Rock Garden

If you’re traveling through northern Georgia, and are looking for a quick and interesting pit stop, I suggest checking out the Rock Garden in Calhoun.

Located behind the Seventh Day Adventist Church, this is a free, little attraction. (There is a donation box at the entrance.)

All built by volunteers, the rock garden features both miniature and large scale sculptures of castles, villages, and real locations, such as the Colosseum in Rome and Notre Dame in Paris.

All of these are located on a nice, meandering garden path.

The details on some of the sculptures are stunning. There are clay windows, stained glass windows, and little figurines like dogs, knights, and villagers. The sculptures are made with glass beads, stones and shells, with a concrete base.

It only took us about 15 minutes to see everything, but it was worth the stop to stretch our legs and see something different and beautifully made.

Georgia Day Trip87
Georgia Day Trip100
Georgia Day Trip103
Georgia Day Trip110
Georgia Day Trip115

Buc-ee’s

If you don’t live in the south, there’s a good chance you probably haven’t heard of Buc-ee’s. What is that, you ask? Buc-ee’s is hard to describe. At its most basic description, Buc-ee’s is a gas station and convenience store. A better description would be to call it a magical place full of food, household items, clothing, and beavers. Lots of beavers. Some of the bigger stores have over 100 gas pumps. Plus, it’s clean inside. Buc-ee’s was voted as the cleanest restrooms in America! Yes, that’s right.

Buc-ee’s is a Texas based company, that has recently expanded to other southern states like Alabama, Florida and Georgia. We visited a Buc-ee’s in Alabama while we were on vacation in July, and it felt so good to be back after two years. We had missed it!

A new Buc-ee’s opened in Calhoun, Ga., a few weeks ago, and it is only an hour long drive! There were other things we wanted to do in the area, so this was the perfect time to stop at Buc-ee’s.

I DON’T recommend going to a Buc-ees that has just opened. For those who live in Chattanooga or northern Georgia, wait a little bit longer to check out the one in Calhoun. It was madness! There were people taking selfies out front, and people were taking videos on their phones inside. Derek and I had to hold hands the entire time so we wouldn’t get separated.

Here are some of the things I personally enjoy and recommend buying at Buc-ees:

My favorite sweet tea is Texas Tea, found in the cooler section. There are many different flavors, but my favorite is strawberry.

I also enjoy their snickerdoodles. They are soft and chewy. There are so many different baked goods to choose from!

Kolaches are also a Texas specialty. Kolaches were brought over from the Czech Republic immigrants who settled in Texas. A kolache is a bun filled with either a savory or sweet filling. My favorite is sausage and cheese.

If you research Buc-ee’s online, most people will say to get the Beaver Nuggets, which is a sweet caramel flavored corn puff snack. I have had these before, and honestly, they’re not my favorite.

Of course, you have to get something with Buc-ee Beaver on it. Over the years I’ve grown a collection of keychains, stuffed animals, pajama pants, shirts, a sweatshirt and a mug!

Overall, Buc-ee’s is a great pit stop on a road trip. Gas prices are usually on the cheaper side. The bathrooms are humongous so there won’t be a line. There is so much food to choose from, too.

Georgia Day Trip82
Georgia Day Trip83
IMG_2814

Great Locomotive Chase trip

This Labor Day weekend, in honor of it being a long weekend, and it being my birthday weekend, we wanted to do something special. We decided to take a day trip into Georgia, and visit some Civil War sites and museums.

I love Civil War history, and there is no shortage of it in Tennessee and Georgia. When we first moved to Chattanooga, my dad told me about the Great Locomotive Chase. He let me borrow a book about it, “Stealing the General.”

Here is a short history lesson: The Great Locomotive Chase (also known as Andrews’ Raid) happened on April 12, 1862. James Andrews, a civilian and scout for the Union Army, and volunteers from the Union Army stole a train, the General, in Kennesaw, Georgia, (back then known as Big Shanty). The train at the time was stopped to allow passengers to have breakfast at the Lacy Hotel.

The goal was to drive the train to Chattanooga, destroying the Western and Atlantic Railroad track as they went. Railroads were vital in the south and the Civil War. Gaining access to the railroads would cut off supplies to and from southern cities, and badly damage the south’s chances in winning the war.

Confederates gained access to different trains, including the Yonah, and the Texas, and pursued the General. Andrews and the Union soldiers made it as far as Ringgold, Ga., before the locomotive ran out of fuel, and they were captured. Some of the men were able to flee, but eight were hanged.

Our first stop of the day was Kennesaw Georgia, about an hour and a half drive away. We visited the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History, which houses the original engine, the General.

Georgia Day Trip44

The General was the main draw of the museum, but we also learned a lot about the railroads and how they were used and impacted by the Civil War.

There was a neat section in the museum where you learned about the work in foundries, and what it takes to make a locomotive.

Georgia Day Trip21
Georgia Day Trip31

The second Great Locomotive Chase and Civil War related stop of the day was in Tunnel Hill, Ga., where we visited the Tunnel Hill Heritage Center and Museum.

A major part of the Great Locomotive Chase was the chase through the Western and Atlantic Railroad tunnel. The Texas was actually chasing the General backwards!

As part of this tour, we rode on a golf cart the whole length of the tunnel, back and forth. This was really cool. The tunnel is no longer used, but the newer tunnel, built in 1928, is right along side of it. We were lucky enough to see a train come through while we were here.

Georgia Day Trip127
Georgia Day Trip121
This is one of my favorite pictures I took on the trip. It’s the modern and the historical together. In the background, you have the modern train, and in the foreground is an original ruined railroad line. The union soldiers destroyed as much track as they could while on campaigns. They would bend them so they would be unusable.

We also got to see the Clisby Austin house, built in 1848. Austin was the post master in Tunnel Hill, and he also owned general stores. He was married twice — his first wife died — and he had 19 children! Austin was a Union sympathizer, so when the war broke out, he sold the home and left.

General Sherman stayed in the home for a week during the start of the Atlanta Campaign. Later on, after the Battle of Tunnel Hill, the home was turned into a hospital.

Georgia Day Trip133

One thing that I found interesting in this home was that the stairs were original. You could see the dips in the wood, from all of the people who have walked on it over time. I took the same steps as General Sherman!

Georgia Day Trip141

I enjoyed the Tunnel Hill Heritage Center and Museum, because it was a bonus to learn about Clisby Austin, and the home.

There were other stops on this day trip, so stay tuned!

Gulf Coast vacation

Last week Derek and I took a week-long road trip vacation to several destinations at the Gulf Coast.

We visited Gulf Shores, Mobile and Dauphin Island in Alabama, and Biloxi in Mississippi. These locations are about a six and a half hour drive.

Neither of us have visited any of these places, and after this trip, now I can add Mississippi to the list of states I have visited.

A bonus to this road trip was that it took us right past the Buc-ee’s in Robertsdale, Ala. If you don’t know what a Buc-ee’s is, it is an amazing gas station and convenience store. That’s a horrible description for it though; it’s so much more than a convenience store. The company originated in Texas (where we lived for three years) and now it’s starting to branch out around the south.

Our first two days were in Gulf Shores. However, all of the hotels closer to the beach were above my budget, so we stayed a few miles inland in Foley. I think we lucked out though, because we stayed at a beautiful bed and breakfast called Hotel Magnolia.

Gulf Coast Vacation164

Also a coincidence was being across the street from a railroad depot museum and model train display in Foley. My dad loves trains and he passed that on to me. My dad has always had some type of model train layout. That was a neat first thing to see to ease into our week of fun.

Gulf Coast Vacation38

Also on our itinerary was Alligator Alley, which is a natural habitat setting for alligators that have been rescued from dangerous situations. Visitors to Alligator Alley start out by seeing hatchlings, and the alligators in different young age groups. The last part is the best part, seeing the (very, very large) adult alligators in a swamp. There is a boardwalk that goes over the swamp, and it is honestly beautiful scenery.

I asked a worker a few questions, and he said that he estimates they have around 700 alligators! He even said that some wild alligators have gate crashed, and now live among the rescued alligators.

I also got the chance to hold a three year old alligator named Gatorade.

In addition to admission, you can also buy alligator chow. It looks like large brown pellets, similar to what you would feed goats at a petting zoo.

Gulf Coast Vacation87
Gulf Coast Vacation110

We also went to the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo. It is a small zoo, about the same size as our local Chattanooga Zoo.

What I enjoyed about this zoo is its layout. It is a large circle, so you can only go backward or forward, and not have to worry about missing any animals.

Another big draw, at least for me, is the different kinds of cats. My favorite animals are all the cats, so I was happy to see lions, tigers, black panthers, lynx and cloud leopards.

Gulf Coast Vacation189
Gulf Coast Vacation195

We also explored Gulf Shores and spent some time at the beach. I find it interesting that Gulf Shores was more crowded than Biloxi, and they were both similar tourist beach towns. I am not sure why that is.

Gulf Coast Vacation137

We also drove all the way to the end of the island and visited Fort Morgan, the site of a Naval Civil War battle. It’s just not a complete trip for me without visiting some type of historical site!

Gulf Coast Vacation246

Something extra we did was stumble across Gulf Shores State Park. There, we found a nice pedestrian boardwalk that went over the marsh.

Gulf Coast Vacation284

Our next stop was Mobile. I did not have high expectations of Mobile. It was just meant to be a stop over to get us to other destinations that I was more so looking forward to. Mobile pleasantly surprised us. Our hotel, Malaga Inn, was in a great location, walking distance to the historic district. The streets and architecture of the buildings were beautiful.

Our hotel had a lovely courtyard, and I am glad we took advantage of it on our first evening, because on the second day we had quite the downpour!

Gulf Coast Vacation298
Gulf Coast Vacation319

In Mobile, we took a tour of the Oakleigh House, built in 1833. There wasn’t much original to the house itself, but the people who are in charge of the home, took great care to make sure that they filled the home with both Mobile and period era items. The tour guide did a great job of telling stories of multiple Mobile people and families.

Gulf Coast Vacation344
Gulf Coast Vacation361

A highlight of the day in Mobile was visiting the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park. There, we got to see the USS Alabama, submarine USS Drum, and countless military historical aircraft on display.

Gulf Coast Vacation386
Gulf Coast Vacation456

After a full day in Mobile, we left early the next morning for a full day at Dauphin Island. This is interesting: I expected to like Mobile the least and I liked it the best, and I expected to like Dauphin Island the most and I liked it the least.

This is not to say that we did not enjoy our day on Dauphin Island; we did. However, I was surprised with how little there was to do. This is definitely not a tourist-crazy area like Gulf Shores. Dauphin Island seems to be a place to “get away from it all.” Families could rent a house here for a week and just spend all of their days at the beach. That would be perfect for some people, but it’s not my idea of a vacation, personally.

At Dauphin Island, we first headed to Fort Gaines. This fort, and Fort Morgan, can almost be sister forts in a sense, if you are looking for Civil War history about the Battle of Mobile Bay. Both forts, just across from each other on different islands, were witness and played a part in this battle. I enjoyed Fort Gaines much better than Fort Morgan. Fort Gaines is much smaller, and the self guided tour was more organized with more information.

Gulf Coast Vacation505
Gulf Coast Vacation515

The second thing we did on Dauphin Island was to walk the lake loop trail, part of the Audubon Bird Sanctuary. This is a nice wooded, marshy area filled with trails.

At this point, it would be remiss if I didn’t mention the weather. The weather on the first half of our trip left something to be desired, but up until this point we had gotten lucky. It rained and thunderstormed every day, but it was always during mealtimes, when we were in the car, or back at the hotel for a mid-afternoon break.

It had drizzled on and off during our time that morning at Fort Gaines, but by the time we parked at Audubon Bird Sanctuary, the sun was starting to shine. We left the umbrellas in the car. Big mistake.

The skies opened up on us and it DOWNPOURED. We were instantly soaked. At that point, it wouldn’t have made a difference if we turned back to the car or kept walking on.

We knew we had dry clothes waiting for us in our suitcase in the truck, so we just laughed it off and made the best of it.

It was a beautiful trail, and at some point it did finally stop raining. We were taking pictures of the lake on a little pier, when a group of people walked up behind us. They said, “You do know there is an alligator underneath you, right?” That made the walk more special, and made it even more interesting after the downpour.

Gulf Coast Vacation559
Gulf Coast Vacation566
Gulf Coast Vacation563
Gulf Coast Vacation567

After changing (underneath towels while parked on a dead end road where there were hopefully no people watching) we found a place to eat lunch. We spent the second half of the day driving around, taking pictures, browsing in stores, and ended the day with time on the beach.

Gulf Coast Vacation497
Gulf Coast Vacation555
Gulf Coast Vacation580
Gulf Coast Vacation575

After that, it was time to head to Biloxi, our last stop of the trip. I enjoyed Biloxi the most, because there was so much to do, and, as I mentioned earlier, it was less crowded than Gulf Shores.

Our hotel was right across from the beach, which we took advantage of multiple times a day.

My favorite part of each day was going to the beach in the evenings. Low tide was at that time, and the water was gentle. You could walk out very far, over multiple sand bars, and still only be in water up to your ankles.

Gulf Coast Vacation789

The highlight for me in Biloxi was visiting Beauvoir, Jefferson Davis’ last home. Jefferson Davis was the president of the Confederacy. By now, you probably all know that I love Civil War history. Behind Beauvoir is the Presidential Library and Museum, where we learned a lot about the man.

The home was filled with all original artifacts belonging to the family. In addition, there were many interesting Civil War related items in the museum. The coolest item, I thought, was the coat that Davis was wearing when he was captured at the end of the war in May, 1865.

Gulf Coast Vacation640
Gulf Coast Vacation681
Gulf Coast Vacation663

Plans had to change unexpectedly on the second day, but I think things turned out for the better. We had tickets for the Betsy Ann Riverboat, but the ride was cancelled due to a mechanical issue.

Instead, we visited the Big Play Entertainment Center, where we raced in a go-kart, and then we played a game of mini-golf. After that, we headed to the Ohr-O’Keefe Art Museum. Ironically enough, these three things were all together cheaper than the river boat tickets.

Gulf Coast Vacation757
Gulf Coast Vacation768

Other, small things that we did included visiting the Biloxi Lighthouse, seeing tree sculptures, (made from trees destroyed in Hurricane Katrina), the Hurricane Katrina Memorial, and of course, more beach time.

Gulf Coast Vacation697
Gulf Coast Vacation717
Gulf Coast Vacation702
Gulf Coast Vacation777
Gulf Coast Vacation754
Gulf Coast Vacation740

After two and a half days in Biloxi, it was time to head home. To break up the drive, we decided to make a pit stop at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. This was a great decision. We had lunch in their cafe, and spent over an hour exploring all of the different gardens and flowers.

Gulf Coast Vacation816
Gulf Coast Vacation822

We had a great time. We did everything that we had set out to do (except the Riverboat) and then some. When we got home, I made a YouTube video with footage from the trip.

We can’t wait until the next vacation!

Nashville daytrip

We went to Nashville for the day on Saturday, July 3. It was a long day, about 21 hours, in fact.

We left at 5:35 a.m. and did not get home until about 2:20 a.m.

The reason why we went to Nashville in the first place was an Alabama concert, which was originally scheduled for last July, pushed back a year because of the pandemic.

Since we had never been to Nashville before, we made a full day out of it.

Our first stop was breakfast at the Gaylord Opryland Resort. We went here because it’s next door to the Grand Ole Opry. This is a large hotel, with a beautifully designed interior. There are water features inside, including more than one waterfall. There are different sections of the hotel. My favorite was the Delta section, which looked like New Orleans. We got breakfast at a grab and go marketplace, and walked around the hotel.

Nashville3
Nashville6

After time at the hotel, we went to the Grand Ole Opry for a 9 a.m. backstage tour. This tour was about an hour. It included an introduction show at the beginning. We saw all of the artist rooms, the wall of plaques listing Opry members, and got to walk out on stage.

I was disappointed with how the tour handled the stage part. Everyone got to walk out on to the famed circle (a circle of wood taken from the Ryman Auditorium) and a photographer took a picture. You had to pay for the picture. It cost $25 dollars to get three copies, one large and two small, of the photo, which was poorly printed. I understand that there had to be a way to control the group across the stage, otherwise everyone would have huddled around it waiting to get their own picture, but the photographer should have offered to take photos with people’s own phones and cameras. We ended up sneaking a photo of the photo with our phone, so at least we have proof that we stood in the circle.

However, it was a thrill to stand in these places on the stage where so many famed artists have stood before.

Overall, we enjoyed the tour, and we would like to come back to see a show.

Nashville25
Nashville29
Nashville45
Nashville55
Nashville78

After our tour, we headed into downtown Nashville. The Opry and Gaylord Opryland are a few miles away from downtown, in a section called Music Valley.

We walked the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge over the Cumberland River. The bridge is short, compared to the Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge in Chattanooga.

Nashville84

After that, it was time to check out Lower Broadway, the main tourist area filled with honky honk type bars, shops and restaurants.

I am sure that things were busier than usual due to it being the 4th of July holiday weekend, but we were both quite overwhelmed by the amount of crowds and noise. A lot of the bars had open windows and doors, and there would be a band inside playing ear splitting music. It seemed like the bars all had a contest with each other to see who could play the loudest.

I think I would enjoy Broadway much more during an off-season visit, and earlier in the morning.

Nashville105

Some other things that we saw included the Music City Walk of Fame, which is similar to the stars on Hollywood Boulevard, the Tennessee State Capitol, and the Instagram famous What Lifts You wings mural by Kelsey Montague.

We were having a lot of difficulty finding parking, exacerbated by getting stuck in traffic all over the city, so Derek dropped me off at the Union Station Hotel, a historic train station, so I could take a few pictures, while he drove around the block.

In the afternoon we headed to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The highlight for me was seeing Kacey Musgrave’s exhibit, All the Colors. It was a treat to see the white lace jumpsuit that she wore to the Houston Rodeo performance, a show I saw in March 2019.

Nashville222
Nashville195

Other neat things were the hall of gold records, Willie Nelson’s shoes and bandana, a dress of Dolly Parton’s and hand written song lyrics from Brooks and Dunn.

The last thing we did during the day was the whole reason why we came to Nashville, the Alabama concert. It was a great show. Martina McBride was the opening act, and it was awesome to hear her sing “Independence Day.”

There were two surprises during the show. First, Gov. Bill Lee came on stage and made a proclamation designating July 3 as “Alabama in Tennessee Day.” Second, Tim McGraw came on stage and sang a song with Randy and Teddy.

I got to hear a bunch of their songs that I had not heard during the first concert in Houston. I was excited to hear “Roll On,” which is one of my favorites.

IMG_2526

After the concert, it was time for the two hour drive back home. At the end of the day, my phone had recorded 22,000 steps! Also, I learned a lesson; do not wear pointed toe cowboy boots! My toes were squished all day and hurting, but at least I had no blisters.

Overall we had a good day, and we learned a lot so we can make the next trip a better one.

Kayaking in the Tennessee River

We rented a tandem kayak last weekend and kayaked in the Tennessee River.

We rented from River Drifters, a combination restaurant and rental place, located on Suck Creek Road. The restaurant is just across the street from the river.

We rented for a half a day, or four hours. The person in charge of the rentals told us that we would have enough time to paddle around Williams Island.

We have kayaked before, but never in a river. We soon realized that the Tennessee River flows northward, and we were fighting the current, going south.

We tired easily from paddling, and we took short breaks often. It was also a good excuse to check out the many different small sandy beach areas. I was surprised with how many shells there were on the shore. We also found raccoon prints.

We tried to come ashore on Williams Island, but the land wasn’t sandy. Instead, it was dirt and clay, which was slippery, as I soon found out! I slipped and fell right into the river. I had to spend the rest of the morning with a wet butt. Oh well. I have learned my lesson, and that is to wear a bathing suit even if you don’t expect to go swimming.

The day started out sunny enough, but it soon grew cloudy (which is okay because Derek burns so easily.) However, at one point it started raining. We came ashore and took shelter under the tree cover. We were directly across from the River Drifters dock at that point.

The rain let up, so we set off across the river to go back. We got only maybe a few feet out, and it started raining again! We paddled quite fast after that!

After dropping off our paddles and life vests, we had lunch at the restaurant.

I recommend River Drifters, both for the rentals and the food. I had searched different rental companies, and River Drifters was the best price, with the most time options available.

Kayaking00039
River Drifters, the restaurant and rental place that we rented from.
Kayaking00026
Kayaking00031
Kayaking00025
Kayaking00017
Kayaking00014
I made a YouTube video with the video footage we took while kayaking. Check the video out, complete with me falling on my butt in the river!

Raccoon Mountain Campground

At the beginning of the month, Derek and I went camping at Raccoon Mountain Campground.

I wanted to camp at this campground for over a year, ever since we saw the place when we were there for the cavern tour, which is on site.

Also, on a sillier note, I bought myself a Raccoon Mountain sweatshirt from a local apparel company, Native Made, and I just had to wear it at the campground!

There are cabins of various sizes to rent at the campground, and that is what I had originally wanted to do, but that was before Derek said he wanted to start camping, and we bought all the gear and supplies.

I am glad we ended up tent camping here, to get the full experience.

The tent sites are scattered on the edge of the woods, near the entrance of the campground. Our site had a small stream and trees on the back side, so it felt more private. Plus, it was nice to fall asleep to the sounds of the water.

The people working at the campground were helpful. When we arrived, we paid for firewood, which was then dropped off directly at our campsite. There is also ice available, and an assortment of snacks, and basic camping needs at the general store/office. After camping earlier in the spring with no amenities like this, it was nice to have these things available.

The best part about the campground was all of the campground cats. The general office has a binder with all of their pictures and descriptions. We were visited by a beautiful long haired calico named Callie. I guess she could tell that we are cat people!

The campground has various amenities such as a pool, games for rent, the cavern tour, and gem mining. Derek and I did the gem mining, because we both used to collect rocks and gems as kids. We got a good amount of nice gems in our bag, and now some of them are displayed at my desk at work.

There was also a hiking trail just across the road from our campsite. It is a two mile trail, but it was humid and steep, so we only made it half of a mile up before turning back, for a full mile.

It rained on Saturday night, but we looked at the weather forecast ahead of time so we were prepared. We covered our tent with a tarp, and lifted it up on the one end to make a fly, by tying the ends with rope to the trees. It looked silly, but we stayed dry.

We enjoyed our second time camping, and getting to experience a different campsite. We do not have any immediate plans for camping again, but there are some various sites that are in the back of our mind.

Raccoon Mountain Campground0
Raccoon Mountain Campground13
Raccoon Mountain Campground46
Raccoon Mountain Campground48
Raccoon Mountain Campground18
Raccoon Mountain Campground24
Raccoon Mountain Campground27

Ritchie Hollow Trail

We hiked the Ritchie Hollow Trail on Wednesday morning, and a lot of lessons were learned.

Do not hike in warm, summer-like weather after a recent rain, because the humidity will be bad! Also, because of the humidity, we were sweating more, so we went through more water. We had to ration our water so we had enough to last the entire hike. Bring more water for warm weather hikes!

The Ritchie Hollow Trail is a newer trail, part of the Tennessee River Gorge Trust, which opened up in 2018.

The trailhead is just across the road from the Pot Point Cabin. I was excited to see this cabin, because I have seen pictures of it and I have read about it online.

According to trgt.org, “Pot Point Cabin was originally constructed in 1835 of hand-hewn logs and planks reclaimed from a flat boat that wrecked on the “Boiling Pot,” a nearby rapid in the Tennessee River.”

It is a beautiful two story log cabin, with views of the Tennessee River. The cabin is owned by the trust, and can be rented out. I looked into it once, and a two night stay is over $800! The cabin is large, so that price could be split up between parties. I had to satisfy myself by just looking at it from the outside, and taking a peek through the front window.

Ritchie Hollow Trail1
Ritchie Hollow Trail3

The full trail is 2.7 miles one way (5.4 miles round trip), but we did not complete the full trail. I might consider this during a return trip, but it would definitely have to be a colder day. Instead, we stopped at Blowing Wind Falls, which is 1.8 miles in, for 3.6 miles total. This seems to be a popular choice. We saw two other couples who did the same thing.

The hike to the falls is a steady incline the whole way. It flattens out at times, but barely long enough to catch your breath. The path is extremely rocky, and there are a lot of rock steps.

The hike features a few water crossings, which were pretty low when we passed through. In the first part of the hike we came across two smaller water falls.

Ritchie Hollow Trail16
Ritchie Hollow Trail15

We saw a lot of interesting things on this hike, including a lot of insects and flowers. My favorite was all of the mountain laurel shrubs. Mountain laurel grows in mountainous, forested areas. It is actually the state flower of Pennsylvania. We used to live in Pennsylvania for many years, and I had only seen it in the wild once. Here in this area of Tennessee, we see it all the time!

Ritchie Hollow Trail26
The pinkish-white blooms of Mountain Laurel dotting the trail.
Ritchie Hollow Trail62
Spotted this camouflaged toad hoping across the trail!
Ritchie Hollow Trail21
Another thing that we saw along the trail were remnants of old moonshine stills, noted as such on trgt.org.

The trail went up and up and up, until we felt like we couldn’t go any further. Then, up ahead a ways, we saw the sign pointing the way to the waterfall. We were so relieved to be able to get to the ending point, and sit and rest!

I should also say, once we got higher up in elevation, the humidity dissipated, which helped a bit. But the elevation was as grueling as ever! The coolness from the waterfall was welcoming once we reached it.

We knew it would be warm, so we planned on wading in the base of the falls. Blowing Wind Falls is perfect for that because you can get right up to the edge of the falls. I brought my water shoes, but Derek just cuffed his pants up. The water was so cold and felt so good.

Ritchie Hollow Trail48
Ritchie Hollow Trail37

The hike back was much easier, because then we were gradually descending all the way back down. Even though we were unprepared and we suffered a bit on the way going, we both said we would do this hike again!

Benton Falls

Yesterday Derek and I hiked the Benton Falls Trail, which is over an hour away from Chattanooga. Benton Falls is located in the Chilhowee Recreational Area, part of the Cherokee National Forest.

Benton Falls is a popular trail because it is a relatively easy hike ending with a gorgeous waterfall. The trails in the area are heavily trafficked, partially because the area is home to a campground. There is a day use area with picnic tables, grills, and a man made lake with a beach. If you are visiting, it costs $3 to park. There are envelopes at the information kiosk in which to put your money in.

I like to research before we go out on any new hike. I look at pictures, read reviews, and even try to watch YouTube videos, if they are available. During one video, taken during the summer, I was shocked to see how many people there were at Benton Falls. Because of this, we left at 6:30 in the morning.

On the way into the Chilhowee Recreational Area, Oswald Road features a few overlooks. We stopped at these to break up the winding, slow drive in to the trail head. The overlooks are absolutely gorgeous, featuring views of Sugarloaf Mountain, Ocoee River, and part of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Benton Falls Trail2
Sugarloaf Mountain is the pointy mountain, just off to the center of the photo.
Benton Falls Trail8
Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance. The tallest mountain in the photo is Big Frog Mountain.

The hike is a mostly flat path, and the trail is three miles total (1.5 miles there and back.) The trail only gets rocky toward the end, when you descend by the falls.

There is a spot where you can see the top of the falls flowing down. Derek found a path that lead to the middle of the falls, where you could stand next to the edge. It was cool (and wet)!

Benton Falls Trail16
What the path looks like most of the way.
Benton Falls Trail26
At the side of the falls, about half way up.

Derek and I have seen a lot of waterfalls on our hikes, and I think Benton Falls is the prettiest. It is a 65-foot waterfall, and it flows down over rocks that are in a stair-like pattern, which makes for a pretty water flow.

The water was flowing well when we went, but the pool of water at the bottom wasn’t so high that we were still able to walk across some of the bigger rocks out in front.

What I like best about Benton Falls is that you can get close to the water, if you want. We were able to walk right on the lowest ledge, and feel the water spraying us. I imagine that a lot of people hike here in the summer with their bathing suits on. The water is sure to feel good in the summer heat.

It was a good call to arrive early in the morning. We arrived at the trail head at exactly 8 a.m., and we did not see a single soul on our entire hike in. We had the waterfall to ourselves the entire time, which was at least 30 minutes. We started to see a steady stream of people while hiking the trail back to the parking lot.

Benton Falls Trail38
Benton Falls Trail40
Benton Falls Trail45
Benton Falls Trail49

Camping Trip

A few months ago, during the winter, Derek said to me, “I want to go camping.”

We have both camped in a number of ways. Derek was a Boy Scout. My grandparents had a camper, and they would have a reserved spot for the whole summer. We have both camped together during Civil War reenactments, in a canvas tent. However, this was the first time we have camped together on our own, with a tent meant for modern camping.

After purchasing the basic equipment, and borrowing quite a bit from my parent’s old reenacting stash, we booked a site at Chester Frost Park.

Chester Frost Park is a Hamilton County Park in Hixon, located on the edge of Chickamauga Lake. Dallas Bay is on the opposite side. The park consists of two islands, connected by a causeway.

Our camp site was right on the edge of the water. There are different types of campsites to choose from, including grass/dirt or gravel lots. Our lot was gravel. Some sites are more primitive than others. Ours came with water and electric hookup.

We bought a pop up tent, which is perfect for beginner campers like us. I was concerned that it would take forever to figure out how to fold it back up at the end of the trip, but there were directions to follow that were easy. The tent looks small, but it was just spacious enough for the two of us, even Derek who is six feet tall.

The camp site also had a fire ring with an attached grill and a picnic table. We cooked most of our meals over the fire, with the exception of dinner the night we arrived, and sandwiches for lunch the next day. We also made s’mores as well, and had plenty of cups of hot tea.

Our campsite had a two-night minimum stay. We arrived on Friday evening and left mid-morning on Sunday. I am not sure if there are other sites which allow one-night reservations.

Since we were only 20 minutes from home, on Saturday afternoon we went back home to feed our cats. I am glad we had this excuse, because we had forgotten some cooking utensils!

The only downside to Chester Frost Park is that there aren’t many amenities, activity-wise. There is a sand beach and a few playgrounds, but that was it. I think there may be more programs during the summer high season. I wish, being on the water, that there was a place to rent kayaks. You could only go on the water if you had your own and brought it from home.

However, we still had a good time, and it was a good first trip for us to work out the kinks.

For instance, we’re going to have to figure out the bedding situation. We both had ground mats, but those, with a ground cloth underneath, did not help to make the gravel pebbles any less hard under our backs. On the second night we slept on top of the sleeping bag and used our extra blanket as cover, which seemed to help a bit, but then the new problem arised of being cold! This will not be an issue as the temperatures rise, though.

Also, we want to figure out a better way to organize camp. Coming from a reenacting camp site, Derek and I are used to hiding all of the modern items with wooden boxes, bags of burlap, etc. We had items in various Walmart bags, and it looked trashy! We would like to buy wooden crates or something similar to hold everything.

We enjoyed walking around the park and checking the surroundings out. There is a disc golf course, if you have your own frisbees. There were also multiple pavilions, and even a little stage, where I imagine bands play in the summertime. A lot of people were fishing, either on the beaches, off the docks, or in boats. We spent a lot of time just relaxing by the campfire. I read a book and Derek watched a movie on the laptop. By the way, Chester Frost Park has WiFi, if you need to get some work done, or just want to stay up to date on social media.

I am glad that Derek spoke up and suggested camping. This is a new activity that we will certainly enjoy for years to come. I am looking forward to booking the next campsite!

Camping at Chester Frost Park1
Our campsite. The picnic table is out of frame.
Camping at Chester Frost Park4
Camping at Chester Frost Park21
Tea time in the early morning.
Camping at Chester Frost Park27
Camping at Chester Frost Park32
Camping at Chester Frost Park41
Walking around the park.
Camping at Chester Frost Park60
Chicken and rice soup for dinner, along with slices of bread from Bluff View Bakery.
Camping at Chester Frost Park79
The sunrise on our last morning.
Camping at Chester Frost Park84
I lucked out when this heron took off in flight right in front of our campsite!
Camping at Chester Frost Park89
We also had a lot of woodpeckers around camp. I was happy to get such good bird photos!