A Sailor’s Guide to Rock City

If you grew up in the south like me, you are at least loosely familiar with something that looks like this. You may never have seen one of those barns in person, but you have heard of it. It’s a meme for the honeymooners generation. Viral marketing for those that didn’t get the point of All in the Family.

Well, after seeing these signs and hearing about the bars, I finally went last weekend. To the christmas lights thing at Rock City, and I have some thoughts.


Lets start with the obvious part, the marketing, such as it is, relies on the mystery. Telling you to see a place without saying what its about. Well, at the end of the day, it is just a natural rock formation up on Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga.

I mean, the mystery is gone when you pull into the parking lot. There is a Starbucks across the street. A Starbucks with pre-pandemic hours. How that joint stays open to 11pm but everything near me closes at 6pm, I’ll never know.

Now that’s just getting the description out of the way. Let me give you a few reasons why this shit was insane.

First off, the clientele. You know, in this modern political climate. It’s rare to see an event that draws all comers. Like in the parking lot, I saw people with MAGA or other conservative crap parked next to people with equality or crooked media stickers. I saw tourists from all kinds of random places on planet earth…Netherlands, Chile, Japan, etc. All there to see rock city.

Second, the place is 100% a step out of time. For sure it must be grandfathered from every possible fucking safety law on planet earth, cause the place is maintained like the 1930s. But kept up. Vintage signs, statues, there is a whole really fucking weird cavern system filled with 1930s dolls telling fairytale stories.

There are crevasses and bridges with no lip where it feels like you could fall over at a moments notice.


And I think that’s why I enjoyed it more than most other christmas events. I think kitsch is at a premium these days. Things feel manufactured, safe, and contrived. To be fair, there are elements of that here (there is a light nativity story when you walk in, but its the only one), but what makes this different is how old shit feels.

The entertainment really is just getting lost in these rock formations. Wondering if you are going to make it back. Wondering what kind of weird shit is up ahead. Wondering if you can make it through the next rock squeeze ahead.

I think the people who run the place get this to a certain extent. They put a ton of stores and displays up for people who want the like…wal-mart america experience, but the leave most of it wild for people to just experience the weirdness.

It really does feel like a pre-boomer era of Americana that has been flattened down to oblivion. To be honest, I walked away from the experience thinking, “how the fuck do they get away with this thing still being the same after almost 100 years? How the fuck are people not falling off the side of the mountain left and right?”

I’m sure this isn’t the recommendation that Rock City wants, but if you are in the mood for some weird ass piece of america and are in the neighborhood (I wouldn’t plan a trip just to see it), then see Rock City.

It’s an odd fucking duck.

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