When my uncle told me about Lookout Mountain, I knew I had to go. I am a sucker for viewpoints and Lookout Mountain has a view of seven states. It was on the top of my list, but it took me until the end of my trip to actually get there.
Friday morning I rushed through a few work assignments, inhaled a bowl of cereal, and got in the car. Lookout Mountain is on the border of Georgia and Tennessee, about 2 hours from Roswell, so I put on my favorite playlist (it may or may not be predominately Jason Mraz songs) and started driving.
The mountains are calling and I must go… but only if I can drive there
When I decided to visit Lookout Mountain, all I knew was the name of the place. I was prepared to sweat my way up intense hiking trails and crawl my way to the edge of a dangerous cliff all in the name of a view. Thursday night I decided to research the trails so I wouldn’t get totally lost–something I am prone to do.
It’s a good thing I did. Lookout Mountain was nothing like my imagination had built it up to be. There are three destinations that make up Lookout Mountain: Ruby Falls (a cave with a waterfall), Incline Railway (a train that takes you up the mountain), and Rock City (a short nature walk through the mountain and a view of seven states). Each one costs almost $20 to visit. No hiking is necessary; you can drive up to each destination.
While it wasn’t the wilderness I was hoping for, I still decided to visit. However, there was no way I was going to drop $60, so I decided to only visit Rock City (because of my obsession with viewpoints).
What is “nature,” anyway?
When I got there, I was conflicted. Entry was overpriced and the park was very developed. I prefer my wilderness untouched. Plus, while the views were stunning and the foliage was luscious, it didn’t hold a candle to the impeccable Northern Californian mountains I am used to exploring. But once I swallowed my Californian-pride and gave the place a chance, I actually enjoyed it quite a bit.
The nature was beautiful and the view did take my breath away. So what more could I ask for, really? Plus I got a kick out of the weird gnome obsession the makers of Rock City clearly had. There is a plaque in the park called that informed visitors that gnomes migrate to Rock City because of its beautiful views and stunning environment. Of course, there were also gnomes everywhere.
Then there’s the Fairyland Cavern that has displays built into the rocks with various fairytales portrayed by 3-foot dolls. I’m not going to lie, it was cheesy. But then again, who doesn’t want to see an island of Mother Goose rhymes?
To contrast the… unique… cave display, Rock City was full of gasp-worthy views. And not just of the seven states. Lover’s Lock, the cascading waterfall, was a major highlight as were the various narrow gaps between rocks through which I had to squeeze along my walk.
All in all, as long as you know what to expect, I would recommend a visit to Lookout Mountain.It’s not for everyone (my brother would hate it), but it’s a worthwhile destination.
How forgoing the selfie changed everything
Because my research revealed a lack of hiking, I decided this was the perfect setting to break in my new hat. And of course a hat this fantastic has to have an outfit to match. I was feeling great and I wanted to show it off. I kept trying to get a great shot of myself, my hat, ant the view,but the selfie just wasn’t cutting it.
As I struggled to get an acceptable angle, I saw a friendly-looking woman walking toward me. Perfect, I thought, I’ll have her take one! She willingly obliged and even threw me a bone by telling me how cute the photo was.
“Thanks,” I said, “my parents will be thrilled to see a photo that I am actually in. They keep telling me they hate that I’m taking all the photos and that I’m never actually in one.” Well, what did you expect? I wasn’t about to admit to a complete stranger that this was actually about vanity.
She laughed and asked me where I was from. When we discovered we were both solo travelers from California, the conversation began in earnest. We explored the rest of Rock City, talking about why we were here, what we do… you know, all that jazz.
When we reached the top we decided to continue our conversation over salad and wine at the cliff-side cafe. I’m not sure exactly how long we were there, but I do know we talked without pause for at least an hour. We talked about the places we’ve been, the places we want to go, why I decided to pursue travel writing, why she decided to quit her (very high) paying job… we even got into relationship struggles, parenting philosophies, and spirituality. At one point the waitress asked us what we were doing in the area and when we told her we actually weren’t together, and that we had just met. She was shocked. “You get along really well for people who just met,” she told us.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again: my number one favorite thing about traveling alone is the people I meet along the way. With modern technology and my stubborn I-can-do-it-I-don’t-need-any-help attitude, it’s fairly easy to travel the world without making so much as eye contact with another person. I make a fierce effort not to let that happen, and because of those efforts I have met countless inspiring people and have a network of friends that spans the world.
The woman I met is nothing like me. She is a mother of three, she has been married for 25 years (I think. If I remember that correctly), she is considering moving to Tennessee, and she is Christian. Meanwhile I’m single, can’t imagine having children any time soon, have no desire to settle down at the moment, and would describe my spirituality as “eclectic”. In any normal circumstance, I would have no reason to talk to her.
However, as we spent hours exploring Rock City, we found a core belief that we could bond over. We shared the same philosophy towards life and how best to live it (to live life for yourself and live it fully). In the end, I made a powerful connection that I am indescribably grateful for. So I guess a little vanity (and a lack of selfies) can be a good thing every now and again.
It is okay to change your mind
On Friday morning, I had a plan. I was going to drive to Lookout Mountain, spend about and hour in Rock City, get lunch in Chattanooga, explore the downtown area, and catch the sunset at Lake Lanier before heading home.
My spontaneous friendship ruined that plan. I left Rock City with just enough time to grab a coffee in Chattanooga (the main motivation being that I have now officially set foot in Tennessee) and drive home during sunset. I could have easily told my new friend that I had to go after an hour, but I didn’t. Instead, I tore up my itinerary. Something I have been trying to practice the more I travel is a willingness to change my mind.
My parents would tell you I’m stubborn. I prefer the term motivated, but either way the point is I often have trouble letting things slip through the cracks. Travel has taught me the importance of flexibility. Most of my favorite experiences and stories were unexpected and unplanned. There’s a popular quote I see on pillows and signs all the time that says, “Life is what happens when you are busy making plans.” Lately, I’m trying to practice less planning and more living.