I've decided to hold off on writing more about Nashville this week in order to honor the bison. If you haven't heard, President Obama signed a bill this past Monday to make the bison America's first national mammal!
I was lucky enough to see this incredible beast (and over 40 of its bison friends) roam the open prairie one state over from Tennessee last month. We saw them while on a day trip to Land Between the Lakes which stretches across the border into Kentucky.
A two-hour road trip outside Nashville brought us across the border for a very close encounter with these historic symbols of strength and intimidation. Let me say that again: A very close encounter. I'll let you decide for yourself just how close you would get!
Road-trip to Land Between the Lakes
It was Dasha's birthday weekend in the city of Nashville, Tennessee and we had planned for a little divergence into nature. There were 7 of us and we were all there to celebrate Dasha—so we all planned to do whatever she wanted to do.
You might remember that Dasha was my hiking buddy when I met a bear on the trail in New York's Catskill mountains and when I finally climbed Stissing mountain in my hometown. And so Dasha wanted to do what she loves to do: Frolic merrily in nature.
At least, that's how I envision her most of the time: Flowers in hair, frolicking in nature.
Okay, she's not frolicking in that photo. But frolicking did not seem politically correct in a Tennessee cemetery. We found this cemetery on the road side in the Land Between the Lakes recreation area. There were some really old graves there. I'm talking almost 200 years old.
Land Between the Lakes is a national park and a 688-square-mile strip of land between Lake Kentucky to the West and Lake Barkley to the East. The Tennessee-Kentucky state line splits the area in two.
The Elk and Bison Prairie exists on the Kentucky side.
Stops Along The Trace
The highway running north and south between the lakes is called the Trace (Route 49). We made our way up the Trace between the lakes, stopping at a few destinations before we arrived.
At this quick stop, we found a huge and creepy fish in murky waters. The fish was splashing around in the brownish green shallows, making our skin crawl.
Continuing the theme of creepiness, it was on our drive out of this area that we stumbled upon the little cemetery.
Gatlin Point & Bard Lake
At Gatlin point, there are camp grounds and a boat ramp for people to fish or ride out onto the water. Everyone in our group explored a bit and hung out on the rocks by the water for a while.
I found a trail that took me on a short hike along Bard Lake. It was nice to be alone in nature for a little while before heading back to find everyone.
The Homeplace is located across from a large field. In that field we found our first bison herd! They were quite far away, so we knew we would still need to check out the Elk and Bison Prairie to get our fill.
In addition to the field of bison, the Homeplace has a few other neat features. There's a little store there where you can pick up Tennessee and Kentucky notables, like sheep wool crafted items. Then behind the Homeplace, for a small fee, you can check out a farm that has been recreated to look like it would have in the 1850s.
A few of us checked out the farm and found that there were people there working in period costumes demonstrating old-fashioned agricultural techniques as if they were frozen in time!
The Border and the Prairie
After the Homeplace, we finally drove across the border to get to the prairie. Of course, we had to stop and take photos of ourselves "in two states at once!" along the way.
There was an actual border line to stand on here—presumably where separate road work crews for each state had met, creating a line in the pavement.
Not long after the border, we pulled up to the ranger booth outside the Prairie. The Elk and Bison Prairie is a 700-acre enclosure with a 3.5-mile road that loops around it, allowing visitors to drive along as if on safari. And it really did feel like a safari drive!
A $5 per-car fee got us through the gates after we were informed not to leave our vehicles if the elk or bison were within 200 meters of the car.
When the gates opened, it felt as though we were entering Jurassic Park. But perhaps that's because Dasha began humming the theme music.
We were lucky enough to see our first bison almost immediately after entering through the gates. We rounded the first turn and there it was, HUGE and MENACING.
Important fact about bison: Bison are not the same as buffalo. Buffalo live in Africa, Asia, and part of Poland only. The American Bison (bison bison), live only in North America. There are over 500,000 of them and 15,000 are still wild. The largest wild herd in America is in Yellowstone.
Bison are also historically symbolic as they have existed for over 200,000 years and were an important source of food to the indigenous people of America. So it's totally special not only to see the bison but also to see one this close!
The bison we saw when we first entered the prairie was a straggler, hanging out far away from the herd. Eventually, we found the rest of the gang including their 3 or 4 babies! One of them was really tiny—a baby born only a few weeks before.
The bison herd was far enough away that we all got out of our cars and pose for our cameras.
Our friend Stef was standing outside her car down the road a bit further when a lone bison suddenly came from behind her. It marched across the road to join with the rest of the herd.
She decided to run away.
We all burst out laughing as the bison stopped to watch her run. But it's actually not funny at all. Despite their size, these beasts can run up to 40 mph! They also have horns growing to nearly 2 feet in length—yikes!
Needless to say, Stef made her escape safely. Actually, all of the bison seemed to be perfectly undisturbed by our presence.
Stef's bison friend quickly got bored of our gawking and regrouped with his herd. So we moved on to find some elk.
The elk were significantly less interesting. But this may be because they were hiding behind some trees far across a field.
I may have also had my expectations a bit too high. Having never seen an elk outside of a zoo, I imagined an enormous deer with even more enormous antlers. The only male elk, however, was a young one.
His antlers were quite small; not nearly as impressive as what I had been anticipating.
The elk were cool to see roaming around freely, though. It's not every day I get to see them in person!
The End: With A Sunset Picnic at Energy Lake
After we completed the Elk and Bison Prairie loop, we were ready to find a spot to relax and feast before sunset.
Prior to departing Nashville, we grabbed a bunch of groceries expecting to find a place to picnic at some point. We ended up choosing Energy Lake as our picnic destination.
Energy Lake is a separate inlet, sectioned off from the rest of Lake Barkley by a dam. There are campgrounds, boat ramps, and canoe rentals at this lake. There was also a glorious sunset to take in here.
After stuffing our faces with an amazing spread of foods, we had a little fun with my camera and the sunlight. A few of us even took a dip in the lake since the temperature in Kentucky in April is quite warm.
Energy Lake was certainly energizing—many of us fell asleep in the car on the way back to Nashville! Joking aside, we were actually resting up for our big night ahead. Saturday night on the scene in Nashville was going to be a blast. Look out for my posts all about the Nashville nightlife and music scene coming soon!