Thursday, October 10, 2013

Exploring Ruby Falls Caverns

We started the day near Chattanooga, Tennessee touring the caverns under Lookout Mountain.  The mountain covers about 80 square miles across 3 states in Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama.  The area is rich in history including American Indian legends, the Revolutionary War, and the Civil War.

View of Chattanooga from the parking lot at Ruby Falls.

Access to the Ruby Falls Caverns is on the Tennessee side of Lookout Mountain.  We entered a building where we took a ride down an elevator with about 30 people and our tour guide Doug.  

It would take about 1/2 an hour for us to walk to the Ruby Falls cavern.  Most of the time we walked single file through narrow passages.  We were organized into groups to signal the guide at intervals to make sure we were all together.  There were nicknames for the front, middle and rear of the tour group.  A large family from Columbia brought up the rear.  We knew we were all together when the guide called out for rollcall and we heard them shout, "Columbia!" 

Leos Passage shows the size of the passages that explorer Leo Lambert crawled along on his belly when he discovered Ruby Falls in the 1920's.  The paths that we walked along were excavated for tours.  Most were paved.

Cave formations had nicknames, like Steak and Potatoes.  The glossy formations felt waxy to touch.

Crystal Chandelier is a formation of stalagtites on the ceiling.  Leaning Tower is a fat column that looks like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  Parts of the path were wet from water dripping from the stalagtites. 

Donkey formation looks like, um, what it looks like.  A donkey's rear end!

There were a lot of drapey looking formations in the Onyx Jungle.  Sometimes it was hard to keep up, because there was so much to see.

Blue lighting in the Onyx Jungle.

A pool of water from an underground stream.  Indian legends told of underground streams and a waterfall inside the mountain. 

Several times along the way Doug would tell us, "Watch your head!"  The rock walls can be narrow and uneven. 

Looking up at a fault line, it seemed like the ceiling went on forever.

Ruby Falls is inside a large cavern with a high ceiling.  The amount of rocky mountain above the cavern is as tall as the Empire State Building.  That was hard for me to imagine, until we saw the views from Rock City on top of Lookout Mountain.

We stayed in the Ruby Falls cavern for about 15 minutes while music played and colored lights filled the cave.  Then we started the trek back through passages back to the elevator.  Parts of the path took us through areas we hadn't seen yet. 

It took us another 1/2 hour to walk back, which may seem like a lot of time, but there was still a lot to see on along the way.  If you enjoy photography and like to play with manual settings, the best spot in a tour group is at the rear.  You're not as pressured to move on.  There were 2 photographers at the rear of our group with tripods.  One of the photographers told us about special photographic tours of Ruby Falls Caverns.  They are done seasonally, and allow for 3 hours in the caves.

After the tour we had lunch and rested, then continued on to the top of the mountain to visit Rock City in Lookout Mountain, Georgia.

More photos of Ruby Falls Caverns are posted at my album on

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The canal at night

Playing with long exposures with a Canon PowerShot SX120IS

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Sunrise Service at Fort DeSoto Park

We arrived at the park at dawn. There was music and singing as we carried our beach chairs towards a large group of people.

The preacher asked us, "Why are you here? What does Easter mean to you?," and then continued a short sermon as the sun rose above the horizon.

Easter means a lot to me, because...He came back for me (and you, too).  Happy Easter!  Enjoy the day knowing you are loved no matter what.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Last Flight of Space Shuttle Discovery

Mission number STS-133 is to be the last flight of Space Shuttle Discovery.  They're taking supplies and crewmembers to the International Space Station.  We were concerned about a delay, due to a computer reboot.  From 10 miles away it was hard to tell when the countdown ended.  We couldn't hear the sound of ignition.  It was a hazy day and things looked distorted.  At first we saw smoke, then a bright light from a flame.

It was a thrill to see the space shuttle emerge from the smoke and fire.  Space Shuttle Discovery rose silently.

We heard the sound of wind about half a minute after lift off. It sounded like an approaching subway.  There was a low rumble in the background.

The rumble built up to a loud roar. I could feel it. The ground shook.  The length of the flame looked incredible.

Discovery ascended like a brilliant diamond into the sky.  It was hard to take your eyes off of it long enough to shoot photos.

There was a puff of smoke and flames as the solid rocket boosters seperated from the space shuttle. It looked like a distorted flower in the hazy atmosphere. Then three points of light were visible. Two points dropped away from the brighter light of the space shuttle engines.  We watched until the lights disappeared.

Here's where we camped along US 1 in Titusville. A young mother we met near our camp said that she had her kids write down the names of the states they saw on license plates.  They counted 33 different US states and Canadian provinces.

We continued shooting photos of the contrail as we struck camp to leave town.  The wind quickly tore the cloud of smoke apart into a zig zag pattern.

It was bumper to bumper traffic leaving the scene.

More photos of the last flight of space shuttle Discovery for mission STS-133

Our video of the launch of Shuttle Discovery

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sawgrass Lake Park in St. Petersburg

Sawgrass Lake Park is in the middle of a city. It's near highway I-275, a gun firing range, and neighborhoods of single family homes. We weren't sure how big the park was or what to expect. After parking the car in an area shaded by large oak trees we followed a sidewalk along a creek. A large alligator quietly swam by.

"Did you see that?"
"A big gator."
"No kidding. Look.  There it is!"

I double checked the edge of the creek to see if there were any more lurking around. People idly walked by with dogs on leashes.

We followed the path to a bridge that went across the creek and looked in the water. A man walked up to me and asked me about my camera. He said he was looking for a camera to take wildlife photos around the park.

I showed him some of the photos I had just taken of an anhinga in the creek. He was impressed. I showed him the model number of the camera. Then he told me about the big alligator that lives under the bridge. I said that I just saw a big gator swim by, and he said that it was probably the one.

I saw the gator swimming back to the bridge and take up position directly underneath us. Then the man told me about snakes under the bridge, the mama alligator with babies, and all the cool trails in the woods. We talked for a little bit about different nature preserves in the area. After talking about snakes and gators I wasn't sure if I really wanted to go across the bridge. I saw ladies with strollers and squealing little kids running across the bridge and decided that it couldn't be that bad. I shouldn't be a sissy. So I went down the trail to where the mama alligator was.

The wetland areas have elevated boardwalks over the alligator habitats. It was like walking through a fantasy land of giant ferns.

The female alligator with hatchlings is near an observation deck.

Hatchling alligator.

There's an observation tower by Sawgrass Lake. The water is clear. You can see turtles, fish, birds, and yes, there are alligators of various sizes. It looks so peaceful, but you can hear the sounds of the city around us. There was the wooshing sound of the highway and pops from the firing range. The wildlife didn't seem to mind.

There were huge Florida softshell turtles in the lake and creeks.

The Hammock Trail is wide enough that I felt comfortable walking through the woods. Parts of the trail are dirt, boardwalk, and bricked.

We saw an armadillo.

The Hammock Trail was beautiful. In some places it almost looked as if someone had arranged the oak trees and palmettos.

There were more trails than we had time to explore. Sawgrass Lake Park is 400 acres in size. It is one of the largest maple swamps on Florida's Gulf Coast.

More pictures of Sawgrass Lake Park

Address: Sawgrass Lake Park
7400 25th St. N.,
St. Petersburg, FL 33702

Hours: 7am - sunset

Admission: free