Day 1: December 22, 2010
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This is pre-trip stuff to establish that Christmasy feeling. Before I decided to head to Chattanooga, I was poking around the internet with searches for "Christmas events" and similar phrases. The Lights at Clifton Mill kept popping up in a lot of "Top Ten" lists. I live barely fifty miles from Clifton Mill, have been there a few times during the summer months, and was even vaguely aware that it was somehow decorated for Christmas. But I've never been there at Christmas and really had no idea just how big it is. I decided to go this year and was smart enough to avoid Friday and Saturday but not smart enough to wait for Monday. These pictures are from a very busy Sunday.

Gates open each day at 5:30 and the lights -- all 3.5 million of them -- are switched on at 6:00. I was barely through the gate when this rather startling event occurred. The first picture is of my first view of the lighted mill through the slats of a window on the covered bridge. The second is of the other side of the mill in the few minutes before the people crowded near the bridge for the animated light show (more on that in a bit) moved deeper into the grounds. Every structure, including the water wheel is covered with lights. The third picture shows a tiny fraction of the more than 3000 Santas in "the largest Santa Claus collection in the country." There are some very old and some very odd ones like this Mardi Gras mask. The huge miniature village (Yeah, that makes sense.) includes a Big Boy restaurant, a drive in theater, and much much more. As hinted at earlier, every hour on the hour the covered bridge I entered on becomes the foundation for an animated light show which ends with that "HAPPY HOLIDAY" panel. I didn't have a video camera so the best idea of the show I can offer is through these few pictures: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. There are, of course, several videos at YouTube. Just search on "Clifton Mill".

As she has for the last several years, Oven Master Mary set me and some other friends up with an incredible cookie tray. This year Mom & Dad Gingerbread are accompanied by five gingerkids. All that baking is spread over many days and this year Significant Other Rick spent a couple of those days visiting family in Florida so "I don't have to hear that damned mixer". But Rick and I and the other lucky recipients don't have any sort of problem enjoying the damned results.

That isn't the biggest or prettiest set of icicles on I-75 but it is the best picture I've got. I usually like picking up US-25 at the Tennessee line but this year those "Tune your radio to 1620" signs were flashing and a severe fog alert was being broadcast. The alert was for the interstate but I figured that if fog was a problem on fairly straight divided four-lane, it was probably also a problem on wiggly two-lane. Besides, scenery you can't see ain't all that scenic.

I'm at a dead stop in the second picture. Cross to the left of me, rocket to the right, stuck in the middle with lots of people. There were some really foggy spots but fortunately, despite being within the area named in the alert, this wasn't one of them. The reason for the traffic jam turned out to be a state trooper and a couple of trucks parked in the right hand lane while some workers shoveled cold mix into potholes. The holes were big and they certainly deserved the attention but you really don't expect to see a work crew walking around in an area that other government employees are broadcasting warnings about.

This is where I normally rejoin I-75 after a pleasant drive on US-25. Today I was already on I-75 but exited briefly to grab a picture of the big Christmas tree sign near Caryville. I assume that the Tracker Christmas Inn is the five-story motel behind the fireworks store and that building is fenced off and looks ready for demolition. This could be the sign's last Christmas.

I drove by Litton's before checking into the motel. I was almost absolutely certain they were open but I've missed before and was being extra cautious. Had they been closed, I might have just scooted on to Chattanooga. Litton's is known for their hamburgers and their desserts and, on my two previous visits, that's exactly what I had; First time, Italian cream cake; Second time, hamburger with smoked cheddar cheese. On my last visit, a special of the day was flounder stuffed with crab and that almost led me away from a 'burger but I was on a mission. Of course, I was kind of hoping that the flounder was back tonight but it wasn't. The grilled shrimp, however, substituted nicely.

A closing shot of the Gingerbread family relaxing in my tastefullly decorated Super 8 room. Mary calls the two youngsters on Dad's left (your right) "the twins". The three on Mom's right (your left) are simply "other kids".

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