While camping in nearby Dandridge, TN, I begin my early morning fossil expedition as the sun rises on Douglas Lake. It’s only an hour drive to the fossil site, but I want to explore the Tri-cities area a bit before the museum and dig site open.
During the drive, I tune in XM 80’s on 8 for relics of a different kind: Spandau Ballet, Eurythmics, Howard Jones, Prince, & Police. As the anticipation of reaching my destination heightens, so does the volume of the one man concert going on in the truck. It crescendos with my rousing rendition of “Blister in the Sun” by the Violent Femmes as I pull off the Johnson City exit. I have sung that song hundreds of times since my college days and I still have no idea why that guy sometime stains his sheets.
The first road side oddity I want to visit is in the Garden of Friendship. The gardens are home for “Junaluska” a 30-foot carving, from a tree, in honor of the Native Americans of Tennessee (Cherokees, Creeks and Chickasaws). The sculpture was created in 1986 by sculptor Peter Wolf Toth. This thing is huge. The park is small and the sculpture is near a busy road. Despite plenty of activity nearby, I felt very alone, something came over me. I felt a presence, a connection, with the big guy. I wanted to touch it, and snap a selfie with it. But ended up doing neither. I just admired it for a while and enjoyed the serenity that it offered. I wondered what he would say if he could talk, then thought I probably wouldn’t want to know.
Hittin the Bricks
What trip to the tri-cites is complete without a swing by the Museum of Ancient Brick?
The museum includes 10,000 year-old bricks found beneath the Biblical city of Jericho. There are bricks from ancient Egyptian tombs, the Roman Forum and the Colosseum. A brick used as ballast on the Mayflower and later laid into a foundation at Plymouth Colony is also on display. I won’t ruin the surprise but if you’re looking to kill a few minutes or just happen to like old bricks (and who doesn’t?) it’s worth checking out
To the Digs
I enter the Gray Fossil Site and Museum and am pleasantly surprised. I am greeted by the SuperGraphic that brought me here in the first place. The graphic depicts a red panda, indigenous to Asia. How its fossil ends up in Tennessee confounds many paleontologists’ who study such things. General consensus is a land bridge once existed between the continents.
Many other prehistoric creatures traveled this area millions of years ago and their history was just recently uncovered. During a road reconstruction project in 2000, road workers hit dark rich soil and found the jaw of a tapir then the skull of an alligator. The project was halted and the area become a research site.
The exhibit contains a brightly colored diorama displaying the most impressive finds from the site.
Also on display, I find the red panda, saber-toothed cat, short-faced bear, ground sloth, rhinoceros, camel, shovel-tusked elephant, and a Eurasian badger.
On the way out, I peer into the working lab and see the scientist working on cleaning, documenting, and cataloging their recent finds. It is a painstaking process. Personally, I’m more of a Lego guy, I just wanna snap it together and go on to the next one.
As I round the corner to exit, I tangle with some kind of hair messing monster. I don’t feel the connection with him that I did the Junaluska, though I don’t dare touch him, I do snap the selfie and scamper on over to the annex.
The annex offers more to explore, as this weekend features another ancient exhibit of sorts; The Bonsai Kai Exhibit. Local Bonsai growers show off their creations. They are amazing to behold. Even more amazing is the patience, the preciseness, and dedication of the growers in creating these masterpieces. I watch the demonstration and visit the supplies table and see the never ending array of tools of the trade (Leaf cutter, shohin shear, long slim twig shear, knob cutter, root rake, tweezer spatula, sickle saw, grafting knife, root plier, jen plier etc. etc.), It doesn’t take long I for me to realize I’ll never be a Bonsai grower, but I sure as heck enjoyed looking at them.