Thursday, April 18, 2013

Tennessee, I Found The Lost Sea



Ebay 068 For me, one of the joys of traveling is discovering or experiencing some unusual things like “The World's Largest Purple Spoon” near Glacier National Park in Montana or drinking “Poo Coffee” in Bali, Indonesia.

As we spend a part of a gorgeous weekend exploring more of “America The Beautiful” one stop takes us to some place we have never heard of before, Sweetwater, Tennessee.




Here an interesting discovery was made long before we got here and today that find holds an interesting claim to fame. One hundred and forty feet below the surface on the outskirts of Sweetwater is America's largest underground lake. Even the initial thought of an underground lake seems odd to me.

For about US$17 per person with a AAA discount we are about to take a tour at what once was a mining location for “Saltpeter” during “The Civil War”. Saltpeter or niter is a key ingredient used for making gunpowder.




TN C 010 Our tour begins at an entrance to caverns that was built to make them easily accessible once it was decided to make the caverns a commercial venture.

The original entrance has 132 steep stairs with some interesting stories behind it.





In the past there was a “Tavern In The Caverns” where bands performed and guests came to consume a little “moonshine” every now and then. Unaware of the change of oxygen levels in the cavern many guests felt cheated on their “moonshine” as it took a lot of drinking to feel any effects from the alcohol consumption.

Attempting to leave the Tavern by way of the original 132 steps it is told that a few guests found themselves at the bottom of them with broken legs and arms the next morning. As they tried to climb the stairs to exit the oxygen levels changed in their bloodstream and they instantly got their money's worth from an evening of drinking “moonshine”.

In some ways we are fortunate because there are no more stairs to climb but in my opinion a shot of “moonshine” would not be a bad idea.




TN C 034 One Of Three Old Moonshine Distillery Found In Caves





Although we have visited numerous caves there is always something unique to all of them and I always learn something new.

Did you know that being in a cave can be one of the darkest places on the planet? We get to experience this for a few minutes when in one section all of the lights are turned off. If we stay here too long and keep our eyes open we would eventually go blind. I am glad that someone thought to bring “The Clapper” and in a few minutes the lights are back on.



TN C 025 Our tour continues learning more interesting things about this cave system where at one point we stop at “The Devil’s Hole”.

Here it is believed that if you are a bad person and look into this hole you will see Old Satan himself staring back at you.

Now I know, “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” but when I saw him looking back at me I thought about my old friend Johnny and made a bet with him.

I guess he did not learn his lesson from messing with Johnny.





The highlight of our tour is not as interesting as expected as it seemed so unreal as we glide across a dimly lit body of water. I felt more like I was on a ride at Disneyland instead of 140 feet below our rental car in the parking lot above our heads.



TN C 015 We are told the water below us is 65 feet deep and that there are other portions of the caves with larger lakes but those areas are considered unsafe due to rock slides.

One cool thing that happens is seeing some pretty large Rainbow Trout that surround our boat for their regular and expected tour feedings. These fish are unable to reproduce here so the lake is stocked on a regular basis with about 250 of them. Like humans these Rainbow Trout would go blind in here except the water is lit about 12-13 hours per day.




About thirty minutes after docking from being on “America's Largest Underground Lake” we are back above ground without any broken bones. However, I still think a shot of “moonshine” would have been nice.




Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Tennessee, I Might Be A Cow



TN CHA 003With a few days free we decide to take a short road trip and explore a bit more of America The Beautiful. This time our journey takes us to venture around the “Choo Choo City”, Chattanooga, Tennessee where after walking across the Walnut Street Bridge we enjoy a free “Moon Pie” and tea onboard the Delta Queen. There we marvel at how this old steamer once sailed the “Mighty Mississippi” and accommodated a President and his family.

Before long it is time to head over to Market Street where we get a good share of laughs, decent food and cheap draft beer. We are at Vaudeville Cafe for its regular Friday night comedy show.






TN CHA 006Walnut Street Bridge





2013-04-13 00.29.51Next, we are being entertained by some of Chattanooga’s yet to be discovered vocal talents at Sing It or Wing It, just a few doors down from Vaudeville Cafe. Our first night turns out to be a lot of fun.

It is not until the next day after stumbling on a great local restaurant for lunch, Don Juan on Ringgold in East Ridge then driving about 2 hours north of Chattanooga that I discover that I might be a cow or at least a calf.








2013-04-13 11.40.27Don Juan Mexican Restaurant Tacos Muy Deliciosos




TNC 001Did you know that if you ate 360 cheeseburgers a day and drank 600 cartons of milk a day you would be eating like a cow not a pig? I think I came close once or twice.

For about US$7 per person we are taking a tour of Mayfield Dairy Farm in Athens Tennessee which according to Time Magazine is “Home Of The Best Ice Cream In The World”.

At the end of our tour we will get to test this claim as an ice cream serving is included in the price of our tour ticket.





It is interesting to watch milk and ice cream manufacturing taking place and to learn some fun facts. For example, Mayfield Dairy was the first dairy in the country to package milk in yellow plastic bottles which protects the milk from harmful light and preserves its nutrients and flavor.

Also, this plant requires 20,000 cows to be milked twice a day to support its production line which produces over a million gallons of milk a week, uses around 25,000 pounds of chocolate a day for its ice cream products of which it produces 50,000 gallons a day.

Even if I might be cow, I am sure glad they produce 50,000 gallons of ice cream a day especially “Banana Split” with pineapple, pecans and some of that 25,000 pounds of chocolate all swirled in.




TN C 002For this I would definitely … “Mooooo, mooooo”.




Friday, January 11, 2013

Colorado, Pikes Peak - America The Beautiful


I leave my hotel on the outskirts of Denver just past 4am for a drive south towards Colorado Springs. My trusted GPS tells me it will take a little over two hours to reach my destination which should work out perfect. I am looking forward to catching a sunrise in the high country of Colorado.

It is an easy and fast drive along Interstate 25 southbound where I discover what initially seems for me an odd geological twist. As I am driving south my elevation is increasing. I have just left the “Mile High City” now I am at the “1.14299 Mile High City”, Colorado Springs.


DEN 050I arrive at the gateway to my destination about 6:30am and discover a little disappointment. The toll road to Pikes Peak does not open until 9am.

Unfortunately, the sun will long be risen by then. A trip to McDonald's and I enjoy the sunrise from a different perspective.





A few minutes before 9am and I am about four cars deep in line at the now open toll booth. A US$10 person entrance fee and I am on my way for a 19 mile drive to about 14,000 feet.



DEN 052



The morning mountain air is crisp and clean. A nice compliment to the clear blue skies graced with high thin white whisper clouds. Contrasted with the bright greens of the mountainside landscape along with a few hill tops sprinkled with snow, the view is breathtaking.


DEN 053As I continue my climb I make a few stops a long the way to take in magnificent and awesome views as far as the eye can see.

My only limits are the cold and roaring winds that make my stops too brief.







DEN 063




DEN 067Eventually, I make it to the summit of Pikes Peak, 14,110 above sea elevation.

From above the fruited plain I am taking in a view of the border of the state of New Mexico, one hundred and twenty miles away.

I imagine it was a day like this when Katherine Lee Bates got her inspiration to write “America The Beautiful”.




Although you can visit Pikes Peak on a one way Cog Train ( for about US$27 per person, I think coming here by car or even hiking is a much better way to do it. Driving or hiking will allow you to take in and appreciate even more the purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain.

Just one part of America that makes it beautiful from sea to shining sea.




Thursday, January 10, 2013

Colorado, Lariat Loop



DEN 021Leaving Golden, Colorado I exit on 19th street and then join Lookout Mountain Road which is a part of Lariat Loop. It is not long before I make a stop and I am looking down on the town I just left behind.








DEN 022Water Craves Canyon



With a little Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones in the background, I get back in my car and continue my winding climb up Look Mountain Road to my next stop, a scenic viewpoint of Water Craves Canyon. Carved by glaciers many moons ago, once again the work of mother nature is awesome and captivating.

From the summit of Lookout Mountain if I knew what I was looking for I am sure I would agree with one famous American from “The Wild West'” who once shared the same view I am now fortunate to be taking in.


DEN 023William F. Cody once said that on a clear day you could see four states from here.

A few minutes of enjoying the view on a clear cool afternoon and I take a short walk across a parking lot.







DEN 024In some way I am going to pay my respect to “Buffalo Bill” born William F. Cody, an Indian Scout and Fighter, Colonel in The American Army who is buried here.








Monday, January 7, 2013

Colorado, Coors Brewery Tour



SAM_0410Less than an hour drive from Denver International Airport is the former capital of Colorado and the home of a “Rocky Mountain Legend”. I arrive in Golden, Colorado after a long time on a dusty trail with a thirst and one purpose.

Although Golden is known as the town where “The West Lives”, I am here for some of its “Pure Rocky Mountain Spring Water”.




Just a few blocks from the main street, I wait with others on a bus that will take us to the Coors Brewery. A short drive through town with some of its highlights pointed out, we arrive at the Coors Brewery Tour entrance. Here photos are taken and age verification is completed.



SAM_0409Coors Brewery Complex



A quick process where those over twenty one are given an identification bracelet along with an audio device that can be used for a self guided tour of the brewery.

The tour begins with exhibits of Coors history including its part of everyday American life and how it was distributed primarily in the West.

“You know truckin' Coors beer east of Texas is bootleggin”. “This here's Georgia, son”.

If the above quotes does not refresh your memory then remind me to slap your momma when I get home.


SAM_0394From the history of Coors it is onto how beer is made then a small sample of original Coors Banquet is offered.

It is interesting all the various beers that are made by Coors including one of my favorites Blue Moon. Here is the largest brewery in the world and the average beer takes about 55-60 days to go from here to your lips.




Fortunately, I don't have to wait 55 days as I am only steps away from a lounge area where I can get three full servings of the various Coors products. First its Batch 19, a prohibition era brew which I enjoy with a few others on the tour. Interestingly one member of our group is a musician from Nashville who gives us some cool insights into playing with some of Country and Western most popular entertainers.



SAM_0403Not in a rush to leave next its Colorado Native then my favorite Blue Moon. By far, this was the best brewery tour I have ever been on and definitely worth the drive if you have time to spare while visiting the Denver area.







Friday, December 7, 2012

Tennessee, One Thousand Feet Underground


After driving about three hours north of Atlanta, Georgia, it has been at least ten years that I am heading in the direction that I am. I am going to visit a destination that has intrigued me for over thirty years.

Having attended college in western Kentucky, I have previously driven along I-24 many times headed south to Florida. Along the interstate no matter which way you are going, miles from Chattanooga, Tennessee, there is a roadside sign that is bound to catch your eye.


On a nice Saturday afternoon I am standing on Lookout Mountain taking in beautiful views of the home of “The Chattanooga Choo Choo”. In a few minutes after paying $17 admission, I am 260 feet below the surface. This is the approximate spot where Leo Lambert began an adventurous journey to make a remarkable discovery.

This afternoon we are fortunate that although our passage is still restrictive in some areas at least we can stand unlike Mr. Lambert who along with a few friends crawled about 650 feet into the unknown before he could first stand up.



12-166Pass interesting cave formations that over time have taken on some imaginative shapes from steak and potatoes to a donkey, we arrive at Ruby Falls. At about 1000 feet below the surface of Lookout Mountain, I watch in awe and feel the cool refreshing mist of a 145 foot tall waterfall as it thunders down into a welcoming pool below.

This is spectacular Ruby Falls still as fascinating and awesome as the day it was first discovered in the late 1920's.

Thanks Mr. Lambert for sharing your discovery with the rest of the world. I am glad that this time I followed your sign instead of keeping the pedal to the medal.








Ruby Falls Link:

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Hawaii, Food And Fun Enjoying Oahu



2012-11-08 08.50.29After a long day of playing Co-ed Softball, a few of us meet for dinner at Duke's. Popular with locals and tourists, Duke's located on the beach is a Waikiki institution.

With pretty much open air seating and reasonable prices, dining or just hanging out at Duke is pretty hard to beat.





Dinner and a nice salad bar is about US$35 per person including drinks which you can only order one at a time. No stacking or ordering a drink for someone else (must be present to drink).

Stuffed from dinner or just wanting to test your hearing then head over to Maddog on Kuhio which we do. With a DJ spinning the tunes, a few of us burn off some calories and have a great time doing it. Although we have an early game to play in the morning, the fun last way past our bed time and it is going to be a very short night.



2012-11-08 12.46.54Hangin In Hawaii



Back at Kapiolani Park our round one playoff game goes as expected and for most of us we are happy it is over in a good way. Breakfast at Bogart's Cafe on Monsarrat Ave where we are accused by an irate customer of being “McCain and That Man supporters” then it is off to explore a bit of Oahu.


2012-11-08 12.51.37Following the coastline, we take in magnificent views of the rugged coast as awesome waves crash into it.

A stop at Sandy Beach and we are body-surfing the waves even as we are encouraged over a loud PA system to swim at another beach.

Sandy Beach is known as the most dangerous beach in America with a record number of back and neck injuries occurring here.






2012-11-08 15.31.30Kailua Beach




SAMNOV10 033This evening dinner is at Buzz's Steak House in Kailua where Presidents have been known to dine. I hope they were not given an exemption on the I am told “3 Mai Tai Limit”.

Dinner at Buzz's will set you back a little bit more than at Duke's. However, what is a Presidential experience worth to you?





My last day in Hawaii is as beautiful as my first although a little sad. It does end on a good note with breakfast at Moana Surfrider, the original Waikiki beach hotel.




2012-11-09 10.00.00Moana Surfrider Hotel




2012-11-09 10.17.36A breakfast buffet, US$30 per person is more than delicious with fresh banana pancakes and other breakfast delights along with a view and ambiance that is amazing.