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Published: August 4th 2009
The paradox of Lookout Mountain does not trouble any child, especially mine. He sees no trouble with its lofty summits, serene views, and relief from the summer heat combined with the tackiest of amusements and commercial attractions for family tourists. Lookout Mountain straddles two states (supposedly seven can be seen from the naked eye from the summit) on the most southerly bend of the Tennessee River opposite Chattanooga. If unwilling to take Robert Frost’s suggestion of the path less beaten, be prepared to stare out the windshield at a convoy of car top carriers pushing upward at a twenty degree angle while passing billboards, camper vans, and RV’s. It may be best not to get out of the vehicle at all.
Pocked with harmless names such as Ruby Falls and Incline Railway, I decided to bring my self-appointed navigator (often asleep with the map over his face when he could do the most good) through downtown Chattanooga and up Lookout Mountain to Rock City. Follow the signs that read “See Rock City”, no thinking required. Phillip loves rocks to the point of unhealthy worship. He collects samples at beaches, begs to rip of stalactites at caves during walking tours (I crush
Welcome to Rock City
Get me out of here now...
him every time by saying no), and he once received a geode when I came back on a trip without him.
Having awakened him from his slumber, I paid the admission following a family of five from Alabama. We passed through the turnstiles and then they had us. There was no escape, we had to move forward. We were relegated to tourist drones in a hive of bees donning NASCAR caps. At the first sight of the timber cutout gnome pointing us in the direction of the Enchanted Trail, I dropped my head and sucked it up. I am going to hate this, I thought. But Phil will probably love this place, perhaps even as a highlight of his vacation.
I was right on both accounts.
He darted ahead camera in hand and wedged himself among thick walls of grey stone along a pre-destined footpath around the park. He thought he was in a fantasyland, another planet of new plants, sounds, and minerals. I, on the other hand, was a piece of livestock being herded through a corralled stockyard of mindless followers with no hope of escape. To Rock City’s credit, it is a cool, soft, and moist sanctuary of
Into a Crevasse
Phillip...the little explorer...
oblong rock formations, stone bridges, and babbling streams. Speakers pump mild violin instrumentals while the hoards trudge through the tasteful, mindless, yet elegant confinement of the park. By the overlook at Lover’s Leap, canopied pavilions materialize and offer guests the privilege of separating themselves from their cash by paying for overpriced pasty pizza, corn dogs, and lukewarm drinks. The waterfall along the cliff looks like a Steve Wynn Vegas creation. Untethered miscreants dash back and forth between parasoled tables and stick their heads through the cutouts of a banjo trio. On the way back, I observed that Rock City welcomes pets on their trails, leaving behind the chance at extra slippery hazards on the footpath.
The final atrocity on this hellacious tour was Fairyland Caverns, a subterranean abomination of fluorescent gnomes and fabled childhood characters more likely found staked in the gardens of a nearby trailer park. From Hansel and Gretel to Snow White, we snaked through alcove after carved-out cubbyhole of castles and candy cane dreams best suited for four-year-olds. I threw an elbow or two to pass one family mysteriously enjoying themselves.
The only memorable stimulation of any kind from Rock City was trying to guess the origin
A Moist Sanctuary
Accompanied by violin instrumentals....
of the Asian tourists seated across from us at the exit where we were resting before going back to the car. I think they were Korean.
“Boy, Dad, that was great! Did you see this?” He showed me an image from the screen of his digital camera. “And that?” And what about…? Where are we going next? Ruby Falls?” I couldn’t calm him down.
“We’ll have to see if it’s open first.” It might be closed today.” They close only on Christmas. “Maybe we should go down to Chattanooga and what’s going on down there. What do you think about that?”
“Alright!” he shouted out enthusiastically, automatically approving any of my suggestions. He is an agreeable boy on vacation with his Dad. It is very hard to do anything wrong with him. Perhaps the aquarium would be a good idea, or an early dinner before the game.
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