Monday, October 29, 2012

Chattanooga, Tennessee

October 7-10, 2012

Chattanooga was the terminus of our side trip up the Tennessee River, and what a delightful destination it turned out to be. We arrived on Sunday afternoon and left Wednesday mid-morning, and managed to cram a lot of activity into that short period of time.

We stayed at Marine Max on the downtown waterfront, where they were offering a great special for Loopers – 75 cents a foot, hard to beat. The best thing is that it’s within walking distance of just about everything you want to see and do in Chattanooga. And if you haven’t been to Chattanooga for a number of years, you’d be surprised by how much there is to do. The city made a concerted effort to spruce up the waterfront and downtown, and they did a great job.

We were greeted by AGLCA Harbor Hosts Hal and Cheryl Baker who went out of their way to make us feel welcome.  One evening Hal and Cheryl joined us for a glass of wine on Blue Heron.  Bob and Cathryn from Next to Me, along with Bob’s sister and brother-in-law also came over.  Cathryn and Bailey are pals!

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Hal gave us a welcome pack from the visitors’ bureau that contained maps and coupons and a sample of the local specialty – a Moon Pie! We had never tried a Moon Pie before, but decided that as local delicacies go, it’s a far cry from those butter tarts in Canada!


The first thing we did was visit the Tennessee Aquarium, just a short walk from our dock, on the riverfront.  It’s actually two aquariums, one focused on the rivers and one focused on the oceans. Both are really well done – very informative and enjoyable.  We actually preferred the river one, maybe because it was more unusual.

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One of the aquariums contained a butterfly room, always a fun thing to see.


Running alongside the aquarium and down to the river is “The Passage,” commemorating the area’s Cherokee roots and the city’s history as one of the starting points for the Trail of Tears, when 17,000 Cherokees were removed from their traditional homelands in the southeast to reservations in Oklahoma. It includes Cherokee symbols, a tumbling “weeping wall,” and culminates in a shooting fountain at the bottom.  They say it is the country’s largest public art project.


One day we visited the Hunter Museum of American Art, perched on a high bluff overlooking the river. Afterwards, we enjoyed treats at an incredible pastry shop in the Bluffs section of the city near the museum. The pastries were a cut above Moon Pies, for sure!


Another day we drove to Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga’s famous landmark.  It is home to the very well advertised Ruby Falls and Rock City.  Anyone who has ever driven south cannot have missed the hundreds of painted barns and billboards hawking these sights. For years we’ve avoided both of them, but we’re Looping, and committed to seeing the local sights, so we decided to check out Rock City, since several people had told us they enjoyed it.  We drew the line at Ruby Falls, though.  The Wolfs don’t pay to see waterfalls!


But Rock City was kind of interesting. It was developed in the 1920s by Garnet and Frieda Carter, who lived on the top of the mountain. It consists of several hundred acres of walkways through giant rock formations, as well as landscaped gardens and lots of gnomes and a fairy tale land for the kids.

This is Craig going through Fat Man Squeeze. We are proud (I guess) that we both made it through without getting stuck.


Halfway through the trails, we came to a place where they claim you can see seven states on a clear day. It was a nice afternoon and we enjoyed sitting on the terrace and taking in the view.

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Our last afternoon we took the dogs for a long walk along the riverfront. We walked up the pedestrian mini-Lombard Street, up from the river to the base of the art museum.  From there we walked across the pedestrian bridge to the other side, where there are more shops and restaurants, as well as an old carousel (closed for the season) and a carousel-themed fountain.

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We also saw the Delta Queen, which now resides on the Chattanooga waterfront as a bed and breakfast.  She no longer cruises, sadly.  She still shows “Port of Cincinnati” on her stern.

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We got back to the boat in time to have a glass of wine and watch the sun set.

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We also watched the marina’s resident blue heron, who was surprisingly unconcerned about how close we were to him. It’s pretty neat how we’ve been accompanied by blue herons nearly everywhere we’ve gone on our trip. I think we’ve counted fewer than 5 cruising days when we didn’t see at least one blue heron, and usually many more. We think we picked a very appropriate name for our boat.  We almost always have a mascot with us!

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On our last morning, before we left, we took a short cruise through the city to enjoy the views and the photogenic bridges one more time.

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Next, back down the Tennessee River to Joe Wheeler State Park and the Looper Rendezvous.

(Real-time update: On October 29, we are in Demopolis, Alabama, on the Tenn-Tom Waterway.)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

From Guntersville to Chattanooga

October 2-7, 2012

We spent three nights at the lovely Lake Guntersville Yacht Club. It was mid-week, so very quiet and peaceful. We enjoyed sitting on our flybridge and soaking up the beautiful view. There was a blue heron who was somewhere nearby almost the whole time we were there.  He has obviously staked out the yacht club as his territory.

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Guntersville was a great stop for us because it is very close to the Alabama Hyco plant where Craig spent so much time over the past several years. We were able to connect with several of  his former colleagues, which was really fun.  The first night, Robin and Marlena Helms and Al Bennett came on board to tour the boat and have a drink before going out to dinner. 


The next day we did a lot of boat work (never ending!) and in the afternoon welcomed Jack and Jane Conway on board.  Jack and Jane live in Guntersville and we met them two years ago at the Fall Looper Rendezvous and have kept in touch since.  They are hoping to start the Loop next year.  After a tour of our boat, they took us to their lovely home right on the lake where we had a delicious dinner and good conversation.

The next morning we borrowed the marina courtesy truck to go to the grocery store and hardware store.  When we got back to the marina, we found Hyco friends Kevin and Sue Chambers, who had just arrived from Atlanta. That night we had a great steak dinner at the Rock House restaurant with Kevin, Sue and Art Zimmerman. We ate outside and enjoyed the warm fall evening – with no bugs, surprisingly.


In the morning, Art dropped off Kevin and Sue at the boat, and they joined us for the day’s cruise to Goose Pond marina in Scottsboro, Alabama. It was a cool but pleasant day, and Sue enjoyed sitting out on the bow for awhile.  Kevin liked his Blue Heron shirt!

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We pulled into pretty Goose Pond (where they had left their car), and after a quick lunch on board, we set off to run some errands at Looper favorites Home Depot and Walmart.

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After getting our important shopping taken care of, we checked out the local hot tourist attraction, the huge Unclaimed Baggage store. I wasn’t expecting to love it, and my expectations were on target.  Sorting through other people’s lost or forgotten items felt kind of creepy to me. I guess I’m just not a treasure hunter at heart.  But we always make an effort to see the local sights along the Loop, whatever they may be, so here we were.

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The most interesting things were the not-for-sale oddities, like Balinese tribal headdresses or these McDonald’s Golden Arches.


Sue bought a DVD, but that was the extent of our purchases. But I have to admit the place was packed and other people were loading up.  Good for them, I guess!

We had dinner that night at the marina restaurant, The Docks, where we had a really good meal and enjoyed a beautiful sunset looking over the water. After dinner, Kevin and Sue headed back to Atlanta. It was great having them join us on board.

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The next day we went through the Nickajack Lock and stayed at the very forgettable Hales Bar marina. After we pulled into the dock, we learned from concerned dock neighbors that the very vague approach instructions we got from the marina staff had led us over a rocky area, and we were lucky to get through there without incident.  (Of course, if we had given a closer read to our cruising guide, we would have known that!) It would have been horrible to have come through the rock-filled Georgian Bay unscathed only to hit a rock on the Tennessee River!  Add to that the pretty rustic facilities, and we were able to quickly conclude that we wouldn’t be stopping at Hales Bar on our return trip down the river.

Leaving Hales Bar, we entered the very scenic area called the Grand Canyon of the Tennessee. The term “Grand Canyon” suggests something more dramatic than it actually is, but it’s certainly very beautiful. The river winds through high hills and bluffs that rise along the shore.  Unfortunately the day was gray so not as pretty as it might have been, but the good news was that we would be coming back this way after our visit in Chattanooga and we’d hope for a sunnier day then.

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When we saw Lookout Mountain ahead of us, we knew we had just about arrived at our destination – Chattanooga. We would spend the next three days in this impressively revitalized waterfront city.


Next:  Chattanooga, Tennesee

(Real-time update: On October 21, we are at Joe Wheeler State park in Alabama, where we will be for the next several days, attending the Fall Looper Rendezvous.)

Friday, October 19, 2012

Joe Wheeler State Park to Guntersville, Alabama

September 28 – October 2, 2012

We pulled into the marina at Joe Wheeler State Park to find we were the only transient boaters there, and we had our pick of slips. This is such a pretty spot on a large bay off Wheeler Lake.  The annual Fall Looper Rendezvous will be held here in late October and we will return for that.  We attended our first Rendezvous here in 2010, but we were without a boat and stayed in the lodge over looking the lake.  It’s nice to be back with a boat.

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There are lots of sailboats among the permanent residents at Joe Wheeler.  This guy demonstrated once again that sailors are a different breed. No fear of heights, evidently.


The next day we got some company in the marina.  Next to Me arrived, followed close behind by Native Son, whose prop problem has finally been solved, knock wood. Later in the day, we welcomed more guests on board.  Cindy Clayton, who worked with Craig for several years at Hyco, her husband, Richie, and their 2-year-old son Everett drove over from Atlanta to spend the night at the lodge, visit with us and see the boat. Great to see them!  Everett was very excited and wore his life jacket constantly, even to dinner at the lodge restaurant that night.


The next morning was cool and dreary, but we took the Claytons for a ride on the lake. Everyone had a good time, and Everett loved it, right up to the point when he fell sound asleep.  Boat rides will do that to you!

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After our ride, we dropped Richie and Everett back at their car, and they headed back to Atlanta. Cindy rode with us on the boat to our next stop at Ditto Landing marina south of Huntsville, where she had left a car. The next morning, after spending the night on board with us, she would drive to the Hyco plant in Arab, Alabama before returning home.

Our cruise upriver to Ditto Landing was pleasant and uneventful, much of it through the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge.  The only town we passed through was Decatur, Alabama, which gives prominent notice that it is the home of Meow Mix cat food. Decatur also has a low railroad bridge that had to be lifted so we could pass under it.

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We continued to see a lot of limestone bluffs along the river.  The trees were just beginning to turn, giving us hope for some pretty colors when we return later in the month.

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The next morning, we said good-bye to Cindy.  The forecast was for an unpleasant day with heavy rain, so we decided to stay at Ditto Landing and drive into Huntsville to tour the NASA space museum there. One of Craig’s former colleagues, Art Zimmerman, very kindly dropped off his car for us to use for the day.  Bob and Cathryn (Next to Me) joined us for our excursion.

The U.S. Space and Rocket Center is said to be one of the largest and most comprehensive space museums in the world. Huntsville is the site of the birth of America’s space program, dating from the time Werner von Braun and his teams of German engineers arrived here.  This is where the Saturn rockets were developed that eventually took men to the moon. Spacecraft development continues to this day in Huntsville; the government is a huge employer in this city.


The Space and Rocket Center is also home to Space Camp, and the facility was full of groups of excited young kids.

The current special exhibit commemorates the 100th anniversary of the birth of Werner von Braun, considered the father of our space program. It was fascinating and really fun to refresh our memories about those early days of space exploration.  And after seeing some of the very primitive-looking equipment that was used even on the moon flights, we came away with renewed respect for the astronauts who were willing to sit atop often untested rockets. 

It was amazing to get the perspective of how tiny was the capsule in which the humans sat, on top of the giant Saturn rocket.

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And here’s a moon rock!


That evening Art Zimmerman and his daughter Jessica joined us on board for a glass of wine before picking up his car.  Thanks so much, Art, for loaning us the car.  We had a great day!  The Space and Rocket Center AND Walmart – imagine that!


The next day we continued on to Lake Guntersville, another exceptionally attractive lake on the Tennessee River. Not far below the Guntersville Dam, we passed Painted Bluff, over 350 high.

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Guntersville is quite close to the Arab Hyco plant, so Craig has been here many times over the years.  Just after the Guntersville Lock, we passed one of the Tennessee Valley’s noted bat caves, the spring and summer home to tens of thousands of endangered gray bats.  We were there in mid-day, and anyway they had probably already migrated for the winter, so we missed them. But Craig has been there at dusk to see them emerge en masse and he says it is an incredible sight, as you might imagine.


Around a few bends, we arrived at the Lake Guntersville Yacht Club. The club offers reciprocity to our club at home, so Looper friends Jan and Rusty on Cbay arranged for us to stay there. It is a beautiful facility on a particularly lovely part of the lake, with welcoming members who made us feel right at home.  A great stop!


Next, Lake Guntersville and Goose Pond in Scottsboro, AL