Thursday, September 30, 2010

Aretha Frankenstein and the Chickamauga Battlefield

Friday morning we would depart from Chattanooga and begin our journey home.  But there would still be some trip highlights before leaving town.  We had a great French Toast breakfast at a unique eatery across the Tennessee River, Aretha Franklinstein's.  This place would fit in nicely in Chapel Hill or any true college town.  And I mean that in the very best way.  We loved the atmosphere and decor, and the waitress and chef both gave us special attention.  Here's the entrance to the small frame house which now houses a highly popular local restaurant.

I love places where you can study the paraphernalia on the walls as you await your food.  There were posters, novelties, and curiosities wall-to-wall.  But this was no Cracker Barrell.  In fact, it reminded me of some of my own "collections."

After a brief drive-through to see the Riverwalk on the north side of the river, we checked out and followed Market Street out of town.  That gave us one last photo op of Lookout Mountain.  I doubt it will be the last time we see it.  If we live long enough, that is.

A few minutes later we arrived at Chickamauga National Military Park, about 12 miles south of Chattanooga.  This was our nation's first military park, envisioned by two Union soldiers who fought here and returned to visit in 1888.  Two years later, Congress enacted the park.  The dramatic visual program at the visitor's center was one of the best and most instructive I've seen.

The story of the battle is fascinating, but I won't attempt to chronicle it here.  It was one of, if not the bloodiest day of fighting in the entire Civil War.  Legend has it that "Chickamauga" is a Cherokee word meaning "River of Death."  There were 34,000 casualties and 3,969 deaths in a single day of fighting, almost incomprehensible when we read the statistics of our contemporary conflicts, which are grim enough.

This would be the last major victory for the Confederacy, but it would only delay the fall of Chattanooga a couple of months.  Like Atlanta, Chattanooga was a railroad center.  Its population was quite low in those days, but its strategic importance was huge.  In the end, southern valiance might carry a day of fighting, but the well-supplied and superior Union forces were irresistible.

This tower was the most striking scene we saw on the 7 mile self-directed driving tour of the battlefield.  There were monuments everwhere, but this was the only one you could actually climb.  It was named the Wilder Tower after Union Colonel John Wilder, whose troops made a brave but vain effort to thwart General Longstreet's advancing rebels. 

I climbed the spiral stone steps of the 85-foot monument to survey Chickamauga from above.  It seemed much higher.  From the observation platform on the top you could see far in all directions.  I knew that Atlanta was only a two hour car drive from this spot now.  But in the Civil War, the north's campaign from Chattanooga to Atlanta would take months.  It would break the back of the south signal the inevitable end of the war.

Far below the towering monument you can see my and Judy's car on the tree-shaded avenue.  With cars touring and visitors strolling the grounds, I tried to envision a very different scene some 140+ years ago.  It wasn't really within my capability.  But this battlefield and Gettysburg seem to be the best-preserved ones I've seen.  Each monument represented hundreds if not thousands of sacrifices.

The most interesting footnote about this monument was one I didn't read until we were home and I was perusing one of my travel books on Georgia.  It stated that the Colonel Wilder of this monument settled in Chattanooga after the war and in 1876 the townspeople elected him mayor.  Remember, Wilder was a UNION general! 

After I descended from the Wilder Tower, we were soon on interstate and homeward bound.  One more post should wrap up this trip.  Thanks for dropping by.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sunset Rock and Chattanooga's Riverwalk

This is still Thursday afternoon of our trip.  Believe it or not.  But there was this one place I had read about on the internet that I thought we could find.  It was Sunset Rock, on the steep western side of Lookout Mountain.  We had a detailed map of the mountain and found the road that led us directly to a small parking area.  There was a narrow path which we descended less than one-tenth of a mile, and we were rewarded with a panoramic view equalling some of the views we had paid for.  This one also had historical significance, as the marker below shows.  

As you just read, this vantage point helped the Confederate army prepare for the coming battles of Chattanooga.  They failed in this attempt to block the Army of the Potomac.

For a Civil War buff like me, it was amazing to know that Judy and I were standing in the same spot two great generals, Braxton Bragg and James Longstreet had contemplated the state of their situation, 147 years ago.  The bend of the Tennessee River allowed them to see how the Union was transporting its troops and where they were disembarking.

It always produces a sense of awe in me to think how the horrible battles of the Civil War and all wars could transform places where farmers tilled the land and generations raised their children into scenes of mass destruction we can scarcely picture.

We couldn't stay to see the sunset, but with this western outlook, I bet there are  often some beautiful ones there.  Notice, there are no handrails here as there were at the more "touristy" places.  And if you happened to fall off the precipice here, who would your heirs sue, anyway?  (And yes, it was scary!)

By 6:00 our car was back at the Doubletree Hotel.  We would be on foot for the rest of the evening.  We were starved, and decided to eat, then stroll some more.  We had a hard time deciding where to eat, but settled on a rather fancy place called 212 Market on Market Street.  It was billed as Chattanooga's only certified "Green" restaurant, and they were true to their word.  Judy noted in our journal that it reminded us of 195, probably our favorite restaurant around home.  Maybe it was the "number" thing.  The dining was elegant, service excellent, and the meal rejuvenated us enough for at least a few minutes of walking by the riverfront.
This is a view looking back up Broad Street from the aquarium.  We're atop an unusual stairstep structure, some sort of symbolic artistic statement, I suspect.

This is the Children's Discovery Museum, which we didn't have time to visit, but which seemed to be a significant downtown attraction.  You could see and hear the fun children were having as you passed by.

Here are a couple more pictures that highlight the architecture of the two aquarium buildings.  More interesting artistic sculptures are in the surrounding area.  If you didn't know better you'd think you were in a skateboard park, but that was not the case.

We strolled on down to the Riverwalk Greenway and followed it a short distance to its western terminus.  Apparently it goes on eastward for several miles, but we didn't have time or energy to explore it further this trip.  As dusk neared, there was little going on, probably because it was after Labor Day on a school night.  But no school for us!  This bevy of kayakers found this time of day perfect to hone their paddling skills.  Like us, there are times you're thankful for NO CROWDS!

I loved the scattered sculptures and rockwork, even though I was curious about their purpose.  Maybe I can find some background info on the internet.  If I ever finish blogging about this trip.  : )

One place we passed by as we returned to our hotel was the MoonPie factory headquarters and museum.  I've eaten a few MoonPies but I'm not a fanatic.  A while back I did read some interesting facts about their invention.  As far as I'm concerned their best product is a fairly new mint-flavored, medium-sized, chocolate-covered hard cookie.  Think Girl Scout cookies and you'll have an approximation of the new MoonPie.

No MoonPie tonight, though.  We were ready to crash again.  Friday we would begin our two-day journey home.  And we would start by fueling up our tummies at Aretha Frankenstein's.  Curious?  Check back soon to find out about this unique Chattanooga eatery.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Ken and Judy SEE ROCK CITY

When we departed from the Incline Railway Thursday afternoon, we followed the winding Lookout Mountain Parkway to Rock City. Known as a tourist destination for the last 75 + years, it was known as "The City of Rocks" by native Americans and early pioneers for centuries before. In the late 1920's, Garner Carter and his wife Frieda began to develop a large walk-through garden among the vast pillars and rock formations on their mountaintop estate. Carter was the quintessential promoter and came up with the idea of bartering with farmers to paint "See Rock City" on their barns. This was a stroke of genius in a day before billboards had become commonplace. I still recall seeing such barns all over north Georgia during my youth. Most signs told the mileage to Rock City. (For my North Carolina readers, do you think Pedro got his marketing stragegy for South of the Border from Rock City?)

Frieda marked the original path, which is now maintained by master craftsmen from the area. Aside from the dozens of aptly named rock formations, over 400 native plant species are preserved here. Judy and I made it through the Needle's Eye okay, and hoped we would be up to other ardors of the winding trail.
Tremendous dropoffs would draw a gasp from us at the most unexpected times. And the route was designed so that you were scarcely aware of other people ambling through, even though they might be just a few yards away behind a rocky barrier, or beneath your feet in a narrow passage. That added to the mystique.

The placement of my camera for the self-timer makes it look like we were perilously close to falling off this stone bridge. This attraction would be no place for small children or anyone less than sober. Trails were well marked, but hazards were just steps away at all times.

There was an alternate route to that stone bridge. It's called "Swing-along Bridge." You may have seen it in an Indiana Jones movie (joke).

And just so nobody can call me "chicken," I went across the swinging bridge as well. Of course, Judy led the way. She's not scared of heights like me. And just go ahead and call me "chicken." I was rather petrified, but I made it across.

There are many Lover's Leaps in America, but this is definitely one of the classics, with Indian legend and all. Old photographs show wealthy guests sitting in their fine clothes with legs dangling over. And NO RAILINGS!
From Lover's Leap we could see this lower overlook which had previously been hidden. We would wind our way to it later. It also afforded a splendid view of the Chattanooga valley and north Georgia.
Even many people who have never visited Lookout Mountain know that you can see seven states from Rock City. Well, Lover's Leap is the place, and here is the marker that details the distances to those states. It was during the Civil War that this fact was first realized.
Here in Seven States Flag Court, the states you can view are honored. Though it seems to me that the mountain itself deserves all the credit, not the states (Excuse my cynicism; I'm just kidding, anyway).

If you thought painting ads on barns was clever, how about birdhouses. Yes, that was Carter's idea, too. He was an entrepreneur, even though he was also a dropout. I figure he or his wife had some money even before all of this.

According to my guide book, Fat Man's Squeeze is not the name that would most likely be given to this passage today. It is both too critical and gender specific to be politically correct. It notes that most people are less concerned about being offended than worrying about whether the rocks might become dislodged at an inconvenient moment. Judy had no such fears, and after taking a picture of her descent, I followed and also survived.
In the latter part of our walk we had a "down-under" view of Swing-along Bridge. I didn't get queasy at all, but didn't want to cross it again.
Lover's Leap appeared just as spectacular to us from the lower observation point. From here we had a better view of the waterfall that pours from the cliffside.
Chivalry is not dead. Here, I held up the 1,000 ton rock so Judy could take my picture AND safely pass through.
Everyone would appreciate the natural beauty of Rock City. But not everyone would like the extensive imagery of woodland gnomes and fairy tale motifs. In a word-- tacky. But let me make a disclaimer. When we learned of Frieda's lifelong fascination with European mythology and fairy tales, and took into account the era in which these figurines were added, we could better appreciate why she chose to do so. Now it would dishonor Frieda's passion for this place to remove the things that might not suit our 21st century tastes. Most of this was confined to Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village, which many artisans lovingly contributed to.

The guide book informed me that the picture below was not based on a fairy tale like most of the dioramas. Instead, it depicted an Appalachian moonshine still. And that was something that was still going on in those days in the coves and hidden places of Lookout Mountain.

Other unique sights within these grounds were Goblin's Underpass, Mushroom Rock, and The Hall of the Mountain King. I'm glad I finally got to SEE ROCK CITY.


Now that I've persuaded you this is an "old people's vacation spot," let me share some evidence to the contrary. I've highlighted the things that appealed to me and Judy, but Rock City has added many family-friendly upgrades in recent years. Rock City Raptors offers seasonal birds-of-prey shows. There's a great rock-climbing wall near Seven States Flag Court. There are three gift shops, a fudge kitchen, a specialty ice creamery, and even a Starbucks. The Woodland Wonders shop is crammed with gnome and garden items for those interested. The Cliff Terrace at Lover's Leap features pizza, hot dogs, nachos, and more. (In case you need to bribe the kids-- it's at the halfway point of your trek.) And during the summer, Friday thru Sunday, there's a BBQ with music near the Flag Court. I have a feeling kids also love the things Judy and I didn't care for so much-- Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village. If we had not arranged our trip for after the Labor Day crush, we probably would have seen mobs of happy kids everywhere.

Here's what some influential authorities on vacations say about Rock City:

  • One of America's Top 101 places to visit. ~ National Geographic
  • Best One-Tank Vacation Destination ~ Atlanta Journal-Constitution
  • Named one of "America's Iconic Places" ~ National Geographic
  • Editor's Pick "12 Ultimate Trips for Kids" ~ Southern Living
  • "Natural Wonders Across America" ~ AOL Travel
  • A "Best Scenic View" ~ Southern Living, Reader's Choice awards
  • "America's Top Ten Great Pastimes" ~ USA Today

So, as Levar Burton says, "You don't have to take my word for it." Rock City is also featured the the book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. But you might want to see as many of the others as possible first. You never know when someone will make one false step on the old Swing-along Bridge or Lover's Leap. : )

Believe it or not, I haven't even finished telling about Thursday. So visit again soon to find out what else this day held, as well as the two remaining days of our trip.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Lookout Mountain, Here We Come!

Thursday morning broke with the sunrise visible from our comfy room at the Doubletree.
Thanks to some friendly and well-informed locals on the free shuttle, we found out one of the best breakfasts in Chattanooga was at the City Cafe Diner.
It is a bright, cheerful place open 24 hours a day.
I've always thought you could trust these places where your server doesn't even need to write your order down. Rather than making them more forgetful of your order, it seems they take even more care. The food and service were commendable. Thus, I commend them to YOU if you should visit Chattanooga.

This was Thursday, and we set it aside for the traditional "tourist traps" that this area had long been known for. We purchased the combination tickets for the "Big Three": Ruby Falls, The Incline Railway, and Rock City. From a historian's point of view, I was fascinated with all three, because each has a story to tell. All three have drawn people to Lookout Mountain for generations, just as they now drew me and Judy.

First up was Ruby Falls, pictured here on vintage travel brochures. Look familiar?
Read this display and you'll see how the discovery of Ruby Falls captures one's imagination. Just think of disappearing through a crevice for 17 hours and being rewarded with such a find. Better yet, the explorers lived to tell about it!
Borrowing freely from our brochure:
"Begin by descending 260 feet into historic Lookout Mountain by elevator. Your tour guide will lead you along the cave path where you'll discover many unique geological wonders like Cactus and Candle, Onyx Column, Frozen Niagara, and Ruby's Drapery. Near the end of your journey, you'll hear the thundering roar of breathtaking Ruby Falls, 1120 feet underground. Ruby Falls is the tallest and deepest underground waterfall open to the public!" By the way, Ruby was Mr. Lambert's wife!
Most of you have been in caverns before, so I won't show you all the stalactites and stalagmites, etc. But I have to show you me and Judy in front of Ruby Falls. My photos don't do it justice, but it was magnificent.
We proudly add this to the list of spectacular waterfalls we have visited (Judy had also been here as a child). Our tour guide, who made the entire visit highly enjoyable, shared a couple of facts that amazed me. Geologists believe that the water for Ruby Falls comes from underground streams all along the plateau which makes up Lookout Mountain. A professional diver has actually been raised to the top of the waterfall, entered the narrow channel of water, and explored at least TWO MILES without finding the source of this water. So the saga continues.

Upon emerging at a point higher up on the mountainside, we climbed the Lookout Mountain Tower and were treated to this view of the city below. Climbing the high stairs to the lookout platform was just one of many times I felt a little woozy from the heights on this trip. I told you!
Nearby was the upper station for the famed Incline Railway. Thanks to a book we bought about the history of Lookout Mountain, I view this mechanical wonder as much more than a tourist trap now. Practically speaking, this railway (or its predecessor) was constructed and in operation by 1887. This was long before the advent of the automobile, and made access to the mountain more feasible for both tourists and locals. Even though there were two roads up the mountain, they were dirt and were no picnic with horse and buggy.
The design and engineering are essentially the same as the original incline, though the trolley-like cars have been updated every few decades. The original cars were open-air, but as the attraction became year-round, enclosed cars with tilted seats and viewer-friendly windows became the norm. At the turn of the century, this was the favored way to reach a four story luxury hotel, the Lookout Mountain Inn. It was over 100 yards long, boasting such amenities as beautiful oak woodwork, fine dining rooms and parlors, a bowling alley, and its own electric and gas plant. A photo in the book I bought shows the hotel on a bleak winter day. It describes its ghostly appearance, which conjures up images of "The Shining's" Overlook Hotel for me.
Billed as "America's Most Amazing Mile," the railway's track reaches a breathtaking grade of 72.7% near the top. This makes it the steepest passenger railway in the world. As with Ruby Falls, for me to learn the history of this attraction meant as much as the actual experience of riding it.
This already full day was not over yet. The famous Rock City was next, but it demands a post of its own. Check back soon.