Preview of Tennessee Road Trip

I’m currently in the middle of a road trip sandwich. Off to the big apple today (perhaps a pastrami on rye at Katz’s Deli) and not long returned from a trip down the road to Tennessee and environs (where I had pulled pork on a bun). I’ll come back with some details and more photos later, but for now here’s a quick preview of the Tennessee road trip that included two National Parks, two Aquariums, two sets of caves, two days at SETAC, and too many times in and out of Tennessee.

Conceptually, the trip was planned as a multi-day drive down through the Shenandoah’s, the Blue Ridge, and into the Great Smoky Mountains. The first part started off with good weather, but by the time we reached the Blue Ridge Parkway the meaning of “Great Smoky” came clearly into view. By which I mean to say that there was no “clearly”…and no “view.”

Backing up a bit we first stopped at the Natural Bridge just north of Roanoke, Virginia. The Bridge is a rather cool natural rock archway that most people drive over without ever noticing the valley below. Since this is a preview I’ll give you the long view for now. In a later post I’ll revisit to talk about the surveyor – some guy named George Washington – leaving his initials in the rock face.

Natural Bridge Long View

As I mentioned, the Smoky Mountains gave us a good example of why they are called the Great Smoky Mountains. I did get a chance to hike the Appalachian Trail for the third or fourth time. Granted it was a very small part of the Trail, but the Trail nonetheless.

Appalachian Trail Great Smoky Mountains

A night in Gatlinburg proved more interesting than expected. The fact that there is an aquarium in the mountains of Tennessee is odd enough, but the fact that it was a Ripley’s aquarium gives a hint of what you can expect in the town. The aquarium turned out to be wonderful, but it looked like Ripley’s (of Believe it or Not! fame) had turned the main street into a bizarre entertainment strip. We’ll come back to that later.

Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies - Gatlinburg TN

Let’s see, Tennessee borders on Kentucky, right? So the natural next step was to drive all the way through the state to Cave City, KY for the world famous Mammoth Caves. At 390 miles of tunnels (and still counting), Mammoth is the longest cave system in the world.

Mammoth Caves network of tunnels

Back to Tennessee. After all, the impetus for the trip was to attend the annual SETAC meeting in Nashville. I spent most of the three days there chatting with other attendees; even sold nearly a dozen books. Alas, that time went fast and we were off to Huntsville, Alabama, home to a large Apollo-era space center.

Saturn V rocket - Huntsville AL

Seeing a Saturn V rocket next to the highway brought me back to the old days when I kept a scrapbook of the Apollo missions. But even more thought-provoking is the realization that the rocket is 363 feet tall, 33 feet in diameter, and has 3 stages – all numbers divisible by 3. Nikola Tesla would have loved it!

Back to Tennessee. And yes, about this time we saw yet another sign welcoming us back to the Volunteer state as the road trip took us from VA to TN to NC to TN to KY to TN to AL to TN to VA. Since I had been in Memphis years ago I think I now have Tennessee fully covered. In any case, this leg took us to Chattanooga for, you guessed it, yet another major aquarium. But here we also did some Civil War-era sightseeing. First, up the cliffs to the top of Lookout Mountain, center of a famous Civil War battle.

Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga TN

Then back down about half way to Ruby Falls, a 145-foot tall waterfall that is completely underground. Not only do you take an elevator down nearly 300 feet, but as you walk the half mile through the caves the mountain rises above you so that the Falls are nearly 1200 feet below the surface. For now, here’s the above-ground to whet your appetite.

Ruby Falls, Chattanooga TN

That’s enough for now. I’ll do future posts on the major stops and include some of the amazing photos. You won’t want to miss the Ruby Falls photo! [Or the interesting solar power angle]

Hey, is that Ashanti at the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree lighting? Cool.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity. You can order a signed copy directly from me, download the ebook at, and find hard copies exclusively at Barnes and Noble bookstores.

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