Autumn may be the best time to experience the somewhat hidden world of the Tennessee River Gorge. Located downstream from downtown Chattanooga, this protected habitat has an incredibly diverse collection of trees. “We have more hardwood trees in the Gorge than anywhere else on the North American continent,” said Pete Hosemann, one of the Explorer’s captains. “So when the fall colors turn, you have virtually every color that hardwood trees are capable of turning. It is a spectacular sight with a mix of evergreens.”
Captain Pete has piloted vessels on virtually every waterway east of the Rocky Mountains. In his experience, the Tennessee River Gorge is a “must-see” for everyone. “The upper Mississippi River Valley is the only place that can begin to compare, but the upper Mississippi is much wider than the Tennessee River Gorge. Here on the Tennessee River you have an up close experience that you can’t get on the Mississippi River,” Captain Pete said.
Chattanooga’s weather in October and November can be sublime, often offering comfortable temperatures and blue skies as a backdrop to the autumn color that cascades from the mountain tops to the water’s edge. The combination of climate, geographic location and dramatic rise in elevation not only helps produce the vibrant reds, yellows and oranges along the length of the 26-mile Gorge, it also attracts migrating hawks. The broad-winged hawk is just one of many seasonal travelers. “They tend to travel in big groups called kettles,” said Kevin Calhoun, the Aquarium’s assistant curator of forests. “Sometimes they form huge groups, especially during the fall migrations. But other species like red-tailed hawks, red-shouldered hawks, sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks follow the ridges and use the thermals in autumn.” An on-board naturalist helps point out wildlife such as hawks, ospreys and bald eagles on each cruise as well as describes the area’s rich history.
Captain Pete says the hi-tech bridge of the River Gorge Explorer is the best office in the world. And he’s looking forward to showing Aquarium visitors this sleek new vessel and the autumn show in the Gorge. “It’s one of the prettiest rivers anywhere in the world.”
Log on to http://www.tnaqua.org/VisitorInfo/rge.asp for River Gorge Explorer schedule information, reserve seating or charter a special cruise.