Dan and Hannah Hike Lookout Mountain in Tennessee

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

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On August 28, 1963 Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered these momentous words in what is now known as the I Have a Dream speech.  Click here to see MLK give this speech.

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As a Jersey boy, I never really knew of the location of Stone Mountain or Lookout Mountain.  Fact is, I wasn’t curious enough to even find out, and for that I am not proud.  While Stone Mountain is just to the east of Atlanta, it turns out that Lookout Mountain is on the Tennessee/Georgia border just to the southwest of Chattanooga, TN.   Today we have come to King’s Lookout Mountain to hike.

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More than two months ago, Delta Airlines moved up our Saturday morning flight from Boston to Atlanta from 825A to 715A.  You might be thinking, Dan, my boy, what’s the big deal!  It’s just an hour and change.  True, it doesn’t seem like much, but it does mean that Hannah and I must awake at 245A for the drive from our home in York, Maine to Logan Airport in Boston 60 miles to our south.   At this point the universe sweetly steps in –  we now have a golden opportunity to hike in Tennessee this afternoon.

Travel Tip #1 – Fly early Saturday morning when you can.  In addition to avoiding the weekday commuter traffic getting to the airport, you will have a full afternoon to enjoy yourself wherever you land.

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Hannah above the Tennessee River at Chattanooga

Escaping the noontime Atlanta city traffic on this first Saturday in October, we drive north on I-75 for nearly 100 miles to our overnight stay at a Comfort Inn and Suites in Dalton, Georgia.

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Pesky parking meters

After a quick change to shorts and tee-shirts on this mid-70s day, we drive further north to the Tennessee border for Lookout Mountain.  Driving first up the mountain on the Scenic Highway, then turning onto West Brow Road, we see cars here, there, and everywhere.  Quarter-eating parking meters line the streets.

Finally finding a parking spot near the Lookout Mountain Battlefield Visitor Center where the trails begin, we find we have nary a quarter between us.   While Hannah stays with our rental Hyundai Elantra to protect and defend our parking space, I go in search of two bits.

Travel Tip #2 – Save your quarters at Lookout Mountain.   I learn from a local proprietor that 75% of the parking meters are broken and no one checks them anyway.  He smiles and says, Enjoy your afternoon in the park.

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With total confidence in the young man, we put on our hiking boots, I my Cabela hiking hat, and head to the ranger station.  Our trust is later rewarded as we have no parking ticket upon our return.

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Travel Tip #3 – Talk to the park ranger before hiking.  Though I researched the hikes at Lookout Mountain online, I never got the excellent local knowledge or detailed map of the trails that I did from the ranger here on site.

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Lookout Mountain was the site of an important Union victory over the Confederacy in November of 1863.  (By the way, on the 19th of that month A. Lincoln delivered his 272-word Gettysburg Address.)  This success lifted the siege of Union forces trapped in Chattanooga and opened the South to eventual Union victory.  Click here for the full story of this battle.

Travel Tip #4 – If 62 or older and dig our national parks, be ye a hiker or not, get a lifetime Senior Pass for a sawbuck ($10) for admission to every national park, monument, or battlefield.

Walking through the battlefield park, we see the expansive views to Chattanooga and the meandering, oxbow Tennessee River.  On this sunny weekend Saturday, the park is happy with people but in no way mobbed.

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Descending a lengthy set of metal stairs, we plan for two hours of hiking on our way to Sunset Rock and beyond.  The trails have just enough people so we can ask the occasional fellow hiker to take a trail picture of us.  (By the way, we never say Cheese.  Rich, a wedding photographer/former classmate of mine at Arizona State, has his couples say Money.)  In return, Hannah always asks if the other couple would like one of themselves.  Most couples are surprised, then pleased, and finally say, looking at each other, why not?

With the trails of Lookout Mountain on the opposite side of the views of Chattanooga itself, we hug the mountainside just below the stone walls above us and the steep drop-offs beside us.  Very rocky on this lush Tennessee hillside, the trail is just wide enough for one, but it never seems perilous with the rich vegetation to our right as a buffer.

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Soon we come upon twenty-somethings with ropes, carbineers, and courage, climbing the mountainside.  Belayed and tethered to the hooks in the rock, one young woman in the picture to the right is carrying on a conversation as she works her way up the vertical cliff.  Clearly this is not her first rodeo.

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With access to 30 miles of bluff trails here on Lookout Mountain, we have a final stone stairstep climb to our destination at Sunset Rock.  And what do you know, there we see the same young woman near the summit.  Standing in awe of her nimbleness, confidence, and mountain climbing skills, we are inspired by her courage and adventurousness; but not enough to even think about trying it.

Travel Tip #5 – Hike the Lookout Mountain trails the first chance you get.

As best as I can tell, fifty-three years since the I Have a Dream speech, there is more freedom ringing out for Americans of color from Lookout and Stone Mountain than there once was.   As a Caucasian, born with opportunities many have not had, with good fortune beyond my dreams, I know that we still have a good ways to go for America to be a great nation with equal opportunity and justice for all.

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High above the Tennessee River 

To let freedom ring, we must heed that Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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