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Thursday, December 02, 2004

Our trip was wonderful.

We left home more or less on time last Wednesday, and drove till around midnight. We checked into a hotel somewhere outside Atlanta when we were too tired to drive any further, and we were out of there again by 7 next morning. (After a hotel breakfast. I do like those little tubs of jam; they bring back fond memories of my grandfather, who always used to save them for us when he travelled).

We got to the state park by 9.30 or 10, and were amazed by how beautiful it was.

The campsite - which we had entirely to ourselves - is about a mile away from the parking lot. You walk along the cliff top past this waterfall, cross the river above the falls (on a bridge that has definite falling-off potential), hike a bit further, and there you are.

So we set up the tents, and then headed off to the base of the cliffs to do some climbing.


That evening, eating our Thanksgiving dinner. I think our fire-cooked meal was a lot more fun and less stressful than many a "proper" dinner.

It was cold that night! Our water froze overnight, and there was ice on the tents when we woke up. We stayed warm enough overnight, though. First time I've actually ever slept in a hat, mind you.

Here's the sunrise we saw next morning.


More climbing.

Beautiful leaves.

Below the cliffs.

Sophie completing her very first sport climb. You can see her clipping the rope in to the anchors at the top. She was very proud.

Other climbers had told us that the weather forecast predicted rain for Saturday, so we decided to head into Chattanooga and do some touristy stuff. We rolled up the sleeping bags, stowed everything away neatly in case the rain was really heavy, and headed off.

First we visited Rock City, which is essentially a bunch of boulders leaning against each other. You can walk through passages between the boulders. Sort of like a city of rocks. Hence the name. Great views from the look-out point; you can see seven states on a clear day, apparently. And a fun suspension bridge. It is all quite impressive, but I think it would actually be a whole lot more impressive if it'd been left in its natural state instead of cutsied up.

Sophie felt differently though; for her, the high point was the "fairy cavern" - a series of dioramas of nursery tales and fairy stories. We adults found them distinctly creepy though. The models of the children looked like vampire zombies : something about the dark painted mouths and the staring eyes. One wasn't surprised, for instance, that Little Bo Peep's sheep had fled. They probably feared for their very lives. And then there was the obligatory shop that one exits through, which sells a variety of freakishly inappropriate toys. Final verdict : awfully touristy kitschy but worth visiting anyway.

When we were done at Rock City, we headed over to Ruby Falls. Here, one descends 270 feet into a series of underground caverns, complete with beautiful rock formations like this and this and ends up at a spectacular underground waterfall. It was stunning. Didn't photograph well, though - the shots we took look like those grainy ultrasound pics. They pack way too many people into each tour, so in order to really appreciate it we had to manoevre to separate ourselves from the rest of the group. Once we'd done that, we were able to appreciate the magic of the place.

We emerged from underground into the pouring rain, and headed back to the campsite. A soggy, muddy, mile later, we found that the rain had got the better of us, despite our care : our crappy Target tents had leaked and the sleeping bags were wet. Not just damp, but drenched.

Here we are looking despondent. It doesn't show in the picture, but it's still raining.

After some handwringing and general angst, we decided that freezing conditions and wet sleeping bags were not compatible. So we packed up (still in the rain) and headed into Chattanooga to find a hotel. We splashed out a bit and got the kids their own room (interleading with ours). They were happy (Cable TV! All the themselves!). And so were we (King size bed! All to ourselves!)

That night we ate out - I forget where, but the meal was absolutely delicious - and went to see The Incredibles. Which was fun - not brilliant but also not remotely tooth-gritting. Everyone enjoyed the evening, adults and kids alike.

Next morning was glorious. Blue sky, sun, cold, crisp, clear air - the kind of day that makes one feel filled with energy. So we did one more touristy thing before we headed home : rode the Incline Railway up the top of Lookout Mountain.

The Incline Railway
Cannons at Point Park (a short walk from the top of the railway)
Burning off energy in the park

And then we drove back to Florida. We listened to the audiobook of Island of the Blue Dolphins on the way, so since we returned, Sophie and I have been reading up on the true story that it's based on, as well as learning about the islanders, the island itself, and the animals that lived there. We're both finding it fascinating.

All in all, it was a great holiday. Bobby and I both feel revitalised, the kids loved it and will definitely have good memories of it, and the guy who came along with us enjoyed it all immensely too.

Can't wait to do it again.

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