National Parks, Tennessee, Travels, USA

Road Trip Pit Stops: Chattanooga National Military Park

When you’re on a multi-day drive in a big stupid truck hauling home some furniture that belonged to your dead grandmother, it’s best to include some adventures along the way. In fact, it’s probably mandatory.

I’d never done the drive from Texas to Virginia, although it’s one my grandmother managed a few times in her 89 years of life. She was born in Loop, Texas, between Lubbock and Midland, and then moved to Virginia and, much later, returned to Texas, to Houston, for her remaining years.

After coming home from my deployment, getting to Texas to gather up some of her things was among the pressing items on my to-do list. I was, thankfully, able to come home for her funeral back in November and was able to spend a week in Texas before I headed back to Kuwait. Then though, there wasn’t much time or energy for much else other than grieving and traveling from Houston to Loop and then back to the desert.

In planning this trip the first thing I did, of course, was look up what National Park units would be along the way. I’m trying to get to all of them, all 417 of the damn things, and any chance to get another stamp in my National Parks passport or to explore these exceptional parts of America – whether historic, scenic or otherwise – is a chance that I take.

I saw we’d be driving right through Chattanooga, Tennessee, a town I’d heard some good things about and home to the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, which seemed like a perfect excuse for a pitstop as we made our way northeast. || Chattanooga National Military Park

The park is comprised of four main areas: Chickamauga Battlefield, Missionary Ridge, Moccasin Bend and Lookout Mountain Battlefield, to include Point Park, which seemed like the easiest part of the park to visit given our route and also our big dumb truck.

The drive up the mountain was definitely an adventure. The truck, being so big and dumb, had a tough time climbing some of the hills and the narrow roads along the way made for some gut-clenching moments. It was a chilled February morning and most of the roads around Point Park were empty so we  easily found street parking for the truck and spent about an hour exploring the park and taking in the absolutely amazing views of Chattanooga.

The Battle of Lookout Mountain was fought on November 24, 1863, and was part of the Chattanooga Campaign of the Civil War. Confederate troops were defeated there by Union forces led by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker. It was called the “Battle Above the Clouds,” and there’s a massive painting by the same name in the visitor center across from Point Park.

I know military history isn’t everyone’s thing, especially when it comes to military history related to the Civil War, but I’m always fascinated by it. I suppose after 14 years in the Army, that’s to be expected and after living in Richmond, Virginia, for more than a decade, it’s pretty much impossible for me to ignore the Civil War.

It’s $5 per person to enter Point Park and it’s really, really pretty. You can see the whole city from up there, all spread out below you. Moccasin Bend, which has been home to humans for more than 12,000 years, is easy to spot and beautiful to see from above.

There’s an exhibit on Civil War photography in Ochs Memorial Observatory, located inside Point Park, and the New York Peace Memorial, erected by New York as a sign of peace and reconciliation between Union and Confederate veterans after the Civil War. || Chattanooga National Military Park

After the park, we needed snacks. We had another full day of driving ahead of us and figured a stop for some actual food would help with our sanity. I can only handle so many road snacks and while we’d packed a cooler full of goodies and had food of a higher caliber than that typically found at gas stations, sometimes just getting the fuck out of the car and sitting down to enjoy a meal can make all the driving seem a little less daunting.

We found Sugar’s Ribs right next to the interstate on the way out of town and it was damn near perfection. There were even goats hanging out in the yard, doing their goat thing. || Chattanooga National Military Park

We ordered more food than we needed, of course. We had the taco sampler that included a smoked pork butt taco, a wood-grilled chicken taco and a smoked brisket taco, along with some ribs, some mac and cheese and some brunswick stew.

It was all good. Every single bit was good. Every taco. All the meats. The cornbread was maybe some of the best I’ve had and I couldn’t even begin to pick which sauce I liked the best. It was brilliant food and the ribs  made for a fantastic road snack a few hours down the road.

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