Thursday, May 26, 2016

Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge - Chattanooga, Tennessee


At 2,376 feet long the Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge is the longest pedestrian bridge in the world. The bridge connects the North Shore to Downtown Chattanooga. Strolling across this bridge is a enjoyable activity to add to any trip to Chattanooga.

Location: The bridge originates at the intersection of 1st Street and Walnut Street on the Downtown side of the bridge and the intersection of Frazier Ave and Forest Ave on the North Shore side.

Cost: Free

Operating Seasons and Hours: Open 24 hours every day of the year

Helpful Websites: http://www.chattanoogafun.com/members/history/walnut-street-pedestrian-bridge/2485
and http://www.tennesseerivervalleygeotourism.org/content/walnut-street-bridge-chattanooga-tenn/tenFA23EB4DAC27E55B3

Date of Visit: Tuesday, April 12, 2016

This was the second stop of the second day of our road trip to the Lookout Mountain area of Alabama in April of 2016. My family finished our amazing cave tour at Ruby Falls, and then decided to see what we could discover in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee which was less than 5 miles away.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Ruby Falls - Chattanooga, Tennessee


It's easy to understand why Ruby Falls has been called one of the must see attractions of the Southeast.  The beautiful 145 foot waterfall is stunning as it falls into a narrow stone chamber.  A chamber that was carved by the water itself.  But what's even more amazing is that this waterfall is located 1120 feet underground. Equally intriguing is that this waterfall was discovered less than a century ago.

Location: 1720 South Scenic Highway in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  The entrance to the Ruby Falls cave tour is about 1/3 of the way up Lookout Mountain.

Cost: Cave Tours cost $19.95 for an adult and $11.95 for a child ages 3-12.

Operating Seasons and Hours: 8:00 am to 8:00 pm every day of the year except Christmas Day.

Official Website: http://www.rubyfalls.com/

Date of Visit: Tuesday, April 12, 2016

This was the first stop of the second day of our road trip to the Lookout Mountain area of Alabama in April of 2016. We left our campsite at DeSoto State Park, and drove up Interstate 59 through Georgia to Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

12 Things to see and do at DeSoto State Park near Fort Payne, Alabama


Waterfalls are the key feature of DeSoto State Park, located in northeastern Alabama on top of Lookout Mountain. The park shares a name with DeSoto Falls, a spectacular 107 foot waterfall located less than 6 miles from the main part of the park.  There are also many smaller falls located along the hiking trails inside of DeSoto State Park. Most of these smaller falls are located within a few feet of the trail heads so they are easy to find.

Location: The park is located on top of Lookout Mountain about 9 miles northeast of Fort Payne Alabama at 7104 DeSoto Parkway NE.

Cost: Admission to most of the park, including DeSoto Falls, is free.  However, there is a $3 fee if you visit the day use picnic area.

Camping starts at $14.30 per night for the primitive campground.  Sites at the improved campground are $34.65 per night.  There are also hotel rooms and cabins available for around $100 per night.

Operating Seasons and Hours:  The park is open during daylight hours every day of the year.  The General Store is usually open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, but hours can be reduced during the winter.

Official Website: http://www.alapark.com/desoto-state-park

Date of Visit: Monday, April 11, 2016 to Friday, April 15, 2016

This was the first stop of the first day of our road trip to the Lookout Mountain area of Alabama in April of 2016.  This is also where we stayed every night of that trip. Desoto State Park was within driving distance to all the places we wanted to visit so it operated as a base camp of sorts. We also took time to explore the park during the five days of our vacation.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Road Trip Ideas for the Lookout Mountain Area of Alabama



As you know, I've been planning a trip to the Lookout Mountain Area of Alabama for the past several months.  I've been eagerly awaiting a break in Brandon's training so we could go.

Well the break finally came in April, and we were able to take off for five wonderful days.  We spent four nights camping at Desoto State Park on top of Lookout Mountain. Our kids were excited to be camping and having fun outdoors. Brandon was happy to spend time in the mountains again. I was happy to finally visit the places I'd read about in my guidebook.

Every day we set out for a different adventure.  Mostly we went waterfall hunting, and our efforts were rewarded with eight waterfalls. We also explored the Ruby Falls Cave in Chattanooga, Tennessee; saw Saturn V rockets at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville; and discovered one of the best kept secrets in Alabama at Noccalula Falls Park in Gadsden.

Overall, it was one of the best vacations we've been on as a family. I know I seem to say that about every vacation, but really this was the best vacation Brandon and I have been on since having kids. Quite a bit of what made the vacation so great was the ages of our children. They have all grown up a lot in the year and a half since our last vacation. The vacation was also great thanks to the amazing scenery of Alabama. This state is beautiful. If you live anywhere near Northern Alabama you should make plans to visit some of these places too.

Here is the list of the places we went. Click on the underlined text above each picture to go to a detailed post about each place.

Desoto State Park near Fort Payne
Waterfalls are the key feature of DeSoto State Park, located in northeastern Alabama on top of Lookout Mountain. The park shares a name with DeSoto Falls, a spectacular 107 foot waterfall located less than 6 miles from the main part of the park. There are also many smaller falls located along the hiking trails inside of DeSoto State Park. Most of these smaller falls are located within a few feet of the trail heads so they are easy to find.






Ruby Falls near Chattanooga, Tennessee
It's easy to understand why Ruby Falls has been called one of the must see attractions of the Southeast. The beautiful 145 foot waterfall is stunning as it falls into a narrow stone chamber. A chamber that was carved by the water itself. But what's even more amazing is that this waterfall is located 1120 feet underground. Equally intriguing is that this waterfall was discovered less than a century ago.
Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge in Chattanooga
At 2,376 feet long the Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge is the longest pedestrian bridge in the world. The bridge connects the North Shore to Downtown Chattanooga. Strolling across this bridge is a enjoyable activity to add to any trip to Chattanooga.







Lookout Mountion Parkway between Chattanooga and Gadsden
The Lookout Mountain Parkway runs along the top of the 84 miles of Lookout Mountain. The Parkway spans three states, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama. There are a variety of things to see and do along the parkway, from Ruby Falls near Chattanooga, Tennessee in the north to Noccalula Falls in Gadsden in the south. Many of the places to visit are either free or very inexpensive. And the scenery can't be beat.


Little River Canyon near Fort Payne
The Little River Canyon National Preserve in Northeastern Alabama is an overlooked natural wonder. The entire canyon is situated on top of Lookout Mountain, making this one of the only rivers in the world that flows entirely on a mountain. The crown jewels of the canyon are the Little River Falls which are easily accessible from Highway 35. The canyon walls are covered in trees providing beautiful green vistas every way you look. The 23 mile Scenic Drive runs along the western rim of the canyon and has many pull outs that allow you to stop and take in the scenery.




Depot Museum and other historical places in Fort Payne
Fort Payne is located just a few miles west of the middle section of Lookout Mountain. Throughout history this city has witnessed the creation of the Cherokee alphabet, the expulsion of the Cherokee Nation from the south, a boom and bust cycle, an industrial rebirth, and the rise of country superstars. There are glimpses into this past all over the town - you just have to know where to look.



US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville
The US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama is home to one of the most extensive collections of technology used in space exploration. Of particular note are the awesome displays inside the Saturn V Hall. These include things like a full size Saturn V rocket, the Apollo 16 Command Module, and the Apollo training simulator. Throughout the massive complex there are opportunities to learn. Opportunities like viewing IMAX movies, attending space camp, rock climbing on a "martian" wall, or even riding on amusement park rides all help visitors learn more about the goes into exploring space. There are so many things to see and do that it's almost hard to know where to start.


Walls of Jericho near Scottsboro
Alabama doesn't have many hikes with much elevation change so the Walls of Jericho is a unique hike because the hike descends 1000 feet into a beautiful canyon.









High Falls Park near Geraldine
High Falls Park is located in the middle of rural northern Alabama along Town Creek. Finding this remote location can be tricky. But the hunt is worth it because the the focal point of High Falls Park is a 35 foot high waterfall that can be over 300 feet wide. The small park has hiking trails, a pedestrian bridge over the creek, and picnic areas - including a covered pavilion. There is even a small playground. Any nature lover will enjoy a trip to High Falls Park. And the best part is that it's free!

Noccalula Falls Park in Gadsden
Noccalula Falls Park is the best deal in Alabama. It's also one of the best kept secrets. This city park is home to a stunning 90 foot waterfall. There is a trail that takes you down to the river gorge and even behind the waterfall. The park also contains to a pioneer village, a botanical garden, a maze of rocks, and a small zoo. As if that wasn't enough, unlimited train rides are included in the price of admission.






Mount Cheaha State Park near Anniston
Mount Cheaha is the highest point in Alabama at 2407 feet above sea level. Cheaha State Park is located on top of the mountain. This state park is a mountain resort with a variety of places to stay ranging from campsites to secluded chalets. There is even a restaurant located on top of this mountain. Many buildings were originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930's. There are many hikes that lead to overlooks where you have a dramatic view of the miles of trees within the Talladega National Forest.





Waterfalls near Lookout Mountain
Many people think that Ruby Falls is the only waterfall on Lookout Mountain.  But that is not true.  This posts details all the waterfalls you can see while you are visiting the Alabama part of Lookout Mountain.







Here is a map to help give you an idea of where all these places are located.



I can't wait to share these places with you! We'll start with the place we spent the most time: Desoto State Park.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Why we AREN'T taking our kids to Disney


Back when I found out my family would be moving to lower Alabama, I told my kids that we would go to Disneyworld sometime during our time at Fort Rucker.  Going to Disneyworld seemed like a no-brainer because Orlando was only 6 hours away, and we'd get a military discount on admission to the park.

However, after we moved I started to rethink that plan.  Eventually, my husband and I decided that we aren't going to take our kids to Disneyworld or Disneyland or any Disney cruises anytime soon. This decision has shocked a few people since going to Disneyworld is such a common thing around here. So I thought I'd take a minute to explain our reasoning.

First, I want to make it perfectly clear that I have nothing against Disney.  I like most of their movies, I'm just fine with Disney Princesses (in moderation), and I've been to Disneyland and loved it.  In fact, I once wrote a report on Walt Disney, and I consider him to be one of the most visionary people of the 20th century.

So why don't I want to take my kids to any Disney parks?  Well, there are a variety of reasons. It's a combination of financial concerns, the ages of my children, and the fact that great vacations can happen anywhere.  Here's my list of 5 reasons why my husband and I aren't taking our kids to Disney.

1. It's expensive
The biggest concern is money.  Even with a military discount, a trip to Disneyworld is expensive.  The 2016 military discount for Walt Disneyworld is $196 plus tax for a 4 day park hopper ticket.  Now, I know that is an AMAZING deal for Disney, but let's do a little math here.   $196 x 6 people = $1176. Actually, my youngest would get in for free because she's under 3 years old so it would really be $196 x 5= 980.  But we are still talking about spending nearly $1,000 just on the price of admission.  Add in what we'd spend for the hotel, food, and gas to drive down there and this "great deal" could easily cost us $1,500 to $2,000.

Or let's say we just wanted to go for a day or two.  A one day ticket is a little over $100.  That's $500 right there.  In comparison, last month we went on a 5 day vacation to the Lookout Mountain area of Alabama.  We spent about $500 total on gas, food, our campsite, and activities.

To put it simply, Disneyworld is nowhere near a 51 Cent Adventure type of destination.

2. The opportunity cost of the money
My husband's income is high enough that, with a little time to save up, we could afford a trip to Disneyworld.  However, we also have to consider the opportunity cost of that money.  To put it another way, what else could we do with $1,500 to $2,000 dollars?  And I can tell you right out what we could do with that money- we'd put it toward paying off my husband's student loans.

My husband has quite a bit of student loan debt. If we just make minimum payments we will be in debt for the next 9 years - or more if we can't stay ahead of the interest.  That's not cool.  So we are trying to pay it all off as quickly as possible. Right now we make double payments every month.  At our current payoff rate we will be out of debt within the next 5 years. Putting money toward Disneyworld would take away from those extra payment for 3 to 4 months.  That may not sound like much, but getting out of debt is a huge priority for us, and I'd hate to lose our momentum.

The idea is that once we are free from our debt we'll have a lot more wiggle room in our budget.  We'll be able to do things like go on trips to Disney theme parks much more easily than we can now.

3. My kids' ages
If money was my only concern I'd probably consider going to Disneyworld in the near future.  But I have a bigger concern - I have four very young children.  I have 5 1/2 old twin girls, a 4 year old boy, and a 2 1/2 year old girl.  My oldest wasn't even three years old when my youngest was born.

All my kids are are all really young. They still get tired easily on big days, and they still whine a lot when they get tired.  And meltdowns still occur when the kids have been over stimulated.  Heck, we put them to bed at 7:00 pm because they are up grumpy for days if they stay up too late.

I know how upset I would be if we paid all that money for admission to the park, and then my kids start whining about something, or threw a big tantrum, or spent forever napping at the hotel.  It would drive me crazy.

Before we moved to Alabama I always said I wouldn't take my kids to Disney until they were tall enough to ride all the rides.  I still stand by that.  I've also added that they have to be able to go all day without a nap - even on the busiest of days. And they have to be moderately good at waiting in lines without whining.  I don't feel like going on a Disney vacation would be worth the money until they can do all that.

4. Great memories can be made anywhere 
Most of my conversations about why we aren't taking our kids to Disneyworld involve the other person saying, "but you're missing out on making some great memories with your kids."

That's partially true.  Yes, we are missing out on great Disney memories with our kids, but that doesn't mean we can't make great memories somewhere else.

Somehow Disney has us all convinced that going to their theme parks is the penultimate vacation that anyone could ever have.  That if you don't go to Disneyworld then somehow you aren't a happy family.

But guess what? That simply is not true.  Disney does not have a monopoly on family happiness. Families can make great memories anywhere. Great vacations can happen anywhere.  And - gasp - great vacations don't have to cost a lot of money.

One of the reasons I started this blog was to share amazing places that are also inexpensive.  For example, on our recent road trip we spent the last day at Noccalula Falls Park in Gadsden, Alabama.  We were able to ride a small train as much as we wanted, visit a petting zoo, see pioneer era buildings, explore interesting rock features, see a waterfall, and hike down to a alcove behind the fall,  We spent over 6 hours in the park, The kids were happy and exhausted by the time we left.  And how much did it cost us?  $18.  Not even $18 a person.  Just $6 for adults and $3 for children over 4.

5. My kids enjoy simple things
I first started thinking that maybe Disney wasn't for us when I took my kids to Yellowstone last summer. My twins were always pretending to visit Yellowstone. So when we went to Utah I'd thought it would be fun to take a side trip to visit Yellowstone for real.

We did have a great time, but when it was time to watch Old Faithful erupt I couldn't get my kids to come wait at the benches.  Instead they played in the crushed rocks on the other side of the boardwalk.  I was like, "hello, it's Old Faithful.  Who knows when you'll see this again."  And they were like, "hey look at these cool rocks, who knows when we'll see these again."

They did eventually watch Old Faithful erupt, but guess what the kids remember better? Yeah, those dang rocks.

The next day they played for hours on the shore of Lake Jackson in Grand Teton National Park.  Just throwing rocks and enjoying the beautiful scenery.  That's when I knew that my husband and I didn't need to take our kids to Disney to help them have a great childhood- they already were having one.

Thoughout the next few months I noticed the kids enjoying simple things all over the place.  Things as ordinary as the ornate stairway in front of the library in Selma, Alabama; a patch of sand near a lake on Fort Rucker, the magnolia tree next to our house.  In fact, as I write this the twins are out in the backyard pretending that the long grass is a field of oats.

I began to suspect that if I took my kids to Disneyworld they'd probably have the time of their lives playing with something like a fountain.   Something that they could play with at someplace much less expensive. So we should just skip the Disney part, and go find the fountain.

* * *

Those are my 5 reasons that my husband and I aren't taking the kids to Disneyworld - at least right now. Even though we do live close, and we would get a discount, a trip to Disneyworld isn't a priority for us.

However, that doesn't mean well never go to Disneyworld or Disneyland or go on a Disney cruise. I can see a time in the future when we will take the kids to Disney and have a blast.  That will be when we are out of debt, and when the kids are older and so can handle a whole day of adventure.

But you know what won't change? Our ability to have fun as a family and enjoy simple things, because those things exist with or without Disney.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Cheaha State Park - Delta, Alabama


Description: Mount Cheaha is the highest point in Alabama at 2407 feet above sea level.  Cheaha State Park is located on top of the mountain.  This state park is a mountain resort with a variety of places to stay ranging from campsites to secluded chalets. There is even a restaurant located on top of this mountain.  Many buildings were originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930's.  There are many hikes that lead to overlooks where you have a dramatic view of the miles of trees within the Talladega National Forest.      

Location: This state park is located within the Talladega National Forest on top of Mt Cheaha.  The address for the park is 19644 Hwy 281 in Delta, Alabama.

Cost: Entrance to the park is $5 per person per day. Children ages 6-11 are $2.  These rates don't apply if you stay overnight.

Camping starts at $15.40 for a primitive campsite. $17.60 for semi primitive sites, and $27.50 per night for a site at the improved campground, There are also chalets, cabins, and hotel rooms available.  The hotel is about $80 per night and the cabins and chalets are all above $100.

Operating Seasons and Hours: Open all year long from 7:00 am-10:00pm

Official Website: http://www.alapark.com/cheaha-state-park

Date of Visit: Friday, March 25, 2016 to Saturday March 26, 2016


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