Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Upon Ol' WindRock

The first time I was ever on Buffalo Mountain, or Windrock as locals call it, was back in the early 2000s.  I was with a Department of Energy (DOE) group that was inspecting the radio repeater site on the mountain.

As communications manager for the K-25 Plant, or Horizon Park as it's known today, I had the responsibility of buying, distributing, and managing the radio communications system for the security, fire protection, and maintenance departments at the site.  That responsibility put me in constant contact with the government group that engineered all the  communications for the sites in the Oak Ridge, TN area.  It was that working relationship that took me up through WindRock Park, to the radio tower, on a couple of occasions.

Today WindRock Park is very well known to off-road vehicle owners throughout the Southeast.  Slinging mud on the weekends, or any day of the week for that matter, is big business in the Oliver Springs, TN area.  Enthusiast come from hundreds of miles around the Roane, Morgan, and Anderson County area to explore 300+miles of mud and rock trails (some more difficult than others) and some of the best East Tennessee hiking scenery there is.

The "park" is built around 72,000 acres of privately-owned off-road fun! The trails accommodate all types of vehicles from ATVs, SxS (side by side), dirt bikes, mountain bikes, Jeeps/4x4s, buggies and trucks.  Don't have a vehicle of your own but want to ride? Windrock Park offers a fleet of SxSs for rent that even includes helmets!

All this fun can be had for just $18 a day, or an annual permit pass for $88.  Visit more than 5 times a year, and the year pass is a bargain!

Just Google Windrock Park, or Oliver Springs, TN, and you'll see all the places around to stay and other sights to see.

On this day, I took my wife, daughter, and granddaughter on a "day pass" up to see the windmills.  The gleaming white, whirling blades can be seen for miles along the top of Windrock/Buffalo Mountain, especially on a clear day coming west out of Oak Ridge toward Oliver Springs on Highway 62.
We stopped at the "General Store", and while they looked around the t-shirts and other souvenirs, I filled out the computer form.  Be warned, there is only a "Porta-Potty" at the store!

Soon we were on our way up and up, out of the valley, onto the mountain.  The road is part pavement and part gravel with occasional pot-holes, with no guardrails.  This doesn't bother you too much until you hit a stretch with no bushes or trees along the road!
You need to secure a map, especially if you intend to see more than the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and Invenergy Wind LLC wind turbines on top.  There are numerous roads splitting off the "main" road.  Some are obviously 4-wheel only, so be careful when and where you venture off the direct route up to the windmills.

On top are approximately 18 wind turbines, some as tall as a 26-story building, that rise 262 feet in the air.  The white blades weigh seven tons, are 135-feet-long, and can be seen for miles as they slowly turn in a gentle sweep. 
To be honest, we never saw more than 5 windmills from the legal side of the "Do Not Enter" signs!  

This is the first wind farm in the Southeast.  TVA started it with just 3 turbines, but soon Invenergy Wind LLC, which is North America’s largest independent wind power generation company, built 15 more and they sell their energy to TVA.  Together, about 27 megawatts of power is generated from Buffalo Mountain.

The original three turbines constructed by TVA in late 2000 and early 2001, are much smaller than the other 15 turbines constructed later.  The original three had a 660 kilowatt or .6 megawatt capacity while the next 15 turbines have 1.8 megawatt capability.

The original three turbines are 65 meters to the hub with blades 47 meters in diameter, and were Vestas turbines.

The newest turbines are called V80s, with a wind turbine diameter of 80 meters.  So when the blades are at the top of the rotation for these wind turbines here you are looking at a total height of almost 390 feet.
Standing near the rotating blades you can hear the distinct "rushing wind" sound.  If you've ever been under a glider aircraft, you'll recognize the sound of air moving over the blades like that of glider wings.  Additionally, there is a slight noise made by the internal turbine gears where the electricity is generated.

They are quite a sight to behold in the distance on top of the mountain, but they are something grand up close!  Windmills have been around for centuries, but today's "green energy" monsters are a spectacle indeed; almost worth the price of admission themselves!
After my granddaughter and I shot frame after frame of the rotating blades, we ventured off on a couple of side roads.  One took us east of the windmills where there is a great overlook with a breath taking vista on both sides; one toward Oak Ridge and the other into the valley north of Buffalo Mountain.  

I will have to warn you, that there were a couple of "butt clinching" moments on some of the rocky dry rutted trails, so a 4-wheel pickup, at minimum, is recommended.  Clearance is minimal on some side roads, so be careful!  You don't want to knock a hole in your oil pan or transmission.  
But all this aside, do enjoy your day on Windrock Mountain!

1 comment:

Pat Houseworth said...

Sounds like a place to take the TW200 Yamaha Dual Sport MC to....not as sandy and wild as Moab, Utah, was in March, more like this old geezer's riding style...