June 11, 2014 – I was seriously suffering from separation anxiety after leaving my motorhome for repairs on Monday and not being able to stay in it for almost a week (see this post about that problem), so I decided the best medicine was to go someplace scenic I’d never been to before.
I didn’t leave Townsend until about 1:00, stopped to eat in Gatlinburg, and even though it should have taken me a little over two hours to get there if I had taken I-40, I decided to go the back roads and because from Hwy. 32, my GPS tried to take me down roads that didn’t exist, I didn’t make it to the entrance until almost 6:00 pm – after having to get on I-40 anyway! But I had heard that the best viewing of the elk that live in the valley is about this time, I wasn’t worried, but determined to make it down there anyway. The sign by the road says no phone service ahead and reservations are required for the Cataloochee primitive campground
From here, it’s about 7 miles to the valley floor down a somewhat bumpy gravel road, but I didn’t really have any trouble in my little car going very slow.
This is Cove Creek Road (exit 20 from I-40 E) before it turns to gravel – beautiful views and it was just so incredibly green this day! One translation I’ve seen of the word “Cataloochee” translated from the Cherokee language is “wave upon wave” and I thought that was very appropriate for the waves of mountains that can be seen along the way. I later learned that their word “Gadalutsi” meant “standing up in a row” either referring to the mountains or to the row of trees growing on the high ridges.
Even though I wanted to get to the valley, I couldn’t resist stopping at this pullover to check out this view.
But even alongside the paved road, I saw this guy lazing around just off the road – a good omen for sure!
Here’s what the road looks like once it turns to gravel (about 7 miles of this). In spots, there are warnings that traffic must alternate through the really tight spaces.
There are a few of these little bridges to cross over. By now, even though the campground says it can accommodate RVs up to 31′, there’s no way I would drive this road in any RV! (I took this through the car windshield, so it’s blurry.)
Once into the valley, this doe was chomping on leaves right alongside my car!
This is the parking area where I stopped to take most of the pictures I got. From here, there were several elk in the field, but most were pretty far off and signs posted say you are not allowed in the fields during calving and rut season (May-June and Sept.-Oct.). In November, 2013, an elk was euthanized by the NPS after an elk started head butting a photographer and it was determined that the elk had become too familiar with humans. What a controversy and such a shame! WBIR News Report with explanation and short video of what happened. Seven minute YouTube video.
This group was closest to me and although it’s hard to see here, that’s a calf nursing on the mama on the left (and mama has her tongue stuck out). I was glad I had a better zoom than the one that originally came with my camera, but still wished I had a more powerful one – does lens envy never cease? 🙂
And mama still has her tongue sticking out as the baby is trying to keep up to nurse some more. It was really fun watching them as mama would stop every now and then to let baby fill up.
Looks like these two doe are gossiping as baby nurses again.
Later when I stopped at another pulloff, a ranger pointed out this baby in the tall grass. I would have never seen her until she stuck her head up here. Mama wasn’t far off and the ranger said she was watching me as I was taking pictures.
This was taken from the farthest point you can get to by car, but there are hiking trails at the end of this road.
I’ve seen many accounts from people who came here and never saw an elk, so I felt especially blessed. However, the drive itself is worth it with scenes like this alongside the road.
The scene above was taken from this rustic bridge – still some of my favorite things about GSMNP!
Caldwell Place – Across from the barn is this homestead built in 1903. It was closed for renovation when I was there, and there are other historic buildings, the Palmer Chapel, along with the Hiram Caldwell Cemetery I want to check out on another day when I have more time. Pick up the Auto Tour Booklet at the roadside info center for $1.00 – well worth it for the details it provides about the early settlers and history of the area.
I’m not sure if this is the same buck I saw on the way in, but it was pretty much in the same place – and this was the “tail end” of my elk viewing for the day. 🙂
By this time it was almost 8:30 and the skies were getting more interesting, but clouding over, so I headed back home. What a glorious day – another place where once is just not enough!