Stuffed on southern cooking and hoping for no more Fat Man’s Squeeze situations, we headed further over the mountain to go into the mountain! Silly hobbits.
It’s always 60 degrees in the Ruby Falls caves which was a relief from the weather outside. We queued up and joined a group to be sucked two stories down into a tourist friendly cave.
Rule one of the tour: TOUCH NOTHING! Some of the formations are still “living” and forming. Human hands and skin oils mess with them. There was one formation that we were all allowed to touch just to get it out of our systems, and we touched the Hell out of it!
The tour was a casual 1 mile round trip to the falls with goofily named, unnaturally lit rock formations along the way and moments of intimacy when another tour group had to squeeze by on the way back to the elevators.
Not thinking about the amount of rock overhead was easy until the guide started spouting facts and history. In 1828, Leo Lambert and excavators discovered a passage and decided to crawl through it for 17 hours, ultimately making it back to the falls. Their tiny, initial passage was preserved in the wall.
Ruby Falls is 145 feet high. It’s the largest underground waterfall in the U.S. and, as the guide helpfully pointed out, we were about 1200 feet underground. Roughly the Empire State Building. Over time the pool that the Falls hit has shifted and spread. In 1988, we might have been able to walk behind the water but not anymore.
I find it odd that it’s not enough to see a really beautiful, fascinating bit of nature; there also has to be a light show.
We retraced our path, retouched the touchable formation, and shot up three stories to pop out conveniently on the upper level at the gift shop. Before hitting the gift shot, we climbed stairs up two more levels to check out another hot, windy view of Chattanooga. It was only 2:30 and we had run through our planned activities.
A Internet search took us to the Knitting Mill Antique mall. It was the perfect find! a massive old factory building, but unfortunately all the signage said “Going Out of Business.” We cruised the booths and enjoyed the junk. It was too early for more than a snack, but a loud food discussion turned me into an eavesdropper. Two older women were heatedly debating barbecue joints while rearranging their merchandise. It was Purple Daisy versus Nooga-Q and they were literally arguing and assessing every menu item from meats to cornbread and homemade chips. I rarely do this, but I blatantly played tourist and inserted myself into the conversation, asking for specifics and making sure I had the correct restaurant names. Hey, a hobbit’s gotta eat dinner.
Meanwhile we found an adorable, retro-decorated gelato and coffee spot, Milk & Honey , a few blocks away and re-energized. A few local shops later, and we were ready to eat local again.
Nooga-Q was the winner since the Purple Daisy seemed like more of an eat outside situation-not in that heat. Nooga-Q was a tin building in the middle of a strip mall parking lot. Our waitress seemed surprised that we were staying, most of their business was drive thru. We were the lone customers for a little while, but the wall of articles and local awards was reassuring. Tender brisket, fried okra, coleslaw for days, our meal was delicious. It would be the best thing we ate for the next two days.
To be continued: yard sales on mountains