dam again when we backtracked, we noticed that you could actually see the powerhouse from the dam... it was only a few hundred yards downstream. But we still couldn't see any diversion pipelines or suchlike... maybe they did it all underground?
We continued on into the park, passing an old building that had to have been a mill at some time, and found a parking area. We stopped, and walked down to the riverbed below the dam, hoping to get some good pictures of the face of the dam. We ended up a little too far down stream, and the rock of the riverbed shielded us too much. Still, the river itself was interesting enough, and there was enough seepage through the dam to make for some interesting water displays. We headed back to the van, ate lunch, and continued on to check out the cabins at the park. We have already decided where our next quest will be based! On the way, we drove by the switchyard, which had been visible at the top of the ridge from the access to the powerhouse below. We stopped to take some pictures, and there we learned the secret of this project. Yes, it is a diversion dam... sort of. See the Great Falls Dam page for the complete story.
After photographing the switchyard and the intakes, we carried on to the park proper, where we got the information about the cabins. If you haven't heard, the Tennessee State Parks are in a severe budget crunch, caused by a lot of political BS, in our opinion. End result, most of the parks are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. This means the cabins at these parks are not available for rental on Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday nights. Great way to save money, by interrupting your revenue stream. The lady at Rock Island is hopeful that the situation will be resolved soon. In the meantime, help them out by staying at a Tennessee park a couple of nights, be sure to pay the piddling $3.00 access fee for a day visit, and go cuss at a congress critter!
On the way out, we went down a little mud road closer to the dam, hoping to get some better pictures of the dam. If they turn out OK, they could be some of our best so far. By now it was late, so we made a bee line back to Tims Ford park, about 60 miles away. We got there in time to grill our steaks, relax, and reflect on the neat stuff we had seen.
Sunday, February 24, 2002
Time to go home... shucks! We drove out the way we came in, stopping in Cowan to take some pictures of the Railroad Museum. It is only open May through October, so a visit will have to be made some other time. For Railroad Buffs, Cowan has the been the base of a "pusher" team, to help the heavy freight trains up the grade from there to the Cumberland Tunnel. If memory serves, this is where Pat went with cousin Hollie one day long ago (I can't remember when it was...) to watch the process. Today it was quiet, so we have decided to do our homework and come back, maybe trying to actually get to the mouth of the tunnel, one of the longest railroad tunnels in the country.
Leaving Cowan, we made it to I-24, and drove home. Not much to say about that except... YUK! At least the weather was nice...
Pix will be up shortly!