2011 Road Trip Day 2 – Birmingham to Knoxville
Roads: Interstate 59 N – Interstate 75 N
Time: 4 hours
We’re eliminating the “Stayed” portion of our summary because frankly, this place isn’t worth mentioning. I started the day at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. It’s a neat little botanical gardens, walkable in about 2 hours during the winter when there isn’t much to see. It would probably take closer to 3-4 hours to see the entire thing in the summer. The rose garden was well laid out but there aren’t many roses that bloom in December. They have a fantastic vegetable garden that clearly gets a lot of care and attention. One worker was side-dressing the cabbages as I walked through. They also have a three level herb garden with food and medicinal herbs that inspired me to plant more of those when I get back home. I think it’s required that all botanical gardens have a Japanese section and Birmingham was no exception. They had a neat Karesansui gravel garden that I spent 10-15 minutes just sitting and meditating in front of. They have an extensive day lilly section and there was even one very lonely little day purple day lilly that got very confused about the seasons. It was striking as the only bloom in that section of the garden. The camellias were very striking including one Japonica specimen that must have been 20 feet tall. If you’re in the area, definitely check the gardens out.
After that, I had breakfast in Five Points South which is a section of downtown that I wish I had known about the night previous. It was near the university and alive with people. I’m assuming it might have made Sunday night a little less “Taco Bell on the floor of the hotel” and more “vodka tonics while watching the Saints game in the company of people almost half my age.” Regardless, it was a fun section of town.
The Vulcan sculpture was Birmingham’s contribution to the 1904 World’s Fair and was a fascinating exposition on the history of the mining industry that created Birmingham in the 19th century. I hiked up all the stairs to the top of the monument only to find out that the walkway around the top of the statue was see-through. If you know me at all, you know I don’t like to walk on something I can see through. I managed to edge my way around for some breathtaking views but also suffered a minor panic attack and contemplated calling 911. I only half kid.
After the Vulcan park trip, I tried to go to the Sloss Furnaces Historical park only to discover it, like many of the attractions in Birmingham, was closed on Mondays. So since I had a dinner date in Knoxville, I decided to head up the road towards Tennessee. The trip was quite scenic and with the exception of one 12 mile stretch of construction out side Gasden, uneventful. It interesting how cities choose to put their worst neighborhoods near major highways. In Gasden, there were what looked like inner city housing projects along the road, boarded up and empty. It was a striking picture that stood out among all scenic portions of the drive.
The bottom of Chickamunga Lake in Chattanooga runs right along I-59. It’s a really pretty stretch of water. There were several rivers that the highway crossed over and it always makes me wonder what people fish for on those bodies of water. I was planning on spending about an hour exploring something in Chattanooga, probably a battlefield but forgot that the time changed in Tennessee and thus, had to keep driving through. I reached Knoxville about 6 PM and hung out with friends of mine who I haven’t seen in several years. I may stay over one more night here unexpectedly but that’s the beauty of not having an itinerary.