Today was another laid back day. With the pandemic surging and the lack of personal safeguards among the public, we try to stay away from people. However, Kay made an exception and met a friend with whom she taught many years ago and who is staying in the area for a few weeks. They had lunch, and reminisced about old times, catching up of news related to common acquaintances, all the time social distancing.
In the late afternoon, despite the threat of rain, we drove northwestward in an attempt to find Cataloochee Valley, a tiny piece of GSMNP. The road had many switchbacks as the car slowly climbed on the asphalt pavement, and even more slowly as the pavement transitioned into gravel. Kudos to the National Park Service for their great maintenance on a tight budget. Some segments of the road were so narrow that there was room for only one vehicle to pass, but there were many pullovers to accommodate the traffic. And then, it was back to pavement and just when we thought we were lost after a few more miles, a dead end and parking area awaited us—Cataloochee Valley.
Cataloochee Valley is nestled among some of the most rugged mountains in the southeastern United States. Surrounded by 6000-foot peaks, this isolated valley was one of the largest and most prosperous settlements in what is now the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Some 1,200 people lived in this lovely mountain valley in 1910. Most made their living by farming, including commercial apple growing, but an early tourism industry developed in Cataloochee with some families boarding fishermen and other tourists who wished to vacation in the mountains. A variety of historic buildings have been preserved in the valley, including two churches, a school, and several homes and outbuildings. This is considered the Cades Cove of North Carolina.
In 2001, elk were released in Cataloochee Valley as part of an experimental program to reintroduce elk to the park. The herd can be seen regularly in the fields of the valley, especially in the early morning and evening hours. This was our major objective, and we were not to be disappointed. Just as we were leaving the car at the Cataloochee Valley parking area, it began to sprinkle, and then turned into a light rain. We managed to see one building before elk began pouring out of the woods in a far corner of the field; of course, I had the wrong lens, so it was back to the car for alternate camera/lens, tripod, and raincoat. We managed to make several photographs before the elk became close, causing us to retreat back to the parking area. And then, the elk crossed the road, and moved through the woods into a large field. There, we were able to set up the tripod and camera/lens, and make photos from a distance. Buffalo gnats were swarming and left a bunch of whelps on Kay’s legs.
After such an excellent adventure, we returned to the motorhome via the same road that took us the Valley, stopping to make photos of the beautiful, post rain mountain landscape.