Commercialized Nature

On our recent visit to Lookout Mountain, in Tennessee, my wife and I decided to visit Ruby Falls and Rock City, two heavily advertised tourist sites on the mountain.  Having made numerous vacation trips between Ohio and Florida as children, we have long been familiar with their ads, which appear on barns and billboards throughout the Southeast (of course, our parents did their best to ignore those signs, hoping to shorten the travel time as much as possible).

As it turned out, Rock City, which sits on the east edge of the ridge in northernmost Georgia, does possess many spectacular rock formations and offers a fabulous view across the Ridge and Valley Province to the east.  On the other hand, it is, in fact, a rather expensive botanical garden, complete with soothing background music, snack bars, gift shops and children-oriented exhibits.  Ruby Falls, a spectacular cascade within the limestone core of Lookout Mountain, is accessed by a guided, half-mile walk through a lighted cave; the guide was well informed and personable but most of the discussion centered on the shapes of the various stalagmites, stalactites and flow-stones and how they resembled certain foods, animals or body parts.  The falls itself was presented in "dramatic" fashion, including operatic music and a multi-colored light show.

While both of these famous and popular sites surely appeal to the average tourist, naturalists like myself tend to be disappointed by the commercialization of natural wonders and the efforts made to make them more interesting and enjoyable for those who have no particular interest in ecology, geology and natural history.  Unfortunately, deep-seated curiosity got the best of us this time.