On my first morning in Chattanooga I just couldn’t sleep in. I left my hotel before sunrise. The air outside was cool and crisp. In fact it was downright chilly. I wanted to go someplace I could watch the sunrise but I didn’t want to hike far from my car. I really wasn’t sure where I was going until I found myself driving down the familiar auto touring route in the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park.
I had about half an hour before the sunrise but the sky was already turning light shades of blue. The photographer in me took note of the few clouds in the sky for some potential color but I hadn’t gotten out early enough for that. I knew I needed something else to anchor my photo and draw some attention. Fortunately I was in a national military park commemorating a famous battle during the Civil War. I was surrounded by canons.
An auto tour route winds around the expansive military park. Markers, monuments, and canons are scattered throughout. I bought a book one time, Bushwhacking on a Grand Scale, written by a local historian explaining each and every stop within the park. I never finished reading the book but it was neat to have just in case I ever needed to learn some history. Instead of using the book I pulled out the wrinkled folded map and tried to figure out where I should go for a sunrise view.
I was somewhere. I didn’t really know where. All I knew was I had found a beautiful canon pointed toward the sunrise and I had only minutes before it peaked over the tops of the trees on the horizon. I parked the car and quickly hopped out for the photo. It’s difficult setting up photography equipment with thick gloves on your hands, but it’s also equally difficult when your fingers are numb.
I got my sunset photo and went on with my day. I went back to the visitor center and finally finished my coffee. I only had to wait half an hour before the visitor center doors opened. Armed with a fresh map of the auto tour route I set out again to enjoy this autumn day in the park.
The fall colors were behaving strangely: some of the trees were already peaking while others steadfastly remained green. It was an interesting mix of contrast between summer and fall that I got to enjoy for a few hours as I slowly drove around the entire auto tour route.
In the early morning hours just after sunrise I would spot groups of deer in the thin forests and wide open fields. They weren’t skittish at all as long as you remained in your car buzzing past them at fifty miles per hour. But just as soon as I would stop their heads would perk up and a moment later they would dart into the distance with their white tails raised in alarm.
There really are a lot of canons everywhere in this park. Almost every turn in every road features some arrangement of canons. It all seems so random and haphazard now with most of them pointing into groves of trees but I guess this entire field was clear cut before the famous Civil War battle. I guess the whole area looked very different then.
There were a few historical buildings as well. Lots of monuments and information panels. The sun was beaming brightly and the air warmed considerably. I tossed the gloves and hat aside and even found myself taking off my jacket just a couple hours into my exploration of the park. That was a mistake after climbing the stairs in Wilder Tower and reaching the windy and frigid top.
The park has so many wide open fields and thousands of trees. It’s all flat in this area so, besides the commanding view from Wilder Tower, there are no scenic overlooks to admire it all. You’re on ground level but that’s okay because it kinda puts you directly in touch with the brilliant fall colors. If you wanted to do a fall-themed portrait shoot this would be the time and place. If you just wanted to enjoy a drive around the free park this would be a good time, too.
That’s exactly what I did for about three hours. I drove the entire auto tour route three times. But I wanted to get back into Chattanooga and find something new to do so I finally left the park behind. I’ll be back, though. This park is too good not to visit at least once more.
Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park: 3370 Lafayette Road, Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia | (706) 866-9241 | www.nps.gov/chch/index.htm | Admission is Free