We first head up to the Lost Sea. The Lost Sea is the second biggest cave lake in the world (biggest is in South Africa and not open to the public). We tour the cave which is excellent (has 50% of the world's rock formations called cave flowers) and work our way down to the lake. We ride a boat on the lake and get to see the rainbow trout which live here. They put the trout in to see if they would find an exit out - they didn't, but they have never removed the trout and actually keep restocking the lake with trout for tourists to see. This is a private cave and you can see the difference from the state/ national owned stuff we have toured previously - a very poor guide and not what we would call eco-friendly. After our tour we headed 1.5 hours South to Chattanooga. After finding a motel we head into the centre of town and walk around the renovated riverside
. They have a college rowing event on and for a while we watched the chaos of new (1st event this year) teams trying to get in and out of the water. They were racing around the historic Ross Landing area which was the start of the Trail of Tears. Ross was of Scottish decent (1/8 Cherokee) and had a trading post here which he and his Indians lived on (he is known as the best ever Cherokee chief). The USA government expelled them and this started the Trail of Tears - where the army force-marched them through mountainous trails in fall and winter. The Indians died in their thousands and this marks one of the blackest periods of army history. Anglo-Americans go on to settle the land owned by this Scottish-Indian man and found Chattanooga. After our spell of history we had some Ben & Jerrys before seeing Wallace & Gromit in their excellent new film!! Afterwards we have a lovely seafood meal near the cinema - Stewart tries some lovely tuna while Gillian has a very messy spicey creole whole prawn dish. We head back to the motel and spend some time in the pool and very bubbly spa.
Day 344 Sunday 09/10/05 Chattanooga - Dahlonega
The city of Chattanooga is overlooked by the sprawling Lookout Mountain and we spent the morning at the various attractions it has to offer
. It's still grey, drizzly and 20 degrees. We started off at the spectacular Ruby Falls. Before the railway came past the base of Lookout Mountain there was the famous Lookout Cave which attracted thousands of tourists. The path of the railway went past the cave entrance and the entrance was blocked off. A few decades later a bright spark bought the land above the cave and bored a hole for an elevator to reach these caves again. Before they reached the lookout system of caves they found a sealed cave system and explored it - later widening passages to allow visitors in. They continued down and opened both of the cave systems to the public - with the newer system outclassing and out-numbering the older lookout cave system... which eventually shut to visitors. The reason for this is what was found at the end of the new cave system - the spectacular 145ft indoor waterfall. After half an hour going through the caves you arrive in darkness at the falls which are then illuminated for you to see. The falls are lovely but the cave is also well worth the visit too. There were more types and sizes of formations in this wet and living cave than we have seen before - andwith the passage being so narrow you just seem to be surrounded by them. We left here and headed further up the tree covered mountain to the battlefields exhibition. A major Civil War battle was fought here (the Battle Above The Clouds) and a clever diorama with lights takes you through the battle - and 3 other battles fought around this strategic city
. They also have a small museum display with some of the hundreds of artefacts they dug out of the ground here. The next stop for us was Rock City. Rock City is basically a garden that was built in amongst some spectacular rocks, boulders, cracks, etc that one of the first explorers likened to city streets. It must be awesome in summer to see all the rhodies etc in full bloom. The end section takes you through some dioramas that show off gnomes and nursery rhymes - a bit too kitsch for our tastes but the kids love them. We headed down to the base of the mountain and with the weather not clearing we took our train ride to the top! The train is the World's Steepest Passenger Incline Railway. It goes to an incline of 72.7%.....which confused us as the train in the Blue Mountains near Sydney in Oz scared us more with their whopping .82%....we assume the Americans definition is slightly different - the Sydney one wasn't originally built for passengers and operates a different mechanical system. The cars are specially built and are slanted and stepped for your comfort. Just after we got to the top the weather closed in and the fog and rain obliterated the views for anyone coming after us - you could hardly see the edge of the mountain anymore! We then headed South East into our 13th state - Georgia. We meandered (ie lost) our way to Dahlonega through scenic (tree-lined with no views) roads. Dahlonega was the site of the country's first gold rush and maintains a lovely historic town square. We browsed the shops and tasting room before having a lovely meal in Wylies (Southern style crab cakes & pecan trout).
Day 345 Monday 10/10/05 Dahlonega - Atlanta
Stewart started off the day with another interesting haircut
! The barber shop here is in the main square and has very long opening hours - starting at 7am....the reason being that the 3 barbers are kept very busy with squaddies from the local army school. The conversation was very military minded and quite anti-Bush. Afterwards we toured the old courthouse which now houses the gold museum in addition to retaining some of the old courthouse touches. This town was the site of the first gold rush in America and they have a nice exhibition on gold life here - they still pan and mine for gold today. They showed how a water pump and jet basically blasted away a lot of the surrounding landscape creating valleys which followed the lines of gold ore. After the courthouse we headed back west and stopped off in a state park to see the nice Amicalola waterfall. Just as we got back to the car it started to rain again. We then drove 2 hours South to Atlanta. Atlanta has a ring road like the M25 and as we approached the ring road we got huge traffic jams - for the first time in ages. We fought our way through the traffic and after finding our motel (on the ring road) we headed into the city centre. Our first stop was the CNN building for a guided tour which was good. They explained the newsgathering process, showed you blue-screen technology and let you see the actual newsrooms and main studios. They then explained their other sections - Headline News, CNN Espanol & CNN International. The building itself has a colourful history - originally an indoor themepark with the world's tallest single unsupported escalator - some 200ft - 8 levels in one go. After CNN we headed out to the Cyclorama. A the turn of the last century a circus went bankrupt and the state took their assets. This started the city zoo and they built the Cyclorama to house another of the assets - a huge panoramic painting which is now the world's largest oil painting! You sit on a moving auditorium and it rotates within the building showing off the beautiful Civil War painting
. A diorama was built at the base and this adds to the experience. The building also houses an interesting Civil War museum - including a train which was used to foil a Union raid. After that we headed back towards the motel and ate in a Southern style restaurant - sadly, everything seemed to come fried.
Day 346 Tuesday 11/10/05 Atlanta - Macon
We headed back into the city and to the Martin Luther King birthplace National Park. This National Park preserves the house that he was born in, the church that he preached in and a number of other buildings in the area that is called Sweet Auburn. The visitor centre has some good information on the Civil Rights movement and is far more accessible than the museum we visited in Memphis. We then toured the oldest fire station in the city before touring the house that MLK was born in. The house is lovely and very well kept and the tour gives you a great insight into his life as a child. We then walked through some of the preserved neighbourhood (they rent out most of the buildings after doing them up) and went to see his tomb. We then visited the church and finished off in the visitor centre. Our next stop was about 30 minutes East - Stone Mountain. Stone Mountain is a mountain shaped like...well..em.....a stone. It's like a huge stone blip amongst a landscape forest and lakes! What it is famous for is on the side of it - a huge stone carving that features the confederate heroes of Davis, Lee & Jackson. The carving was started by Borglum (Mt Rushmore fame) but he fell out with the organisers - and left tkaing his sketches with him! It was finally completed some 40 years later with a new design to finish it off. The carving is lovely but the site has been turned into a huge tourist trap which detracts from the carving
. They had a pumpkin festival on when we were there and were preparing for the Highland Games that weekend. We then headed South for 1.5 hours and arrived in Macon. Macon has more historic homes registered than any other city/town in the USA. Our first visit was the marvellous Hay House - a lovely home that is called the Palace Of The South. The family quarters are lovely and have all sorts of lovely features - from chandeliers hanging from skylights to a secret room that was used to keep linen in. You get to see 3 levels of this seven storey house and it was allegedly the second house in America to have full indoor plumbing - the first was the White House. After our tour here we drove around a number of Macon's beautiful streets - jam packed full of old houses. We then headed into the city centre which retains a number of old buildings too - but has absolutely no life to it. We had a nice meal in Luigis before heading back to our motel.