Girl’s Trip! (Part 2: Chattanooga)

Wow! So part two only took a month to get written. It is that crazy holiday time of the year, so as usually happens, life gets in the way of writing. The good news, however, is that I now have several wonderful events to write about. But before I move on to holiday cheer, it is time to finish my Girls’ Trip blog.

Now where did I leave you? That’s right…after we finished our hike at Cloudland Canyon, we drove over the mountain to Chattanooga. Thirty minutes later we were checking in to the Chattanooga Choo-Choo. This historic location was once the train station in Chattanooga. Now it serves as a hotel and historic attraction. The main lobby where you check in is in the old rail station and is quite lovely. You should definitely drop by and take a look if you’re ever in the area.

They have rooms in some of the old rail cars which might be an interesting overnight experience, but my daughter and I stayed in the standard hotel portion. Apparently the site was under a major restoration, so it didn’t prove to be the best time to stay. As for location, however, we were in a prime area for visiting this lovely city.

On our first morning, we found ourselves in need of something warm to drink. Lucky for us The Hot Chocolatier was right across the street. We started our Chattanooga adventure off with some of the best hot chocolate we’ve ever tasted…and a couple of truffles to accompany the delicious beverages. My truffle was lavender. I didn’t even know you could eat lavender, but now I know what lavendar tastes like (just like it smells by the way). Interesting.

Then we headed off to the aquarium. We decided to get passes for the Behind the Scenes Tour. We arrived at the aquarium approximately an hour before the tour began, so needless to say, we were unable to wander far. The tour was in the ocean aquarium, so we started out on the top floor of this building. To my delight, at the very top of the escalator was a sign pointing to the butterfly sanctuary! I didn’t even know they had one of these, so I again found myself in butterfly heaven on a trip. Yay! Before we entered Butterfly Heaven, however, we were greeted by two large blue Hyacinth Macaws who found great pleasure in laughing at all passers-by.

After talking to and laughing with the macaws for a little while, we headed to the butterfly room. To my daughter’s dismay, we ended up in this room before and after the tour. Though she enjoyed the butterflies, she was afraid I might decide to spend too much time there dooming her to miss the rest of the aquarium. Her fears were unjustified, however, as we did see all of the aquarium.

Inside I managed many wonderful shots of these beautiful lepidoptera. And after the tour, we enjoyed the pleasure of releasing some newly hatched butterflies into the habitat.

The Behind the Scenes tour was equally amazing. We were able to see the penguins up close and learn about them and their habits and habitat.

Did you know they raise one arm to regulate their body temperature? And their normal body temperature is 104 degrees Fahrenheit? Those are just a couple of the cool facts we learned about these interesting creatures. Penguins are awesome!

After visiting the penguins, we headed to the large saltwater tank. We were taken into the room where the divers enter the water and the sea creatures are fed. We met the divers and learned a bit about their job. Then we met with the people that feed the animals. We learned about their diet, where they get the food, and which creature eats what.

Then we were given the pleasure of feeding the sea turtles!

Then we had an animal encounter with a glass lizard. This particular lizard is legless and looks disturbingly like a snake. He wouldn’t stay still enough for me to get a good shot, so I will be unable to share a picture of this amazing creature.

The rest of the ocean aquarium was typical for a saltwater habitat.

After we finished the ocean aquarium, we took a walk to find some lunch. We walked under the bridge and found a hidden park. It was like a secret world. We didn’t actually find any lunch. Instead we found ice cream at The Ice Cream Show. It was enough to tide us over until dinner. Then it was back to the aquarium to visit the river side.

Now, I must admit, I am not a fan of river fish…except for eating. They aren’t the loveliest of fishes. There were some other interesting aqueous inhabitants, however.

My favorite river buddies live around the water on the banks of the river and use the waters a food source and place to play. Say hello to the River Otter!

And of course there was the regular array of reptilian, amphibian, and avian riverside inhabitants.

Unfortunately, our river adventure was cut short due to caterers setting up for an after-hours party.

On our last day in Chattanooga, we headed across the river for a shopping trip. Our first stop was in Coolidge Park for a ride on the carousel.

And of course any good shopping trip starts off with coffee, so we hunted down a great little coffee shop called The Stone Cup. We hung out at the coffee shop for nearly an hour sipping Peppermint Mocha and enjoying art. By the time we left, it was lunch time, so we picked up some sub sandwiches and headed to the Walnut Street Bridge to eat. Then we made our second trip to the Ice Cream Show for coffee and ice cream. We spent the rest of the afternoon inspecting the record and book collections of several shops. Our only find was a Disney trivia book that kept us occupied while at the ice cream shop.

We ended our day with a little down-time in Coolidge Park. My daughter played her guitar while I walked around taking photos.

A perfect end to an amazing Girls’ Trip.

 

 

 

The Joys of Autumn…and Butterfly and Moth Collecting

Autumn is a beautiful time of the year. The leaves change colors, the air gets cooler, and all the colorful harvest time vegetables grace our senses. One of my favorite things about fall, however, are the swarms of butterflies that visit my butterfly bushes in the backyard. Today, after the rain storm, the bushes were teaming with life, and I found yet another butterfly I haven’t photographed and identified yet.

Years ago, I remember seeing a butterfly collection. It was a board with dead butterflies pinned to it. I found that quite horrific, as I love these beautiful creatures. I lamented over this terrible thing while my father listened one evening. I’m not sure he found it quite as horrific as I did, but he loved these creatures too. He had a lovely butterfly coloring book that he worked on from time to time. Now, when I say coloring book, I don’t mean a children’s coloring book but one of those nice ones with the waxy pages that you color with color pencils. He had carefully colored in some of the species he had looked up and colored them with accuracy. I’m not sure what happened to that old book, but I have taken up the butterfly quest. I, however, have chosen to collect butterflies and moths in photograph. So far, I have collected 22 different butterflies and moths.

There’s not much story behind the collection other than what I have told in previous posts, so I’ll just share my butterflies and moths and their names with you.

American Lady

American Lady (4) American Lady Butterfly American Lady-1

Bumblebee Sphinx Moth

watermarked edits-87 watermarked edits-80 watermarked edits-77

Cabbage White

Cabbage White-3

Cloudywing Skipper

Dun Skipper-1

Common Buckeye

Common Buckeye Common BuckeyeCommon Buckeye

Dun Skipper

Dun Skipper (2) Dun Skipper

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

watermarked edits-33 watermarked edits-21 watermarked edits-2Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (30)

Fiery Skipper

Fiery Skipper (1) Fiery Skipper-2 Fiery Skipper-3

Great Spangled Fritillary

Great Spangled Fritillary Great Spangled Fritillary Great Spangled Fritillary

Gulf Fritillary

Gulf Fritillary (1) Gulf Fritillary (5) Gulf Fritillary-2 Gulf Fritillary sipping nectar

Long Tailed Skipper

Long Tailed Skipper-3 Long Tailed Skipper-6 Long Tailed Skipper-8 Long Tailed Skipper-9 Long Tailed Skipper-17

Monarch

Monarch Butterfly Monarch-4 Monarch-6

Pearl Crescent

Pearl Crescent Pearl Crescent Pearl Crescent

Red Admiral

Red Admiral-4 Red Admiral-6 Red Admiral-9 Red Admiral-11 Red Admiral-13 Red Admiral-15

Red Banded Hairstreak

Red-banded Hairstreak Red-banded Hairstreak

Red Spotted Purple

Eastside Trail-18 Eastside Trail-22Red Spotted Purple (22) Red Spotted Purple (23) Red Spotted Purple Butterfly Wing

Regal Moth (Royal Walnut Moth)

Regal Moth (face and legs) Regal Moth (Royal Walnut Moth) Regal Moth (side view)

Silver Spotted Skipper

Silver Spotted Skipper (1) Silver Spotted Skipper (5) Silver Spotted Skipper (6) Silver Spotted Skipper (8) Silver Spotted Skipper (10)

Spicebush Swallowtail

Spicebush Swallowtail in Flight Spicebush Swallowtail Spicebush Swallowtail Spicebush Swallowtail Spicebush Swallowtail Spicebush Swallowtail

Spring Azures

Spring Azures (they are purple on top when they are flitting about) Spring Azure

Zabulon Skipper

Zabulon Skipper Having Dinner Fiery Skipper Fiery Skipper Fiery Skipper

And here are a few caterpillars:

Luna Moth Caterpillar

Luna Moth Caterpillar's face You can see all the fuzzies on this guy in this pic

Sycamore Tussock Moth Caterpillar

Sycamore Tussock Moth Caterpillar Sycamore Tussock Moth Caterpillar

Fort Yargo (Part 2: Critters and a Few Other Things)

Welcome to Part 2 of my Fort Yargo hiking adventure! If you haven’t read Part 1, go back and read that now.

Did you finish Part 1? Very good…now on to Part 2, the really exciting stuff…

Sometime between noon and one, my husband and I stopped for some really yucky organic meal shakes and water. I noticed the webbing of some tent caterpillars and strolled over for a look. As I was examining the nest looking for signs of the inhabitants, my husband pointed out another web near the water on the other side of the bench. Being a bit nearsighted, it took me a minute to find what he was pointing to. As he was verbally directing me to the wonder, he held our bouncing furry companion at bay so that she would not inadvertently destroy said wonder with a swish of her tail. Eventually I too discovered the web and was both amazed and disturbed by the scene that I found…

Writing Spider with prey

It seems that a lovely Writing Spider was also enjoying her lunch…or perhaps storing the rest of it away for later. Either way, her feast of dragonfly was rudely interrupted by a crazy photographer lady (that would be me). As I maneuvered my way around the web to the other side to get a better vantage point (and being careful not to lose my balance and fall into the lake), I heard my husband shout, “It’s coming after you!”

And indeed she was! Apparently I had jostled the web a bit, and this beauty decided she was about to catch some dinner! Alas, her hopes were dashed when she viewed the size of her new prey. Rather than give up, however, she perched herself delicately on her strings of silk ready to be my model. And who could ask for a more terrifyingly beautiful model.

Her lovely black and gold body shone brightly in the sunlight.

Writing spider (top view)

With her head of silver fur and her many dark black eyes, she was both captivating and unnerving.

Writing Spider (head close-up)

Even more unnerving were the fangs she sported underneath these beady black eyes. But aside from the fangs, the underside of her body was fascinating. I captured a very detailed shot of her thorax where her eight long legs connect to her large shiny exoskeleton. And what the photos capture that the naked eye rarely sees (mostly because you aren’t going to dare to get close enough to view it) are the spiky hairs all over the spider’s body.

Writing Spider (close-up of thorax and fangs) Writing Spider (underside view close-up)

This lovely orb spider had woven her beautiful web next to the lake with the tell-tale zig-zag which is the signature feature of the writing spider. When we were young, my cousin and I were of the understanding that a writing spider could actually write. We offered many a paper with words on it to our writing friends one summer. Now that I’m older, I know that unless they are named Charlotte, they can’t really write anything other than z’s, but it made for a fun summer nonetheless. On this particular occasion, however, I was lucky enough to capture a photo of this lovely lady extruding silk from her spinneret to weave her web.

Writing Spider (abdomen close-up with spinnerette extruding silk)

These amazing creatures are both beautiful and frightening, and I feel privileged to have been allowed the chance to photograph one at such close range without conflict.

Writing Spider (side view with lake in the background) Writing Spider (underside view close-up)

The next little critter I happened upon was a nervous little tufted titmouse. He lit on a branch just long enough for me to snap a slightly blurred photo.

Fort Yargo (watermarked)-69

Then there were the butterflies flitting about the edge of the lake drinking in the nectar of wildflowers. The most beautiful of the two that I captured, and the one I got the best photos of, was the Common Buckeye.

Common Buckeye Common Buckeye Common Buckeye

And the other little guy was a Red-banded Hairstreak. The pictures of him were not quite so clear, but they turned out okay.

Red-banded Hairstreak Red-banded Hairstreak

I also got a few scenic photos, two of which I displayed as the feature image for the posts. The rest of them I will show you now.

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Our hiking trip was cut a little short due to my sister needing a last minute babysitter, so we kicked it into high gear to get ourselves out of the woods and back to the car. This unfortunately proved to be a mistake as I tripped over an exposed tree root and went sailing across the path. No permanent harm done, though, just a bruised up knee and some minor scrapes.

When we arrived home, our hurry was for naught, as my mother returned home just in time to babysit. But the evening was not wasted. My husband went into the backyard and found a baby fence lizard which apparently had no problem sitting peacefully on his hand. He was also rather fond of the camera, so I got quite a few close-ups of this little guy.

Baby Fence Lizard Baby Fence Lizard Baby Fence Lizard Baby Fence Lizard Baby Fence Lizard Baby Fence Lizard Baby Fence Lizard Baby Fence Lizard

And I shall end my tale with a couple of rather good photos of my hiking companions…

Dixie Fort Yargo (watermarked)-72

Fort Mountain State Park

Fort Mountain State Park…my latest hiking adventure. My trusty hiking companion, Dixie, and I set out for another grand adventure last Saturday. Two and half hours and one nervous Aussie Mix later, we left the comforts of civilization (meaning all cell phone signal was lost) and entered the mountain wilderness.

Atop the mountain are several trails that link and criss-cross and such. Now, the map shows that these trails should equal a little less than a mile; however, that only includes two of the five trails up there and certainly does not include walking them more than once. So, I managed to turn that less than a mile into somewhere between three and five. I’m not really sure how far I traveled as I was conserving phone battery and not using my handy-dandy endomondo tracker app. I managed a good many steps on my fitbit pedometer though.

Well, the first place Dixie and I checked out was the Stone Tower at the mountaintop. There was quite a bit of caution tape about the place. I’m not quite sure what they were working on up there, or even what was supposed to be roped off, but we explored a bit. I went to the right of the tower, and there was a window on the lower level. If you looked through the window, you could see straight through the window to the back of the tower and out into the woods beyond. I thought it made for a good photo opportunity, so I snapped a few shots. I tried one of the shots out in a chroma key software demo, and it makes quite a nice backdrop for a photo shoot. In fact, after trying out the software, I may see about doing some chroma key work for photo shoots. Rabbit trails…ok, back to the topic.

fort mountain-2 fort mountain-3 fort mountain-4 fort mountain-7 fort mountain-8

After, exploring and photographing the stone tower, Dixie and I decided to head down another trail to the back and right of the tower. The path led around and, I assumed at the time and correctly by the way, back across our original trail. We heard something crashing around in the trees out to our left. I saw the limbs crashing around, but I never saw what was causing the commotion. A little further down the path, we came across a family. As I was about to turn to the right down the Stone Wall Trail, the guy in the front calls out, “There’s a bear down that way! I saw it, and we headed in the other direction.” Of course, I was like, “Cool, I think I’ll go get a picture.” I headed, well, in the direction of the bear. (As a side note here, animals scare me way less than people do.) I had traveled about a hundred feet or so, when the family we met started in our direction. Now, whether that was to keep an eye on the crazy woman with the camera who wanted to photograph a bear to make sure she didn’t get eaten, or whether to get a closer look at the bear I didn’t seem afraid of, I’m not sure. But they followed behind, and sadly to say, we didn’t see that bear. I did, however, see a Great Spangled Fritillary and got several pictures of his pretty self. After all, who can resist a big beautiful orange and black butterfly.

Great Spangled Fritillary fort mountain-12 fort mountain-15 Great Spangled Fritillary Great Spangled Fritillary fort mountain-21 fort mountain-23

We explored the trail and the Stone Wall a bit, all the while keeping an eye out for bears. I say we, but I think Dixie was just interested in anything that moved really. We crossed over the Stone Tower Trail, and we headed on out the Stone Wall Trail. A little way down the trail, Dixie got a scent and kept trying to run after something. I’m not quite sure what she was after, but I heard a lovely little twitter in the trees in the direction she was heading, so away we went. I spotted a lovely little yellow bird flitting about and twittering, so we sat down on a rock outcropping and watched and photographed. It took me three days to identify this little guy from the photographs I took, but I think I finally identified him. I believe he is a Pine Warbler. He was quite lovely and had a captivating little tune to sing.

Pine Warbler Pine Warbler Pine Warbler

From there we headed out to the overlook. The view was breathtaking. The blue-gray of the mountains in the distance, the sun rays streaming through the clouds to bathe the mountains in light, and the hawk flying about looking for a meal. The sun was bright, and it was a bit warm out, but we lingered about for a spell to take a few photographs.

fort mountain-27 fort mountain-28 fort mountain-29 fort mountain-30 fort mountain-34 fort mountain-37

After leaving our lofty perch, we headed back up to the Stone Tower, then circled back down to the bottom where we were parked, and then we followed another trail that led us right back to the overlook. I took a few more photographs, playing with the exposure settings and such. Then we took one more trip around the Stone Wall Trail and headed back to the car.

fort mountain-40 fort mountain-42 fort mountain-45 fort mountain-52 fort mountain-54 fort mountain-57 fort mountain-59

At the car, we looked at the map (which, by the way, I didn’t bother taking with me on the trails). The Lake Loop Trail and the Big Rock Trail were both near the picnic shelters and cabins, so we headed in that direction. The first trail we came up on was the Big Rock Trail. It was listed as a very long trail, only about three quarters of a mile, so I figured it shouldn’t take too long. We walked the trail for a little ways, and I was ┬ábeginning to get the feeling that the name might be misleading. I hadn’t seen any sign of a big rock, at least not one any bigger than the others I had seen. But then we found it. It wasn’t really a big rock, per se, but more of a stream along some smoothed rock that cascaded down the side of the mountain. Pools formed in the rock in places where the stream flowed, and someone had stacked some stones in the stream. (I’ve seen these little stacked stone towers in many places now, and I’m still not sure what they mean or why people do it.) It was so peaceful here, and I stood out on the rocks and got several pictures up and down stream. Dixie and I stayed here for quite some time before moving on.

fort mountain-67 fort mountain-70 fort mountain-75 fort mountain-78 fort mountain-81

After leaving the stream, we followed the trail on out to the roadway. There was a bench facing an open area near the storm drain outlet. I assumed, and rightly so after reading, that the bench was there to sit and watch for birds and deer (and squirrels). As we walked up the hill, I spotted a butterfly. It was a Spicebush Swallowtail. I got several pictures of this little guy before heading on. I have quite a habit of chasing butterflies.

fort mountain-82 Spicebush Swallowtail Spicebush Swallowtail Spicebush Swallowtail Spicebush Swallowtail Spicebush Swallowtail Spicebush Swallowtail in Flight

As we reached the top of the hill, I realized that we could cross the street and get to the Lake Loop Trail. It was late in the evening by now, and I decided that it would be a nice way to end the day. So, around the lake we went. It was a peaceful walk until we neared the beach. Being hot that day, many people apparently decided that going for a swim was a good idea. You could hear laughter and splashing all the way across the lake. There were several people enjoying the evening in kayaks, canoes, and on paddleboards. I don’t think anyone had the paddleboats out though. I took quite a few nice photographs around the lake.

fort mountain-92 Miniature Island fort mountain-94 fort mountain-95 fort mountain-97 fort mountain-101 fort mountain-103 fort mountain-104 fort mountain-113

By the time I got to the side of the lake where all of the people were, the sun was shining through the trees creating an ethereal glow. It was almost as if you could gaze through a veil into another world. It made for some lovely photographs, along with a canoe sitting just off of the beach awaiting its rider’s return.

fort mountain-105 fort mountain-106 fort mountain-107 fort mountain-108 fort mountain-111

All in all, it was not a bad day. In fact, it was quite a beautiful day. I can’t wait to go back and try out the Gahutti Trail (8 miles of wilderness beauty).