Home Away From Home, National Park, North Carolina

The Elk in Cataloochee Valley

Resting, relaxing, driving (riding), touring, hiking, a little bit of everything during our visit to the NC mountains. Since we couldn’t check into Pride RV Resort until noon we packed up and then walked over and said goodbye to our new friends, Elaine and Paul. We arrived in Waynesville at Pride RV just before 12:00, checked in and quickly set up on site F13, just one row back from the stream but with no one in front of us we had a good view.

After lunch we rode into Maggie Valley and went in a couple of shops. We stocked up on our once a year purchase of sweet onion relish and headed back to the rv park. On the way we stopped at one of Jerry’s favorite places, the local lumber company where he had previously bought some end cuts to work on at home. He brought ten end cuts of cherry, oak, and maple. He will surely be ready for time in his workshop when we get home. Back to the park where we spent a relaxing afternoon.

Monday evening we rode to Cataloochee Valley located in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park where we were hoping to see some elk. We had been a couple of years ago and after spending at least an hour there we saw one lone elk – at a distance so we weren’t too hopeful this time. The road to the valley is up and down, paved, graveled or dirt, and curvy, winding and narrow. As we ascended we met a number of cars coming down so we were afraid we had missed the elk. Boy where we wrong. As soon as we entered the park we began to see elk. As we continued on we were suddenly stopped by elk standing in the road or crossing by. They were close enough that I could have touched them! It reminded me of posts about Yellowstone where traffic is stopped for bison. Traffic was stopped here for elk and there were many novice photographers around including us. Unfortunately Jerry had not brought his good camera so all of our pictures were with the iPhone but they still turned out pretty good. We probably saw about 20 elk plus two bulls and we even heard their cries. They seemed to take all of the people in stride and unfortunately did not appear afraid of all. The elk were repopulated there several years ago and the population has increased a great deal. The best time to see the elk is at dusk and the best time to go back down the mountain is before dark so we obviously didn’t stay a long time, but long enough to really enjoy the beautiful animals.

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Home Away From Home, North Carolina

Clingman’s Dome and Cataloochee Valley

The view from Clingman's Dome
The view from Clingman’s Dome
Although we got a very late start today we got a lot accomplished. We sort of had directions to Clingman’s Dome and to Cataloochee Valley but quickly decided we really didn’t know where to go so we stopped at the Visitor’s Center in Maggie Valley. We eventually got directions and although we had originally planned to go first to Cataloochee Valley we were advised to go to Clingman’s Dome first as the elk would be coming into Cataloochee Valley late in the afternoon so we headed toward Tennessee.

Our first stop was the Great Smoky Mountains Visitor’s Center where we got maps that took us straight to Clingman’s Dome. It’s right off of the Blue Ridge Parkway and then seven miles up on a pretty curvy road. I had incorrectly thought that since it was a week day and still early in the season that there would not be many people there but I was wrong. It wasn’t overly crowded but there were a lot of people there.

IMG_3992We had been told at the Great Smoky Mountains Visitor’s Center that the hike up to the dome was much more difficult that the hike up to Waterrock Knob but we disagreed. The path was paved and though steep it wasn’t a difficult climb. There were benches strategically placed so we could rest along the way and we did. A sign indicated that due to the high altitude we could have trouble breathing and though we were a bit breathless at times it was nothing like we were yesterday when we climbed Waterrock Knob. I have noticed through the week that there are a lot of dead fir trees and today found out that since the 1960’s a tiny insect was accidentally introduced from Europe. The balsam woolly Adelaide has killed over 70% of the park’s mature firs. They feed on tree sap and interfere with the flow of water and nutrients. They can kill a fir within a few years.

We saw several people who were hiking the Appalachian Trail. More power to them. I wish I could have done it. No, I don’t. I’m an RVer, not a camper. One of the guys told me that they eat, hike and sleep. That’s a little too rough for me but I do admire the ones that do it.

The view from the top of the dome is beautiful. It was very clear today so we could see Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Had we been able to pick out the various mountains we could have easily named them. We were only 11 miles from one of our favorite places, Cade’s Cove. Of course that is probably as the crow flies!

After our descent we sat by the car and ate our picnic lunch. Then we headed on back. On the way we stopped by a lovely stream with a pretty bridge indicating hiking trails. Not for us today though.

Our next stop was Mingus Mill. Rather than being driven by water it is driven by a small steel turbine. It has a 200 foot long wooden flume that bring the water to the mill’s turbine. You could see that the side of the stream had been recently bolstered. The mill was one of the first buildings restored as a historic structure in the Great Smoky Mountains Park in 1937 and is still maintained today by the park.

After leaving the mill we again stopped by the Visitor’s Center so I could buy a magnet! I had seen the magnet earlier but not knowing anything about the mill I elected not to get it then. I did see one with an Elk on it but I haven’t seen an elk yet so didn’t get it. I heard a ranger explain that the nice Visitor’s Center was built and still supported by donor contributions.

We stopped for gas and a snack and then headed to Cataloochee Valley. There are several old houses, an old school, an old barn and old church in the valley. We went into the barn.IMG_1810 It is amazing to see how well built things of that age were. There were only a few stalls but they certainly didn’t expect anything to kick out the walls as the boards were extremely thick.
We walked across the road to the Caldwell Place. It’s old and completely devoid of furniture but still with a lot of character. The house was built in 1903 and took five years to build. Although the architecture is quite simple the finishing details were astonishing. There was a beautiful arch in between two of the rooms plus each window had lovely finishing. Although the house is lovely it is marred by the names of foolish people who for some inane reason have elected to put their name and/or status on the walls. I will never understand the desire to do that. Guess they either don’t know or don’t care that it’s also a federal offense but then I suppose there is little chance of being caught. Sad.

We drove on down the road until we got to the end and along with others found a parking place to watch for the elk. We only waited about 15 minutes before I heard Jerry say “Elk, elk, elk”.

Our lone elk
Our lone elk
One lone elk came casually walking across the lea. He looked like he was waiting for someone but apparently they were not coming because he remained alone. We could not tell if it was a male or female as it was far away and we certainly would not be approaching it. Jerry later said that it must have been a female because it was small.
We waited a bit longer but didn’t see anymore and since it was nearly 7:00 and the park closes at sundown we headed out. It’s only a 10 mile ride out but certainly not a 10 minute ride. The speed limit in places is 5 mph – that should tell you something!

I wish I could vividly describe some of the graveled roads that Jerry and I have been home, some mountainous and some downright scary. Jerry said as we were going up I was looking for elk and he was looking for a T-Rex! As we were leaving we had a young guy whose car looked like it was packed to go home from college ask if he could follow us out of the valley. I think he was just a little intimidated by the drive.

We made it back to the RV and had a quick dinner.