College Visits — Chattanooga and Clarksville

Tennessee has an odd custom called Fall Break.  Students get a week off in mid-October.  Some people say it’s leftover from when youngsters had to help with the cotton harvests, other people say it’s to make up for school starting in August.  Whatever the reason, we took advantage of the time and scheduled some campus visits for my son.  He’s in 12th grade, and if all goes well, he will be starting college next year.

He is interested in UTC (University of Tennessee at Chattanooga), and we had visited there this summer.  His father suggested making a second trip in the fall, to see what the campus was like when there were more students there.  I suggested detouring north to Clarksville, for some comparison shopping at APSU (Austin Peay State University).  He’s been to the University of Memphis for a campus tour, to Rhodes College for a Knowledge Bowl tournament, and to Lyon College for the Arkansas Scottish Festival.  Before he makes his mind up, I want him to consider several schools so he can make an informed decision.

Saturday we left home, later than my husband wanted, earlier than I expected to get out the door.  We drove to Jackson, TN, and stopped for breakfast at Denny’s.  We continued eastward, stopping at Franklin for lunch at Culver’s.  We passed fields white with cotton, and fields where cotton or hay were being harvested, and pastures of cattle.  The trees, for the most part, were still green; fall foliage was just barely beginning. Then on to Chattanooga.  We ran into traffic snarls in the mountain, road repair plus an accident or two, which delayed us considerably.  We arrived in Chattanooga, checked into our hotel, dropped off our luggage, and went to the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, where we had dinner at the Grand Junction Deli, and then rode the Halloween Eerie Express. It’s a train ride that leads to a Halloween stop with storytelling, a fun house, carnival games, etc.  It’s meant for grade school kids, but it was fun anyway.

Sunday we went to Raccoon Mountain to visit the caverns.  There were several impressive stalactites, stalagmites, and columns.

After exploring the part of the cavern open to the public (only a small fraction – the rest isn’t safe for casual visitors) and the inevitable gift shop, we had a late but hearty lunch at Cracker Barrel, then returned to our hotel for a rest.  We went downtown in the afternoon and rode the free electric shuttle bus.  We did some window shopping and a little exploring of the city that might become my son’s new home for the next four years.  Afterwards we went back to the hotel and dinner at Wendy’s.

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Horse and carriage, with the Tennessee Aquarium in the background.

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The Market Street Bridge over the Tennessee River.

Monday was the big day, the campus tour.  We looked over the buildings, classrooms, administration, student center, etc.  We visited a dorm room (many dorm rooms at UTC are apartments with four small bedrooms, so students have apartment-mates but not roommates, sharing living room, bathroom, and kitchen).  We had lunch at Crossroads, the school cafeteria, and discussed the various meal plans.  We double-checked that my son’s paperwork was in order.  That evening we ate dinner at Mr. T’s, at the foot of Lookout Mountain, which in my opinion has the best pizza in Hamilton County.

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University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Tuesday we went back to the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, to see the old trains and to take an unhurried look at the gift shop.

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We had lunch at Hardee’s, and went downtown to explore further.  We checked out the English Rose, a tea shop that we might visit on a future occasion.  Again we rode the free electric shuttle bus. We wandered down Broad Street, window shopping (and stopping at All Books for some actual shopping), and went past the Tennessee Aquarium down to the Tennessee River.  The Riverwalk is thirteen miles long.  We strolled a mile or two, no more, and stopped at the Southern Belle for some air conditioning and cool drinks.  We walked back to the shuttle bus depot, and transferred to the northern route, which goes across the river to see a bit of that part of town.  Then we went back to our hotel and had dinner at Fazoli’s.14657543_1520826247933631_2366822946987861780_n

Wednesday morning we checked out of the hotel and headed northwest to Clarksville.  Unfortunately, we were unable to take the train.  We had lunch at Culver’s, then went to APSU, where we met with the head of the computer science department and he explained the various concentrations within the computer science major before we took a campus tour.  Afterwards, we went back to Culver’s for ice cream.  We debated staying in Clarksville overnight, possibly doing some sightseeing in the morning or heading for home.  (Clarksville is supposed to have several good museums, parks, and Civil War sites.)  Being sight-see’d out, we debated Hwy 79 (allegedly shorter) vs Hwy 24 to Hwy 40 (allegedly easier) and started for home.  We stopped for dinner at Loretta Lynn’s Kitchen in Hurricane Mills.  My daughter said she wasn’t feeling well, and the driver was tired, so we decided to call it a night and spent the night in Hurricane Mills.

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Browning Building, Austin Peay State University, Clarksville, TN

Thursday, back on the road.  We stopped for a comfort break in Jackson, at the Casey Jones Village, then on to home.  We took it easy the rest of the day, beyond going out to the grocery store to restock the refrigerator.  And now it’s Friday, and I have a suitcase of dirty laundry to wash.

Well, that was my week.  How was your week?

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Celtic Fest 2016, Brownsville, TN

Celtic Fest 2016

September 17 and 18, 2016, was the 11th annual Celtic Fest.  The Celtic Society of West Tennessee has been hosting an autumn Celtic Fest for over a decade.  The date varies, the location varies, but every fall, there is a Celtic Fest in Tennessee somewhere between the Loosahatchie River and the Tennessee River. This year, for the first time, the festival was in Haywood County, at the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center in Brownsville.

Music

The best part of Celtic Fest, in my opinion, is the music.  This year the performers included:

Tuatha Dea: Celtic/Appalachian/folk/rock/tribal fusion

Cara-Anne and the Minstrels: folk music

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North East Arkansas Caledonian Pipes bagpipes

Bobby and Sue Bates: Scottish and Irish folk songs

Medieval Lassie: storyteller and folksinger

Birdsong School of Music Harps:  religious and Celtic harp music

John and Vickie LeCroy, with Scott Myatt: Celtic and contemporary music

Rob Millette: contemporary and traditional Celtic

 

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Vendors and Performers

In addition to the musical performers listed above, Sarah Rohde demonstrated clog dancing, and later gave impromptu tap lessons to three girls. The Scottish Armoury sold dirks and other blades, as well as clan badges and journals.  Blue Goose Soaps and Gilded Lily both sold scented soaps and lotions.  Terrie K sold mugs, jewelry, and CDs.  Tuatha Dea sold five different CDs, t-shirts, and assorted fannish memorabilia.  The Haywood County Chamber of Commerce was selling t-shirts; Sue and Bobby Bates were selling CDs.  There were face painters, people selling tartan pillow cases and books, and a blacksmith.  One of the food vendors was selling Irn Bru, a Glaswegian soda pop that is something of an acquired taste, but which my husband loves.  (He bought a six-pack to take home.)  The other food vendor was the ResQ Cafe, with BBQ sandwiches, Cornish pasties, Irish stew, nachos, etc., with the money raised going to Loving Paws Rescue, a local animal charity.   There were some combat demonstrations by the SCA Saturday, but due to schedule conflicts, we were only able to attend on Sunday.

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Celtic Fest through the Years

Celtic Fest began in Jackson, TN, (Madison County) and for the first few years was at the Casey Jones Village, behind the Old Country Store.  That was a wonderful site:  lots of room, and a nearby playground where the kids could burn off energy.  In the early days, Celtic Fest had clan tents, vendors, heritage groups, and local high school and college students volunteering for community service hours.  Musicians came from as far away as Texas and Kentucky.  About three-four years ago, if I remember correctly, Celtic Fest moved from Jackson to Parkers Crossroads (Henderson County).  The city park where the festival took place had a nice stage, and there was a small playground for the kids. And this year, the festival took place for the first time in Brownsville (Haywood County).

Over the years, Celtic Fest has slowly shrunk.  First, the clan tents stopped coming, which meant the festival couldn’t have the traditional parade of the clans.  Then, fewer vendors came: a matter of economics, if people can’t afford to buy their goods, they can’t afford to come.  Not as many dancers come — it used to be Inis Acla School of Irish Dance sent their students, and I believe (going by memory here) that Scottish country dance groups used to come.  Local libraries and genealogy groups used to come.  But schedules got busy and budgets got tight, and each year the festival seems smaller and smaller. (I’ve heard similar complaints from other festivals.)

I like the new site.  I hope Celtic Fest stays here a few years, and I hope it starts to grow again.

West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center

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Brittany Hardaway of WBBJ Channel 7 interviewed Sue Bates and me, as well as some other people. As I told Ms. Hardaway, I liked the new site.

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The West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center had a nice grassy meadow behind their buildings, where the festival took place.  They had several mini-museums in their air-conditioned buildings, as well as real bathrooms.  The festival had port-a-potties, of course, but personally I’d rather walk a few yards further, especially when I’m wearing a hoop skirt, to use a real bathroom.  There were also three fast food restaurants in walking distance, for those who didn’t care for Cornish pasties or Irish stew.  (You can see Kentucky Fried Chicken in the background of the photo above.) The center had several small museums: the West Tennessee Cotton Museum, the West Tennessee Music Museum, the Hatchie River Museum, the “Sleepy John” Estes Home, and the Tina Turner Museum @Flagg Grove School.

“Sleepy John” Estes was a pioneer of blues music and his house is on the grounds, next to an old one-room country school. Flagg Grove School is where Tina Turner went to school, and is now the Tina Turner Museum. The front of the building displays several of her costumes and gold records.  The back of the building tells what “colored” schools were like in the early to mid-20th century.

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Thanks to the Sponsors and Volunteers of Celtic Fest 2016

Gramercy to the sponsors of Celtic Fest 2016: the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce, the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center, the city of Jackson, TN, Hippie Radio 105.3, Walker’s Shortbread, Coca-Cola of Lexington, TN, the Jackson Arts Council, Tennessee Concert Sound, and Great Scot International.  Tapadh leibh to the volunteers and organizers, Sue Bates and her gallant but overworked crew.

And for Celtic Fest 2017?

I’d love to see Celtic Fest regain its former glory.  I’d love to see more clan tents and Scottish American Military Society and Royal Scottish Country Dance Society and St. Andrew’s societies and sister-city groups that are paired with Scottish towns.  I’d love to see genealogy societies and crafts demonstrations.  House of Douglas Scottish Bakery, luthier Kelly Amsden and jewelry-maker Susan Amsden, Hamish’s Dreck, Celtic Realms, aye, I’m talking to you.  (Please note:  this is my personal desire.  I do not represent Celtic Society of West Tennessee, nor do I have the authority to speak for them.)  I know the Clan Donald USA conveners are in eastern Tennessee and the Murray Clan Society of North America are in central Tennessee, so it’s a long drive for either of them, but surely there must be some clan associations in western Tennessee or northern Mississippi.

I’d like to see more children’s activities:  coloring contests, cardboard caber tossing, carnival games, bounce castles, etc. This would mean more volunteers, and possibly more money.  Spending other people’s money is rather like belling the cat — easy in theory, harder in practice.  My kids would like more for teenagers to do, although they’ve been vague on what would interest teenagers.  Both liked going to the museums at the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center for a break from the festival (and for the air conditioning and indoor plumbing).  My son liked the aquarium at the Hatchie River Museum and my daughter liked the costumes at the Tina Turner Museum.

Maybe next year Highland Heather Travel and Press will have a tent, for people who want to go on holiday to Scotland or Ireland or people who want to buy R is for Renaissance Faire.

 

 

 

Tennessee Aquarium

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The Tennessee Aquarium is impressive.  There are three main buildings: River Journey, Ocean Journey, and an IMAX theater a block or so away.  The River Journey building has mostly river animals and fish, the Ocean Journey has mostly ocean animals and fish, as well as the butterfly garden, and the IMAX theater has overpriced movies.  All three buildings have gift shops.

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Chattanooga is a tourist town.  Everything has gift shops.

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Sea horses and starfish.

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Would you like to pet a ray?

13416865_1408095922539998_6858669770849928357_oThis is the waterfall in the Forest Cove exhibit.

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This jellyfish picture came out better than I expected.

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Coral reef.

 

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Sharks and fish.

My favorite exhibit was the butterfly garden.

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Beautiful butterflies, beautiful flowers.

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Lookout Mountain

Fact:  Lookout Mountain is the southern most mountain in the Appalachian chain.

Opinion:  Lookout Mountain is beautiful, and well worth a visit.

[Photo by Susan Macdonald]
Lookout Mountain, looking down at Chattanooga, TN
My family and I recently went to Chattanooga, TN, on vacation, and we went up Lookout Mountain three times.  The Chickamauga tribe of Cherokee called the mountain Chat-a-nu-ga, from whence comes the name of one of Tennessee’s prettiest cities. It was the site of one of the most famous battles in the Civil War, the Battle Above the Clouds.

First, we rode the Incline Railway up the side of the mountain.  It’s the world’s steepest railway, with a 72% incline, giving a breathtaking view as you ride up the mountain.  There are gift shops and overpriced eateries at both top and bottom.

Once at the top of the Incline Railway, it’s a short walk to The Battles for Chattanooga and Point Park. The Battles for Chattanooga is a small Civil War museum in Lookout Mountain, TN, next to Clumpie’s Ice Cream.  Using an electronic diorama, it demonstrates the course of events for November 1863.  Point Park is very small, but the view is outstanding — equal or better to what you would see at Rock City or Ruby Falls.  There’s a slight fee, but your admission ticket is good for a week, so we came back a few days later to visit the Ochs Museum (which focuses on Civil War communication).

Clumpie's Ice Cream, Lookout Mountain, TNHowever, the Incline Railway only takes you up and down the mountain.  It does not take you to Ruby Falls or Rock City, so once we’d seen where my great-great-grandfather fought, we bought some souvenirs and went back down again.  We had lunch at a local pizzeria called Mr. T’s, which I can not recommend too highly.  Then we drove up the mountain — a very twisting road, I wouldn’t want to drive it in icy conditions or during a bad rainstorm — to visit Ruby Falls.

Lookout Mountain, stretching over Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama, is huge.  It has several caves.  One of them is Ruby Falls, which is famous for its 145 foot underground waterfall …1,120 feet below the surface of Lookout Mountain.  There are guided tours, and from his jokes, I think our tour guide used to work at the Jungle Cruise in Disneyland.

Ruby Falls in pink

The falls aren’t actually ruby-colored, of course.  They have colored lights shining on the water as it falls down.

Ruby Falls red and purple

The stalactites, stalagmites,  and columns are beautiful.  Stalactites hang tightly from the cave roof, stalagmites might grow up there someday, and stalaglites are the electric lights attached to the cave walls for safety.

Ruby Falls has a children’s play area, where the younger ones can burn off some energy.  Allow an hour and a half for a visit, and wear good walking shoes.  Ruby Falls is always 60°, so it was the only place on our vacation where we wore jackets. It has an excellent gift shop, but you might want to save your souvenir buying until you go to Rock City.  Ruby Falls is on the Tennessee side of Lookout Mountain; Rock City is on the Georgia side.  Georgia sales tax is cheaper than in Tennessee.

Rock City Birdhouses

We went back up Lookout Mountain a few days later. First we obeyed all the barn roofs and birdhouses and went to ‘See Rock City,’ then we went back to Point Park to visit Ochs Museum.  Rock City is a carefully landscaped rock and wildflower garden, combining natural geologic formations with beautifully designed gardens, gnomes, statuary, and a deer park. There are, of course, multiple gift stands and high-priced eateries.

Lovers Leap Waterfall

Lovers Leap Waterfall

Rock City Gnome

One of the many Rock City gnomes.

At the Battle Above the Clouds, both a Union officer and a Confederate nurse wrote in their diaries that they guessed one could see seven states from that viewpoint.  Wikipedia says no, but Rock City claims you can.  The view is astounding.

See 7 States

And here’s the See Seven States lookout plateau, as seen from a distance.

See 7 States Lookout Point

In good weather, the view is awful in the archaic sense of the word — full of awe.  Awesome.

Rock City is a fun place for the whole family, but A, make sure you wear good walking shoes, and B, if you’re chubby, be careful.  There are some areas where the rocks are very close together, including one canyon called Fat Man’s Squeeze.  I have some friends who are on the hefty side, and I honestly don’t think they could get through.  Be sure to bring money for souvenirs and food.  The food is not cheap, and the souvenirs were very tempting.  Leatherwork, garden gnomes, jewelry, books, fudge, birdhouses, DVDs, and more.

Many thanks to my son, who took the second Ruby Falls picture and all the Rock City pictures.