Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Smoky Mountian Rambles

This past weekend my wife and I took a trip up to Gatlinburg, Tennessee to celebrate our third wedding anniversary. We decided to split our time between doing some of the many tourist attractions in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, and exploring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. For the purposes of this blog, I'll focus on the park itself and our rambles through it. I decided on this trip to leave the fly rods at home and just spend some time sightseeing in the park and exploring new areas that we had never visited.

Bear Warning!
As we were planning our route up, we decided to go up through Cherokee, NC and make  a stop at Clingman's Dome, the highest peak in the Smokies and third highest on the east coast. Neither of us had ever been here before, so we were excited to check out the area. On our way up to the top, we noticed a sign warning of bear activity in the area. Fortunately for us, the bears weren't out and about that day. We hiked the short trail up to the top of the dome, and walked up to the observation deck that had been built there. Unfortunately for us that day, the Smokies were living up to their name and visibility was severely limited. It was still a nice break to get out and stretch our legs after riding a few hours. We headed back down the mountain and out on US 441 toward Newfound Gap, our next stop on the trip.
Observation Tower on Clingman's Dome, GSMNP
The next stop on our journey up was at Newfound Gap, the highest point on US 441 between Gatlinburg and Cherokee. Here, we learned a little more about the history of the park, including seeing the spot where President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave the speech dedicating the park. I was also surprised to learn that the park itself was purchased and given through a joint effort by Tennessee, North Carolina, and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. It was the first time that private lands had been purchased for the purpose of creating a national park, and on our trip we would learn more about the history of the Smokies and the people who once lived here. 
View from Newfound Gap, GSMNP
 Once we arrived in Gatlinburg, we decided to check out an area of the park that I had found out about from reading on the National Park's website. The Roaring Fork motor nature trail parallelled the Roaring Fork for several miles and wound through the park from Gatlinburg. 
Roaring Fork, GSMNP
On our way through the trail, we were able to stop several times and see some of the original homestead buildings left behind when the park was created. It was amazing to think about these people making a living in that rugged country. I also learned more about the history of these settlers and how difficult life was in the mountains at the turn of the last century.
Ephriam Bales Cabin, Roaring Fork GSMNP
On our way out of the park on the last leg of the motor trail, we were fortunate enough to get to see a black bear cross the road in front of us. In all my years trout fishing in bear country, I've never seen a bear in the East. In fact, the only wild black bear that I had ever seen previous to this trip was in Yellowstone Park. I was excited for my wife too, because this was the first wild bear that she had seen. After the bear crossed the road, we were lucky enough to be able to get a picture (from inside the car) as it paused on the side of the mountain. 
Black Bear, Roaring Fork GSMNP
After the Roaring Fork, the next day we decided to head toward another popular area of the park, Cades Cove. We had been through this area on previous trips, and it is one of the most popular areas of the park for wildlife viewing, which is what we had in mind. On our way out to Cades Cove, we spotted our second black bear standing on the bank of the Little River. This one unfortunately didn't give us a chance for a photograph, but it was larger than the bear we saw the day before. The drive out to Cades Cove following the Little River gave us the opportunity to view Meigs Waterfall, along with blooming rhododendron and beautiful views of the river.
Meigs Waterfall, GSMNP
 On our trip through the cove, we saw numerous wild turkeys and whitetail deer, and also saw more of the historic buildings left behind by the settlers of Cades Cove. It was amazing to see just how little the deer in this part of the park were bothered by people, but I'm sure with the amount of visitors this area sees every year the wildlife has become accustomed to posing for pictures.
Whitetail Doe, Cades Cove GSMNP
One other area of the park that we had planned to explore was the Cataloochee Valley. We had both been wanting to explore this area and see if we could see some of the elk herd that was introduced to the area by the Park Service several years ago. We saved this for last, as we planned to visit the area on the way back home. 
Cataloochee Valley
After travelling the winding gravel road over the mountains that followed the course of the old Cataloochee Turnpike that served as the main road for the settlers that lived in the valley, we arrived in the valley itself. It was interesting to learn that at the time of the park's creation, the Cataloochee Valley was the most populated area in what was to become the park. Our main purpose for the side trip into Cataloochee was to hopefully get a look at some of the elk that were introduced into the valley in 2001. As we drove through the valley, we did see an elk calf in one of the first meadows. This was the only elk that we observed on the trip through the valley, but we plan to come back again and explore the area more. 
Elk Calf, Cataloochee GSMNP
Overall, it was a great weekend for wildlife watching and exploring in the most visited National Park in the country. I did see several places that I've put on my list to explore with a fly rod one of these days, and also made a side trip to Townsend, TN to do a little shopping at a fly shop. The park provided a nice change from the traffic and bustle of Gatlinburg, and I'm sure we'll be back to visit it again soon.

Thanks for stopping by!

- Joseph


  1. Really enjoyed this post and the photos. Thank you!

    1. Thanks Kim! I'm glad you stopped by the blog!


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