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) ...

...as 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." (ChattanoogaAndBeyond.com) 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!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Tennessee Vacation - Day 1

Back in June [A] and I took a vacation to Tennessee to visit Chattanooga and the Great Smoky Mountains. It was an amazing trip and we had so much fun relaxing and being together, just the two of us.

We started our road trip by heading to the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illlinois. We spent one day there exploring two different areas; Garden of the Gods Recreation Area and the Rim Rock Trail.

Garden of the Gods is unique because while the rest of Illinois is flat, this uplifted sandstone plateau was never covered by glaciers; the furthest advance of ice sheets stopped just north of here.

The Garden of the Gods Observation Trail is a short quarter mile hike on a flagstone path. The fun part, though, is straying off the path and scrambling over the rock formations.

There are a couple of rock formations along the Observation Trail that are named for the animals they resemble. Below is Camel Rock:

And this one is Monkey Rock:

This one may have a name but to me it looks like the tiger-faced Cave of Wonders from Aladdin.

There are also these cool features called liesegang bands. According to the sign on the Observation Trail, "Long ago when this sandstone was underground, it was saturated with groundwater mixed with iron. Chemical changes caused the iron to solidify as rust between the rock particles. Held together by iron, the raised dark bands have resisted weathering as compared to the softer, light-colored rock. The patterns of the bands are the result of these chemical changes." Pretty neat, huh?

As we were leaving some darker clouds were rolling in but thankfully we only got a short, light drizzle as we began our hike over at the Rim Rock Trail. The clouds did make for a beautiful, dramatic sky.

Our next stop in the Shawnee National Forest was the Rim Rock Trail. (Side note, [K] gave us some of her mini My Little Ponies to take along with us on our trip so we placed them in various locations along the way and sent her the photos. Here they are on our dash overlooking the start of the trail.)

While looking up information on Garden of the Gods I came across a website called Shawnee Hills Outdoors and found his description, photos, and video of the Rim Rock Trail to be fascinating. I love hiking in crevices between huge rocks. I love steps leading somewhere mysterious; to an unknown natural beauty. This place has both.

After descending the stairs you come across these massive moss-covered stone walls and the sliver of a trail between them.

Here I am standing at the top of the stone stairway leading down between the walls.

Here is [A] at the bottom where the steps turn and lead out into a beautiful wooded bluff.

The other distinguishing feature at Rim Rock is the Ox-Lot Cave. According to the sign there, "This large rock overhang provided shelter to many hunters and explorers who passed this way. A fence was built to create a corral where oxen, mules, and horses were kept; hence the name Ox-Lot Cave."

This impression in the rock (I wouldn't exactly call it a cave myself) is massive. It's hard to tell in the photo above just how big it is even though I'm standing there to give some perspective. The photo below is a vertical shot and we still couldn't get it all in the frame.

The rest of our one-mile hike was filled with beautiful trees, a stream, giant boulders jutting out all around, and neat wooden boardwalks.

The Shawnee National Forest is a beautiful place to come visit and it really got us pumped and in the mood to do more hiking on our trip. I know there are many more places to see and hike here and I would really like to come back at some point. [A] and I love being out in nature and unfortunately we just don't do it enough. I hope that is something we can change going forward.

On a side note, today is our 6th wedding anniversary. I can't believe six years have passed already. It's amazing how time flies when you're having fun. And boy, are we having fun! A friend of ours just recently commented on my Facebook page that I "seriously won the husband lottery with him" and it's so true. I really did. He is the most amazing friend, husband, and father that I could ever want. He is gentle with our children, strong with his convictions, and giving with his love. He is smart and funny (oh my gosh is he crazy and weird and hilarious), and he is patient when I'm not, my rock when I need it, and understanding when I'm being irrational. In short, he is everything to me and I love him like Wesley loves Buttercup. Dishwash your face, Babe. Happy anniversary!