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FRIDAY - We are still camped at Cloudland Canyon State Park in Georgia, but are taking a short drive over the border into Chattanooga, TN today.

We have tickets for three separate attractions today, one in the morning, one it the afternoon and one tonight. With plenty of time in between our reservations we'll have time to explore some of the rest of what Chattanooga has to offer.

We were up early and ready to start our big day of sightseeing.
At 8:30AM we were out of THE POD and on the road to Chattanooga.

By 9:00AM we were at our first destination, Raccoon Mountain Caverns, for our first of two cave tours today. Our 9:30AM tour started promptly on time.

'Tis the season and as such this cave tour was decorated with lots of Christmas lights, laser lights and inflatable displays. They even piped in Christmas music. I wasn't sure if I would enjoy all the lights possibly taking away from the simple beauty of the cave, but the staff did a great job of not overdoing it. By 10:45AM we were off to our next destination.

Just inside the entrance to the cave the Christmas decorations started...

..and continued on into the main room of the cave.

This stalactite and stalagmite are so close to touching that people alive today maybe able to revisit the cave later in their lifetime and see a new column has been formed.

By 10:45AM we had ROVER safely tucked away in a downtown parking garage.

While ROVER didn't quite fit in with the vehicles parked on either side of him, he quickly made friends with both.

ROVER had this 1950s era pickup on his left...

..and this "not street legal" racecar on his right.

We are downtown to walk upon the 130 year old Walnut Street Bridge. First built in the 1890s the bridge was used by pedestrians and automotive traffic as a way to get across the Tennessee River in Chattanooga. By 1978 two other bridges had been built to cross the river and the Walnut Street Bridge had deteriorated to the point it was no longer safe to cross, so it sat unused for nearly a decade.

In the 1990s money was raised to preserve the bridge and minor repairs where done to make it safe for pedestrian use. Today nearly 30 years later it is still used by walkers, joggers and bicyclists to cross the river.

The view of Walnut Street Bridge from just outside the parking garage.

Between the parking garage and the bridge there were several of these brass "Learn To Dance" tributes embedded in the concrete sidewalks. This one is my personal favorite!

The northern end of the nearly half mile long Walnut Street Bridge.

View from the center of the bridge with Lookout Mountain in the background.

Well we've made it to noon, but I'm starting to get hungry and I have a surprise lunch planned for Tricia. While she was taking photos of ROVER's neighbours in the parking garage, I was quickly getting directions to lunch. I wanted to get it qued up on the navigation system before she got in the truck and heard the destination I had planned.

It was a short two mile drive and she spent the whole time guessing where we were going. Soon we were stopped at a traffic light the directions said, "turn left and the destination will be on your right".

From the traffic light Tricia could see a Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream on the far right corner and said, "Well it won't be the first time we've had ice cream for lunch."

To which I said, "No, look two doors further down the block." She did, and then I got the big smile I was hoping for. Hidden behind a few bare trees was the Mellow Mushroom sign, Tricia's favorite pizza place! We elected to be as safe as possible while eating our lunch and sit outside on the open air patio, it also helped that no one else was out there.

This location downtown originally housed a Coca Cola bottling plant. That's why the awnings are huge bottle caps.

Half "Mighty Meaty" for me and half "Cordon Bleu" for Tricia.

After lunch we had some time to kill before our next reservation so we asked Google to look for nearby Walmart's. See today we planned ahead and brought our two empty 3 gallon water bottles with us. Not all Walmart's offer drinking water at 39 cents a gallon, but only if you bring your own bottle to refill. Luckily the first one we tried did.

I know what you're thinking, "Why don't I call before jumping in the truck?" I used to do that, but all to often I was told YES they had a dispenser and found out upon arrival that NO they didn't. And once I was told NO and found out later they did. That's why I stopped calling ahead.

We arrived 30 minutes early for our next scheduled reservation which is to ride the Incline Railway to the top of Lookout Mountain.

Again with 20 minutes to kill we both enjoyed a single scoop of ice cream at the rail station. Two hours earlier we both passed on a visit to Ben and Jerry's after eating our large Mellow Mushroom Pizza. We were both stuffed full at that time! But now we felt there was room for more.

The one mile historic train ride up to Lookout Mountain was both fun and interesting. The views of Chattanooga down below were breathtaking, but we didn't find much else to do up there. Thirty minutes later we were boarding the train for our return trip to the lower station. It's something we were glad we did, but feel no need to do it again.

We got there just it time to see the 2:10PM train leave the lower station.

After departing the train car at the top we got to see it head back down the mountain.

The view of the Tennessee River winding it's way through Chattanooga from the Incline's Upper Station's rooftop observation deck.

Beginning our trip back down the mountain.

Well it only 3:30PM and our final reservation for the day isn't until 9:30PM. What to do? We're not hungry and we've already seen everything we had planned on down in the city, let's drive up Lookout Mountain and check it out, that's where we have to be tonight anyway.

Exiting the parking lot at the Incline Railway we saw yet another billboard advertising "SEE ROCK CITY". You can't get within 100 miles of Chattanooga without seeing one of these advertisments. Sometimes they are even painted on full sized barns.

This one however also mentioned a walk through Christmas Light Display and well, Tricia is a sucker for a good light display. Especially like the one we saw near Mobile, AL last year. We decided to drive on over and check it out, since it's also up on Lookout Mountain where we are headed anyways.

Once in the parking lot we had second thoughts on the whole idea. The lots were all full and there were people everywhere walking around, it was outdoors, but many were not wearing masks. Then the decision was made for us, signs indicated tonight's showing is SOLD OUT.

We left the parking lot after making a very tight u-turn and headed over to Ruby Falls, just ten minutes away, for our final attraction of the day.

We' have arrived at Ruby Falls! Yes, we are five and a half hours early for our reservation, but we have a plan.

We park ROVER on the edge of the parking lot facing the city down below. Then proceed to go into the gift shop, use the restrooms, look around and then purchase a bottle of Gold Leaf Iced Tea for me and a Dunkin Donuts Iced Coffee for Tricia to take back and enjoy in the truck.

The drinks set us back over $8.00! Last time we spent that kind of money for two bottled beverages was at the concession stand at the top of the World Trade Building in New York City!

A late afternoon view of the Ruby Falls Tower.

We've spent the last four and a half hours sitting in the truck, reading our books, playing games on the phone, listening to the radio, eating our snack crackers, enjoying our expensive beverages and every once in a while remembering to look up and out the windshield to watch the skies fade to black and the lights start to illuminate the cityscape below. Not a terrible way to spend our time.

By 8:30PM it was time to get out of the truck, stretch our legs and once again go use the gift shop restrooms. We also took the time to climb the tower and get a different view of the city.

An evening view of the Ruby Falls Tower.

A view of ROVER in the parking lot and the nighttime city below.

It's finally time to start our cave tour. On Friday and Saturday nights, after all the daytime tours have finished, Ruby Falls offers a special lantern tour (at a $10 premium) to a limited number of visitors. These tours are always popular, sell out well in advance and we felt fortunate to purchase the last two tickets online almost a month ago.

We had previously done a lantern tour at Mammoth Cave National Park last April, so we kind of knew what to expect. We were wrong!

The lantern you see on the left is what every fourth person on the Mammoth Cave National Park lantern tour was issued to carry. A full sized, liquid fuel burning, bona fide lantern.

It was plenty of light once your eyes adjusted and we really enjoyed the whole experience. So we decided to pay the extra price and do another lantern tour.

In hindsight we wish we just did the standard daytime tour and here is why?

First off, the mini LED lantern pictured on the right is what every person is issued to carry on the Ruby Falls lantern tour.

They felt more like a kid's toy than a real lantern. They did light the pathway so you could safely see where you were walking, but didn't put off enough light to see more than just a few feet around yourself. With everyone trying to maintain their six feet of social distancing you couldn't put together enough light to see the formations you were walking past.

Is Ruby Falls worth a visit? Absolutely! I just recommend taking the standard tour and saving your lantern experience for somewhere else.

Now that I've got that off my chest, let's talk about the tour we did take.

Every tour starts with a short elevator ride down into the cave. Most of the tour is spent walking on fairly level ground. You'll find only a few stairs at a time, up and down, along the path. It's 2/5 of a mile from the elevator to Ruby Falls, the highlight of the tour at the turnaround point. That's the good news!

The bad news is most of the tour you'll spend walking single file through a 3-foot wide and 6 1/2-foot tall corridor. If someone stops to take a picture, everyone behind them stops too. If you're at the back of the pack (our tour had 20 people) you'll never hear what the guide is describing at the front of the line.

I suspect it is for this reason they have placed lots of signage along the path pointing out formations of interest. A few times we lost sight of the group in front of us and it was almost like we were on a self-guided tour.

I forgot to mention, there was one person on the tour with a full sized gas powered lantern, the tour guide.

At first when we got to the room that Ruby Falls is located in we could hear and feel the falls, but just barely see it. Then the guide attached his lantern to a cable and pulley system to hoist it some 150 feet in the air to the top of the falls. That made it a little easier to see.

But then he turned on the emergency lighting in the room and we were able to see the entire falls and pool area at the bottom. Well worth the price of admission and the hike to get here.

Here is a short video of our guide retrieving his lantern from the top of the falls so he could then safely escort us back out of the cave.

By the time we exited the cave, drove down the mountain, jumped on the Interstate and returned to THE POD it was midnight. So ends our fourteen hour long day in Chattanooga, TN.

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YEAR #3 - STOP #54

The beginning of today's trip was spent driving down, losing 1000 feet in elevation in just the first ten miles. We then drove sixty miles without gaining or losing but just a few feet in elevation. But the last seven miles we spent driving up, more than 1000 feet in elevation change. When all was said and done we had gained a mere 130 feet in elevation between the two campsites.

It felt more like a terrible roller coaster ride with a long flat piece of track in the middle. That's what you get when the mountain ranges go in an east-west direction and we are traveling mostly north-south. That won't change either when we leave here next week and have to go back down the same mountain we drove to get up here.

It should all be worth it because while we are here this week we have a busy schedule.

There is a nearby National Mounument over in Alabama we plan to visit, along with a trip into Chattanooga, TN for two cave tours and a ride on an incline railway to the top of Lookout Mountain.

Inside of the Cloudland Canyon State Park there are a couple of hikes we plan to do. One goes to a pair of waterfalls and the other follows along the rim of the canyon. Both should be very photogenic.

Oh yeah, we also have to pick up our mail at the local Post Office, then locate some inexpensive gasoline and groceries, and oh don't forget, this Thursday is Thanksgiving!

Like I said we have a busy week.

Campsite #4 at Cloudland Canyon State Park, GA

TUESDAY - We got an early start today on our TO DO list. Since we are just about out of everything to eat, we decided to get breakfast from a drive-through somewhere down the mountain.

But first up on our list was picking up our mail at the Post Office. That went off without any problems! We received our new American Express cards (the old ones expired), a pay check for Tricia and a few other not so important pieces of mail. We usually try to recieve mail by General Delivery at least once a month.

After picking up our mail we searched out what our drive-through breakfast options were in the area. In the Post Office I saw a pile of flyers with coupons for the local Huddle House (kinda like a Waffle House) so we headed in that direction. Since they didn't have a drive through I went inside to order take out and was told it would be 30 minutes or more to get my food. I looked around at the near empty restaurant and walked back out. Maybe they had a lot of online pickup orders ahead of me, I'm not sure, but why would it take 30 minutes to cook up breakfast for two?

Tricia remembered seeing a long line of cars at the Hardee's drive-through, always a good sign, so we went there for breakfast. It sure is a PITA trying to eat a meal while sitting in the truck, I can't wait until it's safe to eat in a restaurant again!

Next up was locating gasoline. American Express is running a promotion where if you purchase $25 in gas at a BP or Amoco Station before the end of the month, you'll receive a $10 credit on your account. Now here's some math I can do in my head, $10 off $25 is a 40% savings. That beats the 20% savings Publix offers on Gas Card Week ($10 off of $50) and sure beats my 5% rebate I get when using my Ducks Unlimited VISA Card from FNBO (First National Bank of Omaha). I like 40% off!

But enough with the boring stuff, today we are going to drive over into Alabama to visit the Russell Cave National Monument. For over 10,000 years the Native American Indians in the region would use this cave for shelter during the harsh winter months.

The Visitor Center here was open so we got to watch a short 7 minute documentary film about the site and there was a small museum-like setting which displayed some of the artifacts that were discovered in the cave.

In the 1950s a team began to excavate many archaeological specimens from the site. With the recently developed science of radiocarbon dating they were able to determine the age of these items. After they felt they had learned as much as they could from the site, President Kennedy declared it a National Monument in 1961 to protect it from further explorations.

The lower left hand side of the cave has a stream flowing through it.

The smaller upper right hand side of the cave is where most of the digging occured.

This is only the second National Park Service property we have visited the entire year. The first was Padre Island National Seashore in Texas back in February (before COVID lockdowns). We were able to drive through the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but all of the Visitor Centers and other facilities were closed.

We are sure glad we found this one here in Alabama open to visitors!

THURSDAY - Since it rained most of the day yesterday we had to postpone our hiking here at the park until this morning, Thanksgiving Day. I know you're supposed to do all your exercising after the big meal, but we did ours before.

We started by taking a short warm up hike on the West Rim Loop Trail. From this trail we got an unobstructed view of the town of Trenton, GA some 1000 feet below where we are camped. This is the same town where we picked up our mail, ate breakfast and filled up with gasoline two days ago.

After returning to the truck we drove around the canyon and over to the East Rim to do the rest of our hiking.

The East Rim Overlook Trail has great views of Cloudland Canyon and this is where you'll find the trailhead for the two waterfall hikes.

I read somewhere that the Cherokee Falls Trail had over 300 stairs to climb up and down, but the Hemlock Falls Trail had over 600 stairs. Now about 100 of those stairs they share because both trails start down into the canyon from the same location. Guess which trail we took?

That's right! You are looking at a photo of Cherokee Falls.

About midway on the trail they had a spot where they set up a couple of benches where you could stop and take a break. We didn't feel the need on the way down, but on the way back up we couldn't pass up the opportunity to get off our feet, even if for just a few minutes.

All along the trail there are signs reminding you to watch out for falling rocks. With that in mind, guess where they decided to locate the rest stop?

That rock will come down someday, but it was not today!
That is what we are thankful for this Thanksgiving!

This post is getting extremely long and we still have a whole day of sightseeing scheduled in Chattanooga tomorrow. So I'm going to make this stop here in Northwest Georgia a two-part post with the first one ending here. Stay tuned for Part 2.

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