On Tuesday afternoon, I did not have any pressing work to do, so I decided to go and ride the Incline Railway up Lookout Mountain and walk to Point Park.
The Incline, Point Park and I go way back.
As someone who was born and raised in Chattanooga, the Incline Railway was always my favorite local tourist attraction of the big three that also included Rock City and Ruby Falls.
Whether we were taking out-of-town relatives or friends, or my mother was just treating me to a fun day, I went nearly ever summer as a child in the late 1960s and never tired of the excitement that comes when the track gets steep at the top.
And getting to walk down to Point Park and enjoy the beautiful setting and neat view, which even a small boy can appreciate, was like icing on the cake – literally, since the park is on top of the mountain.
And I remember doing that while eating a caramel-covered apple that we would purchase at the station at the top.
Since I had not been up on the Incline in a few years, including since I moved back to Chattanooga fulltime in May 2017, and I wanted to enjoy a couple of “stay-cation” activities before the summer ended, I decided to go on Tuesday.
I left my home in the Northgate area in the early afternoon and, within a half hour, was sitting in the parking lot outside the Incline station in St. Elmo. To be more precise, I was actually inserting $2 into the kiosk to get an all-day parking pass.
But I guess if they had free parking, a lot of people frequenting the St. Elmo businesses would take advantage of it and fill up a lot that is primarily intended for Incline visitors.
So I did not mind paying. But it would not be the last time I opened my wallet.
Thinking that everybody is back in school mode, I was surprised at the number of people standing in line waiting for the next Incline car.
I bought a $15 round-trip ticket, and asked the young man selling me a ticket how long again it takes the cars to get down. After he said about 10 minutes, and the lower car was just leaving, I told him I had time to eat an ice cream cone.
He politely wished me well, but did remind me that food was not allowed on the car.
I then went into the adjacent Clumpie’s. I was a little disappointed to see that my favorite flavor of “Chocolate Chocolate Chunk” was not available, but the young woman waiting on me kindly asked if I went to Georgia after seeing my University of Georgia T-shirt.
It turned out she had just graduated from there and is waiting to go back to graduate school, so we had a nice conversation about our beloved college.
Knowing I did not have a lot of time, I just ordered a single dip of pralines and cream in a cup and did not get to enjoy the usual large ice cream in a waffle cone.
In fact, I hurriedly ate it about as fast as Joey Chestnut eats hot dogs in that July 4th Nathan’s contest as I stood in line waiting on the Incline car to get down the mountain. I was about 25th or 30th in line, but was able to get a seat down low in the car.
I am not sure which seats are the most ideal for viewing, but figured maybe a lower one was.
As we rode up the mountain, a nice taped message with information about the Incline was played. But not even the world’s greatest orator could have topped the changing visual display of the pretty valley below as we went up.
I also noticed a no-longer-used old Incline stop about a third of the way up the mountain.
Once outside of the car and after a drink of water on the hot day, I looked but could not find any caramel or candy apples in the gift shop, although they appeared to have about 31 varieties of fudge. Although I was full from ice cream, I was still a little sad about the apples, but realized of course that time moves on.
I then began walking the three blocks down toward Point Park. The big lot next to the station was still empty and had one or two “no trespassing” signs on it, and that made me curious of the story behind it. I remember a house once sat there, and I may have stepped on the grass once or twice when I had out-of-town friends visiting either during or right after college.
I then walked past some pretty homes – and one modern one. A couple of apparently very old ones close to the park entrance were being totally renovated, it looked like, unless they were some kind of old house reproductions.
The top of Lookout Mountain, of course, is about the nicest and most private and exclusive residential real estate in town. So it is kind of unique that there are about six or eight bluff houses between the station and the Point Park entrance that are very much on public display.
But I would certainly not mind living in one of them, even the modern one.
As I neared the park entrance and looked over at the Battles for Chattanooga museum – which years ago of course was called Confederama when it was in St. Elmo – what did I see but a small Clumpie’s ice cream stand.
Instead of rushing around, I could have gotten an ice cream here and casually enjoyed it as I walked around the park. And I think I may have even seen chocolate chocolate chunk, or at least some kind of chunk.
Maybe that is a flavor of one of the kinds of fudge in the station, too!
Anyway, when I arrived at the park entrance, a friendly female ranger was there and took my $7 entrance fee. As someone who walked in the park for free for years when I was younger, I have still not gotten used to paying.
But I knew they had been charging for several years as a way to make up some of the maintenance and other costs of the entire national park system, so I was ready to pay.
Once inside the park, I was back in heaven on Earth again. Point Park to me is one of the great settings in Chattanooga, or anywhere really.
How often does a piece of real estate that looks basically like an expansive wooded front yard or back yard of a nice home have a balcony-like view of the valley of a mid-sized city with a good-sized river running through it?
I was once again thankful it was in Chattanooga and that, years ago, it was preserved and not turned into someone’s private front yard. It is a fancy piece of real estate for all Chattanoogans and visitors to enjoy! And if a little history can be learned, that is a bonus.
Many of the other visitors were paying attention to the Civil War markers and cannon and monuments about the “Battle Above the Clouds,” as well as the view, of course. But for me, I was only interested in the view on this day.
After taking a few pictures, I walked down toward the Ochs Museum a few yards below.
As I did, I became interested in looking at Umbrella Rock again.
As it has for some time, it was fenced off next to the museum, and that made me a little sad. I know it is probably a safety hazard for someone wanting to climb on it and get a picture, but I also know countless Chattanoogans and visitors – including baseball star Babe Ruth -- once had their pictures taken on top of it.
While it is open about once a year for special events, I sure wish such an important attraction in Chattanooga’s past would be open more often.
I guess it is considered one more risk in an area where it seems like almost weekly someone has unfortunately been injured -- or worse -- climbing or hiking area trails or swimming or kayaking the local waters. Even being a pedestrian on a normal city street has not been safe in Chattanooga in recent days.
But still, after seeing the jail-like fence around one of Lookout Mountain’s most famous pet rocks, maybe someone needs to get a bumper sticker made saying “Free Umbrella Rock.”
After going down and looking at the fenced-off geological wonder that holds viewers captive, I walked back up to near the New York Peace Monument. I then took part in my favorite activity of the day – sitting down in the grass under a shady tree for about 15 minutes.
Although I had a neat view toward the west brow and Lookout Valley and beyond, the view of the old trees less than 50 feet away were enjoyable enough.
I wish I could have stayed there longer, but I had to head on down the mountain, so I eventually – and reluctantly – got back on my feet.
Luckily, the line at the station waiting on the next car was not too long, so I looked a little more at the intriguing vacant lot next to the station as well as the people around me.
Regarding the latter, I noticed a neat scene – I saw different ages, different ethnic groups and likely different levels of income. It was a nice cross section of America on display, all at the Incline Railway.
It was a nice cross section of the Chattanooga physical layout on display below, too, as I rode back down the mountain and walked to my car after an enjoyable 90-minute vacation.
Now, if I can just get them to bring back the caramel apples!