The place has been kept up quite nice over the years and visitation does not seem to have slowed down. Fortunately, we only had to stand in line a few minutes to get our tickets, but then our visit took an unexpected turn as we were told the elevator that usually takes visitors down 260 feet into the mountain to the start of the half-mile cave trail was shut down due to maintenance, and we would be going in the "alternate" entrance after a short bus ride to the bottom of Lookout Mountain next to the Moccasin Bend of the Tennessee River. So already our experience was different from the past visits since neither of us had been in this way or even really knew it existed. Evidently, it was constructed (i.e. blasted out of the rock) back in the 80's by pressure from OSHA after the elevator broke down stranding several visitors in the cave for over 12 hours. It was a ten-minute walk to the bottom of the elevator shaft where the actual tour begins. No big deal, but kind of cool to get to experience the back way in to the place.
We had a great guide named Andy who cracked fairly lame but well-intentioned jokes along the way. We had truly forgotten what an easy and interesting walk it is to Ruby Falls despite a gradual descent of over 900 more feet. The cave is full of amazing formations along the way tastefully lit for easy viewing with cool names like "Dragon's Foot." The 145' falls themselves are truly spectacular. They have now extended the walkway behind the falls. Neither of us remember that from our childhood visits. It's truly inspiring.
We rode back up Lookout Mountain after the tour and took a look at the sweeping vista atop the castle-looking visitor center that included good views of Moccasin Bend and downtown Chattanooga (photo above). On the way home we stopped at the foot of the mountain for some tasty pizza at Crust, a hip little restaurant with a couple of locations now in Chattanooga. We hope Ella retains great memories of her first visit to Ruby Falls, and perhaps go back again years from now and see it again with different eyes and enjoy it all over again just as we did.