2014 Chatta-Rainy-Nooga

Road Scholar 19022

In this undiscovered gem of Tennessee, Southern charm and grand Victorian mansions meet a thoroughly modern metropolis. From high atop Lookout Mountain to inside the underground Ruby Falls cascade, and from the Hunter Museum of American Art to the Challenger Space Center, learn about this small city with a big personality. Hopefully by taking the trip on this date, I'll also have a chance to see some good "Smoky Mountains" fall colors - but it turns out that I'm about 2 weeks too early for that.

Highlights
o Take a train ride through rolling vistas and the Missionary Ridge "horseshoe" tunnel to the turntable and Back Shop.
o Board the River Gorge Explorer to explore the spectacular Tennessee River Gorge.
o University of Tennessee speakers discuss the founding of the Challenger Space Center and its purposes today.

Day 1, Sunday, Oct 5 - Arrival, Check-in, Disorientation
Unfortunately I'm stuck with another very early flight so I'll have to have the StuporShuttle at 4:30 AM again. The seat (both ways) Houston - Atlanta is Economy+ with preferred boarding. The others are standard aisle seats but those flights are less than an hour each. I chose flights with no connection time problems. Surprise: In Houston, while waiting for the first flight, Delta offers refreshments: a choice of snacks and water of soft drink. That's NICE! With almost 3 hours in Atlanta, I had time to get a couple of slices of pizza for lunch.

Delta DL 810Houston - Atlanta7:10A - 10:122:022:46
Delta DL 5177Atlanta - Chatty12:58 P - 1:38 P0:405:28

The second flight, listed as 40 minutes, was actually 18 minutes of taxiing plus 22 minutes from the start of the takeoff roll to the first bounce (of three) of landing.

On arrival in Chattanooga, take a taxi to get to the hotel. Reservations were made in advance. In the baggage claim area look for a driver holding up a sign with my name. He was there on time and ready for me. Excellent service.This is a lot like the StuporShuttle, but this service, unlike the StuporShuttle this morning, was quick, on time, efficient, and courteous.

Hotel check-in begins at 3:00 pm. Register with the I>Rode Skalur program staff at a desk in the lobby beginning at 4:00 pm. Our tour coordinator is Carol Burton. There are 35 cattle in the herd. We receive a review during our disorientation meeting in the conference room that begins at 5:45 p.m. This is a mis-informative overview of the program to review the updated schedule (several changes), maybe answer some of the questions we have, and cover responsibilities, safety guidelines, and emergency procedures.

It is followed by a buffet dinner, also in the conference room of the hotel, at 6:30 pm. A good start to the trip. (D) Lodging: DoubleTree By Hilton Hotel Chattanooga Downtown

Day 2, Monday, Oct 6 - Chattanooga History / Horsin' Around Carving School / River Gorge
The forecast for today is 20% chance of rain and we get heavier rain this morning and intermittentent showers this afternoon.

Breakfast (fair but not great buffet) is at the hotel. Start with a short PRESENTATION on the history of the city: "Chattanooga Then and Now." .It was so good, that I wish it had been twice as long.

FIELD TRIP: Then board the coach (mis-represented: it's really a re-re-re-recycled super cramped school bus with seat spacing for 6-year-olds) for Soddy Daisy, TN, only a very rainy half-hour (fortunately just a half hour since we are crammed into the "Mobile Misery Machine") from our hotel. Master Carver Bud Ellis, who, along with a devoted team of craftspeople and volunteers working at his studio "Horsing Around" located near Chattanooga, restored Chattanooga's 1894 Coolidge Park vintage carousel of pigs, ostriches, giraffes, camels, rabbits and fish. The 1894 Dentzel carousel is a central feature in Coolidge Park. Bud runs the only carving school of its kind in the country. See first-hand students carving ability as we learn a little about the history of the Coolidge Park Antique Carousel. It was an excellent, very interesting visit, but not photogenic.

Lunch (nice) is at the hotel. FIELD TRIP: After lunch, we are again crammed into the MMM aka known as the "mobile misery machine" which we are stuck with for the entire tour except for one time when we do get a real coach for Thursday when we are going out to the Battlefield) going down to the river for a cruise on the River Gorge Explorer. This hydrofoil-assisted vessel is the first of its kind to operate on an inland waterway in North America. Four water jets transport guests smoothly and swiftly along the Tennessee River. Angled seating allows each guest to relax in the climate-controlled cabin and enjoy the scenic beauty and wildlife (birds) through oversized windows. Cruises are led by Aquarium naturalists who bring the area's rich history to life and share animal expertise while pointing out points of interest along the way. Once we get on the way (a broken generator almost cancels the trip) the onboard narration is great The boat is capable of about 45 mph and we do that when we can but each time the Captain sees a paddle-boarder along the river, we have to make an almost crash-stop and just barely move by them at very slow speed. This happens several times going both ways.

There is time to enjoy the topside observation deck (if we care to brave the frequent light showers) while taking in the scenery on each cruise. Enjoy the fall foliage - but it's a couple of weeks too early for that; it's all still very green. The narration tells us all about the Tennessee River Gorge, how it was formed, and highlights along the cruise route. The Gorge, 27,000 acres of land carved through the Cumberland Mountains by 27 miles of the Tennessee River, is one of the most extraordinary natural treasures in the Southeast. Due to the gloomy occasionally rainy, the trip, although very interesting, yields almost no pictures - most of which get edited out.

Dinner is at the hotel. PRESENTATION: Bill Weikert, and expert caver, sets the stage for tomorrow's field trip to marvel at the geological wonders of Lookout Mountain. He gave us a really good presentation. Rock City, and Ruby Falls. He is an experienced caver so concentrated mostly on caving and particularly Ruby Cave and Ruby Falls.

Think geology is boring? Take a longer view! Millions of years ago, the North American and African plates collided in a collision that lasted for several thousand years. The collision was felt as far inland as the Chattanooga area. These tectonic forces produced a series of earthquakes that pushed and bent the hardened rock to form mountains. About 240 million years ago, a shallow sea covered the eastern Tennessee area, and it was in this sea that the limestone of Lookout Mountain was formed. Rock City is located atop Lookout Mountain - a true marvel of nature featuring massive ancient rock formations, gardens with over 400 native plant species, and "See 7 States" panoramic views. Ruby Falls is a 145-foot underground waterfall more than 1,120 feet beneath the mountain's surface. Tomorrow we see both. 40% chance of rain tonight. (BLD)

Day 3, Tuesday, Oct 7 - Lookout Mountain / Rock City / Ruby Falls / Chattanooga Choo-Choo
Note: Rock City tour lasts one hour and fifteen minutes. There are approximately 35 stairs on the pathway, each paired in sets of 4-5 with handrails provided. The Ruby Falls entrance building is handicap accessible. Rock City field trip is a self guided trip along a 100-foot walking trail on paths that may be uneven with some steps and inclines.

The weather forecast continues to be fairly accurate: we were having a large thunderstorm last night when I went to bed; we had another about 1AM, and a third in lieu of an alarm clock this morning. The rest of the morninng is rainy. Fortunately the people on Lookout Mountain give away light weight ponchos. No pictures - I had to keep the camera under the poncho.

Breakfast is at the hotel. FIELD TRIP: Depart on the "MMM" for a full day of exploration, discovery, and wonder. We begin high atop Lookout Mountain. The high, wide plateau that forms the top of the mountain is surrounded by near perpendicular cliffs that give way to a gentler slope near the bottom. Early Woodland Indians called this plateau home in the time of Alexander the Great. A progression of Native Americans lived on the mountaintop including Creek and Cherokee Indians. The name "Chattanooga" is the Creek Indian word for Lookout Mountain. The mountain's human history is almost as fascinating as its geology, as you learned in last evening's presentation. As early as 1823, people wrote about visiting the area now known as Rock City Gardens atop the mountain, describing "a citadel of rocks" and noting the immense size of the boulders and their arrangement in such a way "as to afford streets and lanes." During the Civil War both a Union soldier and a Confederate nurse wrote about "Seeing seven states..." - a slogan Rock City still uses. Starting in the 1890s, Lookout Mountain became a major attraction, with grand hotels and three railroads to the top, including The Incline which still runs but now just as a tourist attraction.

Even with a 30% chance of rain (make that 100%), we have a self-guided walk through this marvel of nature - 1,700 feet above sea level - featuring massive ancient rock formations, gardens with more than 400 different native plant species, a waterfall cascading down the mountain, and wonders such as Grand Corridor, Needle's Eye Big Rock Grill, Fairyland Caverns, Lover's Leap with its famed See Seven States view (today just "Seven Clouds View"), and the Swing-A-Long bridge that spans nearly 200 feet. The rain isn't TOO heavy but enough to ruin the visit and leave us with basically NO view. At least at the altitude of the top of Lookout Mountain there are some signs of fall foliage colors. It's not all that much but what is here is nice.

Lunch (a very nice sandwich buffet) is on Lookout Mountain at the Rock City Grille. Then we are stuck on the "MMM" for a neighborhood drive to the Ruby Falls Complex. The Falls, nearly 150 feet high, is an amazing deep (260') UNDERGROUND waterfall, deep within the heart of Lookout Mountain. We learn how this extraordinary geological wonder was formed inside the Lookout Mountain cave during our one-mile guided walk. The cave's whereabouts have been known by local inhabitants for centuries as tales of its huge chambers and winding passages were passed down from generation to generation. The fascinating history includes Native Americans, cave explorers, outlaws, Civil War soldiers, and even a president of the United States. There have been reports of explorers traveling deep into this cave, as far as 12 miles without reaching the end. Located more than 1,120 feet beneath the surface, Ruby Falls is the nation's largest and deepest waterfall open to the public. Hundreds of gallons of water rush over by the minute and amaze visitors.

Even with a delayed departure from Ruby Falls, we have a couple of hours free to either explore more of downtown, or just return to the hotel to recover from all of today's activities. Dinner is at the hotel. The only problem is that the hotel staff mis-figured on the amount of food needed and they ran out of everything except the mashed potatoes. All I got was a serving of potatoes, a dinner roll, and two spears of asparagus (and the usual glass of iced tea). Very poor service.

This evening's PRESENTATION is by Justin Strickland who authored the only book dedicated to the Terminal Station in Chattanooga and has been interviewed for the railroad documentary "Tracing the Tracks." Learn about Track 29 and the Terminal Station. We then take the city's free trolley system several blocks down for a FIELD TRIP to visit the "Chattanooga Choo-Choo Station". Terminal Station in Chattanooga, Tennessee, is a former railroad station, once owned and operated by the Southern Railway, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The 1941 Glenn Miller song "Chattanooga Choo Choo" told the story of a train trip from Track 29 at Pennsylvania Station in New York City through Baltimore, North and South Carolina, and terminating at Terminal Station. It is currently both a hotel and railroad museum, and the owners of the "Choo-Choo" aspect are in the process of trying to restore the station to near it's original configuration - modified a bit to also take care of the hotel needs. We see the "Chattanooga Choo Choo" and also many of the original passenger cars which have been collected for the museum. The field trip and presentation were excellent - Justin was a very knowledgeable and entertaining presenter - definitely "salvaging" what would otherwise been a very disappointing day. Too bad that this field trip is in the evening when it is already dark and hard to see much. (BLD)

Day 4, Wednesday, Oct 8 - Music History Lecture / Train Trip to Missionary Ridge / Art Museum
It rained heavily most of the night and I wake up to the heaviest rain I've seen here this week. It is coming in bursts so here is no telling how long the pattern will last. Breakfast (again just so-so) is at the hotel. Then a couple of hours later we have our first PRESENTATION: Musical History of the Chattanooga Valley. This turned out to be more interesting than I had expected.

Next, with the weather clearing nicely (finally!), we are stuck back on the MMM for a FIELD TRIP: We travel out to the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum and take a short (about 2 ½ miles) train ride (diesel, not steam) to Missionary Ridge. That train trip begins at the Grand Junction Station and takes us along one of the original railroad lines in Chattanooga, crossing four bridges and passing through pre-Civil War Missionary Ridge Tunnel, which was completed in 1858. The train stops at East Chattanooga, allowing riders to see the locomotive rotating on a turntable and participate in a tour into the railroad restoration shop before re-boarding for the return trip. The only scenery was thick trackside foliage. Only the roundtable was interesting. Round trip time is less than an hour.

Lunch is back at the hotel (change in plans) but is just sandwiches and has a much smaller selection than at the Rock City Grill yesterday for lunch. They again ran out of some of the food. The food service here at this hotel is not anywhere near up to Hilton standards.

Then we are scheduled for a FIELD TRIP: Begin our appreciation of Chattanooga's history and culture with a field trip to the Hunter Museum of American Art (another boring part for me since I'm not interested in Art Museums), housed in a contemporary building perched on an 80-foot bluff on the edge of the Tennessee River with views of the surrounding mountains. This panorama is equaled only by the collection of American art spanning the Colonial era to the present. Ho, hum! Boring!

Since this (art museum) is of virtually no interest to me and since the afternoon is free to explore on our own using the free trolley which is available and can be boarded a 1/2 a block from the hotel, I take the trolley and go see the very nice Chattanooga Aquarium which is much more interesting. This was definitely better than a museum visit and I also escaped two rides on the MMM.

Dinner this evening is on our own. The hotel is within walking distance of local restaurants, but since the hotel is in the "very-high-rent-district" there are no fast-food outlets in the area at all. I had eaten some at the Aquarium snack bar, and I had a large breakfast and lunch so I just stayed at the hotel. (BL)

Day 5, Thursday, Oct 9 - Walnut Street Bridge Excursion / Coolidge Park Carousel / Chickamauga Battlefield / Singing Servers / Greasy Spoon
Note: The Walnut Street Bridge Excursion is a 2,376 foot walk or make it shorter and go by bus. Walking at Chickamauga Battlefield is getting on and off motor coach.

We have another so-so breakfast at the hotel. Our EXCURSION is to the Walnut Street Bridge. a pedestrian walkway. The Walnut Street Bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places on February 23, 1990. Built in 1890, the 2,376 feet (724 m) Walnut Street Bridge was the first to connect Chattanooga, Tennessee's downtown with the North Shore. FIELD TRIP: Start with another session on the "MMM" to the bridge, walk across the Walnut Street Bridge and then walk to the Coolidge Park Carousel. Walking across the bridge was a waste of time, but it was fun riding the Carousel.

We take the "MMM" one last time back to the hotel where we have an excellent PRESENTATION on the battles of Chicamauga and Chattanooga. Then our last lunch is there and again they ran out of some of the food but what was there was good.

During the Civil War, Chattanooga was a key rail center and gateway to the heart of the Confederacy. The Battle of Chickamauga was fought for this prize and is essential to understanding Chattanooga's history. Only the Battle of Gettysburg was more lethal but unlike that conflict, Chickamauga was a huge Union defeat.

After lunch, we have a FIELD TRIP (Yea! We have a real bus for this trip) to Chickamauga Battlefield where we learn what happened September 19-20, 1863, and how it impacted the war. There is an excellent 30-minute film then we do a bus tour of the Battlefield. There are a couple of stops where we get out have some more lecture, which sadly is just TOO much. Many of us wish the presenter would just shut up and lets go on to the next location.

Dinner this evening was supposed to be at a special restaurant at the historic Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel (where we visited a couple of nights ago) with singing waiters and waitresses. Our dinner was to come complete with exciting entertainment provided by a live band and our own personal server. Our serving staff would take turns on stage throughout the evening to bring you live entertainment from all varieties of music. The night sounded like it would be very good and I had an excellent entrée picked out from the choices offered.

HOWEVER, some group also scheduled for the same dinner, but with more cents than sense paid an exhorbinant sum to have the place to themselves and we got kicked off the schedule. So instead we walk a short distance to some "greasy spoon" with three entrée choices; 2 were definite no-nos and the other was so poor (to my taste) that I almost skipped it. We really got "short changed."As for the meal itself, it was, for me, the worst meal of the trip and not only that, but it took 2 ¾ hours for the meal service. (BLD)

Day 6, Friday, Oct 10 - Challenger Space Center / Departures
Breakfast is at the hotel. PRESENTATION: Our final program event brings us into the modern world and the future. University of Tennessee speakers will discuss the founding of the Challenger Space Center and its purposes today. The lecture was scheduled from 8:30 to 10 but we got short-changed again and it ended about 9:10. What we got was good but nowhere near what I had expected and hoped for.

The shuttle PICKUP was right on time at 11AM. Most of the flights were either early-mid morning or mid-late afternoon. This is the best I could do - a 6-hour gap after the program ends until the flight leaves, meaning 3-4 hours at the airport giving time for a much overpriced hamburger there. There is time in Atlanta for a much overpriced Chik-Fil-A sandwich.(B)

Delta DL 5023Chattanooga - Atlanta3:40 P - 4:29 P0:492:46
Delta DL 378Atlanta - Houston7:15 P - 8:26 P2:115:46

With the late arrival, I didn't get home until 10:40 (11:40PM Tennessee time).

DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Chattanooga Downtown (5 nights) The hotel was decent except for the food service. It is very active as a meetings place but I didn't see many other guests.

Trip Comments:
Good:
excellent presentations
Some nice places to visit
Transportation (plane and Chatty shuttle) went very well
Bad:
Rainy weather the first days and no fall color = no pictures
Transportation via the "mobile misery machine"
Poor food service at the hotel
Disappointing Challenger Center presentation