Friday, August 22, 2014

A pictorial tour of two days in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

            Ugh!  The summer doldrums have hit.  After a busy and prosperous couple of months, work has dwindled from a raging torrent to a pathetic dribble.  It has been nice to steal some hours here and there for personal relaxation and rest, but I fear when the revenue doesn’t roll in, I may be starving.  To put it in perspective, I had nine regular clients with empty invoices.  I hope for all our sakes, the work starts back now that the schools have reopened and summer vacation-time has officially ended.
            A couple of weeks ago, just as the first sign of the slowdown manifested, my friend Sandra and I took off one afternoon and drove through the Pigeon River Gap into Tennessee.  She wanted me to see Cades Cove in the park from the Gatlinburg side.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable day of leisured driving and wildlife watching. From the moment you approach the park, you know you are entering a special place, full of history and wondrous sites. 
            The wildlife was everywhere.  In a churchyard a doe and
fawn came out for a picture shoot.  Unfortunately someone stepped in front of me before I could get a clear picture of the fawn.  My dog, Sebastian,

who was as delighted as we were at the day-trip, spotted the deer, and almost ripped my arm from the shoulder in his insistence that he should be allowed to go play with these denizens of the forest.  Within a scant few minutes of leaving the historic church, we pulled up on a doe grazing on the roadside.  Now a deer was less than a foot from his nose, and Sebastian turned a
disinterested look in my direction wondering why we weren’t moving.
            We did catch a glimpse of several black bears,

mostly either running at full pace or too deep in the shadows of the woods for to get a good photograph, but one guy did come out just in front of our car, and allowed us to watch as he snacked on the wild berries of a low hanging tree.
            Yesterday, in return for Sandra’s treat of taking me in from the Tennessee side, we packed the
car with Subway sandwiches and plenty of cold water for both of us as well as Sebastian and started into the park from the Waynesville side towards the scenic and historic Cataloochee Valley.  I knew we were going too early to catch our now famous reestablished herd of Appalachian elk, the road through the pass into the valley is treacherous at best, and in the evenings there can be as many as five hundred cars negotiating the one lane road that is the only way in or out. 
            We drove out through the valley spotting very little other than the majestic landscapes and

historic remnants of the days of pioneers.  I did capture a long
distance photo of a small rafter of wild turkeys, but in all we were disappointed at the lack of visible animal life.  We had made the entire loop and were headed back up through the valley when I suggested we pull over near a hewed log foot-bridge and eat our lunches.
Sandra jokily remarked that perhaps sitting still and eating, maybe something would come out of the woods into the adjoining field.  Sure enough by the time I finished my sandwich, out from the
shadows of the dense forest stepped two elk does, one yearling fawn, and a velvety spiked buck.  What was truly remarkable was that although the elk were at least 100 yards away, Sebastian
immediately spotted them and sat mesmerized the entire time they grazed.
            I have mixed emotions about the nation’s most visited national park.  The confiscation of the land certainly preserved some of the most beautiful
scenery on the North American continent, but by creating the park, the government evicted and displaced scores of rugged pioneer families and many Cherokee Indians who discovered, settled, hunted, fished and farmed the region. 
            Tonight Sandra and I are going to the Strand Theater in Waynesville to watch a wonderful (I’ve seen it before) documentary on the families displaced from the Cataloochee Valley.  I think it would be a wonderful way to end our forays into the park with the insights and memories of those who were there before the rest of us. 
            Please click on this link for a brief trailer on Katherine Bartel’s Cataloochee.

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