Travel to the Tennessee Valley (Tennessee, Alabama) – Episode 464

categories: USA Travel

Travel to Huntsville, Alabama (Podcast)

Hear about travel to the Tennessee River Valley as the Amateur Traveler talks to Chuck Prevatte from about the region from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Huntsville, Alabama.


Chuck says, “the Tennessee Valley is kind of a snapshot of the South, its past, its present, and its future. In Appalachia the history that is there, people coming across the mountains initially, you move down through the 1940s and the Tennessee Valley Authority which brought electricity to the area and then you move down into the Huntsville area where NASA has a huge facility the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center where they do the day to day operational control for the International Space Station and did most of the development on the Hubble Space Telescope. The Shuttle was all managed out of the Marshall Space Flight Center.”

We start in southeast Tennessee in Ducktown, spending the day rafting on the Ocoee River. “It’s a great fun family trip, kids 8 or 9 years old and up can do it.” The copper mining history of the area can be seen at the Ducktown Basin Museum. For the whole history of the area stop at the 5 Points museum in Cleveland, Tennessee. “While you are there stop at Gardner’s Market which is a British Market.”

Spend a couple of days in the Chattanooga area. See the art galleries and coffee shops on a bluff above the river. The Tennessee Aquarium presents the life to be found in and around the river. Railroad fans can visit the old Chattanooga railroad station which has been converted into a hotel. Your room can be an old train car. Plan your trip to attend the Riverbend Festival in June. You can visit the Chickamauga & Chattanooga Military Park to see the Civil War history of the area.

On the road from Chattanooga to Huntsville, stop at the Russell Cave National Monument which had 10,000 years of human habitation. Make a stop at the Unclaimed Baggage Center. “They have more stuff than you can imagine”.

In Huntsville, the must-see thing to see is the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. You can see the entire history of the U.S. space program in one place. You can get on a bus and explore the historic George C. Marshall Space Flight Center. “Living in Huntsville when they set off the Saturn V engines it would show up on the Richter Scale, it would shake the entire town.” Huntsville is also the home of Space Camp.

Huntsville is also only an hour from the Jack Daniels Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee, but don’t plan on a tasting while you visit as it is located in a dry county. Also nearby is Muscle Shoals which is a center for music recording.

From BBQ with white BBQ sauce to lost luggage, from Civil War sites to full-size Saturn V rockets, come see what the Tennessee Valley has to offer.

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Show Notes

Food Wine Beer Travel
Tennessee Valley
Tennessee Valley Authority
Marshall Space Flight Center
Ducktown, Tennessee
Ocoee Rafting
Ocoee Adventure Center
Nantahala Outdoor Center
Ducktown Basin Museum
Cleveland, Tennessee
Museum Center at 5ive Points
Gardner’s Market
Chattanooga, Tennessee
Bluff View Art District
Tennessee Aquarium
Chattanooga Choo Choo
Riverbend Festival
Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park
Lookout Mountain
Chattanooga River Boat
Huntsville, Alabama
Russell Cave National Monument
Unclaimed Baggage Center
Cathedral Caverns
Lodge Cast Iron Factory Store
U.S. Space & Rocket Center
Monte Sano State Park
Jack Daniels Distillery
Lynchburg, Tennessee
Muscle Shoals
FAME Studios
Big Bob Gibson BBQ
Panoply Arts Festival
Big Spring Jam
Walls of Jericho
Burritt on the Mountain
Ruby Falls


Dyanne on Travel to Easter Island / Rapa Nui – Episode 220

Thanks Chris, for the link to your Easter Island podcast. As I’m headed there in a few weeks it was good to listen to Mike and Hilary’s take on it. But as I could find no dates as to when the interview/podcast was conducted, after listening awhile I was understandably disappointed to inadvertently learn that their visit to Easter Island was more than 6 years ago (2008). Worse, some key information in the podcast has now changed (e.g. for more than a year now, there is no longer the $160 “reciprocity”/visa fee for U.S. citizens visiting Chile, and there is more than a single flight to/from the island from Santiago.

I know that many bloggers prefer not to date their posts/podcasts (presumably to make their content seem ever “fresh”?), but when it comes to travel info, not knowing how old the resource is can be a serious problem for those seeking info for a CURRENT trip they’re planning. You also talked about a photo contest and an Egypt tour on “Nov. 5th” in the EI podcast, but… now I’m not sure if that info too is obsolete.

In short, did I somehow miss the date of the podcast? And in any case, I dare say… an update on Easter Island might be a good idea (and naturally, I’d be happy to help with the latter if you like, when I return from the isle next month). πŸ˜‰

Kathy adds her 2 cents to Travel to North Carolina – Episode 461


Chris: Amateur Traveler episode 464. Today the Amateur Traveler talks 10,000 years of human habitation, the Civil War, White Sauce barbecue sauce and rockets, as we go to the Tennessee Valley in Tennessee and Alabama.

Chris: This episode of Amateur Traveler is sponsored by DK EYEWitness Travel Guides. These colorful guide books are filled with great information and are one of my favorite guide books. I have 25 of them right here on my bookshelf. Learn more at

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Chris: Welcome to the Amateur Traveler. I’m your host, Chris Christensen. As I do that little preview of the show, I do wonder if some of you try and guess what place we’re going to talk about and if you got the Tennessee Valley for today’s show, if not, you’ll be able to next time. We’re going to talk a little more about our sponsors later on, but first, let’s talk about the Tennessee Valley. I’d like to welcome back to the show Chuck Prevatte from who has come to talk to us about the Tennessee River Valley. Chuck, welcome back to the show.

Chuck: Thanks, Chris. Good to be back.

Chris: And I say, “Welcome back to the show.” Chuck was in episode 250, I think we decided, on the Gulf Coast of Florida, and has written 15 or 16 different posts for the Amateur Traveler, including a lot of book reviews. So, I appreciate that. Can you put the Tennessee River Valley on the map for us? We’re not always in Tennessee in the Tennessee River Valley, I know that much.

Chuck: No, we’re not. Tennessee River runs from the western side of the Appalachian mountains down through southeast Tennessee into and all the way through north Alabama and then swings back north up through Tennessee and comes in and meets the Ohio river at about Paducah, Kentucky.

Chris: Okay. So, why should one go to the Tennessee River Valley?

Chuck: The Tennessee Valley is really kind of the snapshot of the South and kind of its past, its present and its future. We talk about in Tennessee the Appalachia and the history that is there, people coming across the mountains initially. Then you move down through “the 1940s” and the development of the Tennessee Valley Authority, which brought electricity to the area. And then you move in down into the Huntsville area where NASA has a huge facility, the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center, where they do the daily operational control of the International Space Station, did most of the development on the Hubble Space Telescope and shuttles all managed out of Marshall Space Flight Center.

Chris: Okay. And what kind of itinerary would you recommend for tackling this valley?

Chuck: Well, I thought about that. I thought we’d start at southeast Tennessee in the little area, strange enough, called Ducktown.

Chris: Okay.

Chuck: There’s also a Turtletown and a Dogtown in the same vicinity.

Chris: I’ve actually heard of Dogtown, but I had not heard of Ducktown.

Chuck: What I recommend is you spend a day rafting on the Ocoee River. It was the site of the 1996 Olympic white water competition. It’s a great, fun family trip. Kids eight or nine years old and up can do it, it’s not – especially the upper Ocoee – is not all that technical. And you can do full day trips and do the whole eight or 10 miles of the river or a half day trip. And I’d recommend you use one of two outfitters out there, the Ocoee Adventure Center or the Ocoee Outpost and the Nantahala Outdoor Center. Both primo professional operations. You’ll have a great time. The middle section of the Ocoee River’s got 18 class three or higher rapids. It’s a lot of fun.

Chris: And Ducktown, first of all, has nothing to do with Duck Dynasty.

Chuck: No.

Chris: Do you know why it’s call Ducktown?

Chuck: I don’t off the top of my head. When you’re in the area there, if you get time, go up to the Ducktown Basin Museum. The whole area up there is actually referred to as the Copper Basin, where during “the 1890s” through probably “the 1970s”, there were a number of copper mines in operation and a smelting operation there, and the Basin Museum is built around one of the old abandoned copper mines. Kind of show you the whole history of the area and the problems that the copper mining and smelting caused. For a number of years, downwind from that area it was almost barren from the acid rain from the copper smelting operation.

Chris: Well, in an answer to my previous question, apparently Ducktown, by tradition, was named after the Cherokee leader named Chief Duck.

Chuck: Oh!

Chris: Which I wouldn’t have guessed, but apparently . . .

Chuck: I would never have guessed that either.

Chris: . . . this whole area apparently has a Cherokee background, which I . . .

Chuck: Yeah.

Chris: . . . didn’t put them that far up into that area. But, interesting. Okay. Excellent. Where to next?

Chuck: After you get off the river you continue driving east down Highway 64 into Cleveland, Tennessee. I’d spend a night there and hit the museum at Five Points there in Cleveland, and that’s going to tell you about that whole southern Appalachian history from the pre-Cherokee up through today. A permanent exhibit called River of Time does a great job of telling you all about the history of that southern, into the the Appalachians there.

Chris: Interesting. Okay.

Chuck: And while you’re in Cleveland, go to a place called Gardener’s Market in downtown Cleveland for lunch. The guy that owns it immigrated to the United States from England and it is a semi-traditional British market here in downtown Cleveland, Tennessee. Makes great sandwiches, though.

Chris: When you say a British market, I don’t know that I can picture what makes a market look British, besides having better tea or something.

Chuck: I say a British market, I think I said that because he’s British.

Chris: Okay, okay.

Chuck: But it’s all pictures of the Queen and . . .

Chris: Got it. Okay. Anything in particular we should order while we’re there?

Chuck: I was always partial to their roast beef sandwiches, but . . .

Chris: Okay.

Chuck: … I mean, I never had anything bad, so.

Chris: Well, there’s a reason why the British soldiers were known as Beefeaters, so . . .

Chuck: This is true.

Chris: . . . that works out well. Excellent. Where to next?

Chuck: To the southeast, down into Chattanooga. There you can spend a couple days, three days, four days, whatever you want there. I mean, there’s all kinds of stuff to do there, and in particular the Bluff View Art District, which is a collection of little art galleries and coffee shops all up on the bluff overlooking the Tennessee River.

Chris: Okay.

Chuck: There’s sculpture gardens. And there’s also the Tennessee Aquarium there, which focused on the aquatics of the Tennessee River.

Chris: Um-hum.

Chuck: You go in and you ride the escalator up and you start at the top and work your way down through the building. And so, up at the top is an aviary where they have all the bird life of the river, and then you work your way down through the levels of the river until you get down at the bottom and you’re looking at channel catfish and the things that live in the deep water channels of the river.

Chris: Interesting.

Chuck: It’s pretty neat the way they did it.

Chris: I love a well-presented museum. It gives you an idea of how things should be to me.

Chuck: Other things to do there, I mean, just in downtown Chattanooga, if you’re a railroad fan, the Chattanooga Choo Choo.

Chris: Oh, sure. Yeah.

Chuck: That’s pretty cool. They’ve taken the old Chattanooga train station . . .

Chris: Um-hum.

Chuck: . . . and have converted it into a hotel.

Chris: Okay.

Chuck: They have a number of, of course, the traditional hotel rooms, but they also have a number of old train cars that have been converted that you can have the train car as your hotel room.

Chris: Excellent.

Chuck: They also have a huge little model railroad display there and you can ride an old street trolley car.

Chris: Around the grounds?

Chuck: Around the grounds, yeah.

Chris: Excellent.

Chuck: And if you’re in Chattanooga in June, you’ve got to time it so you hit the Riverbend Festival.

Chris: Okay.

Chuck: Now this is eight days of music spread over six, seven, eight stages, depending on the year, most of which are barges they tie up on the riverbank.

Chris: Oh, interesting.

Chuck: It’s just a great party.

Chris: Any particular style of music or is it eclectic?

Chuck: It really just kind of covers everything.

Chris: Okay.

Chuck: You’ll have everything from country to metal. If you’re there on Mondays, they have something called the Bessie Smith Strut, which is a . . .

Chris: Okay.

Chuck: . . . ladies get dressed up on their Sunday finest and parade down through to some blues music – it’s a hoot.

Chris: Okay.

Chuck: Also, while you’re in Chattanooga, you have the Chattanooga and Chickamauga National Military Parks.

Chris: And I would have been disappointed if you had left them out. Okay.

Chuck: It’s about 10,000 acres of military park based along the battles between the Union and Confederate Armies for control of Chattanooga. During the American Civil War, Chickamauga was actually the first national military park created.

Chris: I didn’t realize that.

Chuck: It was created, and it’s part of the park’s charter, as I understand it, that it was there for the study of the military arts. And if you get really lucky when you’re visiting you’ll run into a group of Army officers doing a staff ride. Which is, they will go and they will then research on different aspects of the battle, and they’ll go and then be presenting what they found to their peers.

Chris: So this is currently commissioned officers in Officer Candidate School or something who are doing . . .

Chuck: Right. People that go there from the Army War College, they’ll go there from the Commanding General Staff College from the Officer Candidate School, from all over, they’ll come there to do these things. And if you get really lucky you’ll find one of the groups that has the park historian with them.

Chris: Okay.

Chuck: The park historians here tell some, just, great, great stories about the battle and know it in detail and know whatever unit from North Carolina or Ohio crossed that road over there and wound up here . . .

Chris: Okay.

Chuck: . . . and can get you into that level of detail. There’s nine or 10 different hikes that you can do around the battlefield they have mapped out. You can do everything from the perimeter hike around the park, which is just over 20 miles, or they have a hike specifically for where the Confederate lines were. Or they have what they call the Monument Trail, which takes you through back and forth across the lines to where all the Generals had their headquarters and what they could see from there. And there’s even a little five mile nature trail there where they give you a guide and you go out and hunt the wild flowers.

Chris: Interesting. Well, you know me, I’m a Civil War buff, so that’s something that I would enjoy.

Chuck: Chris, you would have a ball there.

Chris: Yeah.

Chuck: You can also go up to the top of Lookout Mountain, which is another part of the National Military Park called Point Park, which is right at the point of Lookout Mountain looking down into the valley and over Chattanooga. There you will find the largest replica of Army Corps of Engineers in the world, is the gateway to Point Park.

Chris: Okay.

Chuck: The big castle.

Chris: Okay. Let’s take a break at this point and talk about our sponsor, who is DK EYEWitness Travel Guides. The last couple episodes, I’ve been talking about Morocco because I was about to head there, and what EYEWitness travel guide had to say about it – I should say I got into trouble because I accidentally left our EYEWitness travel guide at home, on the nightstand next to the bed and got in trouble with my wife, who was planning on reading it on the plane. Fortunately, Shandra, who was a former guest on this show and one of the people on the tour, had brought her copy of the EYEWitness travel guide for Morocco.

As I was looking back now at the guide having been there, there is some great pictures of Ait-Ben-Haddou, the UNESCO World Heritage site that we visited. Both the two-page spread on this wonderful city that we’ll talk more about in later episodes, as well as a two-page spread on what a kasbah is like, and that’s a fortified house, and we saw several kasbahs including six within the Ksar that was the walled city of Ait-Ben-Haddou.

I will say that as fun it was to use the DK EYEWitness travel guide and travel planning, I’m still enjoying it. Leafing back through it, seeing all the things that we saw while we were there. If you want to get your own DK EYEWitness travel guide, go to

Chuck: And other things that you can do in Chattanooga, there’s hang gliding, water skiing, kayaking, fishing, all of it there along the river.

Chris: Okay.

Chuck: If you’re there in the fall, there’s a riverboat that’s stopped there in Chattanooga and it does color cruises down through the Tennessee River gorge . . .

Chris: Oh, interesting.

Chuck: . . . which is just west of Chattanooga. If you hit it right in the fall, the colors there will rival New England.

Chris: And I’m guessing that’s going to be late fall because we’re further south.

Chuck: Yeah, it’s probably late October . . .

Chris: Okay.

Chuck: . . . for the best time there.

Chris: Okay.

Chuck: So from Chattanooga, I’m going to take you southwest towards Huntsville, and it’s about a two hour drive from Chattanooga to Huntsville down Highway 72.

Chris: Now, I notice you’re saying the name of that city different than I was. I tend to say Huntsville because that’s the way we spell it, but that is not the way we say it.

Chuck: No, it’s Huntsville.

Chris: Okay.

Chuck: And you’re right, it’s spelled Huntsville. I guess if you live there long enough the “T” becomes kind of semi-silent.

Chris: Okay. And that V-I-L-L-E sounds like V-U-L to me.

Chuck: Yeah.

Chris: Okay.

Chuck: First place to stop is Russell Cave National Monument, a little national park unit there in northern Jackson County. It’s an archaeological site. They’ve got about 10,000 years of human record in the caves where people have lived on and off.

Chris: And human record? Drawings or artifacts or . . .

Chuck: Just artifacts . . .

Chris: Okay.

Chuck: . . . that they’ve uncovered living there.

Chris: Okay.

Chuck: It’s probably a quarter mile or so worth of walking from the visitor’s center back to the cave. Walk in and you can see, if you time it right you get to see the archaeologists digging and can interact with them. It’s pretty neat. And if you’re really lucky and the right park ranger’s working, he’ll take you out and teach you how to throw an atlatl, which is this spear-throwing contraption . . .

Chris: Oh, okay.

Chuck: . . . that they used for hunting . . .

Chris: . . . Big game hunting.

Chuck: Yes. Well, big game being big deer in that area. And you also get your National Park Passport stamp there.

Chris: All right.

Chuck: The next place we’re going to stop is something that’s been on 20/20 at least once and Oprah a couple of times, and that’s the Unclaimed Baggage Center . . .

Chris: Oh, sure. Okay.

Chuck: . . . in Scottsboro. Chris, this place is simply amazing. I don’t really know what to say. They have got more stuff that you might need or want than you can possibly imagine.

Chris: I tried to make a donation just 3 weeks ago, I believe.

Chuck: I mean, everything from prom gowns to wedding dresses to scuba and ski gear.

Chris: Well, as I recall they have a website that you can see some of the stuff that they are auctioning off that has not been claimed for a year or something like that.

Chuck: Well, no, this is not auction stuff.

Chris: Okay.

Chuck: These people will go and buy that stuff at auction and then put it out in a retail setting.

Chris: Oh, interesting. Okay.

Chuck: Then they sort and have all the clothes dry cleaned. I mean, I know people that have been there to their ski sale, which strangely enough is in, like, May, and talk about the fantastic deals they get on ski equipment where people have left their skis and boots and all on airplanes or in buses or wherever and it all winds up in Scottsboro, Alabama.

Chris: I have to figure that some of that was lost in transit rather than that many people are just forgetting they brought skis on the plane. But I could just be wrong.

Chuck: It’s a shopping experience. A couple was in there buying engagement rings at Unclaimed Baggage. A couple of other places you might want to stop along that road, Alabama’s newest state park, Cathedral Caverns, is there on the same road. I’ve never been there, at least since it became a state park. It was a privately-owned tourist attraction run for many years, and then set closed to the public for 30 years. And then the state acquired it and has re-opened it as a state park.

We’ve got to back up to Tennessee for just a minute. If you like cooking in cast iron, the Lodge Cast Iron Factory is in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, which is where you’ll get off to turn to get into Alabama, and they have a factory outlet store there. If you need new cast iron cookware, that’s the place to go.

Chris: That might work better for on our road trip rather than having to put it back in our luggage and get back in the airplane, but . . .

Chuck: They might . . .

Chris: Unless we want to end up with out luggage in Scottsboro, potentially, that’s the other prospect.

Chuck: And that is a possibility, but I think they ship.

Chris: Oh, okay. All right.

Chuck: So on down into Huntsville, the must-see thing to see in Huntsville while you’re there, of course, is the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. It’s also an official NASA visitor center. You can see the entire history of the U.S. Space Program in one place, starting from Robert Goddard building rockets and shooting them off in snow-covered fields up through Shuttle, and now Orion, as they’re getting ready for that program. You can get on a bus tour there and they will take you out through the Marshall Space Flight Center and show you some of the historic locations out there. Those include the first test stand where they first tested the rocket that carried Explorer 1, the first satellite, into orbit.

Chris: Um-hum.

Chuck: The first U.S. satellite into orbit, I should say.

Chris: Right, sure.

Chuck: On down to the test stands where they did the engine development and testing of the Saturn’s F-1 engines, and then where the first time they mated a shuttle with its external boosters and test-fired the entire system as one there. I’ll tell you that living in Huntsville during all that, that was great. When they’d fire off a set of the Saturn V engines, it would show up on the Richter scale. It would literally shake the entire town.

Chris: Well, and my impression is that because of the Space Flight Center, that Huntsville is not your typical town in the area.

Chuck: No, it’s not.

Chris: For one thing you can’t say as a regular expression in Huntsville, “It’s not like it’s rocket science,” because your neighbor actually . . .

Chuck: That is very true.

Chris: . . . may be a rocket scientist.

Chuck: It actually is rocket science there. Yes, in fact there’s t-shirts that say that. Huntsville is a very forward city when it comes to technology. There’s open Wi-Fi in most of the downtown. If it’s a technology company, it at least has an office in Huntsville. Boeing has a huge operation there, just about every aerospace company you can name does. University of Alabama at Huntsville that has a huge optics department where they do developmental work on precision optics and precision optical engineering. I don’t know if this is still true or not, at one time there was a stat published that said there are more people with PhDs and Masters degrees in Huntsville than there were in Boston.

Chris: Okay.

Chuck: And their logic was, well everybody went to MIT to get their PhD, then they come to Huntsville to work because the weather was better. That was a slogan there for a while.

Chris: One thing I looked for but couldn’t find was why the Space Flight Center ended up in Huntsville. I’m assuming some powerful Senator was there, but I don’t know for sure.

Chuck: In “the 1940s”, the Army established Redstone Arsenal . . .

Chris: Okay.

Chuck: . . . which is there in Huntsville . . .

Chris: Um-hum.

Chuck: . . . and it’s named after, the Redstone refers to red clay soil . . .

Chris: Okay.

Chuck: . . . because it is hard as a brick.

Chris: So the Redstone Rocket that carried the, I want to say, Mercury into orbit is named after the arsenal, then.

Chuck: Yes, it was developed and tested and built there.

Chris: Okay.

Chuck: At the end of World War 2, when they were looking for places to bring the German scientist . . .

Chris: Right.

Chuck: . . . Dr. von Braun and his group over, they came to Huntsville, to Redstone Arsenal.

Chris: Okay.

Chuck: And then the Marshall Space Flight Center grew out of the fact that they were all there.

Chris: I figured there was something there before Marshall, but I didn’t catch on that it was the Redstone Arsenal. Okay.

Chuck: The Marshall Space Flight Center is technically on Redstone Arsenal. The other thing at the Space and Rocket Center that you want to see, of course, while you’re there take a look out and you can see the Space Camp training area.

Chris: Okay, sure.

Chuck: That’s a great thing. Highly recommended for anybody that wants to go. I’ve been and so far two of my kids have been. If I was coming to Huntsville as a visitor, I would try to get a cabin up at the Monte Sano State Park.

Chris: Okay.

Chuck: The park and the cabins were all built by the Civilian Conservation Corps back in “the 1930s” . . .

Chris: Um-hum.

Chuck: . . . towards the end of the Great Depression. They’re a little rustic, but comfortable. Great views of the city and the rest of the valley from up there, up on Monte Sano Mountain, which is just kind of the north side of the city. Day trips out of Huntsville, you can go and visit everywhere from the Jack Daniel’s distillery up in Lynchburg, Tennessee, that’s only about and hour, hour and ten minutes away.

Chris: And can you get there on public transportation or get a ride up there, since some people might be tasting while you’re there?

Chuck: That would be a good idea. I wish they’d do it. That’s not a bad idea.

Chris: I was going to say, they don’t do tours up there?

Chuck: They do do tours, but you know, you can’t do a tasting there because it’s a dry county.

Chris: Oh, sure. Right.

Chuck: You cannot buy Jack Daniel’s in the county it’s distilled in.

Chris: I didn’t know that. Interesting.

Chuck: Take a look at downtown Lynchburg. It’s kind of neat, all kinds of little shops and all have cropped up because of the people who stop by to tour the distillery. So, out of Huntsville, go a little further west to Muscle Shoals, Alabama. And strangely enough, Muscle Shoals is this little town, part of what we call the quad cities in north Alabama, but it’s a center for music recording. Everybody from Paul Simon to Aretha Franklin to Bob Dylan have recorded there. FAME Studios . . .

Chris: Um-hum.

Chuck: . . . is the big one. But if you’re into music history, it’s a little version of the recording studios in Nashville and all are down here in Muscle Shoals. And it really came out because the artists wanted to get away from Nashville to record and come someplace where they could kind of work in peace and it wound up in Muscle Shoals. It used to be strange, driving through there you would see tour buses parked out, and John Denver and Lynyrd Skynyrd and all kinds of names that you see, back when they used to have them on the front of their tour buses . . .

Chris: Um-hum.

Chuck: . . . and you’d never know who you’d run into when you’d go sit down in one little diner to eat. While you’re there, also, back in Decatur, Alabama, if you want a place to eat, you can go get some world-famous Big Bob Gibson’s Barbecue.

Chris: Okay.

Chuck: Has a number of trophies from Memphis in May. Biggest thing they’re famous for is barbecued chicken in white barbecue sauce.

Chris: White barbecue sauce?

Chuck: White barbecue sauce.

Chris: Well, I thought I knew all the styles of barbecue sauce in the U.S. and I don’t know a white barbecue sauce.

Chuck: It’s a mayonnaise-based sauce, with horseradish and white wine vinegar in it. Used a lot on chicken, turkey, poultry, that kind of thing. Gibson’s Barbecue is, the chicken’s fantastic. It is out of this world.

Chris: Now, you gave us a time of the year to go to Chattanooga. Is there a similar festival or something that you should really be in Huntsville at that time?

Chuck: There’s really a couple of them.

Chris: Um-hum.

Chuck: If you’re there in the spring in May, you can find out what weekend that Panoply is going on. It’s called Panoply of the Arts, and it’s in Big Spring Park, downtown Huntsville, and there will be everything from ballet and bagpipe music to painting and sidewalk art, and every night ends with a fireworks and laser show.

Chris: Okay.

Chuck: In the fall, they’ll have what they call Big Spring Jam, which is three days of kind of back to back to back bands, and they’ll cover kind of all the genres in that also.

Chris: Excellent. Do we have another stop on your itinerary here?

Chuck: The Walls of Jericho.

Chris: Now, I want to say the Walls of Jericho are in the Middle East, although they fell down, as I recall from Sunday school.

Chuck: Well, yes, those did. These have not yet. The Walls of Jericho are put on 21,000 acres of nature preserve run by the Nature Conservancy.

Chris: And where is this?

Chuck: It’s in northeast Alabama and up into southern Tennessee. It is a beautiful day hike. It’s, I want to say, five or six miles back into it there, just north of Woodville, Alabama.

Chris: And why do they call it the Walls of Jericho? Are there walls?

Chuck: It’s a box canyon.

Chris: Ah, thank you. Okay.

Chuck: Yeah. It’s a beautiful place to get out and go hike. I think that you hike up along the banks of what’s call Hurricane Creek and you can literally go right up the creek to where the water pours out of the rock.

Chris: Okay. Where the spring is.

Chuck: Right. It’s just a beautiful out in nature hike. If you like hiking, looking for birds, that kind of thing, that’s probably one of the best places to do it in northeast Alabama.

Chris: Excellent. So you’re standing in the prettiest spot in all the Tennessee Valley, where are you standing and what are you looking at?

Chuck: I’m going to give you two, actually.

Chris: Okay.

Chuck: Because they’re both mountain views. Number one being what is referred to as the third overlook of Highway 64 going up the Ocoee Gorge, looking out over the Ocoee River.

Chris: Okay. So, literally from town, count three overlooks and stop there.

Chuck: Yeah, and if you start at the bottom of the Ocoee Gorge going up, it’s the third overlook.

Chris: Okay.

Chuck: If you’re going up the hill, it’s just before you get to Ducktown. Looking over it, it’s just a drop dead gorgeous view from up there. And the second one would up at a place called Burritt Museum and Park, there in Huntsville, looking south over the city of Huntsville at night.

Chris: Okay. So we’ve got one for the daytime and one for night. Okay.

Chuck: Yes.

Chris: Cool. What’s going to surprise me about the Tennessee Valley?

Chuck: Lots of little things you would never expect.

Chris: Okay, besides the white barbecue sauce, I should say.

Chuck: Like the white barbecue sauce. It’s really not anything in Huntsville to be sitting at a table in a restaurant and hearing a guy say, “Yeah, when I spent six months on the Space Station . . .” in the booth next to you. It’s those kinds of things that will surprise you about that area.

Chris: Now when I tell, especially the Huntsville Chamber of Commerce or the CVB – the Convention and Visitors Bureau – and the Chattanooga, that we’ve done this show, what are they going to recommend that you skipped over because you don’t think they’re worth the time?

Chuck: Ruby Falls.

Chris: Okay.

Chuck: That’s on Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga. I’ve never been a big fan of just riding the elevator down to look at an underground waterfall with some lights put on it.

Chris: I like the idea of riding down to see an underground waterfall, but . . .

Chuck: Yeah, I guess it’s neat once.

Chris: Okay.

Chuck: I never thought it was worth doing.

Chris: Okay. And you’ve mentioned the white barbecue sauce – is there anything else we should eat when we’re in this area?

Chuck: No, that’s probably the most unusual, Big Bob Gibson’s white barbecue sauce.

Chris: Okay.

Chuck: I tell you, you’re going to get good barbecue just about anywhere you stop that has smoke coming out of it.

Chris: I just have a picture of me stopping in a restaurant that’s on fire. But, before I get to my last three questions, what else should we know before we go to the Tennessee Valley?

Chuck: I would recommend not going in late July and August.

Chris: Okay.

Chuck: It’ll be 95 degrees with 95% humidity.

Chris: Um-hum.

Chuck: That’s not the day you want to be traipsing around Rocket Park at the Space Museum.

Chris: That sounds like a good day to go take an elevator down to see an underground waterfall, actually.

Chuck: Maybe.

Chris: Excellent. One thing that makes you laugh and say, “Only in the Tennessee Valley?”

Chuck: Only in the Tennessee Valley will you see two, full-sized Saturn V rockets standing up by themselves.

Chris: That is unusual. And how tall is the Saturn V rocket? Do you know off the top of your head?

Chuck: Three hundred sixty-three feet, and you’ll find two of them – one there at the Space Museum in Huntsville and then there’s another one at the Alabama Welcome Center on Interstate 65 between Huntsville and Nashville.

Chris: Okay. Well, that’s going to make that easy to spot.

Chuck: Yeah, you can’t miss it.

Chris: Excellent. Finish this sentence: “You really know you’re in the Tennessee Valley when . . .” What? I think you may have just answered my question.

Chuck: Well, I think, for that one I’d say when you’re sitting in a restaurant and the guy next to you talks about his six months on the Space Station.

Chris: Six months on the Space Station. Okay. And if you had to summarize this region in just three words, what three would you use?

Chuck: Past, present and future.

Chris: Interesting. Okay. Our guest again has been Chuck Prevatte. And let me ask you, Chuck, where can people read more about your travels?

Chuck: At

Chris: I sense a theme here, Chuck.

Chuck: They say you should write about things you enjoy.

Chris: Okay.

Chuck: So, that’s how the name came about and after the Amateur Traveler, the URL was available.

Chris: Excellent. Well, thanks so much for coming back on the Amateur Traveler.

Chuck: It’s been fun, Chris. Thank you.

Chris: In news of the community, heard from Diane this week who said, “Thanks, Chris, for the link to your Easter Island podcast. I’m headed there in a few weeks, and it was good to listen to Mike and Hilary’s take on it. But as I could find no dates as to when the interview/podcast was conducted after listening for a while, I understandably was disappointed to inadvertently learn that their visit to Easter Island was more than six years ago. Worse, some key information in the podcast has now changed, e.g. for more than a year now there is no longer the $160 reciprocity/visa fee for U.S. citizens visiting Chile, and there is more than a single flight to and from the island from Santiago.

I know that many bloggers prefer not to date their posts or podcasts, presumably to make their content seem ever-fresh, but when it comes to travel info, not knowing how old the resource is can be a serious problem for those seeking info for a current trip they’re planning. You also talked about a photo contest and an Egypt tour on November 5 in the podcast, but now I’m sure that that too is now obsolete. In short, did I somehow miss the date of the podcast?”

And Diane is right. We don’t tend to have dates on Amateur Traveler. I used to have them there. I’ll probably put them back at some point, but part of the problem is that there is so much that is relevant. What we’re really trying to do with the Amateur Traveler is try and answer the question of, “Should I go to this destination?” We don’t believe, in general, that it’s the final word. It’s more of the start of your trip planning rather than the end of it. But I’ve been trying to do a better job, for instance, of when I mention dates like the Egypt tour, of trying to put in the year, but I’m not too surprised to find out that I forgot because I do sometimes forget that.

I’m curious what you think: dates or no dates on the podcast?

I also heard from Cathy. Still, people are talking about that North Carolina podcast, and I’m going to skip over the part that we already talked about in previous comments that we failed to mention the Great Smoky Mountains because we’ve already talked about, there’s a separate episode on that. Cathy also recommended Old Salem. Well about Billy Graham, NASCAR and Winston-Salem is on I-40, which gives you a straight shot from Asheville, through to Raleigh and on to Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach. Then there’s a zoo deliberately located in the middle of the state, and according to the Wikipedia, the largest walk-through zoo in the world. The famous potteries around Seagrove, notably Jugtown, and the golf courses around Pinehurst.

I guess the real problem there there’s a lot more North Carolina than you can cover in one program. Cathy, you are so right. And Cathy says the best eastern-style barbecue is Allen and Sons just outside of Chapel Hill. The dessert of choice would be pecan or pumpkin pie. Cathy, thanks for your feedback, and Cathy left that as a comment on the episode on North Carolina. So, if you’re planning on going, you can take a look at that as well.

With that, we’re going to end this episode of the Amateur Traveler. I haven’t mentioned it in a while, but I’d love a review of the show if you’ve never reviewed it. One of the best ways that people have of finding the show is that shows that have higher reviews, either in iTunes or Stitcher or whatever you’re listening to, are more likely to be found. So if you’re enjoying the show, please let others know. If you have questions, send an E-mail to host at or better yet, leave a comment on this episode at You can also follow me at Twitter or Instagram @chris2x. And, as always, thanks so much for listening.

Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.

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Chris Christensen

by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast. He has been a travel creator since 2005 and has won awards including being named the "Best Independent Travel Journalist" by Travel+Leisure Magazine.

4 Responses to “Travel to the Tennessee Valley (Tennessee, Alabama) – Episode 464”

Mary Frances


While I enjoyed the great suggestions from this episode, I feel that any podcast on the “Tennessee Valley” region should include Knoxville, TN and its surrounding areas. Knoxville, or “Scruffy City,” is the largest city in the Tennessee Valley and has lots to offer. From great outdoors opportunity in our “Urban Wilderness” to great culinary opportunities and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, it is a great place to start your exploration of the region. If you want to explore both the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Valley, it is a great choice for your base of operations.



We saved Knoxville for another show. We did debate the title of the show since we did not cover the whole valley.

Brandon Smith


Let me say, this person is definently nit from Huntsville. Having lived in Huntsville my whole life, everybody that lives there pronounces it “Huntsville”, not “Huntsvul”. The only people that day that are the people around the area that aren’t from there.



I have to say, “Huntsville” is what I heard there.

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