Chattanooga was the first bigger city we stayed in since New Orleans and a great example of how modern the south can be. We arrived on a Saturday morning, ready to spend the weekend exploring the town and find some good restaurants along the same line as the Bottletree in Birmingham.
We arrived at Raccoon Mountain State Park early Saturday. It was a touristy campground with some caverns $14 to $99 to explore (depending on tour), a go cart track and one basketball hoop. The older man, the manager I suppose, was a total grump but other than that no one really bothered us, even though they had a stated “no pitbulls” rule in their pamphlet and on their website, we ignored it and had no trouble. I hold dearly my “your ignorance and fear will not affect my plans” policy.. as well as a “your stupid insurance company can go to hell” in those cases.
The first weekend we had researched a little online and got an idea of where the “things to do” were at, as well as where some of the better vegetarian options could be found. It was probably about 90 when we got in line to the Incline Railway, a really amazing train that makes its way directly up a mountain side – reaching an angle of 71% (practically up a cliff face) by the top. The seats are at an angle so you dont fall out by the time it reaches its peak angle, but even then you have to lean back and hold yourself a bit to keep from falling forward and shooting through the front window and down the mountain. It cost $12 a person, which I suppose id worth it but there arent really any perks to go along. You get taken to the top where a building containing a little shop full of tourist toys, stones and candy (and stone candy) – inside of some kind of cafeteria with some homemade fudge and coolers with a few bottled drinks. Outside in the neighbourhood, you could walk to a Civil War reenactment (which we did but did not pay to see). If you started at the top of the Mountain and therefore had a car, you could drive a little ways to Rock Mountain, which is some kind of a theme park which seemed a little kiddy oriented for us. At the bottom of the mountain, where we were parked, you can go to Ruby Falls, a huge waterfall in a cave which we also did not go to. After getting a drink and walking around a bit at the top, we rode the rail back down and headed out to find something to eat.
The first place we went to eat was another Mellow Mushroom, a place we had discovered in Oxford Alabama that had vegetarian sandwiches and good pizza. It was right in downtown Chattanooga so we got to see some of that outside the car. It’s a fairly nice little area though not very old or particularly interesting. When we came back to the area later at night, searching for a cool and somewhat empty bar, we discovered downtown to be just like Austin or New Orleans to some extent, tons of drunk girls in heels stumbling around and huge lines outside overcrowded bars. We looked around online some more and found an area farther away that showed promise, everything was closed but we had now discovered an all vegan cafe, Sluggo’s, to check out the next morning.
The neigbourhood we really liked, though didnt find till a few days later, was the Northside Neighbourhood near Coolidge park, a cute little area with cafes, restaurants and shopping. Once we discovered it we repeatedly returned to Stone Cup Cafe to work, also a place that had good vegetarian sandwiches, and Aretha Frankenstein nearby which had amazing french toast and waffles, tagged the “waffles of insane greatness”.
The neighbourhood also featured a dog park, a free one even! The Chattanooga Chew Chew. The last we’d seen was in New Orleans and required a paid membership to use. Unfortunately, Chena doesn’t care much about other dogs but the 5 seconds of excitement she gets from meeting one is at least some socialization for her. I feel bad that she has only a cat and two humans to play with sometimes.
We spent most of the weekend rotating Stone Cup, Sluggo’s and Aretha Frankenstein’s, having only paid till the following Friday we were unlikely to see much more of the daytime things in the city and this was upsetting after seeing how cool Chattanooga was. We decided around Thursday to stay the weekend, unaware till we went into the office to pay, that it was Labor Day weekend and the park would be almost completely full, our space already reserved. Our only options were to leave town, move to another park in town (all of which would be equally booked), stay at a Walmart all weekend or move the trailer 60 feet to the last remaining spot. All of these options required the same amount of work preparing the trailer and truck for the move so we had some options to weigh but we ultimately and grudgingly decided to move the trailer 60 feet. When we moved to the new spot, a spot that was nearly on a hill, we parked the trailer backwards to avoid too much of a slant and ended up with out door facing another campers door and having to use the back side of the trailer as our “front yard”, hanging the lights on the slide out, no awning of course but a table and chairs for the one time we decided to BBQ some sausages. It was good enough though, since we didn’t plan to spend our weekend hanging out in the ridiculously crowded campground.
The last weekend in the area we reserved for nature. We had already decided to avoid the kid filled campground, and therefore the caves there and all other caves and touristy things in town because it was Labor Day Weekend and all would be completely full of people. On Saturday we decided to go to the Chattanooga Nature Center, a poorly advertised place which suited us, that also wasn’t very crowded. It featured a trail that lead to a great huge treehouse which in the spring-winter must have a great moat like swamp below it. Basically one of my dream houses, especially if the swamp had alligators in it. The trail went on to a rentable cabin next to the water and some rental canoes then arrived at the wildlife rehab area where they had owls, a bald eagle, a bobcat, some endangered red wolves and a crow. The birds didnt have much space and most had no company but they were there because they could not be released back into the wild, not for show exactly. I liked the crow, seeing one in a cage reminded me of my pet crow who I took home after if flew into the window of the pet store I worked at. He eventually recovered enough to release but I never knew if he made it for sure. I am pretty sure I had a crow stalker for the rest of my time in Portland, about 5 more years minus my year in Argentina.
There were some snakes back in the center building and a basic little gift shop but the best part was the drive around the grounds on a small dirt road. We barely fit in the truck as usual but the drive was great, allowing us to finally see some “untouched” Tennessee nature. There were large bunches of wildflowers, ponds, gardens and a bamboo forest, officially one of coolest forests to wander in, and some great little things to stop off and see like “Cherokee eye” – some kind of hole in a rock and our favorite, the spinning bench. About half way thorough we were told by a woman in a Mustang that the park was closing in 15 minutes and we grudgingly headed out. The last thing we saw before the exit, the land keeper’s house with a bit of land, horses and barn. Lucky guy.
Sunday we decided to leave town completely, having gotten used to the South shutting down on Sundays – even the vegetarian restaurants, but we knew we could depend on a State Park to be open. We headed to Georgia to see the so called Canyon in Cloudless Canyon State Park. We’d taken Chena this time and hiked a small trail that over looked the town, then headed to the crowded Day Use area where the actual canyon trail was. It was ok, after seeing canyons in the southwest it didnt impress us but the hike was nice and it was a good way to spend the last day in.. or near… Chattanooga.