Monday, January 31, 2011

See Rock City, or We'll Cut You!

If you've driven anywhere in the South, there's a really good chance you've seen a billboard or barn rooftop advertising "See Rock City".  High on top Lookout Mountain you'll find this rock garden tourist trap.

Lovers Leap at Rock City
FUN FACT: Two indians leapt to their deaths here!

You simply have to go here at least once in your life.  Depending on which way you swing (and they have a nice swinging bridge here, by the way), it's either gloriously beautiful or gloriously cheesy.  The beautiful part of the park is the rock gardens and views from Lookout Mountain.   I took Jessica here for her first time visit a few years ago. Her thoughts? "It's... definitely unique." That's a ringing endorsement!

Jessica attempts to prevent being crushed
at Rock City's "Rock Compactor Alley"

The main feature of Rock City is the "Enchanted Flagstone Trail".  Here you'll wind your way through, over and under various rock formations. There's a "Fat Man's Squeeze" and "Needle's Eye" to walk through along with a Balancing Rock and "Rainbow Hall", an amazing stretch of passage with windows covered with multi-colored gels. Okay the multi-colored windows seemed a lot neater when I was a kid. And there's a view of "7 States" which I don't think is entirely true. There's actually a lot of debate about the validity of this named view, but regardless, it's an impressive view. 

"Warning: Neon and Killer Gnomes Inside!"

The cheesy part of Rock City is the final act - Fairyland Caverns.  The "Caverns" takes you through a number of scenes depicting evil garden, or actually, cave gnomes who stare at you, grinning evilly:

The one on the right took a shine to Jessica.
His head cock is disturbing.

After the gnomes are through with you, the tour continues on to an even more bizarre site - Mother Goose Village - a room featuring glow-in-the-dark figurines depicting various Mother Goose nursery rhymes. It is truly bizarre.  And it's a lot of fun.  I've been fascinated with caves, both real and fake, for years, so I always enjoyed the conclusion to Rock City's tour.

It was impossible to capture this properly
because it's simply too awesome.

The cost of a ticket has steadily risen over the years as the cost to upkeep the rock has, um, risen?  There are "Lookout Mountain" combo tickets you can purchase if you're planning to also see nearby Ruby Falls and ride the Incline Railroad.  So definitely look in to purchasing one of those to save a few bucks. For more info about Rock City, visit their website here.

FUN GAME: If you drive from Nashville down to Chattanooga, play the game: Who has more signs, Rock City or Ruby Falls? Hint:  if you want to win, don't pick the attraction that uses the birdhouse barn.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Dirtiest Hotels in America

Thick balls of hair, film on the carpets and loads o' stains
await you here at the Grand Resort Hotel!

Trip Advisor recently released its list of the 10 Dirtiest Hotels in in the US and #1 is the Grand Resort Hotel & Convention Center in Pigeon Forge, TN.  And yes, I've stayed there!  The hotel carries the lovely designation of having 87% of its customers to NOT recommend it.  I love this review:

“There was dirt at least 1/2" thick in the bathtub which was filled with lots of dark hair.”

And others mention that layer of film you can feel on the carpet.  Awesome.   Many of the reviews begs you to wonder, "What part of this room ISN'T covered in hair?"

Honestly this place fits right in with many of the other "hotels" you find in the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge area.  These are motels that were built in the 80s and many of them have either not been renovated or cleaned, or both, in the past 20+ years.  My brother and I stayed at a "lovely" Best Western in Gatlinburg for my bachelor's weekend that was a real winner.  The place smelled simultaneously of cigarette smoke and baked ham.  The furniture was made of stuff cheaper than particle board.  In fact if you laid your suitcase on top of the dresser it would crack and almost collapse.  It's major feature or convenience was it's proximity to a pancake restaurant.  It had ramps lined in lovely mini-golf "grass" carpet.  I could go on...

So give this list a read and know which motels to stay away from, especially if you're planning on a pancake/outlet mall run to Pigeon Forge.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

There's Hope Ahead

Over on the Fail Blog they have a funny "fail" they have named "Juxtaposition Fail". Tennesseans, specifically those who drive between Nashville and Chattanooga, will recognize that familiar sign (and the "hope ahead") as a winery located near Manchester, TN.  And seeing that sign reminds me of a mystery I know a few people have had as they pass it - is it Bear's Creek or Bean's Creek?  It's hard to tell by their choice of font.  If it's Bear's Creek I call the sanitation of the water in to question.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Horseshoe Bend in Glen Canyon

Near Page, AZ, off US 89, you'll find a rather inauspicious sign for Horseshoe Bend. I remember not wanting to bother with the hike but Jessica wanted to go. The sign in no way prepares you for the site you'll see. The trail from the parking lot immediately heads up a moderately steep hill. There is absolutely ZERO protection from the elements, so be prepared and wear sunscreen. The hike isn't very long and leads you to the edge of the Colorado River. Here you are greeted to an amazing view of the Horseshoe Bend in Glen Canyon. I believe we simply stared (and took pictures) for close to 30 minutes. We probably could have spent an hour or more. It's simply awe inspiring to see.

On this trip I brought along my first "real" camera, the Canon T2i and I took the picture you see here. Unfortunately I only had the "kit lens" that came with the camera which limited how wide a shot I could take. So I couldn't fully capture the scene without cutting off parts of the river. Still, I'm very happy with the resulting image.

Colorado River journeys through Glen Canyon.

So if you find yourself heading to Page, AZ and to the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, do yourself a favor and pull off at the parking lot for Horseshoe Bend. We definitely want to return one day... with a much wider lens of course!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

More Abandoned Places

The Kingston Lounge (link via Gawker) chronicles the exploration of an abandoned quarantine hospital on North Brother Island up in New York City and they include some great photos.   I particularly love the spiral staircase shot (above) .  I really wish I had a place like this nearby to explore and shoot.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Lost America

Mercury Julep
Originally uploaded by Lost America
Over on my video blog I posted a link to a film called "Undercity" which explores the underground subway tunnels and ancient sewers of New York City.  I'm utterly fascinated with this sort of thing and I can stare at photographs of abandoned sites and ruins for hours.  Watching the video reminded me of one of my favorite sites that I haven't visited in years - Lost America.  Lost America not only captures abandoned places in America's Southwest, but does so using night photography, a technique using long exposure times and "light painting".  The end result is an often stunning and always surrealistic landscape that's amazing to stare at.

Monday, January 10, 2011


Forgive us for a moment as we leap around the country as we jump from Nevada and back to the Southeast.  Nestled between Lookout and Signal Mountains is Chattanooga, TN. For a lot of people, Chattanooga is known for it's Choo-Choo, or as that city you pass through when you're heading down to Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. But Chattanooga deserves a few days (if not more) dedicated to exploring it's wonderful downtown area and the nearby attractions on Lookout Mountain.

Pardon me boys...


A lovely 1:1 scale model of the riverfront
I remember trips to Chattanooga in the 80s with my family and we'd rarely EVER venture downtown.  If you went to the Chattanooga Choo Choo, you didn't dare set foot an inch away from the grounds because of crime, or the perceived threat of crime. Today the downtown area is home to restaurants, museums, an aquarium, IMAX Theater, minor-league baseball stadium and so much more. The Riverfront itself has nice waterworks features where kids (and kids at heart) can splash in the water. There is a nice long greenway to bike, run or jog and various paths to stroll along. There's even a somewhat hidden amphitheater underneath a bridge proving Chattanooga figured out how to use almost every available inch of space along the river.

But Chattanooga didn't stop with developing it's downtown-side of the river.  Take a stroll across the pedestrian bridge to the North Shore, a slightly more funky, eclectic mix of shops and restaurants. There is also a large park, plenty of nice, cool grass to lay out on and a large fountain for more kids to play in. Be sure to stop at Clumpie's Ice Creamery, a local Chattanooga favorite for ice cream treats. Also take notice of the fact that Chattanooga is home to a surprising number of hippies.

In future blog posts I'll dive in to some of the other attractions in the area, like Rock City, the Incline Railroad and the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum.

Rock City - where human-sized gnomes force
hapless families to enter dangerously
narrow passageways.