1st Day!

We had an amazing first day!

Not many of us slept well on the bus overnight from Tulsa, but that didn’t slow us down.  We were within 30 minutes of our schedule for the first 36 hours.  I’m really pleased with everyone’s commitment and cooperation to stay on schedule.

We pulled into Chattanooga at 8:30am.  Our first stop was the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum.  We brought along breakfast with us and set up tables in the parking lot to serve all 90 people in the parking lot.  We had cereal, pop tarts, apples, oranges, milk and orange juice.

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When the railroad museum opened at 9:30, we went through the museum and saw a movie about railroad safety.  It was archaic!  I think it was still on VHS.  It was about a boy and his sister who were killed while playing on the railroad tracks.  Luckily it was only 20 minutes long. Our next activity was the train ride.  It’s a 3 mile ride through historical civil war areas of Chattanooga.  At the end of the line, they turn the engine around on a turn table.  We got to get out and watch that.  It was really neat.

Then we headed for Rock City.  This is similar to Silver Dollar City except much smaller.  We had arranged a catered lunch and the staff there did an exceptional job with a simple lunch that turned out really nice.  We ordered chicken strips and were expecting something on par with McDonald’s.  It was a nice surprise to have high quality chicken strips accompanied by mashed potatoes, fresh snow peas and really good cole slaw and biscuits.  Rock City has trails and caverns that are natural parts of the side of the mountain.

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They have built dioramas into some of the small caverns.  One of them was large and lit with black light.  I thought it was kinda cheesy because they had garden gnomes all over the place and it appeared dated to me, but many of the boys loved it.  The overlook was extremely impressive, though.

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Our next stop was Ruby Falls.  There was a large cave discovered before the turn of the century called Lookout Mountain Cave.  The natural entrance to the cave was  covered up when a tunnel was built through the mountain for the railroad prior to the civil war.  Around 1920 a man purchased land on top of the mountain and started drilling down to find the cave in the hopes of opening it up to the public.  260 feet down he accidentally discovered another cavern above the original Lookout Mountain Cave.  He named this new cave after his wife Ruby and the waterfall inside of it.  It’s a nice cave but has not been well preserved.  Many of the cave decorations have been broken and removed.  They are below average decorations, in my opinion anyway.  There is a lot of magnesium in the rock around there which gives all of the cave decorations a grey to black coloration within the white limestone, so they all look old and dirty.  There is a lot of water in the cave but there have been tons of people use many of the visible areas of water as wishing wells that are never cleared out.  This cave doesn’t have large rooms.  It’s like it’s a combination of mid-west caves with lots of decorations and the caves of North Dakota where there are miles of passages but none of the rooms are much wider than a few feet.  Once you get to the end of the half-mile walk through the cave, you reach the largest room.  It contains a 180 foot waterfall.  Even though I wasn’t very impressed with the rest of the cave, this spectacle took my breath away.  It was absolutely gorgeous!  They did commercialize it by colored lighting and loud music, but they did do it well.  It added to the beauty of the waterfall rather than taking away from it like the rest of the cave.  It was an activity that was enjoyed by all and well worth the time we spent there.

We didn’t waste any time all day.  After directing the boys back to the bus to avoid the gift shop, we were off on our way to ride the incline railway.  This is the steepest incline railway in the United States.  It goes nearly a mile up to the top of Lookout Mountain.  On a clear day you can see 7 states from the top.  It was a little hazy but  very good conditions to see a long way.

The weather was great all day.  The high was maybe 85!  We were all pretty tired by now and it was dinner time.

We reserved the Tennessee Aquarium for dinner and participated in their “Sleep in the Deep” program.

I can’t express how impressed I am with their facility and their staff!  They have one of the best programs like this in the country.  We arrived, unpacked and carried in our gear.  It’s very nice that we aren’t carrying any troop gear.  It takes less than 10 minutes to unload all of the bags for the almost 100 people.  We stowed our gear inside and they broke us into 4 groups.  We got to see a couple of floors of exhibits and then went to an area to eat some pizza.  Then it took until 11pm to tour almost the rest of the facility.

For a town of less than 200,000 people and half a million in the metro area, they are fortunate to have one of the best aquariums in the country.  There are two different buildings in the complex, each with at least 5 floors.  They are split into salt water and fresh water.  They also have birds, reptiles and a nice butterfly room.

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It was funny how much these boys enjoyed the butterflies!

Having raised and bred African Cichlids for a period of time, I became very familiar with these fish.  They mainly come from the 3 rift lakes in Africa, Lake Malawi, Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika.  They had an exhibit of fish from Lake Tanganyika that was about 800 gallons.  The specimens they had on display were the highest quality fish I have seen in person or in pictures.  We also got to see the above the tank area of the large 600,000 gallon tank in their salt water building.  That’s stuff that you don’t get to see when walking through on your own.

Everyone was so enthralled with the experience we didn’t notice how tired we were until about 10:00.  We were all dragging pretty bad by then.  They took half of us into the fresh water building and the other half over to the salt water building to sleep.  It was midnight before we got to sleep and we got up at 6:30am for breakfast and saw the otters and some of their birds.  Then we packed up and headed out for day two.

After a short, but good night’s sleep, we’re ready to head out for more fun!

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