Here’s a nice view of downtown Chattanooga as seen from the vantage point on the top of Lookout Mountain. It was a quick two week stopover in Chattanooga, but plenty to see and do in this beautiful area. It was particularly special having my cousin spend a couple of days with me here at the campground, followed a week later with my brother also stopping over for a couple of days. It was fun sightseeing with others – something I don’t often get to do. I had a great time, and I appreciate them both spending time with me.
Spending Time With Family
I was very pleased to spend a couple of days with my “French” (inside joke) cousin Sylvie, who lives a couple hours southeast in Alpharetta, GA. She and her husband Carl had actually been to this exact campground some years prior, staying in one of their camp cabins. So, the area and the cabin she once again rented was very familiar to her. We had a terrific time catching up, reminiscing back to days of our youth, and playing tourist to many sights here in the area.
Soon after, my brother Gerry arrived for a two-day stay and introduction to the full-time RV lifestyle. He was driving from the Space Coast of Florida, where he just recently relocated, back to the Seattle Washington area where he lived prior, and where his kids still reside. He’ll be there for the summer months, then return to Florida before the cold arrives. I think that’s a very smart plan! I cooked a home meal one night, while we also checked out a few local restaurants the day following. We also did some sightseeing – some even on two wheels (more on that later).
Seeing the Sites of Chattanooga
My cousin Sylvie and I got to see several nice sites while she was in town. Notably was the visit to some of the Civil War battlefields. Chattanooga’s strategic location and its expansive railway and river systems made it the site of some of the hardest fought battles. Its location was considered the gateway to the deep south and a vital location to control for both the Union and Confederate armies. The most notable battles occurred in 1863 within the hills of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. In fact, the Chickamauga Chattanooga National Military Park is the oldest and largest military park in the nation. Sylvia and I both got an excellent battle overview via a diorama superimposed with a detailed movie, showing the battles, troop movements, and other strategic activities that occurred during the time. It was an excellent representation of the battles that occurred here.
We also got to see a really cool place called Rock City Gardens. We actually both thought it was going to be something like a walking botanical tour, featuring flowers and fauna of the area. Well, we were both wrong. It was literally more like a small city made of rock. Its enchanted trail mazes through gigantic rock formations, crossing rock bridges, through tunnels and canyons, leading to some pretty spectacular views. Originally inhabited by Native Americans, it later became engulfed in the Civil War, where both Union and Confederate soldiers noted that seven states were visible from the mountain’s summit. The area become a tourist stop in the early 30’s and now features a “fairyland” type of vibe with its many gnomes and even a complete underground fairytale land. The highpoint of the tour is the beautiful waterfall that adorns its cliffs. It was a great tour and a must see if you are in the area.
Gerry and I did some really great sightseeing also – the highlight of which was a Segway tour of downtown Chattanooga. I’ve been on many Segway tours, but for Gerry, this would be his first. After an instruction video and a bit of hands-on training, we were off. We travelled throughout many downtown districts, over to the Chattanooga Cho Cho railway, went across and back over the Tenessee River on two of its bridges, swung by the farmers market, and even got to to do the Chattanooga version of the infamous Lombard St of San Francisco – weaving back and fourth ascending the hill on our Segways. It was a lot of fun. I think Gerry did a good job, though he may disagree. Yea he toppled over a few times, but several of those were the fault of either the person in front of him hot-dogging, or a Segway leader that took us on a very steep hill that was absolutely not suitable for first-timers. But he was a good sport, and I think did have a good time. Hopefully, he will use this as a learning opportunity and will continue to improve his Segway skills in the future.
We also got to tour through the International Towing and Recovery Museum. I learned that Chattanooga was the birthplace of the tow truck more than a century ago in 1916 when Ernest W. Holmes Sr. invented the tow truck here. Legend has it that he and several other men struggled for hours, using ropes and pure strength to retrieve a friends Model T Ford that had crashed and fallen into the Chickamauga Creek. Holmes crafted and installed a hand-cranked rigging system made up of an iron chain, a pulley, and several poles on the rear frame of his 1913 Cadillac sedan. He quickly patented his invention, and thus the towing industry was born. He later founded the Ernest Holmes Co. in Chattanooga that began in 1919 to build and market tow trucks. Some 30+ years ago, a group of people wanted to recognize individuals worldwide in the towing and recovery industry. They established a Hall of Fame and Museum and inducted 27 individuals. Today, that list has grown to over 300. Their museum was a roadshow via tractor trailer back then, and in 1995, settled down to a permanent location in, where else, Chattanooga. The display of tow trucks dates back from the early 1900’s to present, and includes beautifully restored trucks, memorabilia, and an extensive toy truck collection. In 2006, the museum created and dedicated a Memorial known as the Wall of the Fallen – which honors the men and women who have lost their lives in the line of service. Each September, a special ceremony is held and the names of towing operators who have lost their lives during the past year are added to the wall. This was a great visit, and represents one of those rare specific industries that you don’t often think about, but after leaving the museum have a much greater appreciation for the history of the vehicles, but more so a greater appreciation for those who work in this very dangerous field.
My last sightseeing tour that I did solo before I left the area was to a place called Ruby Falls. This is a favorite destination hotspot that has been open for upwards of 90 years, and features the tallest and deepest waterfall open to the public in the United States. Discovered in 1928, Leo Lambert and a team of excavators found a breathtaking waterfall deep within Lookout Mountain. Lambert named the falls after his wife, Ruby, and opened the Chattanooga attraction to the public in 1929. Today, Ruby Falls welcomes over half a million visitors each year from around the world. You start your journey by taking an elevator 260 feet below ground, and make your way through a beautiful cavern with stalactites and stalagmites and many other typical cavern fare, traversing farther and deeper into the caverns, until you reach the waterfall at a depth of over 1,100 feet below the surface. The 145 foot falls was stunning, and was beautifully lit by several different colored accent lights. Best of all, while others outside the caverns were dealing with excessive heat in the mid 90s, I was in a cool mid 60s environment. That was a bonus!
I really enjoy seeing and documenting via this blog, the more obscure or perhaps wacky things that can be found throughout the country. The Chattanooga area did not disappoint. High on the list in the wacky category is this spaceship house. Tucked away on the top of a hill on a busy mountain road, this house by every sense of the word looks like an alien spaceship. The road was too busy for me to get closer to it, and perhaps score an invite to see the inside. Bus alas I did see lights go on and off in the windows, and even noticed a car drive up with the driver soon after ascending the stairs deep into the bowels of the spacecraft. So, it would certainly appear that the spaceship is occupied. It was originally built in 1973 by a man named Curtis King at a price-tag of $250k, and has changed hands several times since – most recently in 2008 for a mere $130K. I guess spaceships do not hold their value! If you are interested, you can see inside pics from the Zillow listing HERE. I also had the pleasure of visiting Lodge Man – a lifesize person constructed completely of various Lodge cast iron pieces. I am a long time Lodge fan and owner of their Dutch Oven. I learned that the factory was established in 1896 and is actually based in South Pittsburg, Tennessee – a nearby town. It is one of America’s oldest continuously operating cookware companies. I did visit the factory store, and I did purchase some additional cast products. I was also told by my cousin that they had a custom Boy Scout branded Dutch Oven. I saw it in the store – it was amazing!
I also got to visit a very nice and historically significant memorial tied to the Holocaust. Known as the Children’s Holocaust Memorial, it resides on the grounds of Whitwell Middle School in Whitwell, TN. In the late 1990’s, teachers and students from the school began a Holocaust research project. They learned of the millions of Jews that were killed by the Nazis – a number that overwhelmed the students. They also learned of the significance of a paper clip that was worn by those in solidarity of the Jews who were forced to wear the yellow Star of David. This led to the idea of collecting millions of paper clips – each to represent the death of a Jew in the Holocaust. Word got out of this venture, and people from all 7 continents responded resulting in a flood of clips by the school. They later obtained an authentic German rail car that was built in 1917, and used to transport victims to concentration, labor, and death camps. Later it was used during WWII for prisoner transport. The car was discovered after the war in Poland, where it had been converted to haul grain after the war. It is one of the remaining cars from the era. It was last located in a German museum, and was purchased and donated to the middle school. Once received and installed at the school, 11 million paperclips were placed in it, each one representing a Holocaust death. It was a very interesting memorial, with a fascinating history. A movie titled “Paper Clips – The Documentary” was produced and released in 2004, telling the story of this elementary school project and subsequent memorial. I’m gonna have to watch that story.
(Update: I have since watched the Paper Clips documentary, and it was fantastic. $1.99 rental via YouTube, and so well worth it. It is a heartwarming story of how a middle-school principal, two teachers, and groups of students in a tiny rural Tennessee town, having a population of a mere 2,000, can create something so wonderful that touches everyone and has such an impact on so many people all over the world. Do take the time to watch it!)
While I’ve really thoroughly enjoyed all the places I’ve been in the past year, I have to say that my next stop after Chattanooga has been one that I’ve honestly been looking forward to. Rated as the number 3 campground in the country (right behind Fort Wilderness in Disney Orlando, and Ocean Lakes in Myrtle Beach), this resort campground gets rave reviews from anyone who has been here. Now that I’ve landed, I can see why. Here’s a little snippet preview of me setup in this place – a full report will be forth coming. Till then, be well and safe travels.