The Great Blue Hills of God (Part 3)

Native American Heritage Month: November

“Great things are done when men and mountains meet.” ~William Blake

America’s eastern mountain range, the Appalachians, I am told, reach all the way from the Long Range Mountains of Newfoundland-Labrador, Canada, into the hills of North Georgia. “The Great Blue Hills of God” is the name the Cherokee gave to the Blue Ridge, running from the Virginia Highlands to the southern tier of the Appalachians.

Our journey began in Dandridge, Tennessee, at the juncture of I-40 and I-81, and, so far, is inching toward Chattanooga, though we plan to go on to the capital of the South, Atlanta. This region may be the most visited area in the US, mostly because there is so much to see and do, and it is so close to the large population centers of the East. It is also one of the most prosperous regions I’ve explored around the country.


Well, after I left you at Red Clay, perhaps you retraced your journey via SR 317, with all its twists and turns, to Apison Pike and I-75 x 9. I hope so.

Greater Chattanooga

Our next stop, headed south, is I-75 x 7, Bonnie Oaks Drive (again SR 317).* If you’re interested in used books, make a right from the ramp, then a right at the light, to McKay Used Books, a duplicate of the store we visited in Knoxville. Besides browsing, you may even find something good in the free bins outside the main entrance. I did.

At I-75 x 5, Shallowford Road, turn left from the exit ramp if you’re interested in shopping. Hamilton Place Mall, with over 200 stores, is Tennessee’s largest shopping destination. At the rear of the mall, near the Food Court, is Barnes and Noble if you want to explore new books; in front, Piccadilly Cafeteria if you’re looking for a simple sit-down meal. Kids meals are 99¢ Thursday and Saturday. At Barnes and Noble, you should be able to find a section on state and local history and picture books, packed with old black-and-white photos, showing how Chattanooga and Cleveland looked a hundred years ago.

Gunbarrel Road is the main drag behind Hamilton Place Mall. Head south on Gunbarrel to Audubon Acres (Elise Chapin Wildlife Sanctuary), 900 N Sanctuary Road. A natural oasis in the middle of the city, the sanctuary is part of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. If you’re a bird watcher, you’re bound to enjoy it.
(Click on any thumbnail photo to enlarge or get more info.)

I-75 x 4 will take you to SR 153, a major multilane, limited-access highway. SR 153 x 1A connects with the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport via Airport Connector Road. For the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, take SR 153 x 3, Jersey Pike, left from the exit ramp, right onto Cromwell Road. The museum is still running trains. To see what railroading was like in the golden age of railroading, you can tour the rail yards or take a short round-trip ride. While you’re there, you may also browse the gift shop or eat in the cafe.

SR 153 x 6 is the last exit before the Chickamauga Dam. If you go to your right, you can work your way round, via Kings Point Road, to the south side of the Tennessee River, where you’ll see a marina, then a park for picnicing, swimming, and boating. If you cross the dam, via SR 153, the north side exit, Lake Resort Drive, will give you access to the hydroelectric facility, where you may be able to watch a yacht making its way through the lock. The 60 x 360-foot lock lifts and lowers river craft about 50 feet.

Then, backtrack across the dam, via SR 153 south x 6, and turn right onto Amnicola Highway (SR 58), which will bring you to the Tennessee River Park, designed for pedestrians and runners. You can walk through the park, or continue onto the Riverwalk, a 13-mile riverside trail that runs between Chickamauga Dam and Ross’s Landing.

“Walking is the natural recreation for a man who desires not absolutely to suppress his intellect but to turn it out to play for a season. All great men of letters have therefore been enthusiastic walkers.” ~Leslie Stephen

Amnicola Highway will become Riverside Drive, then Riverfront Parkway. Exit at E 3rd Street, turn left, go through the underpass. Stop at the light. Almost straight ahead you’ll see the University of Tennessee Chattanooga Coliseum (McKenzie Arena). Use it as a guidepost to tool around the campus, which sprawls through the neighborhood, if, like me, you like to explore universities and colleges.

Back on E 3rd Street, head north, toward Erlanger Hospital, right again onto Holtzclaw, then right again, into Warner Park Zoo Chattanooga, 301 N Holtzclaw. The small zoo has been undergoing some changes, adding more animals, and may soon even be offering camel rides. But even now, the little ones can enjoy a ride on the carousel and meander through the park.

Return to E 3rd Street and head in the opposite direction, south, toward downtown. At High Street, take a right via the overpass into the Bluff View Art District, a tight little enclave of chic businesses: Bluff View Inn B&B, River Gallery, Back Inn Cafe, Rembrandt’s Coffee House, Bluff View Bakery, Sculpture Garden, Scenic Overlook, Tony’s Pizza, Houston Museum of Decorative Arts, and Hunter Museum of American Art (free admission the first Sunday of the month).

As you will notice, the Riverwalk runs through the art district, and down the hill via the Holmberg Glass Bridge, which I traversed uneasily. I found it artsy, but impractical. I imagine a person could slide all over the place in winter; a clumsy person could slide even in summer. I saw dogs on leashes too scared to walk across with their owners. And beware families with strollers and toddlers, skateboarders, and bicyclists. Signs instruct peds to walk their bikes, but riders come bounding over that glass as if they were out dirt biking ….

Below the glass bridge, you will see, to your right, Walnut Street Bridge, which calls itself the world’s longest pedestrian bridge and connects the north shore (of the Tennessee River) with the Bluff View Art District. From the bridge you can see spacious Coolidge Park—featuring a beautifully restored century-old carousel, pavilion, fountain, Outdoor Chattanooga Center, with room to play—and Renaissance Park—a 23-acre urban wetlands, that reclaimed a site once used for manufacturing and now provides hills, overlooks, wildflowers, nature trails, native trees, river eco systems, outdoor pavilion, picnic area, and public art. Both parks are accessible via the north shore.

Behind Renaissance Park is Greenlife Grocery, 301 Manufacturers Road, a large store associated with Whole Foods. You can walk there from the Walnut Street ped bridge. To get there in your car, use N Market Street (US 127) bridge, left on Cherokee Blvd, left again at Manufacturers Road. Or take the major thoroughfare, US 27, and exit immediately after you cross the river, at Manufacturers Road.

“Leave all the afternoon for exercise and recreation, which are as necessary as reading.” ~Thomas Jefferson

There are alternate ways of walking around the tourist sites, with handicapped ramps and shaded passageways; but if you keep descending from the Walnut Street Bridge level, via the concrete steps, from the art district, you’ll come to one of Chattanooga’s most popular attractions: the Tennessee Aquarium, which boasts over 10,000 marine animals and sealife. Within walking distance of the aquarium is the IMAX 3D theater, 201 Chestnut Street, which shows a film every hour on the hour and is big enough to show you a life-sized blue whale.

Nearby is the Chattanooga History Center, 2 Broad Street, celebrating local history, and the Chattanooga Visitor Center and Gift Shop, 215 Broad Street, for your convenience. Chattanooga Trams offer horse-drawn carriage rides. You may be able to find information at the visitor center if you’re interested. Farther down, at 321 Chestnut Street (corner of W Aquarium Way), is the Creative Discovery Museum, one of the premier hands-on children’s museums in the region; second Thursday of each month is free family night. Downtown is also the Sheraton Read House and old historic buildings, some of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Between the aquarium and the river is the Passage: a dramatic underground passageway that marks the beginning of the Trail of Tears and celebrates Native American culture. Its wading pools and shady spots are a nice place to chill.

“Recreation produces better economic benefits than barge traffic.” ~Scott Faber

If you’ve been walking around, you’ll have to make your way back uphill to wherever you parked your car. When you leave the art district, via the High Street overpass, turn right and head downhill via E 3rd Street, which becomes W 3rd Street when you cross Market Street. Be careful: Chattanooga mercilessly issues camera tickets.

Take either Chestnut Street or Power Alley, which goes by AT&T Field where the Chattanooga Lookouts play. The Lookouts, by the way, are a minor league baseball team in the Southern League and an AA affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Chattanooga is proud to have them. Head north to Ross’s Landing, 100 Riverfront Parkway. Turn left at the parkway, Pier 2, if you’d like to see the Southern Belle Riverboat. It offers daily dining cruises and breathtaking views of the Tennessee Valley.

Via Riverfront Parkway (SR 58) continue wrapping your way south. Turn left at W Main Street (US 76, US 41), then left again at SR 8. After a short distance, you’ll see the historic Chattanooga Choo Choo, 1400 Market Street, on your right. Only a shadow of its former glory days, it still offers lodging, tours, fine dining, and gift shop. It’s certainly worth the break in a busy day. A little farther up the street, you’ll find TVA headquarters, 1101 Market Street, which has a visitor center and museum.

“Life lived amidst tension and busyness needs leisure. Leisure that recreates and renews.” ~C Neil Strait

Backtrack on Market Street (SR 8 south) to US 27 north. Exit at Broad Street (US 11) and head away from the city, toward Lookout Mountain. After a dozen blocks or more, you will come to a fork in the road. The left fork, Tennessee Avenue (SR 17), will take you to the bottom of the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway, if you want a ride up to the top. If you prefer to drive, follow Ochs Highway (SR 58), a narrow, curvy road, uphill. Midway you’ll cross the Tennessee-Georgia line, after which Ochs Highway becomes Red Riding Hood Trail. If you stay with it, it will lead you to Rock City, which features a series of natural rock formations along a trail lined with gardens. You’ve probably seen it advertised sometime, somewhere, on someone’s barn.

“Mountains cannot be surmounted except by winding paths.” ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

There are multiple scenic attractions on Lookout Mountain and rather than directing you, I’ll let you follow the signs. Merchants cater to tourists, so, no matter where you are, it’s almost impossible to get lost. Signs will simply redirect you to another spot.

On top of the mountain is the upper end of the Incline Railway. It offers food and a gift shop. Along that street is the Battles for Chattanooga Museum (Confederama) and Point Park, built (1905) to commemorate the “Battle Above the Clouds.” Most fighting took place on the mountain, not in the park.

Lookout Mountain Scenic Highway south (Tennessee SR 148, Georgia SR 189) will bring you to Covenant College, a Presbyterian school with Austro-Bavarian Gothic revival architecture, formerly known as the “Castle in the Clouds” (Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher honeymooned here when it was a hotel). The architecture alone is worth a visit. Beyond the school, along the same route, is Lookout Mountain Hang Gliding, Rising Fawn, Georgia. If nothing else, you can park and watch.

“Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.” ~Kahlil Gibran

Lookout Mountain Scenic Highway north (Tennessee SR 148) will bring you to Battlefield Walk and Bike Trail, some Civil War historic sites, like the Cravens House, and Ruby Falls, the largest underground waterfall in the US. You descend in an elevator to a cave, then walk about a mile to a 145-foot fall highlighted with colored lights and a reflecting pool. Aboveground is a 10-story observation tower, gift shop, and cafe, plus—a treat for someone like me—a front porch where you can relax.

After visiting Ruby Falls, you can head down the mountain, via SR 148, to Cummings Highway (US 11). Turn left at Old Wauhatchie Pike (SR 318), then, when you have the chance, take Garden Road to Reflection Riding (Chattanooga Arboretum and Nature Center). You’ll find an indoor exhibit center, outdoor hiking trail (with wooden deck), gardens, arboretum, and driving loop. You won’t be disappointed.

“How strange that Nature does not knock, and yet does not intrude!” ~Emily Dickinson

To exit, come back to Cummings Highway (US 72) and continue west. Turn right on Raccoon Mountain Road to TVA Access Road. You’re bound to enjoy the drive up the mountain, where you may notice plant life and wildlife (deer, hedgehogs, foxes, and, of course, raccoons), not to mention bald eagles. The operation itself, a hydroelectric facility and storage preserve that takes water from the Nickajack Dam and holds it for distribution, is intriguing, perhaps because it is so big. You can learn more at the Visitor Center, which offers tours and is open daily during business hours.

If you have the time and want to explore more, you can take I-24 west to Nickajack Lake and Dam. If you continue west up Monteagle Mountain, you can visit University of the South at Sewanee. Take I-24 x 134, head left or west on US 64, which becomes Sewanee Highway. Follow the signs to the Episcopal school (about 35 miles outside Chattanooga). Its appeal to me was its Gothic architecture and laid-back campus, but you might be intrigued by its Cordell-Lorenz Observatory, chapels, or library. It is something to see and experience.

If you still have time to look around, you might consider the Russell Cave National Monument, about 30 miles south of Sewanee via SR 156. Or the US Space and Rocket Center at Huntsville, Alabama, about an hour and a half west of Chattanooga, via US 72 west.

“A broad margin of leisure is as beautiful in a man’s life as in a book.” ~Henry David Thoreau

“We all need empty hours in our lives or we will have no time to create or dream.” ~Robert Coles

Copyright © 2012 Alexandra Lee

Photo Credit

* Mine is merely a good-faith effort to tell you where things are and, generally, how to get there. Please consult a website, road atlas, state map, or GPS for more detailed information.


About Christseekerk

Minister, Editor, Writer, Senior Citizen, Grown Children, Grandchildren. Interests travel, writing, reading, walking, golf.
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