About three years ago, I wrote a story about visiting Rock City for the first time since the mid-1980s.
Recently, I had a chance to visit Ruby Falls as well for the first time since I took a college friend there more than three decades ago.
And once again, I enjoyed it. In fact, what I found refreshing were not only the pretty falls and its high altitude at the far end of the trail, but also the attitudes of the employees. Each of the seven or eight staff members with whom we had contact was very pleasant.
I had actually been to another popular attraction in a different East Tennessee city the day before as part of a week of adventure my wife, Laura, and I had for her grandchildren, and the teenagers who worked the snack stand there as well as the other employees seemed either grumpy or not overly interested in the visitors.
Since I eat once a week or so at a Chick-fil-A restaurant, I know that employees can be very friendly to patrons, so the royal treatment we received at Ruby Falls was much appreciated.
At the top of the list was tour guide Doug Dover, who must simply be working there while waiting for his big break on the comedy circuit. Throughout the roughly hour-long tour, he kept us entertained with one-liners as well as informative information.
I could also tell that Ruby Falls tries hard in the way the lobby area had been updated, at least since I was there 30 years ago. State-of-the-art TVs had also been installed at the start of the cave tour to give a video introduction to the history of the cave.
But it is the past – including the formations dating back thousands or maybe millions of years ago – that makes Ruby Falls a place to visit. It also took me back to just over four decades ago, when I visited several times as a child.
As we meandered back through the underground trail, such familiar cave formations as “the elephant’s foot” and “steak and potatoes” came into view – and back into my collective consciousness.
While Ruby Falls may not be Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, it was still offering me a fascinating geological lesson into American caves. I was also learning quite a bit of Chattanooga history, as the stories of discoverer and early proprietor Leo Lambert’s journeys over the rocks in the late 1920s were as interesting as those of the water and earth movements that helped shape the cave.
I actually had a chance about two decades ago to interview the children of Leo Lambert for a fun newspaper feature story I did.
When we reached the cave after about a half hour walk, it was good to become acquainted again for the first time since 1980 with the falls named for Mr. Lambert’s wife.
You could no longer walk around behind it as I remember doing years ago, but it was still enjoyable to stop and wonder at it for a few minutes.
We then walked back to the elevator, Mr. Dover jokingly congratulated us for surviving the journey, and then we went back up to civilization via the elevator.
Once in the gift shop, I started wanting to buy a Ruby Falls T-shirt. I had either become carried away at the experience, or I was showing an obvious lack of sophistication in my buying habits.
After my wife negated the T-shirt idea, I decided to start collecting post cards and bought four different ones showing the falls.
I also left with a few good memories. I know Ruby Falls and Rock City have to try to be relevant in this era when the Tennessee Aquarium is downtown and people expect high-tech, over-the-top experiences at most attractions.
But on this day, the simple pleasure of examining the beauty of nature found underground worked for me. And doing it while being met with smiles made it that much more enjoyable.