The Elk of Cataloochee Valley

The Bambi is always ready to roll on a moment’s notice. Add perfect weather with a well-timed opportunity and a quick weekend getaway is easy.  Jim and Regina’s driveway was basecamp.

Saturday morning we trekked up to Cataloochee Valley tucked away high in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  There is a campground available seasonally, but personally, I wouldn’t try to tow up anything bigger than the Bambi.  There are only two roads in, both unpaved washboard, narrow and full of switchbacks.

Did I mention the steep drop off the side of the mountain? I wonder if passing was any easier in 1901 when two wagons met than when two honkin’ 4WD diesels meet today.

The view on the way, however, was amazing.  The name Cataloochee was taken from the Cherokee term meaning “wave upon wave of mountains.”

The valley once thrived with over a thousand residents in the early 1900’s, mostly hearty souls that worked the land.

A few original buildings remain.

An old chapel built in 1898 is just feet from a crystal clear creek.

The door is always open and leaves swirl on the floor as if to imply that Mother Nature herself might worship here.

The air is pungent with the damp rich scent of fallen hemlock needles mingled with earth and honey. There is a distant hint of smoke. I could just stand here and drink it into every pore for a very long time.

We came to see the Elk. Having missed the rutting season by barely more than a week, none of the bulls were sparring. They were spectacular nonetheless.

Most of the herd reclined peacefully in the shade of the tree line.

Big daddy of the herd. He bugled once for us. Impressive!

Being Big Daddy doesn’t intimidate the older doe.  She will speak her mind.

But when a young grazing doe started moving closer and closer to me, he stood full up. Then he looked directly at me and put his head down. I could hear a snort of breath. I respectfully backed away slowly.  Then I noticed everyone else had already retreated towards their cars.

I’m not certain, but I believe tangling with a mess of antlers attached to 800 pounds of elk might be worse than someone opening a can of whoop-ass.