Sunday, January 4, 2015

Nantahala Autumn - Nantahala National Forest, North Carolina

There is a calming sensation about rounding the bends of the serpentine Highway 28 between Walhalla, South Carolina, through the northeastern most part of Georgia, up to the mountain town of Highlands, North Carolina.  Taking this drive while the valleys are painted in hues of summer and autumn on the leaves with the distant summits gently rising above in cool blues made the experience all that more magical.  Looking back at this day, I wish that I had spent more than just the afternoon for this trip and camped out near one of the many waterfalls of the forest for the night or two.   

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Depths of Ruby Falls - Chattanooga, Tennessee

Perched on the slopes of Lookout Mountain overlooking the horseshoe bend of the Tennessee River just south of Chattanooga is a maze of an subterranean wonder known as Ruby Falls Cave.  The falls are named after the wife of the pioneer chemist and cave enthusiast that first explored this system of caves, Leo Lambert.  The Ruby Falls cave system has no natural opening to Earth's surface, therefore going unknown until Lambert began drilling above the neighboring system of Lookout Cave after closure due to construction of a railway tunnel.  Lambert was looking to find other depths of the Lookout Cave in order to reopen access to the caves for the public tourism but instead broke into a whole new wonder.  When the drilling operation began in 1928, the slow process of hammering through the limestone gave away to a small chamber.  Descending into the shaft, Lambert found himself in a confined space roughly four feet wide with a floor to ceiling height of about 18 inches.  This did not slow him and a small team from venturing throughout the system to see where they had landed themselves in what they believed to be Lookout Cave system.  As the cave widened the deeper he ventured, the discovery of formations that were new to the team's knowledge and when they came upon the falls, they knew they were not in the Lookout system, but an entirely different cave!  Up until the second descent, the caves were nameless but when Lambert took his wife down to reveal his discovery to her, Lambert would also name the showcase of the system after her: Ruby Falls.   

The waterfall that Leo Lambert honored with the name of his wife spill out into a large chamber for 145 feet to the pool below at a depth of 1,120 feet under the surface.  The falls are fed by natural seepage from rain water higher up on Lookout Mountain and the subterranean stream continues until dumping into the Tennessee River down below.  One point that the tour guides emphasize a fair number of times before bringing the group into the shaft to see the falls is to NOT DRINK THE WATER!  Despite the fact that the water is "clean", the high magnesium content within the water acts as a very effective natural laxative.  That becomes a major problem for any rebel against the guide's word being the nearest bathroom facility is thousands of feet away through an entire cave system and a few hundred feet of an elevator ride!  More about Ruby Falls, it is the deepest of the caves open for commercial tourism and the most visited underground waterfall in the United States.  Along with the fascinating waterfall, the cave system is home to numerous other underworld geological formations such as the "Elephant's Foot" that appears to be punching through the cave ceiling and the "Niagara Falls" that wrap along an entire chamber wall and seem to flow over into a small pool as if they were a statue of the waterfalls.

Fireside at Lookout Lake - Dade County, Georgia

The first signs of autumn setting in on the trees of northern Georgia brought on by the cool and crisp air made for the perfect time to spend around a fire with a beer in hand for a night.  With the moon bright and not a cloud to be found, the sky was a profound sight from the reaches of city lights.  Luckily, there was not a breath of wind, allowing me to use the lake as a mirror for a few shots to stream the stars in one of the pictures above.  Next time, I will try to remember my light filters to hopefully capture the Milky Way more crisply.  Not only were we blessed with a beautiful night sky, the morning brought a clear sky painted with soft blues and pinks as well as a wisp of fog rising from the mountain lake.  Could not of asked for a better way to sit by the warm fire and enjoy some skillet-made breakfast to begin the day's explorations!   

Friday, January 2, 2015

Marble Sentinels - Chattanooga National Cemetery, Tennessee

After heading north to explore the wilderness of Tennessee for the weekend with a good friend, we arrived earlier than anticipated to the river city of Chattanooga.  Catching a glimpse of the National Parks Service brown and white sign for "Chattanooga National Cemetery", a quick glance at each other, we decided we had time to spare. After a wrong turn on my behalf, we soon found ourselves passing through a wrought iron gateway to the hallowed ground.  Entering the cemetery from the southern side of the grounds, I was taken away by the expanse of the miles of marble headstones that wove between the shadows of the oaks about the verdant hills. Having visited Arlington National and various others laid out to be the tranquil resting place to many fallen brothers of the American Civil War and conflicts following, but the sheer size of this expanse of most of these white marble marks started from the Chattanooga Campaign was saddening.  The first battle of the campaign was the driving force behind the establishment of this burial site: Battle of Chickamauga.  The battle took place to the southeast a few miles on September 19-20 of 1863, and was is second to the Battle of Gettysburg for having the highest number of causalities in the war that tore the nation in two.  As the memorial arch at the bottom of the hill topped with Old Glory states, "Here rest in peace 12,956 citizens who died for their country in the years 1861 to 1865".  

More than 50,000 headstones now line the hills of the Chattanooga National Cemetery, marking the deaths of soldiers who died in battle nearby and of former citizens who died elsewhere and returned home to rest aside fellow comrades.  But this cemetery is not the resting place for service members of American forces.  German prisoners of war that died while being held in nearby internment camps were laid to rest in these grounds and in 1935, the German government had a memorial erected in their memory.  As the original 75 acres appropriated for the cemetery in the 1860's was swept over by the white marble stones, more land was purchased to a total of 120 acres.  In recent years, the cemetery has once again encountered that situation and was set to close interments in 2015, but with local support and funding, an expansion project has been set in place to make room for an estimated 5,000 plots.

May there be no reason they be filled casualties of war.