Life on Lookout Mountain: Winter 2014


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text and photography by JOHN DERSHAM

There is something magical here, indefinable yet very noticeable. So what is it?

The Lookout Mountain region, as we call it, is tucked away at the southern end of the Appalachian Mountains. This area is close to quite a few major population centers, including Atlanta, Birmingham and Huntsville, and only a two- or three-hour drive from Nashville, Knoxville and Montgomery. Chattanooga is the largest city in our region. It sits at the foot of Lookout Mountain to the north. It was here that Lookout Mountain started to become well known nationwide.[s2If !is_user_logged_in()]

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[/s2If][s2If is_user_logged_in()]Pre-Civil War, much of the Lookout Mountain area was inhabited by Native Americans along with settlers from Ireland and Scotland who migrated south along the valleys and rivers of the Appalachian mountain chain. These were rugged people who eked out a living in what was an undeveloped backwoods. During the Civil War, North met South in several battles here, including the battles of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge and the Battle of Chickamauga.

Many soldiers were in camps in the valley at the foot of Lookout Mountain in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. They were there for a significant time, allowing them to explore the area. In Valley Head, Ala., 20,000 northern troops were camped during the summer of 1863. DeKalb and Jackson counties in Alabama had voted against succession from the Union, making the area a less threatening one for setting up camp.

After revelry each morning, Union soldiers had a lot of free time. They climbed Lookout Mountain, discovering the beauty and diversity of the region. They would hike to Little River Canyon, DeSoto Falls, Cloudland Canyon and a multitude of other scenic locations that only locals knew about at that time. Civil War journals written in the area describe these young men holding contests to see who could pry the largest boulder off the side of the mountain and take out the most trees on the way down. They would jump off the 100-foot DeSoto Falls and swim in the area’s rivers and creeks.

After the war, some soldiers were so taken by the beauty of the region that they came back and started our long tradition of tourism. People opened summer camps, built leisure cabins, opened hotels, campgrounds and hunting lodges and promoted scenic attractions such as waterfalls, caves, rock formations and the list goes on.

By the early part of the 20th century, tourists from throughout the country were visiting. The railroads that brought Union soldiers southward were used to bring tourists to the area. You might recall the hit song “Chattanooga Choo Choo “ recorded by the Glenn Miller Orchestra in 1941. It mentions track 29. That track ran south along the foot of Lookout Mountain, ultimately leading toward Birmingham and New Orleans. It brought visitors to large resort hotels and camps that were founded not long after the Civil War. By the 1920s, this region was firmly known for its tourist appeal.

Over the years, the area has captured the hearts of artists, musicians, hippies and a variety of spiritual people who found the mountain captivating, healing and inspiring. It is a place where the Northern wilderness met the Southern wilderness, and both flourished together.

The area is home to flora and fauna more diverse than that nearly anywhere else on Earth. The air and water quality are good, and the climate is mild. We have four distinct seasons. While warm air rules from March through November, we have snow most winters and even a ski resort in Mentone, Ala., called Cloudmont Ski and Golf Resort. (The resort makes its own snow when Mother Nature fails to accommodate.)

Many people come to our area to retire or to buy or build get-away homes. Our cost of living is low and our beauty is high. I have lived in the Northeast, Midwest and other parts of the South before this magical mountain lured my wife and me more than a decade ago.

Please join us this winter and see if you can define this area’s enduring magnetism.

John Dersham is president/CEO of DeKalb Tourism.