Birds. Fifty Thousand Magnificent Birds.

Interstate 75 stretches from Sault Ste. Marie at the Canadian border with Michigan 1790 miles (2800km) or so to somewhere at the end of mainland Florida. And it’s all boring.

But near the confluence of the Tennessee and Hiwassee Rivers just north of Chattanooga, off of the Interstate, is the Hiwassee Refuge, a stopping point for around 50,000 (!) migrating Sandhill Cranes. For just two days each season visitors are allowed access to the refuge (and from considerable distance) during the migration. We drove down one weekend morning to Birchwood and joined some serious birders (with serious cameras!) to snap these magnificent birds.

Once off the interstate the scenery improved. Big red barns dotted fields.

Somewhere along the route was a Bison Farm. I love bison as much as I love cows.

And the all-important evacuation route signage should the Sequoyah Nuclear Power Plant experience a significant problem. This plant sits near Soddy-Daisy (how awesome is that name!) and along Lake Chickamauga (believed to be Cherokee for “River of the Chiefs”) and supplies energy to roughly half of Tennessee’s households every day.

The town (townlet?) of Birchwood’s Opry. Isn’t that adorable?

Look closely. The four-pawed’s were not allowed into the reserve, obviously, so this little buddy sunned himself on the front dash while waiting for Mom and Dad.

The Birchwood Community Center was the site of the festival.

Vendors and musical groups were on hand; we also had quite an informative taste testing of local honeys and ended up (surprise!) bringing home a Buckwheat-flavored blend.

Following this little spin through the festival, the main event.


Eventually Tony pulled me away in the name of lunch. In Austria the dining options along the Autobahn were rather limited to two or three “chain” casual-dining restaurants, all guaranteed to be serving Rindsuppe and Schnitzel and spread dozens of kilometers apart. In between one might find a McDonald’s, but not too often. Planning for lunch was often as high a priority as the day outing itself.

But this is America. More specifically, the American South. Every few miles or so along the interstate one is bound to find a Shoney’s/Waffle House/Cracker Barrel/Ruby Tuesday/Applebees/Perkins. And they, too, are all guaranteed to have significant menu overlap. Pick your poison.

We chose instead an off-the-exit and down-the-road modest little place that I had researched. For sure, the menu could have been lifted from any of the big “chains,” but I feel better dining local.

Classic homey setting. Could have been an Austrian Wirthaus if the wood was blonde and there had been a crucifix on the wall somewhere. And the waitress was in a Dirndl.

Fresh salad offerings at the super-clean buffet. Could have been the Landzeit in Loipersdorf.

Just like I rarely strayed from ordering Backhendl when dining casual in Austria, I nearly always choose Fried Chicken from the buffet here in America. The chicken did not disappoint, though the “sweet” in the corn was a little overemphasized.

No dessert, though. The apple cobbler had run out.