I rarely miss the opportunity to get out and explore on days off from school, especially when the weather was as nice as it was yesterday, so fellow nature enthusiast Sean and I spent the day around Knoxville armed with a net and a rock hammer. Our first stop was in Raccoon Valley in Powell, TN to visit an outcrop of fossiliferous cherty limestone. The site is loaded with trilobites, gastropods, brachiopods, and a few blastoids. Weathering features and sedimentary structures are also abundant.
After our short visit to Raccoon Valley, we made our way to Ijams Nature Center. I strongly recommend a trip to Ijams if you live anywhere near Knoxville. It’s great for hiking, with several miles of trails that run along the Tennessee River. There are two quarries, Mead’s and Ross, both of which used to supply large quantities of “Tennessee Marble,” which for the nerds out there isn’t actually marble since it isn’t metamorphosed enough to have recrystallized significantly, so it’s still limestone. There is also an exposure along the trail with a magnificent parasitic fold in the Chapman Ridge Formation.
Several ponds offer a diverse aquatic community and this is our usual destination. The winter is an easy time for catching salamanders because they will be very sluggish. Using just our hands we were able to round up many Eastern newts, bullfrog tadpoles, crawdads, and snails. Around the creeks we also found three-lined salamanders. Aside from these ponds, the park hosts a large diversity of fish, mammals, birds, and reptiles and even has aquaria inside the main building containing animals native to Tennessee.
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