Great Smokey Mountains National Park 2018

Finally got back to my sister’s mountains.  It had been 4 years since I had been back to one of my happy places.  Three years ago a bought into a time share marketing event that included 4 days and 3 nights in Gatlinburg for $159, and a $150 visa gift card.  Decided it would be a cheap way to get back to the mountains and Sharon agreed to go.  We had 2 years to go.  Had a date scheduled towards the end of the second year, something came up and we couldn’t go.  I called to cancel they agreed to extended for one additional year.  Long story short, we ended up going last week and the last possible week in the 3 year window.  I hadn’t been during full fall colors, and that was the plan.

I knew my time in woods and well off the roads would be very limited with Sharon, and the small time I actually had free.

We left for the mountains a day early and drove half way, then got up next morning and drove to my sister’s and niece’s places.  They both are in new homes.  Lots of catching up and niece hosted a very nice dinner and a big double deck euchre game broke out. 

We got up next morning and finished the last 4 hours into Pigeon Forge.  Check in time was 4PM, but got there at 11:45.  They allowed me to pick up the check in packaged, a quick bit to eat and headed to my happy place.  Cade’s Cove!  The 45 minute drive up the winding twisty roads was more than Sharon could handle, and was feeling pretty bad by the time we arrived at the cove.

We stopped at the bathrooms, and the little store for an ice cream to share and FINALLY hit the cove.  Most of the loop I told all my sister’s stories coupled with this is where I saw my first bear, or here is which my Jesus Tree photo was captured.

In a light rain / drizzle, I didn’t expect to see much, but were able to see lots of deer and turkeys.  when we were getting close to the half way point, nearing Abrahams creek we found the tree line where one of my best sellers was taken.  I have searched my blog several times for my GSMNP 2013 photos, but that was before I started this blog.  So I decided to work a few into this post.

So just in front of the tree line where the above photo was taken in spring of 2013, I found my first decent sized whitetail buck.  As soon as I pulled over and broke out the big glass instant deer jam.  Big glass, brings big crowds.  I felt bad for giving his resting place away, as after I took my photo there were several camera phones headed into the flied.  Not a great capture but I like the purple hue of the grass he is hiding in.Sharon still not feeling great only checked out a couple of the building / cabins.  Traffic was bad for a Thursday and the loop took about an hour.  We had just a little usable light left and Sharon said I could start another loop and use Spark’s lane.

When we got to the creek / forge on Sparks Lane I was showing her the hole where my screech owl photo was taken.  Then I looked at the smaller hole above and there was a smaller brown screech owl, just barely had it’s head out.  Reached into the back seat to get gear for a photo, and he retreated back into the hole.  I back up and sat until dark and he didn’t ever come back out.   I am guessing that the owl we saw was a direct descendant of my 2013 Red Morph Eastern Screech Owl shown below.

We left Cade’s Cove in the dark, and Sharon laid her seat back and closed her eyes all the way down. We had a very nice dinner, cruised the parkway and did a little shopping, then back to the hotel for bed.

Friday morning I was up early and Sharon still not feeling great decided to sleep in so off I flew to Roaring Motor Fork.  I was the first vehicle around the loop, it was a decent rain and still dark when I started up.  I didn’t get very far up when I ran across my first down tree. I worked on it for a good 5 minutes inching it over when I saw headlights coming.  It was a park maintenance guy who had a battery powered chain saw.  We got that cleaned up in no time.The ranger thanked me, and asked me if I had seen any wild life.  I told him nothing worth photographing and that I was interested in bears, river otter, and bobcats.  He told me where a bear was and has been for the past 5 days.  On the back side of the loop I saw a smoke phase or leucistic turkey.  no good place to stop and raining harder so no photo proof.

The place of 10,000 drips was really flowing so I made a short video to capture the sound.

Once down, off to find the bear.  Wasn’t hard to find the bear jam and all the people pointing cameras.  He was a young 2 year old that was feeding in a hickory nut tree. Back to the hotel to check on Sharon and get some breakfast.  She was up, dressed and feeling much better.  Ate some breakfast and we were off to explore the parkway shops. Then off to check on the bear.  I was really hoping he would be down out of the tree so Sharon could see him.  When I got to the tree, the traffic was backed up forever and knew he was still in the area.  As soon as we found a safe pull off to park we starting walking towards the front of the stopped cars.  He was on the ground and he wanted to get back to his nut tree but cars and people were in his way.  I sat up to photograph him when some idiot went into the woods and cut off his escape route.  That turned him straight towards me and Sharon.  The bear stopped just before I was ready to start making some noise and waving my tripod around.  Perfect photo op a full frame black bear photo that made eye contact with Miss Sharon. On the way back we stopped at the famous sign to get our picture taken.  I was still packing the big glass when another couple agreed to take out photo if I would take theirs.Then we headed back Roaring Motor Fork.  Showed Sharon the cabins, saw the leucistic turkey again, too much traffic to stop for photos.  Showed her the tree I hit back in 2012 when we found all the morel mushrooms.  He favorite part was the babbling creek that runs down the entire backside of the loop.  I am not a landscape photographer, but did take a tripod and a wide angle lens, so I setup in the rain to try my hand at a cascade photo.  I thought it turned out pretty good and one of Sharon’s favorite from the trip.That night we ate at Huck Finn’s and had some really good catfish.

I knew Saturday would be the worse traffic by far so we headed up and over the mountain to Cherokee.  Sharon liked the North Carolina side of the better than the Tennesse side.  Mostly due to the more open rolling vista and meadows.  The leaves were turning more on the NC side.  Stopped at Oconaluftee visitor center and talked to the rangers about if the Elk were still coming out every evening right behind the center. Sharon was disappointed to hear no, that the heard had broke up after rut and were back in the woods.  We headed into Cherokee for lunch and more shopping.  Sharon really enjoyed the Indian shops.  Then it was time to head over through Maggie Valley and into Cataloochee Valley.  I took the road slow and steady and she did much better with her car sickness.  It was worth it as soon as we entered the valley the dominate bull elk was out right along the side of the road with 30-35 cows and 2 small spike bucks. Had to put the big rig away and get my second body paired with the 100-400 to fit a full body shot in.  He was tired and didn’t do much, he just laid down and never bugled.  He was a royal buck 6 X 6.  I wondered if it was the same 6X6 I saw in the same meadow in 2014 shown below.Looped the interstate around back to Pigeon Forge and ate at Farm Kitchen.

2,269 miles, 4 states (TX, AR, TN, NC), $62 in lottery tickets across all 4 states. Made it home in 13.5 hours straight through; tired, and not a millionaire. 

In case you missed the other GSMNP blog post here are some links.
http://kentjarrett.com/gsmnp2013/
http://kentjarrett.com/gsmnp2014/
http://kentjarrett.com/elk-of-cataloochee-valley-gsmnp/

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Life is good and I am blessed.

Kent