We have driven through Chattanooga a number of times. The operative word here is through. We were usually on our way to Myrtle Beach or to Florida or to see my sister and after negotiating those last few curves through the mountain and along the Tennessee River, we would breathe a sigh of relief and look ahead toward Knoxville. As soon as we got within 200 miles of Chattanooga the bill boards and signs painted on barns would begin - See Ruby Falls! Visit Rock City! It made us think of the Wall Drug signs anyone who has driven the Plains would see mile after mile. We told ourselves that Ruby Falls and Rock City were probably tourist traps, but honestly we never had time to determine if that was true. Today we finally had the opportunity to see these venerable attractions.
Both are located on Lookout Mountain, a massive chunk of rock that rises above Chattanooga and heads south into Georgia. On a clear day you can see seven states from the top. Much of the mountain top is a National Military Park, commemorating a Civil War battle here. The mountain top was obviously of strategic importance and the thought of hauling cannons and other materiel of war up its sides is daunting. We could have visited the military park, but seeing Vicksburg a week ago was enough war for us.
Rock City began in the 1920's when Garnet Carter bought a large piece of the mountain top for a real estate development. His wife was intrigued by the massive rocks on top, fissured and cracked in a way that had reminded the early missionaries here of cities. She began to create a walk way winding a string back and forth through the narrow fissures and this became a developed path. Around the path she planted a huge variety of vegetation, pretty much whatever caught her imagination. Today the Chinese cherry trees in bloom were especially beautiful. First her garden was discovered by the garden club set, but it remained a tourist attraction long after Carter's real estate dream had burst. When the gardens first opened to tourists in 1932, they were in a remote, hard to get to location, so Carter hired a man to paint signs on barns around the area luring tourists to Rock City. The signs we see today along the expressway still have the same effect. The paths through the gardens wind over and under the rocks; in some spots bridges have been added of necessity. Lover's Leap overlooks the city of Chattanooga far below and a waterfall bursts forth beneath it. A pretty spot that tourists love today just as they did almost 100 years ago.
This area is laced with limestone and that means caves. From my perspective one cave is a lot like another and the idea of spelunking deep beneath the ground and getting stuck in narrow crevasses is not my idea of fun. But what makes Ruby Falls a unique sight is that it is inside a cave more than 1,000 feet underground. As we worked our way down to the waterfall, we saw the usual collection of stalactites and stalagmites, columns, drapes, flow stone and cave bacon. Although the cave felt quite dry there was the constant sound of running water and we caught glimpses of an underground river as we walked. The guide pointed out the rock shapes and gave them imaginative names, but on cave tours I always think I could make up better fanciful names myself. When we got to the falls, we were mighty impressed. This area has had a lot of rain this spring and there it was pouring out of a hole 145 feet over our heads and gushing into a pool at our feet. The lighting system changed colors, highlighting the flowing water and the rocks around it. However, we did not see any rubies. The falls are named after the wife of the man who drilled the hole for the elevator we took to the bottom of the cave. Tourists have been admiring Ruby Falls since 1935 and today so did we.