On Friday afternoon, Andreas and the team passed the majestic Painted Bluff along the northern bank of the Tennessee River just southeast of Huntsville. More than 80 ancient Native American paintings and rock carvings decorate its walls. It’s been called one of the most important sites for ancient Native American art in the southeastern U.S.

The primitive artworks decorating the walls at Painted Bluff depict human figures, snakes, birds and other animals. Archaeologists have studied the ancient art in depth. Their radiocarbon tests indicate that these paintings date from around the year 1400.

Painted Bluff, Alabama

A snake painting on the rock wall at Painted Bluff.

The Tennessee Valley Authority owns the land where the bluffs are, and TVA has taken great care in protecting this historic site. In fact, archaeologists from TVA and partner groups recently removed graffiti applied by vandals to restore the artworks.

Painted Bluff has been known to Anglo-European settlers since at least the 1800s, and the artworks of Painted Bluff are what gives the town of Paint Rock (about 30 miles north) and the nearby Paint Rock River its name.

The Paint Rock River is one of North America’s richest in varieties of aquatic animals. More than 100 species of fish and over 40 species of freshwater mussels inhabit the Paint Rock River, which flows into the Tennessee River. The Paint Rock River’s very high biological diversity spurred The Nature Conservancy in the early 2000s to buy and protect more than 20,000 acres on the Alabama-Tennessee state line, where the Paint Rock River’s headwaters begin. That area is called the Walls of Jericho, so-named because of its impressive natural rock amphitheater. The Walls of Jericho and its surrounding wilderness forests are now managed by the States of Alabama and Tennessee.

Headwaters of Paint Rock River

The tranquil headwaters of the Paint Rock River have been protected by The Nature Conservancy in Tennessee and Alabama. Photo by Harold E. Malde

Andreas and the team passed the beauties of the Painted Bluff and the Paint Rock River on Friday afternoon and could not spend the day there. He had to keep pressing onward. He has an appointment in his river journey on Saturday to meet the only other person known to have swum the entire Tennessee River. We hope that they do indeed meet and have a chance to compare their unique experiences in swimming the Tennessee River. We’ll tell you more about that in the next post.


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