Thursday, June 2, 2011

Chattanooga Day 1: Rock City, the Southern Belle, and "Pirates 4"

Our first day in Chattanooga was a really busy day. The tip priorities on our  "must see" agenda were the "big three" tourist attractions: Rock City, the Incline Railroad and Ruby Falls.  We woke up early (at least early by vacation standards) and headed to Lookout Mountain and up the hill to Rock City.

If you've ever driven in the south east you've more than likely seen the phrase "See Rock City" painted on the roof of a barn. Partially because of those signs, Rock City Gardens is an infamous tourist attraction. Paula has talked about going there for as long as we've been married.  

The park is a series of paths through natural rock formations that all lead to the main attraction, Lover's Leap.  We took the longest of the paths brought us through "Gnome's Underpass", past a birdwatching platform, over a swaying bridge.  I didn't expect to see so many gnomes among the formations. I didn't know it but gnomes statues were introduced into Rock City by its founder, Frieda Carter in the early days the park was open . They're displayed in all areas throughout the attraction. They are now closely associate with Rock City. There is even a mascot gnome named "Rocky" and they're in the process of creating an area called "Gnome Valley". 

At the end of one of the trails, just before you get to the parks main attraction, you get the opportunity to walk across a wooden suspension bridge. In a spirit of adventure I crossed the rickety swaying bridge. It was a bit scary once I was out in the middle of it but walking across it made me feel like an action movie hero (cue the Indiana Jones music). Paula, not feeling the least bit adventurous, decided to walk across the more stable stone bridge that ran parallel to the suspension bridge. We met on the other side and headed to Lover's Leap. 

Lover's Leap is a natural rock platform that looks out over the Tennessee River Valley area. The view is awesome. One of Rock City's claim to fame is that when standing on Lover's Leap you can look out and see 7 states at one time. There's a plaque showing you which direction to look toward which state and the distance you need to look to see them. (see middle picture above).  There are flagpoles flying the state flags of each of the 7 states honoring each of them.    
Because it was hot and humid that morning there was a haze over the valley limiting our view. Still it was breathtaking.

The name "Lover's Leap" is authentic. I read this explanation of how it got it's name on a sign on one of the lower observation areas.    

" For centuries there have been many Lover's Leaps in all parts of the world. The one at Rock City has associated with it a Cherokee legend as moving as any.

A young brave named Sautee fell deeply in love with Nacoochee, a beautiful Cherokee maiden.  She loved Sautee as well but their tribes were engaged in a bitter feud. The two finally ran off together. But Sautee was soon captured and thrown from the tip of Lover's Leap.

While the attention of the tribe was absorbed in this tragedy, the despairing Nacoochee quickly followed her lover, leaping to her own death far below."

But the spectacular view wasn't our favorite part of Lover's Leap. As a matter of fact my favorite part of Rock City cannot be seen from Lover's Leap.

A pathway from the Lover's Leap area, whose entrance way is a narrow passage called "Fat Man's Squeeze" leads to a couple of observation decks where you can see our favorite part of the park, the waterfall.

Emerging from just a few feet underneath the surface of Lover's Leap the waterfall emerges from the left side of the mountain and plunges down the side of the cliff 100 feet to a basin pool. I'm a big fan of waterfalls and the Rock City waterfall (it has no official name) is one of the best I've ever seen in person.

Our favorite picture from our Rock City visit is the one of us with Lover's Leap and its waterfall in the background.

We continued our walk through Rock City which concluded with a visit to Fairyland Caverns. It's a path through a small cave.The path features a series of caverns carved out of the rock sidewalls that display statues and figures in black and colored lights. They're set up to  illustrate the characters and scenes from different fairy tales.

At the end of the cavern is a large room with a display called "Mother Goose Village".  Its a large platform (kind of reminiscent of a model railroad display without the trains) that features a conglomration of figures also illustrating nearly every Mother Goose story and nursery rhyme you can think of. It's all given life and color by the use of colored spot lights.

Overlooking it all on the far side of the platform is Mother Goose's castle. Some of our favorite characters were the 3 billy goats gruff and the troll, "Hey Diddle Diddle" with the cow jumping over the moon, and the "Three little kittens who lost their mittens.".

After we finished going through Fairytale Caverns we walked back to the gift shop at Lover's Leap to buy souvenirs and get one last look at the view.

By that time we were hot and exhausted and hungry. We made the mistake of going into the fudge shop before we left. Of course, we bought a slice of chocolate peanut butter fudge. Hey we were on vacation we treated ourselves a bit.

As tired as we were we decided to not even attempt to do the other two attractions: the incline railroad and Ruby Falls. We'd visit them on Tuesday. The number one thing on our minds and stomachs by this time was getting some food.

We had some difficulty finding a place to eat; but that's because we still weren't familiar enough with the city and where to find things. After a while we found ourselves in the downtown area at a restaurant called "Sugar Ribs". It had good barbecue but everything else wasn't all that great. Very tired and full from lunch, we went back to our room to rest before leaving for our evening plans.

The Riverfront area of Chattanooga would bookend our vacation. On our final day we would visit a very nice park in that area. There will be more on that visit in the my last vacation post in a few days. Our first day trip to the Riverfront wat to get on board the Southern Bell riverboat for a dinner cruise along the Tennessee river.

Paula wanted to go on the cruise for two reasons. First, she thought getting to see Chattanooga from along the banks of the Tennessee River would be interesting and relaxing. Second, the after dinner entertainment was a gospel quartet called the "New Liberty Boys".

About an 1/2 an hour before the time of departure we arrived at the ship's gift shop, It not only served as a place to buy souvenirs (and a lot of other unrelated and unnecessary knack knacks and trinkets), pick up your tickets, and wait to actually board the boat.

When it came time to get aboard we discovered that the person who took our reservations over the phone got our name wrong. They had us down as the "Haves." I kept telling Paula that I was fine with them leaving "n" out of our name but I hope we didn't run into the "Have Nots". That would be awkward.

Once on the showboat and in the small dining room we were shown to our table. We were seated next to a couple from a military base near Macon Georgia and on the other side of us were 3 people ( 2 ladies and a gentleman) who were from Colorado.

The meal was breaded baked chicken, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, and corn bread with pecan pie for dessert. Not exactly the best menu for people who are on a high protein / low carb diet. Not only that it was not very good.

After we ate what we could from our plates we decided to go out onto the deck and walk around. The dinning room was on the 1st deck. We walked up to the 2nd deck and went to the front of the boat. It was a very pleasant evening with a nice breeze blowing. The view was beautiful. We spotted a crane type bird and a baby river otter (I didn't see it but Paula did). My wife really enjoyed just standing there enjoying the ride. (see the 3rd picture above).

At the start of the voyage the ship's captain announced that the bridge, where they navigate the boat, was open for visits. Paula wasn't interested in seeing it but I was curious. I went up to the 3rd deck and climbed the up the rather steep stairs to the bridge. I talked with the 1st officer who was at the helm. I asked some questions and watched him work the controls.

After we sat on the chairs at the back of the 2nd deck for a while we returned to the dinning room. The New Liberty Boys had already started singing. They weren't the best singing group I'd ever heard but they were sincere, nice guys. They reminded me of the Inner Light Quartet, the group my friends, John Katinis and Gene Casterline are a part of in Pennsylvania.

As a matter of fact they reminded me so much of them at the show's intermission I was tempted to go up and ask them if they knew the song "Excuses" a song Inner Light Quartet sings; but I didn't.

When they started singing again the bass singer asked the audience to guess what he did as his "day job". I guessed a mailman. Paula guessed a truck driver. The answer was a limo driver. He decided that Paula was the closest with her answer. She won a copy of the group's CD.

After they sang a couple of more songs they invited people to come up to the "stage" area and participate in a sing along with the group. I took advantage of the opportunity and went up front.
About half of dozen others came up as well. We sang a couple of songs including "Just A Little Talk With Jesus" and "Beulah Land". I enjoyed the chance to sing and harmonize with the rest of the group. The guy next to me kept telling me that I sang very well.

Then the most amazing thing happened. The next song they sang was "Excuses." I hadn't even said anything and they sang it. I was so pleased. I really like that song.

It was fun to listen to a group of 4 guys who loved to sing and just do their best to minister to people through gospel music.

After traveling 2 hours on the river (an hour up and an hour back) we docked at pier #2 once again and the dinner cruise was over. Once we docked and the New Liberty Boys closed their show  We disembarked and exited through the gift shop. I bought a really cool metal refrigerator magnet as a souvenir.

It wasn't quite 10 PM when we got to our car so we decided to go to a movie. The Majestic 10 movie theater was just over the bridge in the downtown area. We got there and  parked in the lot to the left of the theater; a lot where you were supposed to pay. After being told by the usher at the ticket counter that we could park in the parking garage on the other side of the theater for free we went and moved the car.

We went to the 10:20 show of Pirates of the Caribbean 4. I was really tired and got a bit sleepy during the movie. There were parts of it I liked and overall it was entertaining. But I really didn't buy into the whole finding the fountain of youth premise of the movie. I mean to me they might as well been on a quest to find Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. There was some good action scenes and Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow is one of the most memorable Disney movie characters of all time. Paula really liked the movie. 

We got out of the theater after 1AM and were back in our hotel room before 1:30. It was a long and busy first day of vacation. We were really tired. We finally turned out the lights and bid "good night" to our first day in Chattanooga about 2AM.

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