We didn’t have any big travel plans for Dave’s spring break a couple of weeks ago, but we decided sort of last minute to do a quick overnight trip to Chattanooga. The idea was that we were going to do all things we’d never done there before, which is a little tricky because we’ve been there quite a few times. So we were planning on Rock City (I’ve been there a couple of times, and we all went a few years back for their Christmas event, but the kids and Dave had never been there during the day and seen the whole thing), the Chattanooga Zoo, and the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.
Then we watched the forecast on the days leading up to the trip, and realized we had perhaps been a bit foolish to count on being able to do all outside things in the southeast in April. Rain, rain, and more rain said my Weather.com app. We were there Monday and Tuesday, and Monday looked like rain all day but only occasional showers on Tuesday. So we revamped the plan and decided to go the same old aquarium we’ve been to a million times on Monday and hope for some rain free time to explore Chickamauga and Chattanooga NMP on Tuesday.
The kids were not the least bit disappointed to be going to the aquarium again; they love it there (I’ve blogged about it before, here and here). We renewed our membership that had lapsed about a year ago, since a membership costs almost exactly the same as paying for us all to get in once. I won’t rehash the aquarium, but here are a few pictures from that first rainy day:
(Here Gus is standing very still in hopes the a butterfly will land on him. No luck, sadly).
On Tuesday, we got lucky and the weather cooperated. It was very foggy and overcast, but no rain to speak of. We decided to go to Chickamauga first and then drive up Lookout Mountain to see the Chattanooga site. I hadn’t realized they were so far apart; it’s about a 40 minute drive between the two visitor centers.
The two parks commemorate the sites of two key Civil War battles in 1863. After the battles, one Confederate soldier wrote, “this….is the death-knell of the Confederacy.” I would have a hard time telling you more than this, even though I visited the sites and watched an informative film about the whole thing, because everything always runs together for me when people talk about war and battles and tactics and all that.
But I love National Park Service sites, even when they’re all about battles. We pulled up to the Chickamauga Visitors’ Center, and there was a crowd of rangers hanging out outside, and I got a little giddy, because I love rangers. Rangers!
My planning for this trip was thwarted a bit by the fact that the “Things to Do” section of the park’s website was down (last time I checked, it still wasn’t working). But we pieced together information from Trip Advisor and other places and then, you know, actually talked to the rangers at the visitor center.
There’s some construction going on at the Chickamauga Visitor Center, which made driving in the area a little confusing.
Inside the Visitor Center there is a good sized museum and a small theater, where we (the big kids and I, while poor Dave chased Abe around) watched a movie about the battles that took place in the area. I missed the sign on the door warning us that the movie was pretty violent and graphic, but I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, since it’s about war and all. Anyway, I thought it was well done, and it held the kids’ interest for half an hour. Then it was my turn to chase Abe while Dave and the older kids explored the museum for a few minutes.
I gather the big attraction at Chickamauga is a driving tour of sites in the area. On weekends (and maybe every day in summer?) there are ranger led tours (I guess it’s a caravan of anyone who wants to go), but on weekdays you’re stuck with a self-guided tour if you want to do it. We were told it would take about three hours, and we set off dutifully. After negotiating through the construction-induced detour, we made it to the first stop on the tour. There was a nice dog there to pet (I don’t think the dog is there all the time. A guy was taking him for a walk. Please don’t count on being able to pet a nice dog if you do the driving tour) and some cannonballs stacked up:
Note Abe’s Little Brother shirt. I love this shirt so much that I bought it for him (at the thrift store)….maybe before he was born? I can’t remember. But a really long time ago. And it finally fits!
At this point, we started to really think about how not fun it would be to haul Abe in and out of the car seat every few minutes for the next three hours. We decided to abandon the car tour and head on to our next stop, the Lookout Mountain Visitor Center.
I did a really admirable job of not panicking on the drive up the mountain! I also thought a lot about travel trailers as we were driving up and then driving around on narrow windy roads up top, and how many places are hard to get to with a trailer and all that. I am currently at a low point in my obsession cycle WRT travel trailers. But anyway.
Abe fell asleep during the drive, so we let him stay in the car seat napping while we took turns taking the older kids out. First Dave and kids walked over to the Incline Railway station that’s right down the road and picked up some hot dogs for lunch and some fudge because fudge is great. Then Milo and Gus and I sat at a picnic table to work on the Junior Ranger books we’d picked up at the Chickamauga Visitor Center.
Now, I’m a big fan of the Junior Ranger program in theory. The idea is that kids fill out a book with lots of activities related to whatever site they’re visiting, then turn it back in to a ranger and get rewarded with a little badge. We’ve done a couple of them before…..and we’ve also run into the same problem we ran into here a couple of times: namely, the books are often too damn long. The one here was 40 pages long, and some of the activities were quite challenging. It’s just really hard to manage to get the book finished during a visit of a few hours. But I was sure we could work together and get it done, what with this long nap Abe was taking and all. We sat down and got to work….until we came to a page that required filling in information you could only find at the OTHER Visitor Center. You know, the one we already left. The one that was back down the mountain, 40 minutes away. So we gave up. We’ll probably be back sometime, since we live fairly close, so we may try to finish them up next time. We do have a passport book that we bought recently, and we got a few new stamps for it, at least.
Anyway, Abe finally woke up! So we went to check out visitor center #2. This one is smaller than the Chickamauga one. There’s a small gift shop and then a room with a giant painting depicting the battle and a audio narration about it. We did not make it through that.
Across the street from the visitor center is Point Park:
There’s a small fee to enter here ($3 for adults; free for kids) which you can pay at the visitor center or in a drop box just inside the entrance. This is the only site at the park with an entrance fee.
Point Park is right at the top of Lookout Mountain and is really pretty with a bunch of scenic overlook type places:
We took the short walk (maybe a total of 15-20 minutes of walking, with lots of stopping to look at things) around the park and down to the Ochs museum. There are a number of other hiking trails that you can take if you’re up for a longer hike, but we were low on time and still not sure if the rain would hold off, so we saved those for another trip.
This part of our visit was mostly me barking at the kids to get away from the edge while they rolled their eyes at me. I think our trip to the Grand Canyon in a couple of years is going to go really well.
But, seriously, doesn’t it look like they’re about to plummet to their deaths here?!
It turns out it looked worse than it really was….the drop off wasn’t quite as steep as it appears from the safe distance my camera and I were keeping.
Anyway, it was a lovely walk; the fog rolled out enough for us to get some nice views just before we got there. Gus mysteriously inherited my fear of heights while we were here and spent a good bit of the time worrying that he was going to lose a brother. But we all made it!
This is where the Ochs museum is, with some exhibits about the history of the park. Also a nice wall to keep people from falling off the mountain:
Abe refused to be in this picture, no matter how much I begged:
The Tennessee River! I bet this view was even prettier before they put all those buildings there.
So now that we have our aquarium membership and everything, we’ll have to go back sometime soon to do the Rock City and zoo part of the plan.