May 10-21 - Chattanooga TN
About a week before we were planning to head for Memphis TN we got a call from the RV Park that they were being evacuated because of high water on the Mississippi River. That left us with a need to find someplace else to stay, and we decided to go to Chattanooga instead. And after some further thought, we also decided that going to Nashville, our next scheduled stop after Memphis, probably wasn't a really great idea either, given their flooding. So we tweaked our plans, and booked 11 nights in Chattanooga and then extended our planned week at Mammoth Cave KY to 12 nights. So now we've been to Tennessee - one more state to claim.
Our RV park of choice was located just a half-mile across the Georgia State line, officially in Rossville GA. We found ourselves in the Eastern time zone for the first time this year. The RV park was originally built by the Holiday Inn people back when they thought campgrounds were a natural extension of their motel business. The Best Holiday Trav-L Park is located on a Civil War battlefield, although not a major one, and there's even a monument on the property that's been there for about 125 years. We're told that even today, people doing landscape work turn up the occasional musket ball or button.
There's lots to see and do around Chattanooga, and we managed to hit the high spots, literally and figuratively. There's no general agreement on where the name Chattanooga came from, although the most plausible story is attributed to the son of a Cherokee Indian chief, who says the name was derived from the Creek Indian word "Chat-to-to-noog-gee"which means "rock rising to a point," a fitting description of Lookout Mountain. Lookout Mountain overlooks Chattanooga, and was the site of some significant Civil War battles. Today, it's also the site of three of the most well-known tourist attractions in the area - the Incline Railroad, Rock City and Ruby Falls.
There were two major Civil War battles fought in the Chattanooga area near the end of the war - the biggest was the Battle of Chickamauga, fought Sept 23, 1863 in Georgia about 10 miles south of Chattanooga. Won by the Southern forces (their last major victory of the war), the one-day battle claimed over 35,000 casualties - killed, wounded or missing. Ironically, even though the South won the battle, they also suffered the most casualties. Then, in November, a series of "battles for Chattanooga" were won by the North, setting the stage for Sherman's devastating March to the Sea and the end of the war. A few years after the end of the war, a reunion of battle veterans was held, drawing nearly 15,000 veterans from both the north and the south. Those veterans, north and south working together, walked the fields and ridges where the battles were fought and marked all the locations where things happened. A movement was also started to preserve and protect the area, but it wasn't until 1890 that legislation passed creating the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, protecting nearly 8,000 acres. They're proud of the fact that this was the first national military park created, even before Gettysburg, and that it predates the National Park Service (and Yellowstone) by several years.
Anyway, we toured both the Chickamauga battlefield and parts of the Chattanooga battle sights. The visitor center at Chickamauga gives an excellent overview of how the battle transpired, and contains many artifacts. The battlefield driving tour visits many of the more significant sites and monuments. Atop Lookout Mountain, Point Park lets you walk through the area where the Southern forces hoped to "pin down" Chattanooga. Didn't work very well - the point is so high that the cannons would have had to fire at negative elevation angles, and the cannon balls just rolled out the ends of the barrels. Point Park contains the only Civil War monument in the country that features both a Northern and a Southern soldier - the New York Peace Monument, commemorating the reuniting of the nation. We learned quite a bit about the battles and the personalities who led them.
On to less serious stuff.
The Chattanooga Incline Railroad rides you up 2,000 feet to the top of Lookout Mountain, sometimes at a 72 degree angle. It's a spectacular ride, and gets you to some spectacular views. From the top station, it's about a half-mile walk to Point Park, the national battlefield area, and then another half mile through the park to the actual point, commanding a spectacular view of Chattanooga and the Tennessee River. Neat place.
Rock City, also atop the mountain but actually in Georgia, is a rock garden on steroids. The folks who developed it years ago found it a fascinating place, and developed it as a tourist attraction. The day we were there, we entered the complex along with 175 teenage school kids on a field trip. Nice kids, well behaved, noisy, and mostly more impressed with the on-site Starbucks than with the formations. It was almost like touring a cave turned inside out. Again, some spectacular views. Rock City touts the "view of seven states" from their lookout, when in fact the signage atop the lookout notes that two Civil War soldiers, one northern, the other southern, had independently speculated that you could probably see seven states from there. You can't, of course, but you can see a lot.
Ruby Falls is a cave tour ending at a 145ft waterfall inside the cave. They say it's the tallest underground waterfall on a public cave tour. You walk about a half-mile into the cave and then there it is. The anticipation and the theatrical lighting help a whole lot, but it's still a spectacular sight.
Did you know that the first Gold Record ever given by the US Recording industry was for the Glenn Miller Orchestra's recording of "Chattanooga Choo Choo"? We drove by the Chattanooga Choo Choo complex in South Chattanooga, but didn't go in. There's a train museum, several restaurants, a hotel or two and a big wedding complex. But we can say we "saw it", whatever "it" is.
The Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga is world-class. Located in two spectacular buildings on the downtown riverfront, the Aquarium has much to offer. We've started to notice a trend among aquariums and museums where a path is laid out and you're expected to follow it. While that probably makes it easier to manage the crowds and tell a story, we prefer places that let you wander on your own. We're quite sure we didn't miss anything, but there's a certain pressure to keep moving lest you obstruct the folks behind you. We shared our tours of the two buildings with over 1100 school kids. For the most part, we managed to stay between the groups, but the noise level was certainly enhanced.
The Aquarium also offers an excursion boat into the Tennessee River Gorge, downstream a few miles from Tennessee. It was an excellent bird-watching trip, and the aquarium naturalist aboard was also very knowledgeable about the history of the area. Plus it got us off our feet for a couple of hours. We saw several Osprey and at least one Bald Eagle working the river, most of them with success.
We'd be remiss if we didn't mention food. We're guilty of patronizing mostly national or regional chain restaurants - we always know what we'll be getting. We also like local BBQ places, and in Chattanooga we chose Sugars, an award-winning BBQ place situated on the side of a hill overlooking some of Chattanooga. Good food, but lots of freeway noise from their open deck. But we still haven't found anything that beats a Texas Roadhouse!
Took us a while to find a Presbyterian Church to attend - most of the churches hereabouts with "Presbyterian" in their name are from different denominations than we're used to. But we finally settled on the New Hope Presbyterian Church outside Chattanooga. Several people were a little apologetic that we'd chosen Children's Sunday, but we did enjoy the children's program. You gotta admire a group that will produce a musical with just 3 kids, all of whom did very well. It's a smaller church, very friendly, with a lot going on.
We had pretty much the best of two worlds while in Chattanooga - cheap(er) gasoline in Tennessee, cheap(er) groceries in Georgia. Georgia only charges a 3% sales tax on groceries compared to 8% or more on other stuff. We took advantage and stocked up.
We had a couple of days of rain when we didn't do much of anything, Judy found a salon to get her hair done, Al found a Big & Tall shop to get some new shorts (smaller waist!!!), and some days we just lazied around and read. We have such a tough life.
A few days before we were to leave for Kentucky, we heard that I-24 between Chattanooga and Nashville had been closed because of a huge sinkhole. It was a concern, as that was our route. But it turned out it had only closed the eastbound side of the highway - we were heading west - and by the time we passed by, the hole had been mostly filled in and was being paved.
Next stop - Cave City, KY, in the heart of Kentucky's cave country. We expect to be underground a lot. But that's for the next report.
See some of the pictures we did take around Chattanooga here.