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My kind of tourist trap

Posted by: under U.S. travel Updated: April 17, 2012 - 8:04 AM

We have a birdhouse hanging from our garage, depicting a red barn with a black roof reading "SEE ROCK CITY." Most Minnesotans understandably have no idea what it's all about, but those "of a certain age" who traveled through the Southeast as kids recognize it immediately.

Through much of the 20th century, scores of farmers around Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama got a little extra income by allowing their barns to be painted thusly. These rural beacons beckoned drivers to a site atop Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, where on a clear day one ostensibly could "see seven states."

There weren't many clear days back then -- Chattanooga rivaled Pittsburgh in the smog department -- but like its northern industrial peer, the city has cleaned up its act/air. And the view is spectacular, with the Tennessee River in the forefront and a view states visible in the panoramic vista. (Have to admit that I haven't spied South Carolina from up there .)

There's a lot to see up at Rock City -- gardens (rock and plant), caves, Civil War plaques and some Disney-ish sets (Fairyland Caverns, Mother Goose Village). Those fairy-tale names also adorn the streets on the drive up the mountain, a strange juxtaposition with the upscale residences hugging the hillsides.

Actually the drive can be jarring, with a gazillion switchbacks. If you're in the mood for some hiking, take the Incline Railway and walk 2.8 miles to Rock City, much of it along Red Riding Hood Trail.

And be sure to buy a birdhouse when you get there.





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