Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Vacation - Chattanooga

Tania and I have been discussing vacation options, I was looking at a driving trip up the Atlantic coast visiting Civil War sites and ending in Washington DC. This is still a trip I want to do, but we chose to do a shorter trip for now. Since I hadn't been looking at anything else I basically did an "eeny, meeny, miny, moe" and landed on Chattanooga. Twenty minutes on the net showed there was some interesting local activities and knowing we would pass through Bowling Green, I ordered some tickets to tour the GM assembly plant.

Our first stop was the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, I have driven by it many times but have never stopped to see it. The museum has many beautiful cars on display some in diorama type settings and some of the concept cars were neat to see, but the thing I really wanted to see was the sink hole display. I'm not going to write about it or post pictures, its documented all over the net and there are much better pictures than the ones I took. If your interested further you can read about it here. I will say though it was cool to see the "Blue Devil" in person.

The surprise winner here though was the Corvette Assembly Plant, unfortunately they did not allow photography inside. I've never been in an auto plant before and was surprised how close we could get to the actual assembly line at times we were 5-10 feet away. We didn't get to see was the paint shop due to contamination concerns. The frame assembly area is highly automated so we could only see it from a distance and the engine assembly area is behind glass which we just walked by. The base coupe engines are not assembled on site, only the LS7 for the Z28 Camaros and the LT4 for the new Z06, for only $6,000.00 on top of the cost of a new Z06 you can build your own engine there. The plant had an overall dingy look, not what I expected.

After the tour we were on the road and had some good mexican food just outside of Chattanooga that night.

The next morning we went to the Tennessee Aquarium just off the Tennessee River in downtown Chattanooga.

This is a shot from the tropical building of the Tennessee River, with the fresh water building just entering the picture on the left. (I was actually just checking on my car).

When it opened 20+ years ago they claimed it was the largest fresh water aquarium in the world. The whole fresh water thing did little for me as the fish are generally dark muddy colors unlike tropical salt water fish. Fortunately they have another building that is tropical salt water themed. The thing I enjoyed the most was actually in the fresh water building a exhibit called "Rivers of the World". They had displays or large tanks from Amazon, Congo, Volga and Fly Rivers as well as from tropical African and Eurasian waters. Not just fish but plants, frogs, salamanders or anything aquatic, it was very interesting.

Next we headed to Ruby Falls on Lookout Mountain just a few miles from the aquarium. Ruby Falls is a 145 foot waterfall in a cave 1200 feet under the mountain. Apparently in the early 1900s a railroad tunnel being built intersected the entrance to Lookout Mountain cave blocking it from public access. In the late 1920s an elevator shaft was drilled to regain public access to the cave. During the course of drilling the shaft another cave was found and within it the underground waterfall.

This is a picture of the "castle" built from the limestone removed for the elevator shaft and now the entrance to the cave.

After a very quick ride in an small elevator (much like you would ride in any office building) that holds around 12 people. It was about a .5 mile walk through the cave to the falls. The cave itself had much the same look as any other wet cave. The falls themselves were very impressive and during our time at them they turned off all the lights and had a music and light show to showcase the falls. Overall it was a nice stop and well maintained attraction.

After leaving the falls we took the top off the Corvette and drove around Lookout Mountain for a few hours enjoying a beautiful day that we ended with a ride on the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway.
This is a one mile railroad that was built to service a luxury hotel resort in the late 1880s, at its steepest point it reaches an incline of 72.7%. At the top are the electric motors that pull the cars up the side of Lookout Mountain. Leaving the upper station puts you within walking distance of many Civil War sites related to the Chickamauga Campaign.

 This picture was taken from the upper station right before we entered the car, the lower station can be seen in the upper left of the picture.

We left on the last train down and finished out the day with some very good Thia food just across the street from the aquarium.

The following morning we decided we had seen what we wanted to in Chattanooga and headed towards home with one planned detour to Lynchburg Tennessee.

Tania doesn't care much for whiskey but on the rare occasions I do drink, I drink Jack Daniels and being Lynchburg wasn't that far out of the way I wanted to take the plant tour. When we entered Lynchburg the first thing we came to was the Jack Daniels facility, we easily found a parking spot and walked inside. The lobby was very impressive with a lot of historical items and displays to look at while we waited for the next tour. After a short wait our tour started with us riding a bus to one of the nearby barrel houses, where the whiskey is aged. We were not allowed inside the barrel house but they did let us go up and look through the windows. I didn't have an opportunity to take a picture of one even though they were literally all over the countryside hills. The picture I have below is from someone that was more motivated to get a shot of them than I was. Needless to say they are massive and placed randomly all over the place.

After seeing the barrel house the bus took us back to the back side of the facility where the walking tour started.

Outside were shops where these stacks of wood are burned to create the charcoal for the filtration process.

This REO Speedwagon was one of two historic fire trucks they had on display.

This is the mountain spring that supplies the water used for the facility, the water literally runs up to and along side of the buildings. Apparently this spring was why this location was chosen generations ago.

Our next stop was a small building that was the original administrative building in the 1800s, They were in the process of doing some upgrades to the stills so we did not get to see that area of the plant.

This was a room showing everyone that has bought a barrel of Jack Daniels with the display in the center showing how many fifths are in a barrel. A barrel is between 240-250 fifths depending on evaporation (angel's take) during ageing and costs between 10 and 12k dollars depending on the angel's take and taxes. You can buy a barrel through some major retailers but if you buy it at the plant they bring in three barrels based on your tastes and you choose from them. They fly a flag with your name on it and put up a plaque in this room. The people / companies that have bought more than one barrel get stars added to the plaque and when they run out of room for stars they add colored ones to indicate I believe 5 barrels purchased.

If you look closely you can see plaques with multiple stars on them.

Not a good picture but this is the original barrel house just outside of the bottling area.

The tour ended with us in a nicely finished, large room to sip some of the various whiskeys they produce. As I indicated earlier Tania does not care for whiskey so I was forced to taste test hers too!

During the tasting our guide recommended we visit the "Business District" of Lynchburg, so that's where we headed next. It wasn't terribly difficult to find, turn left at the only stoplight for miles. The business district consisted of a court house in the city center with shops in a circle around it. It made the city circle on the Dukes of Hazzard look massive. Luckily we found a parking spot right away and walked through all the shops that basically all sold the same thing that said Jack Daniels on it. We had some excellent barbecue pizza for lunch and our last stop was in the "Official Jack Daniels Store" which was in the past the general store / pharmacy the family used during the times the plant had been legislated closed. They had some very unique items including reasonably priced furniture (porch swings, bar stools etc.) made from old whiskey barrels, none of which would fit in the back of a Corvette.

After leaving the :"Business District" we filled up with gas and and headed home, finishing a short and very enjoyable vacation.