Paddle trip down the Chattahoochee reveals nature's beauty

It was a perfect day last weekend for a leisurely paddle on one of my favorite rivers, the Chattahoochee, which runs through one of my favorite green spaces, the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.

So, I joined several members of the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper for a 9-mile voyage down the river from Morgan Falls to Paces Mill.

Our leader was Jerry Hightower, who knows this stretch of river perhaps better than anyone else in Georgia. He was raised along the river near Atlanta and has been a ranger in the national recreation area since its inception in 1978.

As we floated along, Jerry provided commentary on the amazingly rich flora, fauna and geology along the river. He also pointed out where Indian towns were located centuries ago and where fierce Civil War battles took place along its banks. Here are excerpts from my notes:

"Many late summer wildflowers — joe-pye weed, iron weed, wingstem, jewelweed, cardinal flower, virgin's bower and others — in bloom all along the river ... cardinal flowers are particularly striking, the reddest of all of Georgia's red wildflowers, Jerry says ... gleaming white flowers of virgin's bower, a vine, are eye-catching as they climb high up trees and shrubs along river. ...

"Red-eared sliders and river cooters bask on rocks ... lots of beaver and muskrat holes in the river banks ... an osprey and a red-shouldered hawk flap overhead ... belted kingfishers add flashes of blue-and-white as they dash over the water ... the most commonly seen birds, though, are great blue herons ... we see them flying across the river or standing along the banks every few hundred feet. ...

"Under the Johnson Ferry Road Bridge we see the amazing mud nests of cliff swallows glued to the bridge's girders — a remarkable adaptation by wild creatures to an urban area, Jerry notes. ...

"Approaching the river's ruggedly scenic palisades section, where steep ridges rise some 1,000 feet above the river, Jerry gives a geology lesson: A geological feature known as the Brevard Fault, he says, gives us this beautiful section of river. ...

"How extraordinarily lucky, I think, is Atlanta to have this magnificent place."

More information: www.chattahoochee.org

In the sky: The moon will be full on Aug. 31 — a blue moon. According to folklore, a blue moon is the second full moon of a calendar month. This month's first full moon occurred on Aug. 1. Mercury is low in the east just before sunrise, said David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer. Venus rises out of the east three hours before dawn. Mars is low in the west at dusk and sets a few hours later. Jupiter rises out of the east about four hours before sunrise. Saturn is low in the west at dark and sets a few hours later.