Exploring the South, Part 2: Chattanooga

As promised, here’s an update about our time in Chattanooga. I’d like to start by informing y’all on how to pronounce it, because I certainly butchered it on my first dozen or so attempts. I was saying Shatt-uh-nooga, like you’d pronounce the ‘ch’ sound in Chicago. Jeff kept correcting me and then the next time I’d go to say the name of the city I’d think, wait, I got this wrong last time… but which way was right again? I have an amazing memory for remembering I did something wrong, if only I could replace that with the correct way to do it. For example, there was this door in college that had a horizontal push bar, and it must have been counterintuitive or something, because I seemed to always push on the wrong side and then smack into it. I’d remember that door was troublesome for me, but I couldn’t for the life of me commit to memory which side you pushed to open it (my solution: push on both sides of the bar simultaneously and follow whichever end opened). Anyway, all this to say, Chattanooga starts with a hard ‘ch’ sound like ‘chat.’ Also, the middle ’t’s’ are actually pronounced like a ‘d.’ So, according to locals, it’s “Cha-duh-NOO-guh.” Now you know (not that I expect you to remember). 

We arrived in Chattanooga around 4-pm Sunday evening, after a less-than-2-hour drive up from Atlanta. After checking into our hotel, we decided to stretch our legs and go for a run. We jogged through downtown, over to a pathway along the river, and followed it for awhile before returning. The Tennessee River runs through Chattanooga and the city has some quaint bridges and walkways built up around it. After returning to the room to freshen up, we returned downtown for dinner, then walked around to observe some of the old architecture and newer artwork. In many ways, Chattanooga reminded me quite a bit of Bellingham, Washington. They feel similar in size and culture and are both located just a couple hours from a major metropolitan area. They are also both surrounded by beautiful bodies of water and mountains making them enticing destinations for outdoor enthusiasts.

The following day we planned to do some sight-seeing before making the 5-hour drive back to Memphis. Our first stop was at Ruby Falls, located in Lookout Mountain, just a few miles outside the city. When searching for things to do in the area this was one of the first that kept popping up. I mean, I’m a sucker for waterfalls in general, but then when I read that this is an underground waterfall, oh man, I was instantly sold. We are definitely going there. Turns out, maybe I should have done a bit more research and discovered that you couldn’t merely walk up to said falls on your own and had to descend beneath the mountain in an elevator on a guided tour. And it being Labor Day, there would be many a visitor. If I would have made the effort to figure this out we might not have awoken and checked out of our hotel at such a leisurely rate…

Anyway, by the time we arrived at Ruby Falls and purchased tickets we were informed that we’d have to wait over an hour for the next available tour and that the tours themselves last about 90-minutes. There was another destination I wanted to check out after the falls and we debated scrapping it so we wouldn’t return to Memphis as late, but we decided to just revise our time frame and maximize our experience in Chattanooga.

So we descended into the mountain via a surprisingly normal elevator and then met up with a guide, who led our group of around 25 people, farther into the cavern. Another piece of helpful information I could have learned before departing on our excursion was that the temperature in the cave remains about 60 degrees year round. I was dressed for the 90 degree outdoor weather. Though the temp remained constant, as the tour went on, I seemed to get colder and colder. The trek to the falls was mostly flat, there were some relatively narrow passageways and Jeff had to duck his head several times (I was just short enough to not be bothered by some of the low ceilings). There were some fun things to note as we made our way towards the falls, just under half-a-mile one way, with some named formations and a plethora of columns, stalactites, and stalagmites (I can never remember which one comes from the ceiling and which from the ground). 

The trek was slow going as we had to stop and move out of the way every 100-yards or so to make way for a returning parties of tourists. The cave was carved out enough to not trigger any claustrophobic anxieties but I cringed at the thought of the discoverers who crawled through passages as shallow as 18-inches and spent 17-hours on their first round trip journey before emerging. I would have made a terrible spelunker. Assuming you could get me down the shaft in the first place, I think I would have crawled about 30-seconds in one direction in that space before being like, “Nope! We are going to scoot our terrified self back whence we came, outta my way!”

After a short wait in a little holding area around the corner, we were finally released to view the main attraction, Ruby Falls. I could hear the crashing water and feel the mist, but as I approached I was disappointed to find the room so dim that I could only see the bottom ten or so feet of the falls themselves. This thing is almost 150-feet, what the heck?! Then suddenly, dramatic music began to play and bright lights illuminated the cylindrical shaped cavern all the way up to the ceiling. My eyes were drawn upwards to gaze upon the resplendent Ruby Falls plunging from an unknown source over 1,000-feet underground. A true natural wonder, it was magnificent! 


We eventually emerged from the depths of the mountain and I welcomed the natural light, wide open spaces, and warm temperatures. Our next tourist stop was Rock City. “What’s Rock City?” Jeff inquired en route. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite sure myself. It was close to Ruby Falls and rated high as a thing-to-do in Chattanooga. Our hotel had a lovely brochure of it in the lobby. “You have to pay to enter right? What do you get for admission? Is it a park?” All valid questions. “Well, we’ll just have to wait and see…” I responded.

Ruby Falls is in Tennessee, but Rock City is back in Georgia. I was initially hesitant to head to a destination farther south since our return to Memphis was in the other direction, until I looked at the scale and realized the two points were only 4-miles apart. So, what is Rock City? Well, it’s a pay-to-enter area on the edge of a mountain with natural rock formations, winding pathways, manicured gardens, a lookout spot, waterfall, bridges, gnomes, and fairytale themes. It has an interesting history launching in the 1930’s by the Carter family. Mrs. Carter enjoyed European folklore, hence the gnomes and fairytale motifs, and Mr. Carter is credited with opening the nation’s first miniature golf course and was a master marketer. It’s often referred to as See Rock City because to draw attention to the attraction, Mr. Carter enlisted a painter to go around to farmers situated along major highways and offer to paint their barns for free, as long as he could write “See Rock City” on the rooftop. 


We enjoyed walking the meandering pathways through the unique landscape, over and under archways, and some through narrow openings of rock. The midway point was a beautiful lookout where you could supposedly see 7-states (which was a bit of wishful thinking in my opinion), a cliff called “Lover’s Leap,” and a bridge over a waterfall. Had we not been in a bit of a hurry to start the drive back to Memphis, we may have stopped at this point to enjoy outdoor dining on the mountaintop while listening to a local musician. But since we were on somewhat of a timeframe we started quickly on the return trail which eventually led us into a cavern that had elaborate miniature scenes from fairytales and nursery rhymes. 

Overall, I enjoyed our side-trip to Chattanooga. It was a nice compliment to visiting Atlanta which had a much different feel and culture. I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity these past few months, and likely continuing somewhat into the next year, to visit different places. I know we will not continue on this traveling pace indefinitely but we’re trying to enjoy these experiences while in this season of our lives. I hope you enjoy reading about our adventures. One of these days I might bring myself to write a more serious, reflective entry, as so far I’ve mainly just used this blog to focus on the more superficial “highlight reel” aspects of our lives. So the next entry will be either that, or an update on the International Goat Days Festival. Stay tuned…

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