Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Rock City, 2017

I know I am probably not alone in this, but the more time that slips by, the harder it is to stay in touch with old friends.

Technically I am "in touch" with many old friends via social media, but actually getting to visit (in person or on the phone) doesn't happen very often.

We are all busy with life. Marriage. Kids. Extended family. Jobs. New friends we've collected over the years. It's a lot to keep up with.

But every few years or so, the stars align and an impromptu visit happens where we get the opportunity to catch up for real.

A few weeks ago, such an opportunity occurred. Julie, one of my roommates from college, was in Nashville and she messaged asking if we could meet up. She was hoping to do some Chattanooga-specific activities with her kids as they traveled home to Virginia.

Of course, I said "Yes!"

Julie wanted to go to Rock City on Lookout Mountain. In the four years we have lived here, it's one of the places we haven't visited. It's about a 25-minute drive from where we live and a bit touristy (so we had heard).

Truth-be-told, I like to visit trails that are a bit more (ahem) wild, but I agreed to meet my old friend and her kiddos for a middle of the week visit to the attraction.

In the end, due to some time constraints and commitments (Jack had taekwondo practice that we had already missed that week), we ended up meeting for a vary abbreviated tour (for us, Julie and her kids stayed longer and actually went to Ruby Falls as well).

At this stage in life, I'll take what I can get.

Rock City was actually pretty cool. It is a bit expensive, so I think we might consider a family pass if we go back with Daniel. We have heard that it is a pretty sweet place to visit at Christmas, and I know my brother, and my sister and her family, would be like to check it out some time.

I'll be honest and say that my preconceived idea about Rock City was that it was very fairyland oriented and maybe a little hokie. I'm glad I didn't let that stop us from making the visit to catch up with my friend and see the waterfall at Lover's Leap (I've been wanting a closer look than the view from the Ochs Highway going up Lookout Mountain).

I ended up really liking Rock City (we did skip the Fairy tunnels at the end due to time), but the quiet, meandering trail through various cracks in rock is totally the type of thing I like.

There was a miniature Mushroom Rock (Jack noticed it first, we have a huge, natural Mushroom Rock on our mountain), and also a miniature barn that said "See Rock City." You see these barns advertising Rock City all over the valley.

The kids were enamored with the maps that told us where were going. They also enjoyed finding all of the little garden gnomes hidden along the trail, and searching for wild deer in a natural habitat built along the trail.

Another favorite for the kids was the crack we walked through called "Fat Man Squeeze." This was exciting for me since I was carrying Isaac on my back. Normally you can turn sideways to fit through a crack (most of us are wider in the shoulders), but the backpack carrier made me equally wide from side-to-side and front-to-back. Hah! Thankfully we squeezed through with Isaac intact.

The view from Lover's Leap was breathtaking.

To get to Lover's Leap, you walk out on a swinging bridge (there is a stone bridge for those who are more timid),

and there is a patio with a panoramic view of the valley, along with seven flags that represent the states you can see on a clear day.

If you are looking for a fun thing to do in Chattanooga, I would recommend Rock City, though it is expensive. If we end up getting an annual pass, I think I will persuade Daniel to go on a date night there – Cafe 7 is located on top of Lover's Leap.

Pricing is as follows:
General Admission: $19.95 │ Annual Adult Pass: $39
General Admission (ages 3-12): $11.95 │ Annual Child Pass (ages 3-12): $23
Kids 2 and under are Free
Other ways to save: Bundle your tickets and visit another attraction the same day, or consider buying a Hamilton County School Coupon book that has one free child's pass with an adult purchase.

I don't know what Rock City is normally like, but the middle of the week was perfect for us. I didn't feel overwhelmed by people at all!  

Julie and I didn't get to visit much at Rock City, but the next day we met up for a little fun at Coolidge Park, including walking across the Walnut Street walking bridge and eating lunch at Good Dog. Sometimes it is fun to do the touristy stuff, especially if it's with an old friend!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Cummins Falls │ Hiking with Kids

When Daniel and I were first married we lived in Cookeville, TN. In those early years of our marriage, we spent a lot of time hiking. Partly (mostly) because we both loved it and partly because it was the only thing we could afford to do.

We hiked everywhere we could on the Cumberland Plateau, up to the Big South Fork region and over toward the Great Smoky Mountains. Our weekends were filled with endless hikes.

Cookeville has several great hikes that were pretty close to where we lived at that time. We enjoyed hikes at Burgess Falls, Cummins Falls, Window Cliffs, and rapelling at B Rock. Back in 2002-2004, Burgess Falls was the only State Park of the bunch, the other places were private property. Now these areas are all State Parks.

On Monday we had plans to meet up with my brother, my sister and her kids, and one of our cousins to do a waterfall hike. My sister had come up to Tennessee to visit family and really wanted to take her kids on a waterfall hike (Florida is not known for their waterfalls).

Our initial plan had been to visit Burgess Falls because Cummins Falls had recently been closed. I checked the website for Burgess and it said that the stairs to the bottom of the falls were closed (it currently says the stairs are closed indefinitely).

I checked with my sister and we agreed that we wanted to get wet, so we altered our plans to visit Cummins Falls instead since it was open again.

I'm so glad we did!

Among other things, the website warns that:
The hike to the gorge is not an improved trail. This is an adventurous hike and is not suitable for small children.

I initially debated if we should really take the kids there (ages 2, 5, 5, and 7), but as my sister pointed out: Our kids are not your average kids.

Point taken...

So, risks or not, we decided to go. We had a discussion about what to expect and made sure each kid had a grown up to stay with, and then we headed down into the gorge. (There were actually quite a few kids hiking with their families while we were there).

We opted for the 1.5 mile trail to the falls, and honestly, it was lovely. While the switch backs to the bottom are somewhat steep, they weren't that big of a deal, and there is a guard rail for the switchback sections as you go down. We live in East Tennessee and regularly hike on more difficult trails than what we encountered at Cummins Falls.

Once we were at the bottom, we enjoyed wading and swimming in the Blackburn Fork River as we made our way upstream to the falls. The kids loved that pretty much the entire hike was in water. And it was just as beautiful as I remember (though in my mind, back when it was private property almost 15 years ago, it was a more difficult climb to the bottom).

We kept away from rapids that had strong currents, but the kids were able to swim in several deep, calm sections along the way. We didn't think the hike was particularly strenuous (it would be different if the water levels had been higher), but you should take into account that you have to hike up a series of switchbacks to get back to the parking lot.

Once we reached the falls, we had to climb over a bunch of boulders to reach the swimming hole beneath the falls. There were a ton of people there and two rangers who were monitoring to make sure no one did anything stupid or got swept down the rapids below the swimming area.

The park provides a limited number of coastguard approve life jackets and I snagged one for Jack. The water was freezing, but we all waded out to the base of the waterfall. The kids enjoyed getting behind the bottom of the falls on a ledge with my brother.

And while I hung out with Isaac on the boulders to warm up, the rest climbed up to the first level of the waterfall... unfortunately we didn't get any pictures of that.

It was such a perfect day spent with family. I hate that Daniel and Robert had to miss out. I had forgotten how beautiful it is. We will definitely have to go back.

On our way home, we drove through Cookeville and I showed Jack where Daniel got his degree from and a few other places. It really made me nostalgic. We haven't been back in over 10 years!

Trail Stats:
Cummins Falls north of Cookeville, TN.
3 miles hiked, mostly in water.
1 large waterfall viewed.

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