Our first full day in Chattanooga dawned with Zach yelling “Holy shit! Whoaaaaaaa!” in his sleep at 5:30 am and then falling back to sleep, but left me wide awake. I got up, took a shower, and then made breakfast. We hung around the campground just chilling for a while and then made the trip into town with plans to go to Ruby Falls and the Incline Railway. But as they say, “the best laid plans are in your underpants.”
We drove to Ruby Falls and spent a half hour trying to find parking, winding our way around the parking lot over and over, up and down and around the curves, just waiting for someone to pull out so we could pull in. After finding a spot, we waited 15 min in line only to find out that the next available tour was at 3 pm (it was 12:30 at this point). I was told that the incline railway was only 2 miles away, but I didn’t dare leave for fear of not being able to find parking again and missing our tour, so I bought the tickets and hoped Zach would hold out for the next 2.5 hours. That was rough. He was not happy. We browsed the gift shop for a little bit, but nothing really held our interest so we sat in the cafe for lunch for a little while. Eventually, we went back to the car to hang out and tool around on our laptops. Trying to hot spot two laptops from a cell phone in an area where the cell service was a bit spotty with the big tourist crowd wasn’t working to Zach’s liking, so he got out of the car to collect grass seeds and put them into his bug habitat to water later and see if the seeds are mature enough to grow and germinate.
Ruby Falls really is as incredible as they say it is. I don’t think Zach thought it was worth the $20 admission fee and the 2.5 hour wait for our tour to start (well, for the line to start….it took even longer to get through the long snake of a line and into the elevator and down into the depths of the mountain), but I was absolutely stunned and found myself speechless when we made it to the falls. We took the elevator 260 feet into the mountain, but the mountain still towered above us where the entry point was. We had a wonderful guide named Tim and he reminded me a lot of my dad with his corny jokes and puns, the large stature, beard and receding hair line. He was a little older and full white and I imagine he plays Santa on the off-season. The cool air in the cave system was a nice reprieve from the heat and humidity of the south above ground. I had to keep reminding Zach to watch his head as we wound through the tunnels and formations. He’s quite tall and had to stoop through some of it. He asked some really great questions of the tour guide and while I kept trying not to think about an earthquake that would trap us underground, he didn’t think twice at the thought that we were UNDER A MOUNTAIN!
We saw incredible formations as we wound our way through the cave systems and learned about the history of how it was discovered. By the time we got to the falls, we were about 1100 feet under the mountain and the cavern was dark. As we all stood around the pool at the bottom of the falls, the lights came on and music started playing and it was everything I hoped for and more. I found myself speechless and choked up. It was like I was in the Goonies and had just found One Eyed Willie’s cavern. What amazes me is that even after discovering this system and the falls and going 2000 feet back into the earth behind the waterfall, geologists still don’t know where the water source for the falls originates.
The falls are 145 feet high and the pool below is 5 feet deep. The water in the pool empties out into a small river through the cave system and out of the mountain. I asked Zach what he thought about the waterfall and in typical Zach fashion, he answered, “Well, I thought it would be taller.” I said, “We’re 1100 feet under a mountain, with another cave system running underneath us and we just found an underground waterfall and you want it to be taller?” He said, “Well, a little taller would be nice.” I think he was still amazed, but he certainly wasn’t letting on too much.
Zach spent the rest of his evening at the campground catching fireflies. No matter how old he gets, he continues to find fascination in all of the creepy crawlies around him. I love that he never ceases to find wonder with the world around him.