Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Tennessee Vacation - Day 3; Part 2

Oh my gosh, if I don't wrap up this five day vacation, I don't know what I'll do when it comes to our 10 day beach trip. A birthday has passed, the first day of school has come and gone, and I'm still stuck on a mini getaway from back in June. Ugh. Sorry. I'm long winded and I use lots of pictures. I guess I look at this blog as a journal for myself to remember the big and little things we do over the years. I hope you enjoy it but if not, thank you for indulging me.

Anyway, to continue from the last post, after we left Lookout Mountain we headed across the state to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Our first stop was Clingmans Dome.
I think my favorite thing about the Smokies is its layers of mountains. It looks
like ocean waves on the beach or clouds rolling into view. Simply stunning.

At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is Great Smoky Mountains National Park's highest point. It is the highest point in Tennessee, and the second highest point east of the Mississippi. Only North Carolina's Mt. Mitchell (6,684 feet) rises higher.

Clingmans Dome is a popular Park destination. Located along the state-line ridge, it is half in North Carolina and half in Tennessee.

The peak is accessible after driving Clingmans Dome Road from Newfound Gap, and then walking a steep half-mile trail. A paved trail leads to a 54-foot observation tower.

The cool, wet conditions on Clingmans Dome's summit make it a coniferous rainforest. Unfortunately, pests, disease, and environmental degradation threaten the unique and fragile spruce-fir forest.

Dead trunks litter the area, and dying trees struggle to survive another year. Berries thrive in the open areas, and a young forest will replace the dying trees. (

I loved this cloud formation. It reminded me of a baby elephant lifting its trunk.

When we left the sun was beginning to set so we stopped at a pull-off where a very nice couple had set up some lawn chairs and were having wine and cheese while watching the sunset. We struck up a conversation with them and funny enough, it turns out we have the same anniversary except we're one year later.

It was a lovely way to end our first day in the Smokies. From here we drove to our Bed and Breakfast in Cosby, TN. If you ever find yourself in the area and looking for a place to stay, please let me suggest the Creekwalk Inn at Whisperwood Farm. Janice runs the place and is just a wonderful woman with great stories, a kind heart, and great hiking recommendations. We took one of her recommendations on an amazing hike I'll show you in my next blog post. Until then, have a fantastic night!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tennessee Vacation - Day 3; Part 1

The first part of our third day was spent on Lookout Mountain. Our first stop was to take a ride on the Incline Railway.

Built by John Crass in 1895, The Incline is a technical marvel. At its apex it reaches an incline of 72.7%, making it the steepest passenger railway in the world. The building at the top in the middle is the upper station. You can just make out the black tracks going up to it.

The Incline Railway is run on a single track except for a short two-track stretch at the midway point allowing operation of two cars at one time. Steel cables are connected to both cars, so that one counterweights the other.

At the upper station you can see the giant wheels used to pull the railcars. There's also an elevator-style braking system to stop the cars, should a cable ever snap. Below, the view of Chattanooga.

Today, The Incline still attracts people from around the world and has carried literally millions of residents and tourists up and down historic Lookout Mountain. (Take My Trip)

From there we continued around the mountain to Rock City in Georgia.

Rock City is a 4100-ft walking trail on the brow of Lookout Mountain. The attraction combines scenic overlooks separated by peaceful walks along winding paths through rock gardens and into narrow passageways created by massive granite outcrops.

In the 1920's a man named Garnet Carter began purchasing land at the top of Lookout Mountain. His wife, Frieda, set out to develop the property into one big rock garden, taking string and marking a trail that wound its way around the giant rock formations, ending up at Lover's Leap.

Garnet realized that Frieda had made an attraction that people would be willing to pay for and made Rock City a public attraction in 1932.

By 1935 visitation had dropped dramatically. Carter wanted to increase advertising by offering to paint local barns near roadways for free, if his painter, Clark Byers, could paint three words on either side of the roof - "See Rock City." Byers painted over 900 barn roofs in nineteen states from 1935 to 1969.

One of my favorite spots in Rock City was Rainbow Hall, seen here from the outside.

This is the inside. Isn't it beautiful? [K] would have been mesmerized. I could have stayed here and taken shot after shot but of course I was holding up the line so unfortunately I had to move on.

At the end of the trail you come to this big gate called Fairyland Caverns. Being a huge fan of fairies, I was particularly excited to see it. My first tip off that it wasn't going to be what I expected should have been the metal depiction of Little Red Riding Hood above the sign.

As another blogger put it (quite aptly, I might add) "Fairyland Caverns is Frieda's masterpiece, where Rock City abandons the real world and ventures into its own wobbly realm of fantasy. You descend through a long series of cave-like galleries. Elves and gnomes leer at you from above, perched on trapezes and simulated rock shelves. The ceilings are covered with coral and fake stalactites, all painstakingly glued into place.

Set into the walls are a series of dioramas of children's fairytales. All of the characters are hand-painted in garish fluorescent colors, lit only by ultraviolet light. Each shines in the darkness with a brilliant, radioactive rainbow glow. It is the greatest black light showplace on earth -- and it's terrifying. Frieda has put distorted old peoples' heads onto healthy children's bodies. Huge goggle eyes. Bloated lips. Exaggerated lines and creases on every face.

Fairyland Caverns climaxes at Mother Goose Village, a dark room the size of a small auditorium. It stretches into the black void -- an alien ultraviolet landscape of dozens of intermingled nursery rhymes, topped by a ten-foot-tall castle. Families shuffle through like zombies, barely illuminated by the glowing tableaus. There's Humpty Dumpty. And Little Miss Muffet. And a dish running away with a spoon. Hushed voices mingle with prerecorded children -- or maybe adults trying to sound like children -- singing nursery rhymes over hidden loudspeakers. Who needs drugs? Life doesn't get any freakier than Mother Goose Village and Fairyland Caverns." (Roadside America)

Honestly, I didn't even take any photos in this area. All I wanted to do was get out of the hot, smelly oven of a room where this was all held. It was a horrible way to end a very beautiful and scenic walk through nature. Thankfully I've found that there's a shortcut way to avoid going in there and because of that alone, I would come back to Rock City.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Tennessee Vacation - Day 2; Part 2

Hi Y'all! Yeah that's right, I'm pretending to be all Southern and stuff ;)

The second part of our day in Chattanooga involved going to the Bluff View Art District and the Tennessee Aquarium.

A large part of the Bluff View Art District is the Hunter Museum of American Art. Perched on an 80-foot bluff on the edge of the Tennessee River, the Hunter Museum offers stunning views of the river and the surrounding mountains. The building itself represents three distinct architectural stages: the original 1904 classical revival mansion designed by Abram Garfield which has housed the museum since its opening in 1952, a brutalist addition built in 1975, and a 2005 addition designed by Randall Stout which now serves as the entrance to the museum. (Wikipedia)
This view is from across the river looking back toward the bluff.
You can see the three stages of the building with the original part
behind the industrial looking brutalist addition in the middle.

Here's another view of the museum and part of the Tennessee Riverwalk which stretches for 13 miles along the southern shore of the Tennessee River. You can walk, jog or bike along the Riverwalk which also includes "...a wonderful collection of picnic areas, playgrounds, fishing piers, river and stream overlooks, wetlands, rowing centers..." (Downtown Chattanooga)

With the 2005 expansion, the Hunter Museum extended toward downtown. The Ruth S. and A. William Holmberg Pedestrian Bridge provides a connection to the nearby Walnut Street Bridge and riverfront attractions. The glass bridge allows pedestrians to cross over Riverside Drive. Check out this super cool time lapse video of the bridge looking toward the Aquarium.
It's a little hard to see unless you click on the photo but you can see a white car driving under the bridge.

Within the beautiful Bluff View Art District is the River Gallery Sculpture Garden. Opened in May 1993 it's located on a two-acre outdoor space overlooking the Tennessee River.

The Sculpture Garden features a formal garden, meditation area, and an informal garden with a recycling mountain stream. I love this view of the garden overlooking the river.

I can't find a name for this piece but [A] decided it was his three ladies.

After leaving the Bluff View Art District we headed over to the Tennessee Aquarium. It's made up of two buildings, the River Journey and the Ocean Journey. They are home to more than 12,000 animals including fish, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, birds, penguins, butterflies, and more. (Wikipedia).

The Aquarium, designed by architect Peter Chermayeff, opened in 1992 and consisted of just the River Journey building. When it opened it was the largest freshwater aquarium in the world.

Chattanooga's civic leaders wanted an attraction similar to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, the pyramid-topped aquatic museum Mr. Chermayeff designed 15 years before. But he recommended that instead of cloning Baltimore's showpiece, which offers a global view of marine life, the Chattanoogans focus on the ecosystems of the Tennessee River Valley and create America's first major institution devoted primarily to freshwater habitats.
This is inside the River Journey's glass pyramid roof.

While the suggestion appealed to the group's regional pride, the Chattanoogans had their doubts. Freshwater fish are less colorful than the exotic salt water fish. What would be the showstopper? The response from Mr. Chermayeff and his firm was to make the entire building the showstopper -- Chattanooga's "very own, home-grown cathedral of conservation," as Mayor Roberts described it.

The $45 million building also features many design trademarks similar to Maryland's aquarium -- rooftop pyramids, a one-way circulation path, back-lit graphics and fish-themed art work by Ivan Chermayeff, Peter's older brother (The Baltimore Sun). Below is a photo of the one-way circulation path. You take an escalator up to the top floor and then follow a continuous ramp down to the ground floor, passing tank after tank of beautiful aquatic plants and animals.

This is an example of one type of cool fish-themed artwork in the Aquarium. These fish are actually just a silver reflective material but when the sunshine floods in through the glass top pyramid, it reflects off the fish and turns them into rainbow colors. [K] would love this.

A new addition to the facility, Ocean Journey, opened in April 2005, and contains a total of 700,000 gallons. This facility includes more hands on displays, such as a small shark and ray touch tank, large macaws, and a butterfly garden.

The largest tank in the Aquarium is the "Secret Reef", which contains 500,000 and features species such as sand tiger sharks and bonnetheads.
This is the closest I'd like [A] to ever come to a shark, cage or no cage.

Other sections include the "Boneless Beauties" gallery, where guests can see invertebrates like jellyfish, cuttlefish, giant Pacific octopuses, and Japanese spider crabs.

An even newer 16,000 gallon exhibit with Macaroni penguins and Gentoo penguins opened on May 3, 2007. (Wikipedia)

I really love aquariums and will go whenever there's one in a town where we're visiting. The Tennessee Aquarium did not disappoint. We also watched an IMAX movie while there about the Galapagos Islands which was very interesting as well. If you're ever in the area, I highly recommend a visit.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Tennessee Vacation - Day 2; Part 1

Welcome back to the next installment of our Tennessee vacation. (By the way, isn't Tennessee a fun word to type? It's like Mississippi with all the double letters.) Anyway, after leaving southern Illinois we made the rest of the drive down to Chattanooga, TN.
The Ponies showing where we were on the map. [K] had her own copy to follow at home.
If you've never been to Chattanooga, I highly suggest you visit. It's such a cool, fun, vibrant city that, from our short time there, is small enough to strike up a conversation with the locals but big enough to play host to a myriad of outdoor concerts, festivals and one of the best aquariums in the south.
The buildings with the pointed glass roofs are the aquarium buildings.
There are seven bridges that cross the Tennessee River in Chattanooga and one of them, the Walnut Street Bridge, is pedestrians only. It's a beautiful bridge where people run, walk, bike, or in my case, take lots of pictures. I happen to love bridges.

Crossing the Walnut Street Bridge takes you from downtown to the North Shore as well as a super cool park called Coolidge Park. There's a ton of green space to run around and enjoy picnics or, as we saw, a family game of t-ball.

There's also an interactive water fountain and a restored 100-year old carousel.
I rode the donkey for my sister in law :)
[A] picked an animal he thought the kids would enjoy seeing. They were all beautiful. 
This one is for [K]. She loves giraffes.
Now while downtown is very popular with the aquarium and the Bluff View Art District, the North Shore is fun as well. We didn't spend a ton of time here but some of the interesting things we saw were these dance steps along Frazier Street (there are eight different dances but we only saw two) ... well as this piano monument that's "A tribute to the music and musicians of Chattanooga".

Crossing back over the Walnut Street Bridge we came across this statue of a dog and apparently you're supposed to touch his paw for luck. [A] gave him a high five for five times the luck ;)

In an area near the aquarium there is a place called The Passage. It's a "pedestrian link between downtown Chattanooga and the Tennessee River and marks the beginning of the Trail of Tears." ( Not only is it a super cool place to look out over the river and dip your toes in the water, but it's also an interesting monument to the seven clans of the Cherokee Nation.

There are waterways all throughout the Aquarium Plaza that connect the aquarium to the river where people can walk and play in the water on a hot summer day.

You can even walk across these beautiful high-arched, landscaped bridges to get a view of the whole area. When we were there it was a Saturday when they host the River Market which is a farmer's market complete with live music, food, and local artists and craftsmen.

Before heading back to our hotel for the night we drove up the W Road to Signal Point to take in the views of the fog rolling in over the Tennessee River Gorge.

From our vantage point we were able to see Raccoon Mountain straight ahead of us, Lookout Mountain peeking out behind it like a shadow, and the Tennessee River below. It was a beautiful way to end a very fun day of exploring one of the cooler cities I've visited. I can't wait to come back!