Saturday, December 4, 2010

Tennessee and Virginia

After a lot of researching it was Atul who picked this package tour.

Day 1: Shenandoah Caverns (Virginia) - November 25 2010

The morning was great and we were very excited about our trip. We started early, by the way here we means me, Hitesh, Atul, Namita and Deepa. We took the Path from grove Station to WTC, from there we took a cab to Bowye Street at the heart of China Town in New York where our bus was waiting for us. Our Guides were Jason and Joanna. We were traveling with LnL Travels. Our tickets were booked through www.gotobus.com
Around 8:00 AM we started and took the Holland tunnel to reach Flushing to pick up one more vacationer. It was a pleasant ride, we crossed from New York to New Jersey, New Jersey to Maryland and then from Maryland to Virginia The state for Presidents. We came to know as many as 8 US Presidents hailed from Virginia. Virginia is also known as State for Lovers.
We reached the Shenandoah Caverns around 1:00 PM. Shenandoah is an American Indian word, the closest meaning in English as told by our guide is "Daughter of the skies". I was very excited as I have only read about Stalactites and Stalagmites in school but never had the opportunity to actually see one for myself. Stalactites and Stalagmites are rock like formation formed by deposition of calcium carbonate. Stalactites are the ones hanging from the roof of a cavern and Stalagmites are the one that rises from the floor of a cavern. It takes about 100 years for a Stalactite or Stalagmite to grow an inch. Well that's enough scientific facts, let me try to describe the artistry of nature that I got to witness here today. There were various formations, like bacon, like a dangling curtain, like a waterfall and much more. Our guide was funny and witty to enhance the experience that we were having. The lighting in the caverns were done strategically and professionally to wow you with the sights on each and every turn. As we ventured deep into the cavern the lights were turned on one at a time to mesmerizing us with the spectacular sights that lay before us. Before I forget to mention, at the end there was a narrow cavern with Stalactites and a floor of stagnant water that was beautifully illuminated and the reflection on the water was a sight to behold. Check the view I had in the picture below.
 I really need to get a proper DSLR Camera to capture these fantastic views. There is a saying, which goes like this, if a drop of water falls on you from the ceiling of the cavern which is called a "cave kiss"; it brings you good luck. I got a drop on my cheek accidentally. So I was cave kisssed. Not too sure if it did bring me luck.
Full Album of Shenandoah Caverns is here.
The entry to Shenandoah is $22 for Adults, $20 for Senior Citizens, $10 for children between 6-14 years , below 5 is free. The site to check is www.shenandoahcaverns.com

If you are driving yourself, you might like to take the Shenandoah Skyline Drive, a toll road which gives you great views of the valley and you might meet some wildlife as well.

After effects:

After the exhilarating tour of the cavern we hit the road again. We took our  dinner at  Shoney's; An American buffet dinner. After dinner we reached our hotel, its was of Quality Inn chain. After freshening up we played some damsharats. This is also the time during which I came to know about the miming abilities of everyone in the our group. We hit the bed late on this day.



Day 2: Gatlinburg and Dixie Stampede (Tennessee) - November 26, 2010

The bus was to start by 7:30 AM so we woke up early and got ready. Breakfast was complimentary from the hotel. I had a big stuffing, eggs, cake, sausages, juices, fruits. 
Once the bus started we we got into the mood of the day. Atul, Namita, Hitesh and Deepa started to play damsharats on the bus itself. I decided to to take a quick nap. 
After two and a half hours we reached the Tennessee border. At the tourist information center where we took a small break. We also had some photo opportunities here. There was a striking Guitar shaped building.
About Tennessee, its the place where the Elvis Aaron Presley, the King of Rock and Roll grew up. More recently Miley Cyrus is also from Tennessee. On the darker side KKK also originated at Pulaski, Tennessee. 

Gatlinburg:

Further two hours of driving, took up to our next stop, Gatlinburg via Pegion Forge.  There was lot of traffic due to holidays which slowed our progress. Gatlinburg is like a Hill Resort. There is a lot of activity you can do at this town. The most popular is the the Cable Tram ride that you can take to the top of the mountain (this is the Appalachians Mountain Chain). Our guide had already bought the tickets for the whole group. Excited we boarded the cable car. The view from above was breath taking. Enjoying the surroundings we reach the top of the mountain in about 10 minutes. We had planned to do the sledge riding, but since it was drizzling the facility was closed. We settled for Ice skating instead. I had never done any Ice Skating. Before we entered the ring it was cleaned by Ice cleaning cart. Ice skating was fun, but I also had many a fall and also twisted my left keen during one of the many falls I had. Hitesh was the most experienced and had the best time. We had a time limit so we left the Ice Ring and headed down to the valley, again enjoying the great views the location had to offer. At the Gatlinburg town we thought we could have explored the town more instead of spending most of our time on the ring. All said and done the litle time we had we covered quite a lot of ground to see the town that is Gatlinburg. Along with the natural attraction there are many man made attractions around the town to enjoy and spend your time. We reached the Cable Car Departure area where our bus was waiting to take us to the next attraction, Dixie Stampede.
Gatlinburg Cable Car Ride: $9.5 for Adults and $6.5 for Children under 6.
To know more about Gatlinburg and its attractions go here www.gatlinburg.com
Dixie Stampede:
Dixie Stampede had been conceptualized by a Dolly Parton. Its a dinner in a large indore arena like facility where you get to witness incredible riding tricks and stunts, musical productions and more while haveing a sumputious dinner. Dixie Stampede is at Pigeon Forge.
Once our bus reached the Dixie Stampede we were welcomed by a friendly hostess. Our group photos were taken as well as individual photos. This was later packaged in a frame and offered for sale if you want. Before the main course there was light country music and food in a large eating area. Something I need to say something that happened here which I hope should never have happened. While taking a photo I fell down and in the process broke the only camera we had with two full days to go in our trip. Needless to say I was very disturbed.
After the curtain raiser we were escorted to the main arena and seated. We had great seats for the show. It was a competition as well as a musical of Christmas. Sorry no pictures are allowed in Dixie Stampede during the show as it has a copyright. This was one of the most interesting shows I have ever seen. The crowd was divided into two with one supporting the North Pole and one supporting the South Pole. It was a light hearted competition all in good fun. In between we saw musicals of toys came to life and the birth of Christ being played out in keeping with the upcoming Christmas spirit. The Dinner was great. It was a four course meal. Check the meal out here. For pictures of Gatlinburg and Dixie Stampede click here.
Dixie Stampede : $45 for Adults and $23 for Children (4-11)
For more information on Dixie Stampede check out their web site.
Around 10 we reached our hotel, and were told the next day we would leave by 6:30. We hit the bed early.

Day 3: Ruby Falls, Incline Railway, Rock City and The Lost Sea (Tennessee)

After breakfast we headed out to the Chattanooga area were three of the four attractions of Day 3 were located. It was nearly a 2 hour drive from the hotel.
Ruby Falls:
From the very beginning of the trip I had a feeling that the Ruby Falls would be the crown jewel of the whole trip, and am I glad to say that I was not disappointed.
Ruby Falls is located at the Lookout Mountain. In 1905 the due to the construction of a railroad which sealed the natural entrance to the Lookout Mountain. Around 1923 a local cave enthusiast, Leo Lambert wanted to reopen the cave to the public. We wanted an elevated to connect the surface to the caves in the Lookout Mountain. While excavating for this a void was located at about 260ft. The opening of the new cave was only 18 inches and Leo Lambert with his team crawled for 17 hours on a round trip to find the Jewel that is the Ruby Falls. Leo Lambert later took his wife to the falls and named it in her name Ruby. You can find more about Ruby Falls here.
Now no one has to crawl to the Ruby Falls after descending to the cave via the elevator. You can walk to the falls, albeit sometimes via very narrow passages.  In the passages you will see the art of nature. I am sorry that I didn't have a proper camera due to the mishap on Day 2 to show you about the thing I am saying. The trek to the Ruby Falls was worth it. You get to see the falls for 7 minutes after which the lights are switched off so that the next group can come in to enjoy the spectacle. I guess I don't have proper works to describe the sight, but as they say a picture can say a 1000 words so here is the best shot that I have of the falls. Enjoy. Below is a picture to appriciate Nature's sense of humour.
Enjoy the full album of Ruby Falls here.
Entry to Ruby Falls: Adults $16.95, Senior Citizen $15.95 and Children (3-12) $8.95

Incline Railway: 
Incline Railway is in the same Lookout Mountain Area of  Chattanooga National Military Park System. This is a mile long railroad that is takes you the top of the Mountain. This is railway is operated by ropes and not electric. The view when you either go up of come down is fabulous. The Lower Station is at St. Elmo. The view gets better at the top where you get a panoramic view of the full Chattanooga National Military Park Valley. Blow picture gives you an eye full.

For more information go on Incline Railway go here. For more pictures on Incline Railway click here.
Incline Railway fares: Adult $14 (round Trip), Senior Citizens and persons with disabilities $7 (round trip) & Children (6-12) $7 (round trip).

Rock City:
Rock City is a marvel of Rock Formation, Botanical Garden and also an Enchanted Garden of Lights. I shall try to explain here. Rock City is also in the same Chattanooga National Military Park System as Ruby Falls and Incline Railway. The Rock City was developed by Garnet Carter and the Fairy Land walk that exists in Rock City is a direct influence of his wife's interest in European Folklore. There is a very beautiful waterfall in Rock City and another view of the valley from the top (see the picture below). Rock City is also a place from where you can view 7 states. Overall its a great place to hang out and let you eyes soak in the view that lies in front of you. The Enchanted Garden of Lights trail is like you are being taken to a fairy land. There are models from almost every European Folklore.
For more information on Rock City go here. For Full album of Rock City click here.
Entry to Rock City: Adults $17.95 Children (3-12) $9.95. There is an option though to buy all the three Chattanooga area attraction in one ticket at a cheaper rate.

Lost Sea: Sweetwater
The Lost Sea is a vast underground lake that has been used from the days of the Cherokee Indians. This is where you also find Cave Flowers, a type of rock formation that grows a centimeter in every 1000 years. Though the cave has a tiny natural opening but it opens to large chambers underground. It was a natural refrigerator for early settlers in  Tennessee. The cave maintains a constant temperature of 58F. There has been markings on the cave, the earliest carbon tested one is 1863. It was lost after the civil war until accidentally discovered by a 13 year old boy named Ben Sands. His description of his findings can be found here. In current knowledge the Lost sea is 800 ft Long by 220 ft wide. You get to have boat ride on the Lost Sea. Trouts were released in the lake to see if the fishes finds a way out but that did not happen, so the cave management feeds the fishes and also have illuminated the Lake, otherwise the fish would go blind. The Cave also give you a perfect darkness when the lights are turned off.
Find details about Lost Sea here. Click here for Lost Sea album.
Entry for Lost Sea: Adults $16.95, Children (5-12) $7.95.
After Lost Sea we boarded the bus to go back to our Hotel in Virginia, the same one we stayed on the first night. It was a 4 hour ride. In between we had a Chinese dinner in an authentic Chinese Restaurant. We were too tired on this day to do any more activity so the bed was the best resort for us.

Day 4: Lurray Caverns (Virginia)
The last day was a late start by the standards we had on the previous two days. We started around 7:45 AM after breakfast.
After around 3 hours drive we reached the Lurray Caverns. Luray Caverns was discovered on August 13, 1878 by five local men, including Andrew J. Campbell an tinsmith, his 13-year-old nephew Quint, and local photographer Benton Stebbins. Lurray Caverns is much bigger than Shenandoah Caverns. There are far more bigger and spectacular formations here. The tour here is self guided one where you are provided with Headsets which explains the various formations in the caverns if you punchin the number that is shown near the specific formation. The headphones and the equipment is given to you during entry and its returnable. Lurray Caverns also has the biggest Natural Stalactite and Stalagmite symphony that is created in a large chamber in the cavern. Previously in this chamber there used to be elaborate music and dances there but now that has stopped. In Lurray Caverns you also find the world famous fried egg formation. See for yourself. There is a wishing well where you can throw a coin and make a wish. These coins goes for charity.
Information about Lurray Cavern is here. Check out my full album in Lurray Cavern. I had to take the pictures on a 1MP mobile camera with no flash, so they are not the best that you can get, but its all I have for now.
Outside the Cavern there is a museum of old cars and carriages. These are very well kept and definitely worth a see. There is also a maze which we missed due to shortage of time. All this is included in the Cavern Entry Fee.Check the Vintage Car Album here. More information here.
Lurray Cavern Entry: Adult $22, Children (6-12) $11.
All done, with a fulfillment in heart we started our journey back to New York at around 12:00 PM. In between we had lunch in a Chinese Buffet. It was almost a 60-70 course buffet and I took advantage to the fullest. All done we headed home when Great Colourful Memories of our tip. Around 9:00 PM we were dropped at Grove Street ending our vacation and ready to face the new week.
Lastly here are some miscellaneous photos of the trip.

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