History awaits visitors in Georgia Battlefields: Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park offers reminders of action in 1863, plus glorious views of two or more states.

Travel Q&A

December 21, 1997|By Jean Allen | Jean Allen,SUN-SENTINEL, SOUTH FLORIDA

I like touring battlefields and am considering stopping to see the Chickamauga Civil War battle site. When I sent away for information, I realized that the full name is Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park and it includes Lookout Mountain, so there must be a lot to see. Can you fill in the blanks for me?

The double-name park is the oldest and largest national military park administered by the U.S. National Park Service. The battle -- actually several stretching from September to November 1863 -- raged in northern Georgia and southern Tennessee for control of Chattanooga, a strategic rail center. There are battlefields on Lookout Mountain, Missionary Ridge and Chickamauga Creek.

Lookout Mountain is so fascinating that you could easily spend a full day or more there. Not only is it the site of the "battle above the clouds," but it has a waterfall inside it and a "city" made of rock on top. The mountain also has a hang-gliding school.

Chickamauga Battlefield, on U.S. 27 in northwest Georgia, has a 12-mile, self-guiding tour. It also includes a visitor center that displays the Fuller Gun Collection, a fine array of flintlock rifles, and a good multimedia show.

Two major battles and many skirmishes covered nine weeks, and the Union won the final battle Nov. 23-Nov. 25, 1863. The next spring, Gen. William T. Sherman used Chattanooga as his base in his march through Georgia.

Up on Lookout Mountain, Point Park, commemorating the battle's veterans, provides a good overlook to view Chattanooga and Moccasin Bend of the Tennessee River. The nearby visitor center displays dozens of items from the "battle above the clouds."

A fascinating museum on the battle of Chattanooga, featuring an electric map, is next door to the visitor center.

The most famous thing on the mountain is not military, but a place once advertised on hundreds of barns from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico: Rock City. Today, only about 90 of the original "See Rock City" barns remain, but you can buy barn-shaped birdhouses and picture books of some of the barns.

Rock City Gardens comprises 10 acres of unusual lichen-covered sandstone, 400 species of native plants, huge boulders, natural rock formations, a 4,000-foot "enchanted trail" through tunnels and narrow crevices (one is aptly called Fat Man's Squeeze), over a swinging bridge (with an alternative stone bridge for the skittish) and arrival finally at "Lover's Leap" observation point. On a very clear day, there's a view of seven states (Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, North and South Carolina, Virginia and Kentucky). In several visits I've never seen more than two (Rock City is actually in Georgia but you have to reach it through Tennessee).

Rock City has been open since 1932. Garnet Carter, inventor of )) miniature golf, developed a wealthy neighborhood on the mountain, while his wife, Frieda, transplanted 400 species of wildflowers and shrubs along trails she laid out on Carter property at the top. Carter opened his wife's lushly landscaped gardens to the public and, to attract customers during the Great Depression, thought up the barn-painting advertising. He gave barn owners free passes to Rock City, souvenirs and a free paint job.

Rock City Gardens is still in the family, now operated by Bill Chapin, great-nephew of the Carters.

Underground falls

Another Lookout Mountain visitor-pleaser is Ruby Falls. The 145-foot falls are 1,120 feet underground, reached by elevator and paved walkways, past stalagmites and rock formations.

The Lookout Mountain Flight Park and Training Center has a popular hang-gliding school, and visitors are offered tandem flights with an instructor. Gliders go off the mountain launch site 1,350 feet above Lookout Valley. From that site, it's plain to see that while Lookout Mountain's northern-most and highest end is in Chattanooga, the mountain is actually about 50 miles long and stretches southwest into Georgia and Alabama.

There's one final adventure on Lookout: You can drive all the way to the top of the mountain, gawking at the nice homes and negotiating steep curves, or you can do part of the trip on the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway, one of the steepest railways in the world, with a gradient of up to 72.7 percent. The mile-long ride has been offered since 1895 and the station is the original, but the trolley-style cars are modern.

For more Chattanooga information, information on hotels, restaurants and shopping, call the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau at 800-322- 3344.

For a brochure about the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, write the Superintendent, P.O. Box 2128, Fort Oglethorpe, Ga. 30742; or phone 706-866-9241.

Pub Date: 12/21/97

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