Since our arrival in North-east Alabama, I’ve seen an oddly high number of bird houses shaped like old barns with big lettering on the roof that says:
SEE ROCK CITY
A few weeks ago I had no idea what Rock City was, and wondered about it with Carrie on one of our frequent walks around our campground. I also wondered, why are these bird houses directing us so forcefully to see it? Rock City remained a mystery until we decided to learn a bit more about the nearby city of Chattanooga, Tennessee.
We quickly found out that Rock City is a tourist attraction in Chattanooga, found at the top of Lookout Mountain – a mountain ridge sitting adjacent to the city on the Tennessee/Georgia border. According to Wikipedia, Rock City, “opened in May 1932, the attraction gained prominence after owners Garnet and Frieda Carter hired Clark Byers in 1935 to paint ‘See Rock City’ barn advertisements throughout the Southeast and Midwest United States.”
These bold barn roof advertisements became their own spectacle at the time, and are now a fading regional icon. The bird houses are sold as a sort of homage to the barns that used to be seen so frequently, in the form of semi-hokey tourist merchandise.
When reviewing things to see in Chattanooga it is impossible to miss Rock City, as well as the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway and Ruby Falls (an underground waterfall located inside Lookout Mountain) in the recommendations. They are the top attractions for tourists visiting the city.
Last weekend Carrie and I took a day trip to Chattanooga, with plans to ride the Incline Railway. The 1.5 hour drive through the Southern Appalachian hills was very scenic and pleasant. Spring is in full swing down in this area, and it was a beautiful day for a drive. All along the highway we were reminded by a series of billboards to, “See Rock City” (and to check out the railway and waterfall as well).
We spent the morning eating brunch at a swanky restaurant called The Blue Plate, with a nice view of the Tennessee River. We also did a bit a walking in the City Center, but we didn’t linger too long, because after breakfast we headed to the base of the mountain to ride the Incline Railway.
The railway trains run every 15 minutes, so we purchased tickets and waited in the short line to board the incline rail car. The view of the track from the base of the mountain reminds me a bit of the initial climb on a roller-coaster, and is slightly intimidating:
The railway has it’s own interesting history, which was relayed to us in an audio recording as we were pulled straight up the mountain at a relaxed pace. The railway we rode is actually the 2nd incline railway to the top of Lookout Mountain (the first is no longer in operation), and has been in operation since 1895 (learn more about the railway here). The railway gradually gets more steep as you climb, ending with a 72.7% grade.
It was a pretty unique experience! It wasn’t overwhelmingly exciting, but it was pretty fun to head straight up the side of a mountain and reach the top in about 10 minutes. The original railway was a really cool engineering feat in its time, and I think it is awesome that it’s still running (with modern electric machinery). The railway passes by many roads and homes on its way up, and some local residents use it as a quick way to move up and down the mountain.
At the top of the mountain there is a station with gift shop, cafe, and observation deck. Around the station are (mostly *very* expensive) residential houses and the town of Lookout Mountain which straddles the state line. The views from the top are beautiful, and we spent a few minutes walking around the area. It would probably be a cool spot to have a home!
We decided to head home without visiting Rock City or the waterfall. We really enjoyed our brief visit, but we didn’t have time to do everything in one day. To be honest, I am still not exactly sure what Rock City is – I understand it’s a rock garden, and I think it’s also a garden-garden… but I guess we’ll just have to see rock city to find out!
We hope to make a return trip sometime soon to check out more of the city! Have you ever seen Rock City, or one of the Rock City barn advertisements? What is on your must-see list for Chattanooga?