When we planned this route last year, we thought most of the bad storms occurred in the Spring months. But it turns out that Fall can be equally nasty – as we found out firsthand. Well, now we know! Continue reading
Our home base at Cave Country RV Campground (Steve’s review here) near Bowling Green, KY was only 90 miles from Nashville. That’s closer than we got while we were in Tennessee, so we decided to cross the state line to spend a day there. Of course, everyone connects Nashville with country music, but my mind was changed after spending a few hours there. Nashville is about ALL kinds of music; country, pop, gospel, and rock. Nashville’s monicker “Music City, USA” was coined by David Cobb when he was on the air in 1950, and has stuck until today. Surprisingly, music is not its number one industry – ranking third with health care and printing/publishing being #1 and #2, respectively. Be that as it may, music is definitely what Nashville is most famous for.
With our time limited to just a day, we opted once again to start off with a guided tour – alway the best way to learn about a city quickly. We like to take the first tour of the day to learn what areas we will want to explore further afterward, and also to get some good tips about the best local places to eat. On this tour, one attraction was really “Greek” to us, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me first take you to the music scene in Nashville, where our guide showed us areas that we later walked ourselves.
Music Row, along a portion of 16th and 17th streets, is widely considered the heart of Nashville’s entertainment industry. In this section of the city, our guide pointed out numerous record labels, publishing houses, music licensing firms, recording studios and video production houses. There are also many other businesses here that serve the music industry, as well as radio stations and networks. Elvis Presley recorded more than 250 of his songs at RCA’s Historic Studio B.
As we left music row via a roundabout, a controversial sculpture labeled “Musica” came into view. It’s a very large statue of naked men and women dancing up out of the ground in a flower-lined circular drive. It caused quite a stir when it was first unveiled. Many locals felt it does not belong in Music Row, but tourists seem to love it – an hey, we’re tourists!
The honky-tonk section along lower Broadway (roughly a four-block stretch) is where we heard and saw live country music, which usually goes from 10am to 2am every day – and it’s all free! This is the place for eating and partying, if you like Country music and want to see the various local and up-and-coming musicians perform.
The Ryman Auditorium, also called the “Mother Church of Country Music,” is a 2,362-seat live performance venue, and original home of the Grand Ole Opry. It was originally built as Union Gospel Tabernacle for evangelist Reverend Sam Jones in 1892. After his death in 1904, it became known as the Ryman Auditorium, in honor of the man who built this Nashville landmark.
The Music Mile is a roughly one-mile stretch which connects downtown to many other area venues. These include Music Row, Schermerhon Symphony Center, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum (which can be seen with its symbolic windows that mirror the configuration of piano keys), the Bridgestone Arena, the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, and the newly opened Music City Center.
The Music City Walk of Fame is a landmark and tribute to those men and women from all musical genres who write, perform, promote and produce music. The stars lie in the walkway across the street from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
We had a chance to stroll along the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge, which crosses over the Cumberland River. Here we had great views of Nashville and LP Field (known as “Last Place Field” by locals, as our guide told it). The stadium is home to the NFL’s Tennessee Titans.
For you history buffs, the Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park is a 19-acre free outdoor museum built in honor of Tennnessee’s 200th year of statehood. I would have loved to walk this park and follow the trail to read the historical events in the state’s history, but it would have literally taken most of a day to do.
Finally, we arrived at the stop that was really Greek to us, The Parthenon! We were pleasantly surprised to be transported to Athens for a few minutes, as we learned that the structure was originally built for Tennessee’s Centennial Exposition in1897. It is the world’s only exact and full-size replica of the ancient Greek temple. It houses the largest indoor statue, which we unfortunately did not have time to see. It’s a 41′, 10″ tall gold-leafed statue of the Goddess Athena. The Parthenon now serves as an Art Museum.
And that concluded our whirlwind tour of Nashville – much too short, but long enough to make us want to come back!
Next up: Chigger attack!
As mentioned in our previous post, the name “Chattanooga” is a Creek Indian word meaning “rock coming to a point.” This is a reference to Lookout Mountain, which begins in Chattanooga and stretches through parts of Alabama and Georgia. We drove a portion of the mountain while in Alabama a few days ago, following the scenic Lookout Mountain Parkway. Now we’re doing the scenic drive on the northern end, which overlooks Chattanooga.
While moseying along, we noticed several advertisements for attractions on Lookout Mountain. Although they looked a bit “touristy” to us, the RV park offered a discount for a three-attraction package, and we had a spare day to kill. So, we gave in to the hype and spent a beautiful day experiencing “the big three not to be missed while in Chattanooga” – Ruby Falls, Rock City Gardens and the Incline Railway.
Another thing we noticed while driving past these attractions was buses full of screaming school children being unloaded at them. That left no doubt that we would be at the biggest attraction – Ruby Falls – at 8:30am when they opened the next day. Our strategy worked, and with only 6 other people on the first tour we descended into the cave via elevator with our guide, prepared to be amazed.
Each cave and cavern we’ve visited during our travels (Oregon Caves National Monument in Oregon, Lava Beds National Monument in California and the Kartchner Caverns in Arizona) has had its own fascinating story of discovery. Ruby Falls is no exception and is rather unique because of its towering underground waterfall.
The story goes that the original Lookout Mountain Cave had been discovered and used by Native Americans, then by Union and Confederate soldiers, over many decades. But when a railroad tunnel was constructed nearby through the mountain in 1905, the cave entrance was sealed off. Then, in 1923 a local cave enthusiast named Leo Lambert decided to drill an elevator shaft 420 ft. straight down into the mountain to gain access to the cave. His plan was to open it to the public as an attraction – for a small fee, of course.
It was during this drilling that a worker felt a rush of air when he reached a depth of 240 ft. A small team led by Mr. Lambert spent 17 hours crawling around the previously unknown part of the cave, and during that fateful trip they discovered a spectacular waterfall 145 ft. high, 1,120 ft. below the peak of the mountain. After taking his wife Ruby into the cave to see the waterfall for herself, he named it after her.
Getting to the Falls involved almost a half mile of walking, parts of it through narrow, tight spaces with low ceilings, unlike other caves we’ve explored that were made up mostly of large and small caverns. I chuckled at the way many of the formations in this cave were labeled with big signs, leaving little to the imagination.
Finally, the climax of the trip occurred at the end of a very narrow path where we heard water thundering in the dark. As we stood in place the lights began to come up…
…and, viola! The multi-colored lights were accompanied with music as everyone gasped in awe at the waterfall. Wow! But we had only a few minutes to snap our pictures, as the next group was due to show up soon.
Although the tour was fun and the waterfall awesome, my comment is that this place is just a little too commercialized for us. Fortunately we got out of there before the first big group of kids arrived!
Our next attraction was the Rock City Gardens, a geological wonder described by two missionaries in 1823 as a citadel of rocks. This was another beauty, featuring massive natural ancient rock formations with some man-made enhancements. The long, convoluted rock trail was lined with gardens and contained hundreds of labeled local trees and plants. The formations here reminded me of similar ones we saw at Bilger Rocks in Pennsylvania and Nelson-Kennedy Ledges in Ohio – but this was on a smaller scale.
Although there were several features we enjoyed here, the inevitable arrival of school buses with screaming kids made us realize it was time to move on. But we had to admit that the breathtaking views from Lover’s Leap at the end of the trail made it worth the stop.
Our final attraction of the day was a mile-long ride from the top of Lookout Mountain to the bottom, at a maximum incline of 72.7% grade. The Incline Railway is billed as the steepest passenger railway in the world, and we rode on it along with a group of kids on a field trip. Fun, fun!
Considered a technological marvel at the time, “The Incline” was originally built to quickly whisk people and supplies up and down the steepest part of Lookout Mountain. The original coal-burning steam engines were replaced by two 100-horsepower motors in 1911, but other than that the railway hasn’t changed very much in its more than 100 years of operation.
All of these out-of-the-ordinary attractions are located high above the city skyline, on top of Lookout Mountain. Except for the crowds and some of the man-made “enhancements”, we must admit that we enjoyed our day exploring the mountain’s natural beauty and rich history.
How to best enjoy Chattanooga on a rainy day? Well, even though I’m not really big on aquariums, when Mother Nature throws rain at me I can either hide away at home or go out and do something fun indoors. Since shopping isn’t really my thing anymore, I took a tip from the folks at Wandering Dawgs and ventured out to the Tennessee Aquarium for a few hours. I was on my own, as Steve decided to skip this one and catch up on some other stuff. He would have been happy to know that I didn’t take many pictures during this excursion, for it was dim inside the building and I still have to work on my indoor photography skills.
The diverse collection of water animals at the River Journey Building fascinated me. What struck me the most were the Turtles of the World and River Giants collections, and the adorable Sea Horses.
The colorful Freshwater Stingrays caught my attention at the Ocean Journey Building.
I couldn’t get a good shot of the mesmerizing jellyfishes, so I instead captured a display of colorful glass sculptures which were a part of the Jellies in Art collection. It depicted the shape, rhythm and movement of the various jellies.
We rarely miss an urban biking opportunity, and Chattanooga offered up the 13-mile Tennessee Riverwalk. The riverside path parallels the Tennessee River from its beginning at Ross Landing to the endpoint at Chickamauga Dam. We liked this trail a lot, for it was very picturesque and well maintained, with art sculptures displayed along the way. Several points of interest and rest areas were provided along its length, and we had a fabulous lunch at The Boathouse, a great restaurant that overlooked the river.
Our feathered friends were everywhere to entertain us, including several Great Blue Herons. There were many fishermen at Chickamauga Dam, and the GBH’s were nearby waiting for their “cut”. We saw one of them trying his darndest to swallow a large fish, but he ultimately had to give up and leave it for a lucky Osprey to take away.
A leisurely sunset cruise aboard the Southern Belle capped our fun-filled visit to Chattanooga. It was unfortunate that this particular tour was not narrated, but since it basically followed the path we had taken along the Riverwalk earlier in the day, we were really here to just relax with a glass of wine and hopefully capture a nice sunset over the city.
Considering that we were here for a week with only one day of rain, we felt like we really experienced this scenic city. We would highly recommend that folks spend some time here, if it’s anywhere near your route of travel.
Moving on and pointing Betsy’s nose northward, we arrived in a new-to-us state – Tennessee – Chattanooga to be exact. Along the hilly highways of the area, wildflowers adorned the sides of the road in an explosion of pink, yellow and white. I was delighted that spring is still in the air, and I loved it!
After settling in at our new home base, we perused several brochures to see what’s to do in Chattanooga. As many cities do, Chattanooga boasted the many rave reviews they have garnered. To validate these claims, we had to do our own investigation to see for ourselves. Chattanooga is nearly surrounded by mountains and sits on the banks of the Tennessee River. Folks here have officially nicknamed it “The Scenic City,” and we were pleasantly surprised to discover that it really is.
Getting around town is easy since they offer a free electric shuttle, but it is very walkable and we opted to use our legs. Leaving our car at a good central point, we headed straight down to the Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge. It is one of the world’s longest pedestrian bridges and spans .45 mile across the Tennessee River. A sign on the bridge indicates it was built in 1891 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. It was restored and reopened in 1993, and is obviously very popular. Walking over the river, we were able to enjoy scenic views of a city that has been transformed in recent years.
I’m making the bridge my main attraction because when you’re on it you see beautiful scenery in every direction. It’s not only a tourist attraction, but also a connection between downtown Chattanooga and other businesses on the north shore. It is also sort of central to an area encompassing the 13-mile Riverwalk and Coolidge Park. This is really a vibrant and active town with many opportunities to enjoy the scenery while working out, and it’s also full of excellent restaurants in case you want to put those calories right back on.
From the bridge we could see the city’s hub for arts and culture, with the imposing Hunter Museum of American Art on the bluff…
…the Tennessee Aquarium in the riverfront district with Lookout Mountain in the background…
…and Coolidge Park on the north end with more walking/biking trails, and even a merry-go-round in that building to the right.
After strolling through the north shore streets, we went back across the bridge to the downtown area. As we strolled along, we realized the city has designated six sections (or districts), depending on what the area has to offer. The bluff view is the artistic part of town. Since neither of us are art enthusiasts, we skipped the Hunter Museum and instead admired the various art sculptures displayed around the city and at the outdoor River Gallery. This is a good place to feast your eyes on various distinctive art pieces and sculptures – for free.
I later learned there is also a public art memorial known as “The Passage,” which celebrates the area’s Native American heritage. It features several six-foot medallions depicting the Cherokee tribe’s history. In 1838, when the Cherokee nation was ordered to leave their land here, many died on the westward march known as the Trail of Tears. At the foot of the cascading water is Ross Landing, designated as one of the three places for the rendezvous for their removal.
We saw an interesting steeple in the city center district that had been been built in 1881 as part of a large First Methodist Church. It turns out the church was never completed, but services were held in the steeple until 1967 when its congregation merged with another one. It looked kind of strange to see just the steeple in the middle of the city, but it is quite a beautiful structure on its own.
Our tummies were grumbling after all of the walking, and Steve had been talking for a couple of days about a place he found that served excellent fried chicken. Not what we usually eat, but you know how you can get those “hankerin’s” every now and then! We walked all the way across town to a place called Champy’s, and we weren’t disappointed. We were happy to walk almost two miles back to our car after that incredible lunch!
There is so much to do in Chattanooga. We walked it, drove it, biked it and hiked it. We also boated it on the Southern Belle (coming up next) to get a view from the river. By the end of our weeklong stay we were pretty much exhausted – is this what retirement is supposed to be like? Among the mid-sized cities we’ve visited, Chattanooga lived up to its hype – it’s scenic, clean, not too big nor too small, and the outdoor fun is almost limitless. Stay tuned to see what else this cool place has to offer!
Next up: Outdoor Chattanooga.