Sequoyah Birthplace Museum & Fort Loudon Historical Park

Worth a good two hours, possibly more, both attractions are on a man-made island. In the valleys near this location sat both a Colonial era British Fort, and an Indian village that was the birthplace of a Famous Native American; the original valley locations for both the fort and village were submerged in 1979, in order to create the Tellico reservoir, and  island.

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I came here wanting to see Sequoyah’s birthplace, having been told about this it by the folks at New Echota in Georgia, where there is a whole display describing his achievements. Sequoyah was so famous in his day that the trees of the same name were named after him; he achieved this notoriety because, after recognizing the importance of the written language in empowering the invading whites, he sat down and all by himself invented a phonic alphabet for the Cherokee language so that his people too could be literate. And the village in which he was born was called Tuskegee

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Below a plaque in memory of the Cherokee people who had lived in the valley that had been flooded in 1979, and the 191 burial sites that had to be moved to this new burial mound in order to create the Tellico reservoir

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I am putting this on the list of places that I didn’t schedule in near enough time for. I honestly was expecting it to be less than it was. By the time I was getting there, it was due to close in about 10 minutes. I had the phone number and called, and the lady working the desk said she would stick around for an extra 15 for me, and another Family that happened to show up can see the place at the same time I arrived (they had not called).

As I said before, this is not actually the original location, the Tennessee Valley Authority had flooded the whole area to create a electric damn and this is where they move to the his home, and created the visitor’s center which explains all about the history of the tribes, and the import of Sequoyah’s achievements.

Once this place closed, I moved across the street to the rebuilt British fort built there. By the time I arrived the visitor’s center had already close, so I can’t speak to it.

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Behind the visitor’s center however is the fort, which only closes at sundown… and it is kind of seriously cool. It’s a living history museum which includes everything, down to sheets on the soldiers bunks

 

Hiwassee River Heritage Center

To be blunt, this is a “not yet ready for prime time” educational center about the Cherokee nation and the ‘Trail of Tears,’ which passed along the old ‘highway’ (aka, historic paved road) the center sits next to.  According to the woman who ran the place, they’re still getting funding and were just recently able to buy this building (which looks like it might have been some sort of office). The plan is to tear down the current structure, in the very near future — just a matter of months, and replace it with a much larger facility on the same location.

Currently, all they really have to show are some placards on the wall that tell the story of what happened, which are (I’m pretty sure) duplicates of ones I already saw on the walls of other more developed locations like New Echota (I’m guessing they were gifts from a state historical society or some such). She said that once they expand there will also be artifacts from local digs and research facilities, with a full library, etc. Among the placards was a description of archeological digs done in the area before the Tennessee Valley Authority had put in a damn that flooded many historic Indian sites back in the 1930’s as part of the depression area development of the region, and I assume many of the artifacts will be from those digs.

I look forward to coming back to this place at some later date to see how it progresses.

When I first drove here, I thought that maybe my GPS had failed me, because there were no signs leading to here, but happily, there are nice clear signs out front. Then I saw the sign on the door… firstly, the author forgot to include the local area code and not being a from there I had no idea what to dial, and secondly, my T-mobile phone had no signal, as in none. I went next door to the gas station and asked a nice young guy if he had a working cell phone and would he please call the number for me. The woman who runs the place was apparently 15 minutes away running errands, but said to wait for her.

While doing that, I went next door to a nice looking antiques place (other people’s junk), which actually had a few things worth buying, as a well a huge collection of abandoned family photographs that go back to the 1800’s (we don’t recognize any of these relatives so what will you pay us for them). It was kind of sad actually. The woman who ran the place gave me a free copy of a book about the history of the area written by a local man.

Mayfield Dairy Farms Inc.

Interesting factory tour of a Mayfield plant that packages milk and ice cream (no cows, no cheese), that is highly affordable <$5 for adults, with the price including a bowl (or cone) of their freshly made ice cream.

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As my friends know I’m not one for early mornings, in fact I tend to live in my own little time zone which if I’m lucky is only three hours behind of everyone else (my normal bedtime is about 3am or 4am and I need a good 8 hours to function well). Sometimes I get so out of synch that I just find it easier to move my body clock forward an hour or so every day till it is in local time. IF I have a job where I am forced to yank myself out of bed at a set time it’s less likely to happen, but during periods like now, where my time is my own… well let’s just say getting to things that are far away and that shut down by 5pm can be a struggle. In addition, I don’t do mornings well… I tend to stagger around and grunt for the first half hour, and I’ve found my driving during the first two hours of wakefulness tends to be ‘unsafe’ meaning if I need to leave the house by 8am to be at work on time I have to be up by 6am, at least if I need to drive to get there.

So, You do the math: recently I’ve been waking up at around 11:40am, and this place is about 1.20 hours away from where I was staying, and the dairy’s last tour is at 4pm and I was assured that by that hour most of the machines have already been shut down, so it would be best to come before that. NOT the easiest thing for me to pull off. I had intended to go on yesterday, but by the time I got up, dealt with a couple of pieces of business that had popped up in my emails, etc., it was already nearing 3pm. So today I tried again, and managed to get there by about 2:48pm, and found during the tour that they were already starting to discontinue production on a few of the machines. So, I strongly suggest you go there earlier rather than later… and they don’t do tours on Wednesdays.

The tours are every hour on the hour, and begin with a documentary about the company (which seems to serve the secondary purpose of adding on a few stragglers to the group). Then everyone is given a hair net (whose purpose seemed legal rather than actual, we were almost never anywhere near a machine when there wasn’t glass between us and it).

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Unfortunately they do not allow any photos taken while inside the factory area, so I can’t show that, but its the usual processing machines, either molding the plastic jugs for the milk, or filling them, etc. I did learn one interesting fact… apparently its a huge mistake to keep your milk in those nice spaced on refrigerator doors. According to the woman we’re supposed to keep the milk as far to the back of the fridge as possible, if you want to keep it fresh.

During my visit there was male toddler type who at first was completely disinterested, with parents who clearly didn’t grok the concept of teaching … I think they just thought taking the kid to things like this would be enough. Sorry but no. The tour guide was talking to fast and delivery her script in too monotone of a voice to grab the kids attention, so I picked up an example of the snapped off extra plastic from the milk jugs that they had examples of sitting on a side table (well above child reach) and wiggled it in the kids view, talking about what it was and then redirecting his attention to the machine chopping them out at a fast pace… from then on he was enamored.

At the end your let out in a shop area with a lot of appealing chatchkees and amusing T-shirts that advertised the company in one way or another — I was sorely tempted to get something but my life style requires a strict limitation of stuff (my car can only hold so much). There is also an ice cream parlor where you can redeem your one scoop of ice cream. I opted for a flavor called Extreme Moose Tracks  “Rich chocolate ice cream with Moose Tracks Fudge-filled cups and famous Moose Tracks Fudge” … whatever that means

 

Ruby Falls: underground waterfall & caves

Worth the ~$20/adult entrance fee, but ONLY if you come on a non-vacation weekday

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Also, I strongly suggest buying the combination ticket with Rock City and Battles of Chattanooga. Be warned, if you disregard my warning and come to Ruby Falls with the tourist crush you’ll feel like you were ripped off; Firstly, there’s insufficient parking so you might find yourself having to walk a fair distance up a steep hill. Then you’ll enter, only to find you have to wait as long an hour to be able to take the elevator down into the caverns. Once there you’ll be herded quickly like cattle through narrow caverns that aren’t wide enough for more than a single file of humans — with barely a chance to take photos of said caves, and after that, once you get to the room where the falls are, you’ll be forced to stand in line to get your picture taken by the falls, and only allowed about 30 seconds to do it, all for the low low price of about $20/adult. I have this on very good authority from numerous fellow tourists I met who had made that mistake, and were very very unhappy with their experience.

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I however, heeding the warnings of my fellow travelers, arrived on a weekday, when there was intermittent rain and no schools were out on vacation. I arrived mid afternoon and parked three spaces away from the main entrance. I bought my ticket, and had to hustle to the bathroom because the next elevator ride down was in five minutes. Once down there I was in a group of maybe 20 people, and while down in the caverns we only had to wait by the side to allow one group to pass us going the other way. When at the falls there was no line to take photos, and instead we could just do it as we wished.

The only bad thing, and it was pretty bad, was that after almost five years of dutiful service and managing to remain in pristine condition that whole time, I made the mistake of asking a Korean tourist, of the variety who used to live in my neighborhood when I taught University in S. Korea (fitting into their groups is such a priority for Koreans that they almost wear uniforms that help you to identify which ‘class’ they belong to), to take a picture of me, and he proceeded to drop my iPhone 4S onto the cave floor smashing the back screen to smithereens

— right after this picture:

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On the upside, the iPhone SE was due to be released in a week or two, and I finally had justification for buying a new phone.

Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden

The former back yard of an artist: Remember the iconic talking heads album cover? Well this is the home of the Howard Finster, the Baptist ‘tent revival’ preacher who created those images.

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One of the most acclaimed (by the mass media — but not so much the art world) folk art artists of his day, he even did Jonnie Carson, Finster was the darling of the rock and roll world since REM filmed one of their early music videos in his back garden.

Howard Finster had been a tent revival preacher who felt a calling from God to pass ‘his’ word via art rather than in preaching… Creating art then became a compunction for Finster. He was initially ‘discovered’ by art professors at the university of Georgia, Athens.. And then by one of the most influential gallery owners in NYC (soho), and then by the likes of REM and the talking heads. According to the intro movie Keith Haring did a pilgrimage to here before he died and as you walk around you can see clear evidence of his handiwork.

 

When I got here originally I drove up and there was this smiling guy sitting on a grass cutter the kind you can drive around and according to go to the guy at the front door I was the first person to show up today. I had the place to myself, at least or a while. As soon as I got to the front door a big orange tabby walked up and demanded entrance and the guy working the front door dutifully let him in.

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When you first enter the museum you directed towards watch a half hour movie about the artist; it explains his life and motivation for his work (serving G-d). The moment I sat down to watch it the orange tabby came right over, jumped on my lap and proceeded to demand to be petted, so I scratched him about the ears for about 10 minutes, till he decided to get even more affectionate. Now I love cats, used to have three of them, but I have since been diagnosed as seriously allergic to them (which is why I no longer have any), so I had to nudge him to the floor. He gave me a pissed-off glance and walked away. Clearly from the cats perspective the job of any visitor is to pet him. As soon as the movie was over I ran to the bathroom, to wash my hands & arms which were now covered with cat, and splashed water on my eyes which had gone all itchy (I respect and obey cats to my own detriment). I later learned that there were in fact three orange tabbies who see it as your job as a visitor to pet them. 

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Otherwise, you are left alone to wander his mazelike gardens. Towards the back he constructed a house of mirrors that I suppose was intended to create the infinity of spirit ….
By the way, this is what I saw in the sky on the way driving to here

…. so that by the time I arrived to his Paradise Garden I was already predisposed to see ‘the spirit’ (if you will) in Finster’s art.  

All in all, this place was pretty amazing. Also, I had apparently unplugged the cork because after me a few car loads of artsy types just pulled in 

1885 Grill

Tasty and affordable restaurant that’s conveniently located to many of the Chattanooga tourist attractions: Ate here four times, working their way through their menu, and didn’t have a single bad meal.

I discovered this affordable and tasty chef driven restaurant via Yelp, and have been there four times — and except for the last time when I had an extremely pretty blond imbecile for a waitress, I enjoyed ever visit (but that’s clearly not the cooks fault). It’s located at the base of Lookout Mountain, somewhat equidistant to both of the two most convenient roads up to the top (where the tourist attractions are) from both Chattanooga and Dalton; and as such this restaurant is incredibly handy if you’re headed to Rock City Amusement Park, Ruby Falls, or the historical/civil war tourist locations. It’s also walking distance from the base station for the Incline Railway (but I don’t suggest taking that as it is overpriced and pretty useless, in my opinion, if you have a car). If this eatery were located in Dalton, where I’m staying at a friend’s home, I’d be eating there every night.  It’s one of the many chef driven eateries in the Chattanooga area located in a refurbished brick building. The food is incredibly tasty and steaks are the only things on the menu that cost over $17. The servings are southern sized, and are more than enough for two normal people to share (excepting perhaps the shrimp and grits)… so if you do it right you can share a meal and walk away more than happy at $10/head.


Prater’s Mill

Picturesque spot for a nice picnic, or to fish: This is an historic site that’s technically in Dalton, even though you’ve got to drive past a few other towns to get to it… I think it’s a bit like O’Hare Airport being in Chicago (It’s ORD designation refers to it historically being located in Orchard Place, which Chicago annexed in the late 1950’s via a thin strip of land, against the wishes of the surrounding suburbs, so as to be able to claim the income generated by the airport). Even though it’s supposed to be in Dalton, on the map it’s much closer to Varnell, GA … and if you are from here Varnell is pronounced Varr-a-nell

It’s Historic (pre-Civil War & Trail of Tears, and listed on the list of Historic places), and pops up on all the ‘things to do lists for the area — even though they haven’t actually put in the effort to give you anything to do when you get here. In spite of it being a working mill (the product of which is sold at a local shop) it’s apparently only open to the public once a year in October, when they have a festival here — makes no sense to me either. If it is a working mill, why not just set a schedule and allow folks to visit while its happening, talk to the kids about the process, etc… more often than just once a year. There is a visitor’s center and ‘historic’ store across the street, but it too is rarely open. As such, this is more of picturesque place to stop and eat than really an educational experience (although there are the obligatory signs scattered around). Knowing this (thank you to Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews – by other confused visitors), I had picked up a Ruben sandwich from the butcher shop/deli near here and am eating it as I watch three old guys who are sitting pretty spread out from each other along the river bank, fishing silently.
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The most entertaining thing that happened while I was here was a car and a truck drove into the lot, and a young dark haired woman got out of the car, ran over to the truck, got up on the running board and started repeatedly head slapping the poor guy sitting there who looked to be in his early 20’s. After she was done she ran back to her car. He then slowly got out and went over to her car to talk to her… At that point one of the fishermen and I made a quiet retreat.

Dalton, GA: Hamilton’s Food & Spirits/Pizzeria

If you’re looking for an upscale eaterie in Dalton, GA, the fact is you’re best off opting for a national chain.

This review reflects my first attempt, and probably my last, at the only upscale non-chain restaurant in the Dalton area. Apparently (based on conversations with locals) the town used to support a few very good eateries but they all failed, mostly due to mismanagement. Relative to it’s competitors this place is incredibly expensive — its competition being the myriad of other chef driven establishments that Dalton locals consider “in the area,” which seems to be from just north of Atlanta (slightly over one hour south) to Chattanooga (about 35 minutes north).  Thoughts, 1) this appetizer’s big enough that if you added a veg it would be a big meal for one person, as it is I am already full having only eaten half of it & with no vegetable side  … And 2) the risotto is slimy and gross tasting, and I usually love barley. What really killed me was the waitress said, as I was eating it, “most of the locals order the quail on a salad instead of the risotto.” … so WHY you may ask, isn’t the chef putting that on the menu instead? That, and while the balsamic works well with the quail, it is NASTY with the risotto. Seriously, the mind boggles. Based on what I have seen of the portions on other customers’ plates, if these guys halved their servings and their prices, they’d probably do a lot more business because they’re the only upscale eaterie in town that is not a national chain, and hence, travelers who are crashing for the night at a local hotel (Dalton is off one of the major north/south arteries to Atlanta and Florida) of the sort who utilize smartphone apps would come here… just because.

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Bacon wrapped quail with a balsamic glaze on barley risotto

excuse the lack of a map, but for some reason it refuses to load for this location.
The address is: 243 N Hamilton St #5, Dalton, GA 30720, and it’s in the historic part of Dalton, rather than highway off ramp section.

Alleia (Italian)

Alleia is a very upscale, tasty, romantic, and (by Chattanooga standards) expensive, chef driven rustic Italian eaterie. It is located in a renovated brick industrial building that sits directly behind the historic terminal station for the now defunct passenger railway line that used to pass through town, and was made famous by the Glen Miller mega hit “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” I was invited to dinner here by my Dalton friends, as we were going to go to a Buddy Guy concert that night at the Tivoli Theater (one of the many former vaudeville & movie palaces nationwide that cities have wisely been saving from the wrecking ball). This is one of the oddities of travel, I’d never heard Buddy Guy live in concert before, even though he’s based in my home town of Chicago — I had to come to a much smaller city at the GA/TN border to do it.

Free parking in that part of town is almost nonexistent, and it was raining, so I was incredibly happy to discover Alleia offers complementary valet parking. Directly behind the stand is the entrance to the restaurant, but good luck on finding the door during daylight. The contrast between the outdoor light and darkened space in which the massive ancient-keep-like wooden door sits, makes it almost impossible to see it till your eyes adjust to the difference — and keep in mind it was raining when I got there. As I had arrived a good half-hour before my hosts the restaurant placed me at a table right near the front windows so that I could spot them arriving, and while there I watched one befuddled elderly gentleman walk right past it — twice, trying to find the entrance. Once you’ve lugged open the door (it required grabbing the ring on the front and leaning back to get the thing to move) you enter into a darkly lit space reminiscent of a church, with massive candles that have been allowed to drip their wax to the floor, and hanging gas lanterns.

My meal was nummy. For my appetizer I had a very finely cut carpaccio with truffle and radish, and then for my main I had quail which lay on a fig, onion, and something else purée that was served with a side of sauteed purple cabbage and new potatoes … all of which was wonderful. The star of the show, however, was my dessert, an olive oil gelato (something that sounded incredibly odd but my friend promised me was something to be tried) with bits of salty pistachio in it. The gelato melted in the mouth in a way I’ve never experienced before, and the counterpoint to the pistachio was just amazing.

 

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Battles for Chattanoga, GA

Well worth the price! Probably the easiest to understand explanation of the civil war battles in this area, played out on a 3d diorama . Is it low rent? Sure, but whoever put the thing together did so with a spark of theatrical genius which makes the whole thing worth while. Great theater of the off off off Broadway variety if you will…

The Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park consists of three separate parks that memorialize one of the major/pivotal military campaigns of the Civil War (or what some Southerners refer to as the War of Northern Aggression).

They are: (listed in the order I went to them)

  1. Chickamauga Battlefield & Visitor Center (in GA)
  2. Cravens House located 1/2 way up Lookout Mountain (which I didn’t bother seeing the inside of because the original house was decimated during the battles, and what’s there is entirely a re-creation — and it’s only open on Weekends)
  3. Point Park & Lookout Mountain Battlefield Visitor Center (which the Park service thinks of as two separate things but I don’t think anyone else does)

Next door the #3’s visitor center is the tourist trap called Battles of Chattanooga which to be quite honest, completely beats the crap out of the paltry offerings at the tourist center next door; and, any traveler who wants a better understanding of the battles around Chattanooga should consider this a MUST do. In fact, this is the 2nd time I’ve gone to this attraction, the first time was maybe 10 or 15 years ago as a friend and I road tripped from Chicago to Disney World, and we spotted massive road signs advertising it. At the time we thought it was going to be hokey, but as we were both geeks we decided to give it a try. We ultimately agreed it was utterly worth the time as both of us had studied the battles in school, but the 3D blinking lights visual demonstration (showing troop movements up and down the mountains that surround the city, etc), allowed us to finally understand what had happened.

However, as it had been at least 10 years since my last viewing I decided to buy include the ticket to this as part of the Rock City/Ruby Falls/Battles combo deal which I strongly suggest buying if you’re going to be in Chattanooga for at least a few days. And I suggest seeing this demonstration and THEN going across the street to the National park at the point.

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Since it was to dark inside to take any useful photos, let me set the scene with words:

Imagine if you will one of those massive sculpted 3d tables that shows the geography of the Chattanooga basin looking south across the winding Tennessee River —  with lookout mountain on the far right, and the hills of Missionary Ridge to the far left, effectively encircling the city below. Now imagine on the wall behind the table a movie about the long siege of the area, and how it went on until President Lincoln finally got fed up with General Bragg’s refusal to be aggressive (which was resulting in failing morale among the soldiers) and opted to replace him with General Ulysses S. Grant (sometimes referred to as Lincoln’s Butcher). From time to time the movie darkens, and the map comes alive with flickering colored lights demonstrating troop movements. For example: Federals floating past Confederate guards in the dead of night to attack the only viable ferry point, or racing up Missionary Ridge as, father like son, the elder (and horribly named) Arthur Macarthur (can’t you just imagine the ribbing he got growing up?) disobeys Grants express orders — setting the pattern for his son I suppose — and thereby wins one of the first Medals of Honor, as his son General Douglas Macarthur would later do in WWII (making them the first father and son pair to do so).  The whole thing is really quite exciting.