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Friday, July 12, 2013

Rock City: The Ultimate Southern Roadside Attraction

Everyone has heard of it, but not everyone knows what it is.  Rock City.  The place of legends.

Growing up in Indiana I remember seeing a bird house with the phrase "See Rock City".

 I had no idea what Rock City was, or where it was, but it always stuck with me.  When I moved to the Mountains of North Carolina I begin seeing this on a much grander scale.  Striking black barns with white lettering beckoning traveler's to visit Rock City.

No matter where you go in South, there are barns calling you to this fabled land.

These barns are so Iconic that they may very well be more famous then Rock City itself.  What you are seeing here is one of the earliest examples of "viral marketing."  Representatives of Rock City would find farmers and offer to paint their barn for free as long as they could use it as advertising space. 

No good farmer is going to turn down a free barn painting and presto:  you have one of the most iconic sites of the Southern roadside.

One of my favorite parts of any southern roadtrip is finding new Rock City Barns.

Sometimes you have to look very close to spot them.....

Seriously, look very very close.

So now onto the bigger issue:  What the hell is Rock City? 

Now, this life is filled would things that do not live up to their hype.   Rock City is one of the few things that WILL exceed you expectations.  Simply put Rock City is the greatest place to visit on the Southern Roadside.  It is your duty as a southerner, a traveler, an American and a human being to make a pilgrimage to this wonder.

Rock City was opened in 1932 by this man.

That is Garnet Carter and his wife.   Garnet, who coincidentally is named after a rock, is the creator of Rock City.  Unbelievably this is not the thing that Garnet is best know for.  The man also invented miniature golf.  He is a God of the American Roadside.

Rock City, in Lookout Mountain, GA, right outside of Chattanooga, is a set of natural rock formations that Garnet and his wife greatly improved on. 

You start you trip through Rock City innocuously wandering through naturally formed gullies and tunnels amongst various rock formations such as this.

One of the most well known attractions at Rock City is its legendary "Swing Along Bridge".

Now, for the sake of honesty the swinging bridge is not all that high of the ground.  If you fell off you would probably break your leg, but you certainly wouldn't plummet to your death.  However, the fact that you can see the entire city of Chattanooga from the bridge is enough to kick anyone's fear of heights into high gear.  The person in yellow in the above picture is there to talk you through the walk and to tell you to quit looking at Chattanooga if you get scared.

Of course if terrifying highs are your things, you can check out "Lover's Leap".

 A sheer overlook with an amazing and slightly horrifying view.  It even has your obligatory Indian-princess-jumps-off-a-cliff-for-true love story.  However, the story is completely lifted from the Yonah Mountain Story, so its a little suspect.

Yest another one of Rock City's claims to fame is that from the top of Lookout Mountain that you can see seven states.

Now, I choose to believe this.  Please don't go doing research, because it just makes things less fun. 

Of course, fear of heights is not the only fear one is free to face at Rock City.  There is also plenty for Claustrophobics.  Two different pathways:  The Needle's Eye and Fatman's Squeeze are there to test your endurance.  These "pathways" are so narrow that the walls on both side scrape you as you scuttle through sideways.  Unable to move other then to slowly lurch forward while cave plants tickle your ankles.  A true test of human sanity, especially for those of use with a little meat on our bones.

The deeper you get into Rock City the more you start to see the Carter's improvements on the natural terrain.  Such as the Rainbow Corridor.

The Rainbow corridor is simply a short cave with tinted windows, that create a rather magical effect.

It also gives you a chance to see what Chattanooga looks like in different colors.

Now, when you hit "The Hall of the Mountain King" the awesome starts kicking into high gear as you enter the bowels of Rock City.  The cavers are full of Rock City's trademark gnomes.

Some are even hard at work on the obligatory Moonshine Still.

This of course leads us to our grand finale:  Fairyland Caverns.....a small claustrophobic cavern dripping with water at every turn.  Carved into the cave are glowing black light dioramas of various fairy tales.  It is something one must see in person to truly appreciate.  The whole experience is magical, yet unnerving, spectacular, yet uncomfortable.  The time you spend in Fairyland Caverns is a time you will never forget.

Once you have made it through Fairyland Caverns you are let out into a massive room where garbled speakers broadcast haunting nursery rhymes sung by children that sound like they were lifted from a horror movie as you move around a black light mountain covered with fairy tale characters.

Then suddenly it is over.  You are back in sunlight.  You hit the turnstiles and your day at Rock City is over.  But it is a day you will never forget.  As far as Roadside attractions go, Rock City is the King when it comes to the South.  Listen to the Barns.  When you see Rock City, you see the Best.

The Carpetbagger

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