Chattanooga, Tennessee’s Forgotten Child

I am returning from Chattanooga today. No, not Nashville, because believe it or not, Nashville is not the only city in Tennessee. It’s Chattanooga. This fact is lost on many of the people that I inform of my travels.

Chattanooga doesn’t have a great reputation. One of the smaller Tennessee cities, it’s still ranked as the fourth most dangerous statewide city in 2013, in a state already named as the most dangerous one in the nation. Plus, when compared to its bright and sparkly sister, Nashville, it’s music scene nor tourism measures up.

Even though the hilly, quiet city is no international destination, it does have some character that distinguishes it from its famous neighbors such as Knoxville, Atlanta and Nashville. Chattanooga, reminiscent of the Meatpacking District of Manhattan with its lines of historical and refurbished warehouses, is marked by a rather exciting railway and mining history.

My friend who recently relocated to the city, the reason for my visit, took me to Lookout Mountain, a scenic city attraction and the epitome of the railway and mining reputation of Chattanooga. Made up within the mountain is the Incline Railway, Ruby Falls and Rock City.

Rock City's formidable peak.
Rock City’s formidable peak.

Rock City, the premier park that brings brings visitors up the 1700 feet above sea level that is Lookout Mountain, is decorated with various festive displays within its interesting rock formations and pretty peaks. The self-guided tour is easy and family friendly with some cheap thrills along the way, including one zookept albino deer, displays within the Fairyland Caverns and a spot where visitors can see seven states from its lookout point.

At the peak of Rock City, seven states are visible.
At the peak of Rock City, seven states are visible.

The highlight of Rock City is the Fairyland Caverns, a small cave system in which someone very meticulously created elaborate displays of creepy gnomes doing storybook deeds or playing in the rocks. In the darkness of the caves and lit by fluorescent lights, it’s a strange walkthrough, especially accompanied by the upbeat Christmas music.

Rock City's Fairytale Caverns.
Rock City’s Fairytale Caverns.
Rock City's Fairytale Caverns.
Rock City’s Fairytale Caverns.
Rock City's Fairytale Caverns.
Rock City’s Fairytale Caverns.

Near the end of this twist of displays is Mother Goose Village, a circle of storybook scenes including Humpty Dumpty, Cinderella and the Three Little Pigs, all very brightly decorated and also accentuated by the festive music. It’s both impressive and daunting, like the beginning of a bad horror movie.

The other, and more standout element, of Lookout Mountain is Ruby Falls, the tallest underground waterfall in the world settled interestingly in Tennessee rather than in Mexico, Nepal or Canada.

Ruby Falls is the tallest underground waterfall on earth, hidden deep within the rock-formation ridden caverns which can be reached in a guided tour. Guides point out cutesy formations such as “Steak and Eggs,” “Fish” and “Western Sunset.”After about a 30-minute walk, the cave opens up Indiana-Jones style into a large, formidable opening where Ruby Falls is very extravagantly lit up in changing fluorescent colors.

Ruby Falls is the world's tallest underground waterfall.
Ruby Falls is the world’s tallest underground waterfall.

I asked our tour guide about the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, a much-talked-about city attraction that hasn’t been making much sense to me. The tour guide disregards with a wave of her hand. “Eh. It’s like a hotel or something.” Not surprisingly, the Choo-Choo doesn’t impress her.

My tour guide was right. The Chattanooga Choo-Choo is a former train station and now-hotel which was dubbed with the name after the catchy 1940’s song. That’s pretty much it.

I didn’t take a ride on the Incline Railway, or “America’s Most Amazing Mile,” but apparently it is the world’s steepest passenger railway and, in operating since 1895, is a National Historic Site. The blonde teenage girl working at Rock City who I asked about it said she had been there on a third-grade trip and it was “super boring.”

I think we can all agree that Chattanooga is no Nashville. It doesn’t have a lot of fancy bells and whistles or wandering country celebrities. However, holding the tallest underground waterfall in the world the ability to see seven states at once isn’t something to scoff at either.

2 Replies to “Chattanooga, Tennessee’s Forgotten Child”

  1. You seem to have missed the aquarium, Ross’s Landing, Point Park, and the multiple art museums.

    Maybe time for a return trip, ideally during the warmer months?

    Jessie Sanders of Atlanta was the sculptor of Rock City’s Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village scenes. She was inspired by children’s now-vintage illustrated fairytale books.

    Also, Rock City has made a huge effort to conserve the white fallow deer and has vastly improved their living conditions. You can read more about it on their website.

    Glad you enjoyed Chattanooga – come back real soon now, y’hear?

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