Rockin’ Rock City

Rock City got its start in the 1930s. Eight hundred barns were painted thusly, as advertising.

ROCK CITY, Tenn. – A great battle was fought here.

If you think I’m talking about the Chickamauga campaign of the Civil War or you’re thinking of the aboriginal Trail of Tears, you’re well on your way to an A in American history, but you fail this quiz. If you know that Rock City on Lookout Mountain is the site of the climactic battle in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, you win.

The audio book, read by George Guidall, has been our road-trip tale for a few months, and we finished it shortly before arriving in Atlanta. The House on the Rock also features prominently in American Gods, and we went there two years ago, so it made sense to bookend the story with a trip to Rock City.

Fat Man’s Squeeze. Do not try this at home.

We visited on the first cloudy day of our vacation. Also, it was Wednesday (Wow! Double points!), so we didn’t have to share the park with too many people.

Rock City is like … Mother Nature was hanging around with her friends, maybe sipping a little sherry, and she was all, “Let’s topple a few boulders here. Let’s make some caves and some superskinny passageways, and plant some big-ass trees and – you want a waterfall? I can do that.”

The gnomes came later.

Stone pathways lead you around and into the mountain. On a quiet, cloudy Wednesday, you won’t knock elbows with anyone else, which is a blessing, because there isn’t a lot of elbow room, especially if you walk through Fat Man Squeeze. It’s at least two storeys tall but only a foot and a half wide. And you wouldn’t want a group of schoolchildren underfoot while you’re going through the Goblin’s Underpass.

Under and over stone bridges and after the 1,000-ton balanced rock, past dozens of varieties of trees and shrubs and ferns and flowers, along the way you come to the Fairy Caverns. The rocks here sparkle and glitter. Deep inside the 200-million-year-old mountain, it is cool and damp. Here is where the gnomes begin in earnest, mining in the crevasses or housed in black-light-painted dioramas, they fish and farm and –

The gnomes you’ll meet in American Gods.

“The drunken gnomes!” Melani exclaims. “This is where Laura killed Loki. Over here’s where they stashed her body.”

The 1,400-foot walking tour isn’t over. Across a swinging bridge is the attraction’s showcase: A 140-foot waterfall pouring from Lover’s Leap. If you go on, to the edge of Lover’s Leap, you can see seven states: Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama.

You can picture a battle being fought here between the old gods and the new, a fight that was the climax of a crazy, two-man con. A place like Rock City is always great, but it’s wonderful with a story attached.

Lover’s Leap. And what a leap it is.

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