Before we had left Florida, I hit the local AAA office for something called the Chattanooga Combo ticket. It was tickets to three attractions in the area for a reduced price (I had found it on their website under attractions). As I knew nothing about Chattanooga, it seemed like a good place to start. The night before I learned, via lady at the pool, that there was an amusement park in Chattanooga (not like Disney World or Universal, she had quickly added- more like a carnival, country fair), also there was the Chattanooga Aquarium downtown (the kids and I love our Tampa Bay Aquarium, but Randal stated no Zoos, no Aquariums, and as he was giving up fishing for a week, we had to give up things as well). We saw the Chattanooga Choo Choo (the signs actually do say that!) but did not stop for it, because after we were dressed and the truck was packed, we headed straight for Rock City, the first ticket on our Chattanooga Combo.
There are signs everywhere, esp on roofs emblazoned with SEE ROCK CITY (we would see more heading south on I-75 from Nashville later) It looked s0- well tacky, but the drive to the rock gardens on the mountain top afforded us views of the city and states around with lots of ear popping (Sydney learned to chew gum without swallowing it by then). We were pleasantly surprised at the stone paths that led us through crevices, down into caves, past waterfalls and over stone bridges. The view of 7 states at one time was okay, but the waterfall was amazing, as was the swinging bridge. Did I mention the eerie fairy tale caverns? Little Red Riding Hood among may others came to life in scenes from fairy tales set up in a cave (the children were enchanted). I’ll quote Sierra. “This is the best day of my life!”
Seeing Rock City took about 2 hours- we stopped for drippy fudge and lemonade before we left. The we headed for the Incline railway- a mile long mountainside train ride. Take note- it is metered parking at the top and free parking at the bottom. We did not know this and paid at the top. Another ear popping trip down the mountainside on the worlds’ steepest train track- the train was actually more like a trolley (Logan was a bit disappointed) We stayed on the train for the ride back up, after seeing the crowd waiting for the return trip, and knowing that the meter was running. We moved to the front seats for the ride up- the windows were open and I held onto Sydney and Logan- the track seemed steeper on the way back up. Ate sandwiches in the back of the truck and headed to destination 3, Ruby Falls.
I think Ruby Falls would have been better early in the morning, because to line to see the waterfall in the cave was like Splash Mountain at Walt Disney World, and the kids were fed up waiting by the time we reached the elevator that would take us down into the cave. Our guide (no wandering off allowed) was a pale college aged kid who looked bored and did not want to be there. He did inform us that 175 people are allowed in the cave at a time and from all the times we had to stop and let other groups by, they were at maximum limit. The falls at the end were show cased with light and music- and yes, they were worth all the human traffic jams we had gone through. It was a tight cave, narrow paths and the reward at the end- uptop was a playground for the kids- new and child friendly with places for parents to sit and rest while the kids ran wild. Though next time, I would go early, like, uh, 8am.
We hit the road 64 out of Chattanooga- a winding road that led us past trains, creeks, and the Ocoee River, where groups were pulling their boats in or out for a spot of white water rafting. Kids played on the rust colored rocks around Centennial Park, fisherman fly-fished, and others just sat, enjoying the view. The kids fell asleep as the road began to climb higher and higher, finally leaving the river behind and bringing the Smokey Mountains into view. More ear popping-lots of gum chewing as we drove down steep roads with runaway truck warnings.
We reached Franklin, North Carolina (another Hampton Inn) at 7, unloaded and dashed off to Fat Buddies BBQ under my sister’s recommendation. The walls were Nascar decorated, and the place was packed. Logan tucked into the ribs, Sydney into my coleslaw. Randal was dying for a beer, but noted for a Friday night, none of the other patrons were drinking anything stronger than sweet tea, so he passed. We hit the sack by ten, eager to get an early start for the next day of treasure hunting.