Wednesday, July 23

28 Days Of Vacation

Day 3: Tennessee Aquarium, TN

Today we jump across the Big Muddy for the first location involving my obsession with fish. Public aquariums feature high on my list of things to see when site-seeing. In California, the Pacific currents are cold, the rivers fast and clear. On a business trip to Chattanooga, I discovered the
Tennessee Aquarium, showcasing aquatic life from warm Gulf waters and slow, muddy rivers.

This is a big place. A zig-zag ramp starts at the top and winds down around the building. The walkway descends past large tanks surrounding the open but dark interior, slips in and out of small halls, back to the large tanks, and back again into brightly lit rooms with views of the Tennessee River. It's an unusual set-up, quirky even, but lends a sense of discovery as you round corners from the large to the small, the dark to the light, the swift to the calm.

There are the requisite sharks, but there are also some truly impressive tanks here. One is a two story monstrosity with a fishing boat on the surface, sun loving sportfish like bass and crappie in the upper water column, huge lunker catfish at the bottom. Another is a vast empty space with fast swimming Gulf species like tuna and tarpon. What is hard to convey is the scale of these exhibits. You are pressed close to a wall of hundreds of thousands of gallons of water, fish of every description zipping past your nose, or floating up lazily to peer at the possible snack on the other side of the glass. There are plenty of exotic species such as the
arapaima (one of my personal favorites) in the submerged Amazon forest. Or the Tim Burtonesque giant spider crab, leg span 15 feet. It's the only place I've ever seen a leafy seadragon. For a real treat with the kids, go underneath an enormous tank and peek out through portholes to get a fish's eye view of a coral reef. A recent addition is the Anarctic Penguins' Rock.

It is with the regional speices that the Tennessee Aquarium truly excels. There is an exceptionally good hall of turtles, from the clownish pig-nosed to the nightmarish alligator snapping. The open and airy swamp exhibit is worthy of an hour's stay. Practically at your fingertips are alligators, ducks, fish, and a swarm of pond turtles in a perpetual mating swim/dance. If you are so inclined, you can pet a sturgeon, make faces at river otters, puzzle over a paddlefish, or relax in the peaceful butterfly habitat. All in all, the Tennessee Aquarium ranks as one of my top three in the country.

Teasers on this trip (I sampled only the last one): Ruby Falls, Chickamauga, the Smokies, BBQ

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