Oak Ridge: Trail 456

Saturday May 30. Some trails you plan for. And others you just stumble into.

Like this one. Yvonne just wanted a picnic spot away from others given the circumstances, and we went ahead and went down to Clark Center Park. We found a spot away from the swimming area where most visitors had gathered, across from the softball field.
And yet we had a trail, marked with a sign as Trail 456 right in front of us, so we figured we’d try it.
Most of Clark Center Park’s trails are short trails leading to fishing areas with not much besides a number. This trail featured some wildflowers in late May, and climbed up a hill before climbing back down. While we had to cross some logs, I can recommend this trail for one reason: its endpoint.


If you ever want to know the best spot to watch motorboats power by and ospreys swoop down at Melton Hill Lake, this is it.

Before people complain to me, there is some litter at this destination, and I’d prefer if someone was trying harder to keep it clean. Still, the view of the bluff across the lake from trail 456 will always be one of my favorite sites in my hometown and I plan to go back.

Great Blue Herons are not Pterodactyls

Great Blue Heron
Creative Commons photo by Terry Foote. Some day I’ll get this good at wildlife photos. In the meantime, enjoy stock photos.

Spotted Melton Hill Lake, near Haw Ridge ramp, May 23, 2020
Back in my teenage days on a crew team, we’d see them along the banks. “Pterodactyl!” one of my fellow rowers cried out.

And so that was what we called them. We knew it was wrong. We knew it was very wrong in fact. But we didn’t care.*
Anyway though it was a fun word to say. And it summed up the weirdness of a big flying thing with such a long bill quite well. great blue herons are common near lakes and even smaller streams of East Tennessee and not all that shy. They fly with their snaky necks tucked in but their long legs sticking straight out behind them
They’re about the height of human children, 3.4 to 4.5 feet. But their hollow bones make them light, around 5-6 pounds.

Those long beaks of theirs have a purpose though. Great blue herons wade into the water to stalk their prey. Sometimes, they stab larger fish with their bills.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s page describes Great Blue Herons as “often shaking them (fish) to break or relax the sharp spines before gulping them down.”
* As a side note, pterodactyls and pterosaurs generally are not only extinct but a dead end. Their relatives, the dinosaurs, survived to evolve into creatures like herons which replaced pterosaurs as flying creatures.

Melton Hill Lake from Haw Ridge Park

Melton Hill Lake
Me out on Melton Hill Lake May 23

April 24, 2020 No current, no rapids, no destination.
Granted I like routes with those things. But my trip with Mom and a few others at Melton Hill Lake was a refreshing chance to just leave life behind and explore coves, looking at turtles, herons, ospreys, cormorants and mallards with their little ducklings. While plenty of people were with us, they had separate boats, so social distancing wasn’t a problem at all.
There were challenges. We struggled to find a good bank for picnicking and just ended up eating in the canoe. We tried to avoid hitting fly fishers’ lines.

The banks were wild and full of thick Tennessee summer green. But the coves were also full of litter that had washed into them. In our series of good deeds for the day, Mom would push blocks of Styrofoam, a bottle full of water and an unopened can of Mountain Dew back toward me so that I could grab it and throw it in the boat. We passed on trying to do that with tires. But overall, I recommend this route. Go as far as you wish as the current’s not strong. You can always turn around.

Gallaher Bend Greenway, Oak Ridge, TN

On a short winter day sometimes you just want to escape from town (Oak Ridge Tennessee) and climb a gravel path, up and down hills through woods and fields, looking down from above at Melton Hill Lake. If so, Gallaher Bend Greenway may be the one for you. At least you won’t get lost. It’s just one path the whole way and, due to study of the surrounding area, you can’t leave it. The trail is a gravel road, but closed to traffic starting at Clark Center Park. The 4.5 mile route is not flat at all though but quite hilly, making for good exercise if you’re running.

The trail’s highlight is the open field area shown above, from which you can look down at Melton Hill Lake below, bright blue on a clear day amid the gray of winter.

With big places to go like Great Smoky Mountains and the Cumberlands nearby, places like Gallaher Bend Greenway may feel too mundane for me to share, but there’s a place for simple trips as well as long ones. I look forward to a year full of enjoying many different trails: showy and understated, long and short near to me and a ways away, and you can look forward to reading about the full range of them here.

Northern green frog (Lithobates clamatans)

You can sometimes see just the skipping of a frog-sized shape. Other times though you can find their big-eyed faces peaking up out of the water or the leaves. I count myself lucky when I catch them like that.
Yvonne stayed silent, wanting to conteplate nature in a respectful, worshipful way. Silent too, I crept slowly and silently too, but my approach was that of a hunter. I wanted to capture the big-eyed stair, the dull back, the bright green under them.
In my experience frogs are either still or hop or swim out of the way. Rarely have I ever seen one just leisurely stroll.
But I must have been doing something right. Only after quite a few pictures did this one jump out of the way.
Green frogs are not always green or in this case, not always all across their bodies. The main thing that separates them from bullfrogs is the fold that extends down their backs. They also lack the square or round spots of pickerel or leopard frogs. If all that came off as gibberish to you, and to you they’re all frogs, that was the same for me until I read up on these hopping adorables in The Amphibians of Tennessee, a book I recommend.
Their mating call, which they make at age two onward when seeking mates sounds like a banjo and you can hear it for half a mile.
I spotted this and another frog recently at the University of Tennessee Arboretum in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The Arboretum is not, precisely, wilderness, but rather spot with various experimental and exhibit areas, among them “small wetlands” which are shallow ponds. These are the best spots, as you can imagine, for frogs.

Yet Another Sunset, Tired of Those?

It’s been too long. New jobs, new commitments, none of which mean anything to the average reader of this blog.

No, the average reader of this blog, if they even cared to read more than one post would be saying “Yeah, that Ben person sure does post way too much about sunsets.”

It’s not original is it? Sunsets get plenty of love. People go out to beaches or mountains to see them. They throw them in movies for style to add a sense of romantic danger or paradoxically a romantic calm.
And yet how could I not post this?


The simple motion of the earth around the sun feels like the absurd grinding of fate. More days gone from life. And yet how could I not post this?


It’s a parking lot, not even a tourist attraction. A boring office parking lot. And yet, how could I not post this?


Heaven as firey as Hell. Sky as diverse in color as the world, full of blues grays, yellow, orange, colors that go together, colors that clash. Blood, flame, blackness, lightness, peach banana pudding. It’s easy to forget these were storm clouds which pounded rain and shot lightning just seconds before the photograph.

What does it all mean? Or should it even mean anything?

Truth is not beauty. Truth is not ugliness. Truth is every color thrown at the eye in a blinding glare. When the sun heads down, the truth is more comprehensible. But only slightly.


View from Oak Ridge.

View from Oak Ridge. I collect sunsets these days from the office where I pick up my girlfriend. It may be a boring office park, but it’s got a great view of the Cumberlands as well as many ridges. There will probably be more pictures of the area to come. Sometimes the most ordinary places surprise me.