It’s been 25 years and I still can’t visit the canyon without thinking of that girl. I
still remember when I first saw her walk into the gym. It was like an image
from a thought stolen from a vision in a dream, like an angel on our earthly
plane. Well, mostly it was the tight leotards. She was totally hot at five-foot-six
with auburn hair, brown eyes, and a stunning figure. It took me several days to
get up the courage to speak.
“New to the gym, huh?” Was I smooth or what?
She smiled. “New to Montgomery; new to Alabama even.”
“Ah, military family,” I said.
She seemed impressed. “Yes, my dad is a colonel in the Air Force.”
We talked as we exercised that day. Over the next few weeks we got to know
each other more. I learned she was from Pennsylvania and loved nature and
hiking. I seized my opportunity.
“Have you ever been to Lookout Mountain?” I asked one day.
“I’ve never heard of it,” she said.
When I described all the attractions and asked if she wanted to check them out,
she was in like Flynn.
We met at the gym the next Saturday morning. It was a stunning spring day,
warm but not hot, and not a cloud in the sky. She got out of her car holding an
Alabama map. “Can you show me exactly where we’re going?”
“Sure,” I said. I traced the line of the mountain from Chattanooga to Gadsden.
Next I pointed to where my parents live on Sand Mountain, which runs parallel
to Lookout Mountain in north Alabama. “And here’s where we’ll be staying
tonight. My parents live in a small town called Sylvania.” Then I decided to
showcase my knowledge. “‘Wooded area’ is what the word ‘Sylvania’ means.”
She nodded. “Yeah, I’m from that big wooded area that William Penn
Open mouth; insert foot.
We headed north. As we picked up I-59 outside Birmingham, I pointed out my
favorite business by the interstate—John’s Plumbing. I love their slogan: “We
Repair What Your Husband Fixed.”
Our first stop was Noccalulu Falls just above Gadsden, a beautiful waterfall over
the Black Creek ravine. As she stared at the statue of the Princess Noccalulu,
she was in awe, her lips slighted parted as I recited the lover’s leap tale of woe.
I got a little choked up and my voice began to crack. I was acting of course
since the Y chromosome technically prevents men from having a sensitive side,
but we know women dig that sort of thing.
From there we drove straight to Chattanooga and to the Incline Railway. As we
rode the world’s steepest passenger railway up “America’s Most Amazing Mile,”
the view across the dancing evergreens and hardwoods literally sucked the air
from our lungs. As her eyes absorbed the panoramic serenity, she squeezed my
hand. “Now I know there is a God,” she whispered.
Next I took her to see Ruby Falls. “Oh my,” was all she could say as she stared
at the 145-foot underground waterfall free-falling into the crystal clear pool at
the bottom, the light refracting through the mist and casting mystical prisms
throughout the enchanted cavern. I had to drag her away. After seeing the view
from Lookout Mountain Tower, the millions of natural rock formations, and a
visit to the gift shop, I knew she was putty in my hands.
We hopped over to Rock City to see another magnificent waterfall careening
down the mountain. She took a deep breath as we crossed the Swing-A-Long
Bridge, hugging me as we got to the other side. I was on cloud nine. We took in
a spectacular birds-of-prey show, and finally climbed out over Lover’s Leap to
try to decipher the seven states in our view. She loved it all.
The sun was hanging lazily in the western sky as we headed back to my parents’
home. I took the scenic road on top of the mountain so we could squeeze in one
more stop: Lookout Mountain Hang Gliding in Rising Fawn, Georgia. We
watched as daredevils flew off the ramp into the groundless abyss. She was
mesmerized by the view of the valley below, the separation of the fields looking
much like they do from the view of an airplane. I nudged her and pointed high
“What?” she asked as her eyes searched the sky. Then she saw them: three
tiny triangles contrast against the blue void at altitudes unimaginable. “How do
they get that high?”
“It takes practice to know how to work the air currents,” I replied as if I knew
what I was talking about.
“You do this?” she asked.
I smiled and nodded. “Oh, sure. I like anything that provides a thrill, no matter
how dangerous.” I was also lying through my teeth. To this day I think there’s
something seriously wrong with running off the edge of a perfectly good
As we got to my parents’ home, they showed off their southern hospitality with
a huge supper as they put out a spread worthy of royalty. Dad made his special
chili recipe, which is to die for, then regaled us with jokes, funny stories, and
tales of strange mountain critters, some real, some exaggerated, some a
complete farce. His was in full charm mode.
Later my mom showed her where she could sleep. With all my siblings and I
now moved away, we had several bedrooms to choose from. I took my old
bedroom and as I lay under the covers, I stared at the ceiling with a great
feeling. I knew I had shown her an awe-inspiring day and for tomorrow I still
had my ace in the hole—the canyon. I wondered what we would name our
After breakfast, which consisted of enough scrambled eggs, homemade biscuits,
hash browns, ham, sausage, grits, gravy, and fried green tomatoes to feed a
Confederate regiment, we set off for one of my favorite spots on earth—Desoto
Falls. It’s host to one of the first hydroelectric dams in the south and perhaps
the most beautiful waterfall in the state.
“This is so amazing,” she said as we made our way along the edge of the cliff to
get a better view of the falls. It had rained a lot in the last week so the water
cascaded over the dam and galloped over the rock wall with thunderous
applause into the ravine cut away over a long period of time by Little River, one
of the few rivers in the nation that flows almost entirely atop a mountain.
From there it was a short drive over to Cloudmont Ski and Golf Resort.
“You’re pulling my leg,” she said. “A ski resort in Alabama?”
I knew I would have to prove it, so I showed her where the ski slope ends right
beside the first green. “This is where I learned to ski and play golf,” I said. Of
course I embellished my prowess in both sports. The truth is that on the fairway
or the slope, I usually ended up out of bounds. I also stopped playing the
second green altogether because it was getting too costly. It seems that
whenever I buy golf balls, I always end up with defective ones that have a
mysterious magnetic attraction to water.
We left and drove through Desoto State Park as she marveled at the cabins and
chalets. I took her around the scenic road that winds around the canyon,
stopping at several overlook locations where you can see the ravine in its grand
“I can’t believe the beauty,” she said.
I agreed. “Neither can I.” Of course I wasn’t looking only at the canyon.
We drove on around to what still remains the location for one of my favorite
“Oh my goodness. This used to be an amusement park?”
“Yes, it did,” I said. “It was called Canyon Land Park. I remember coming here
as a young kid with my parents. I remember taking the chair lifts down to the
canyon floor and back up. I even remember eating cotton candy.”
A force of energy seemed to sweep through the dilapidated buildings and rusted
ruins of the old rides. I wasn’t sure if it was the wind or the ghosts of past
amusement park guests.
“I still come by here every summer,” I said, “hoping that someone has invested
in bringing the old place back to life, but it remains just a haunt of an old kid’s
memory.” A single tear fell from my left eye. It was totally fake of course.
Remember—Y chromosome. She squeezed my hand again. That’s right; it
worked like a charm.
We shot down into the valley to visit the Mouth Park and body surf the rapids.
We cooked out as we dried off and ate scorched burgers and blackened hotdogs.
The light was waning so we began the trip back to Montgomery.
“This has been the best day of my life,” she said as we drove, her stare burning
into the depths of my heart with her soft brown eyes.
“I’m glad,” I said. Ah yes, it worked better than I could have ever imagined. I
hoped she wasn’t expecting a long engagement.
It was dark as we got back to the gym in Montgomery. I got out and walked her
to her car.
“Thanks again,” she said.
“You’re welcome.” I leaned in ever so slightly and waited.
“It’s truly amazing,” she said. “All of those incredible places to visit and all of
them right there practically in the same location. I’ve lived with my family all
over the country and have never seen so many wonderful and magical
attractions in my life.”
I nodded and leaned in a little more.
“I can’t wait to tell my fiancée about it.”
I straightened up. “Your… your… your what?”
She smiled. “Yes, my fiancée. He’s coming down next week so you’ll get to
meet him. Maybe we all three can go back to Lookout Mountain together.
Wouldn’t that be great?”
This time the tear wasn’t fake. “Uh… yes. That would just be so great. Really,
so great. Imagine how great that would be. Wow. That’s just great.”
She smiled, gave me a friend’s hug, and got into her car and drove away. I
watched as her taillights disappeared into a thousand red and white lights and
she was gone. I walked to my car as I replayed the last part of our
conversation. Fiancée? How could she not tell me about that little detail before
our trip? In retrospect, however, it was clearly a question I forgot to ask in the
beginning. I won’t make that mistake again. It wasn’t a total loss, however.
After all, it was an awesome weekend.
As I opened my car door, another car pulled up beside me. The window lowered
and I immediately smelled the sweet scent of perfume. As the blond hair and
blue eyes came into focus, I thought it was an angel in a vision from a dream.
Yes, she was smoking hot.
“Excuse me,” she said. “Do you workout here at the gym?”
I nodded. “Yes, I do.”
“I was thinking of joining. Do you recommend it?”
“Absolutely,” I said. “Join up and I’ll be glad to show you around.”
She smiled, her pearly white teeth seeming to illuminate the inside of her car.
“Thank you. That’s very nice of you. I think I will join.”
“Great,” I said. Then I leaned in a little closer. “Ever been to Lookout Mountain?”