We were greeted by a trumpeter, a princess, and a red dragon. Then we were dropped several hundred feet straight down into the bowels of the Earth.
Fret not. This was not some sort of medieval punishment – unless you consider tourist attractions punishment. This was Ruby Falls.
Deep below the Tennessee hills, the caverns’ constant 60 degrees was a welcome respite from the summer heat above us. The ceiling of the cavern pressed down on us, and it was hard not to think about Thai soccer players trapped in rising waters…
Once upon a time, in 1928, some intrepid explorers discovered these caverns. And by “intrepid”, I mean foolish. They crawled on their bellies for hours in the darkness, with no idea of what they would find or whether they would be able to get back out. But fortune favors the foolish (that’s how the saying goes, right?), and they lucked out: hidden beneath the mountain were … a lot of rocks.
Okay, okay: They were spectacular rocks. Stalagmites and stalactites, columns and soaring crevices, and strange formations that lent themselves to imaginative names. All formed over millennia by the inexorable flow of water: quiet drips, gentle streams, and one pounding waterfall.
They must have been quite surprised to find the waterfall. Sitting 1,120 beneath the surface of Lookout Mountain, it plunges 145 feet from an opening too small for any person to fit through. To this day, no one knows what lies just beyond the mouth of the waterfall, but the water continues to flow – and continues to shape the rock beneath it.
The experience of visiting Ruby Falls is a bit different now than in 1928. For one thing, there are tunnels large enough to walk through – no belly-crawling required. Well-placed lights illuminate the rock formations and occasional handrails guide your steps over the rough parts. The waterfall itself stars in its own sound and light show that is, you have to admit, pretty cool.
Yes, it’s touristy, from the dragon (didn’t I mention it was a guy in a costume?) to the obligatory gift shop you have to walk through on your way out – but still, it’s fun and beautiful and why not enjoy it? As I wrote in one of my very first blogs, just because something is touristy doesn’t mean it’s not worth seeing. This wonder of the Earth is waiting for you, just up the hills outside of Chattanooga, and all you have to do to see it is sneak past the dragon.