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The Landings Automobile Society is on the move, and we’re along for the ride.
The last time we visited Chattenooga we were aboard Starsong, tied up along the riverwalk, in the shadow of the city’s landmark aquarium, and almost within misting distance of the massive water cannons that serve as a riverfront focal point—or exclamation point.
This time we are staying with our auto tour pals at the luxurious Chattenoogan Hotel on the other side of town, but Chattenooga is pretty compact, and it only takes us about 20 minutes to stroll down to the river and revisit some of our favorite spots. We can also hop on the free electric shuttle bus that pops by every five minutes, and get to the riverfront even faster.
We especially enjoy walking along the bluff high above the river and admiring all the sculptures around the Hunter Museum of Art, as well as an art gallery sculpture garden tucked into a tiny slice of hillside that abruptly drops to the river below. We hunt for this sculpture of Icarus taking off from the edge of the cliff, and are glad to find he is still flying high in the sculpture garden six years after we first discovered him.
New to the Hunter Museum’s collection since our last visit is a Tom Otterness sculpture entitled “Free Money” featuring two people dancing on a money bag. Tom Otterness is apparently all the rage now—we saw his chubby money-grubbing figures popping up all over New York this summer. How ironic that Mr. Otterness is getting rich off his works poking fun at people’s relationships with cash--laughing all the way to the bank, no doubt.
Thanks to the great travel planners in our car club we visit an unusual attraction that most visitors don’t even know is here—the world headquarters of Coker Tire, a family-owned company that owns the molds for, and therefore is the sole supplier of, thousands of vintage car tires which are no longer made by major tire companies. Corky Coker, the President of the company, has an impressive eclectic collection of rare cars and motorcycles, and his wife collects cute little cars. We have an entertaining guided tour of their collections during our visit (wherein we learn, for example, that the original National Park Tour buses like the one in Corky’s collection had rag tops so that passengers could stand up and “safely” feed the bears by reaching down from the roof level).
It was the first battle ground to become a national monument. It was arguably the battle ground that turned the tide of the Civil War. Our outstanding ranger guide leads our entourage around the vast expanse of fields and forests where about 80,000 men fought on Chickamauga’s rugged terrain, and he tells us many stories. No matter how many battle fields we visit, the scale of the war—and its casualties-- is beyond comprehension. This is the statistic that is most astounding to us: At the start of the Civil War, the United States military had just 16,000 troops. By its end, 3.5 million men had fought in the Civil War. The fields and forests around Chickamauga are abloom with hundreds of monuments erected by states to commemorate their militia men who fought and died in battles throughout this vast park.
We also learn that no war re-enactors fight battles on National Park lands, since the park service protects these areas as sacred ground (and, also, the Ranger told us with a twinkle in his eye, there are liability issues, since once in a while an inexperienced re-enactor will do something dangerously dumb like forget to take the tamping rod out of the gun before shooting, thereby sending the rod out as a dangerous projectile). The park service feels so strongly about this policy that even the battles in the orientation films we see at the visitor centers in battlefield parks are filmed off-site, rather than on the park lands where the battles were actually fought.
Cherohala Skyline Drive
Twisting and turning through the Smokie Mountains, reaching up to a mile in the sky, the Cherohala Skyline Drive is a favorite route for motorcyclists and sports car enthusiasts. On this sunny fall day the leaves are ablaze with color, and the drive is pure joy.
It takes us three hours to traverse the 46 mile route. We stop beside a mountain lake for a picnic along the way. We stop at just about every pull-out and overlook, and take hundreds of pictures.
Just a little postscript—a glorious road like this one does not come cheap, or easy. The Cherohala Drive took 34 years and $100 million to complete, making it North Carolina’s most expensive highway (and it is probably its only highway with no restaurants or gas stations).