Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Our Epic Journey of 2012

The best seat
in the house.
We recently came home from our first vacation in seven years! Big trips are something that we don't do very often, but we figured that it would be great to do something different with the kids this year. Usually our summer vacation involves visiting family which is always wonderful because we have moved away from all of our family and don't see them nearly as often as we would like. This year we chose to go to Chattanooga, Tennessee. It was a trip that my parents took us on when I was a young teenager and it stood out as one of the most memorable, exciting, and fun of our annual trips because it was very different, and like my dad, I have a love of history and enjoy visiting lots of the historical places. This area is amazing from the mountains, caves, historical sites, and a wonderful downtown to explore there is never enough time to do everything in one trip.

So our first stop on the trip was to The Natural Bridge Formation in Natural Bridge, Alabama. We were about at the half way mark to Chattanooga and we stopped there to have a picnic lunch. The kids had fun throwing bread for the fish and got an extra treat when a large snapping turtle came up and grabbed the bread. We then went through the park and explored the trails and went to see the bridge. This bridge is the largest natural bridge formation east of the Rockies.
Snapping Turtle
Boys waiting to go on a hike.

That evening, later than we expected, always remember to add time to trips because of unscheduled stops, getting turned around and missing exits. We arrived in Chattanooga and checked into the hotel, and had supper.

On Tuesday we started our journey by going to Point Park Lookout Mountain Battlefield.

Small view of  Battlefield Scale Model
 We saw the scale model show/exhibit and headed out to explore the battlefield. We happened to get there in time for the tour with the park ranger. While he was talking the clouds began to roll in everything darkened and the thunder and lightning could be seen in the distance, lightning struck way too close for comfort, so the tour guide had to finish his speech inside.

View From Point Park at
 Lookout Mountain Battlefield
We waited out the rain for a bit and tried to go walk the battle field when the rain looked like it was stopping. It slowed just long enough for us to get across the street before the pour down started again. Needless to say, our trip to the Battlefield was cut short. Wet, tired and hungry we decided to have lunch and go visit the Aquarium.
The Aquarium was fun, and dry. The kids really enjoyed all the tanks. There were two separate buildings, one for salt water and one for fresh water. I think they liked the sharks and jellyfish best. Noah was very impressed to see the Alligator gars and Catfish that were bigger than him.
Walnut Street Bridge was the next closest thing to see so we headed there. This amazing bridge was built in 1890, and was the first non military highway to cross the Tennessee River. It was closed to traffic in 1978 and was reclaimed and restored about 10 years later as a pedestrian bridge to connect Chattanooga to the North Shore. It is currently one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the world.

 So we walked to the other side and Noah and Jacob played in the large water fountain that we found on the other side. Unfortunately because of weather we were not able to ride the Dentzel Carousel. It is a antique carousel that was built in 1894 that has been completely restored. After walking the kids down the bridge and back they were worn out and ready for supper.

The next day was our trip to Ruby Falls and Rock City. Everyone was really excited about this tour and couldn't wait to see the inside of a cave. 
The entrance to 
Ruby Falls
Although we had to rein them in a bit(keep Noah and Jacob from climbing the walls, literally) it was lots of fun.
Our little spelunker.
The boys gave her a
yellow hat she had
 other ideas.
 The features and formations in this cave are amazing and some of them were even humorous, some of them were shaped like a cactus, candle, fish, potato chips, and an elephant's foot. One of the most interesting things was the drum that one of the tour guides pointed out. It was a hollow place along one of the walls that echoed when you tapped it with your hands. 

The light at the end of the
 tunnel so to speak.
...and of course when we leave Ruby Falls to see Rock City...yes, you guessed it...more rain. So we decided to go for a train ride instead and hoped that we would get a break in the weather later. 

Train Station Ticket Window

Our Train
The train trip was exciting, especially keeping the kids from hanging out of the windows. The took us over a bridge and through a tunnel that was built during Civil War times, and then on to the East Chattanooga Train Station. 

Watching the scenery go by
This station is only in operation for the railroad museum. It has a turn around that would switch the direction of the engines at the end of the line so that the trains could head back down the route. 
The train stations had lots of old trains representing different periods of histroy to explore, but because of rain we just looked at the trains as we quickly made it back to our car. 

Fortunately, as we began to drive back toward Rock City, there was a break in the clouds and the sun came out to visit. 
Rock City here we come! This was probably my favorite part of the trip to explore. 

The landscape, scenery, walking trails, and features were absolutely beautiful, and although there was one really campy part of the tour having to do with gnomes and fairy tales(it was cute and fun for the kids), overall it was the most enjoyable part of the trip for me.

That was our trip for this year. There were so many things that we didn't get to that we now have a list to see if we get to go back again. First on the list is the Chattanooga Hotel, walking downtown Chattanooga and other trails like along the river and up on Lookout Mountain, The Passage(monument for the Trail of Tears), The Historical and battle sites(too many to list), The Cravens House, The National Cemetery, The Confederate Cemetery, The Chattanooga Arboretum and Nature Center, Zip Line and Obstacle Courses, White Water Rafting, Hang Gliding, River Boat Tours, lots of caves and caverns to explore in surrounding towns, The Lost City, Dinners on the River, Train Rides to area towns, Chattanooga History Center, The Creative Discovery Museum, Rock Wall Climbing, The Art Museums, The art District, mini golf... 

This area is full of things to do if you have the time to do it and the weather cooperates. Some of the stuff available wasn't appropiate for the ages of our children, but there is something for every age. There are even some award winning Golf Courses in the area.