Smoky Mountain National Park 2020

We took a 5 day, 4 night long weekend get-a-way to the Great Smoky National Park for Sharon’s birthday.  The main purpose was to spend some time with my sister and brother-in-law.  Sharon wanted to shop and knock out some Christmas shopping.  I only got to go around Roaring Motor Fork twice and up to Cades Cove twice.

After stopping for the mandatory ice cream at the camp store we started around the loop road drive.  Sharon stayed in town, while Deb, Dave, and I made the trip to the cove.  My sister is always on the lookout for the big FIVE.  Bear, Deer, Turkey, Coyote, and Bobcat.  I would add another one on my list of River Otter.

First loop we found turkey and some really small deer.  The whitetail numbers seemed to be WAY down from previous years.  

Second loop we ran up on 3 different bear jams, but the rangers and park volunteers had broken them up and the bears were gone before we got anywhere close.  The park was really packed with everybody trying to get outside during COVID.  People are rude and were not using the pull-offs like they were supposed to.  FINALLY on the way out, I found a bear, was able to park and got my big lens out which of course caused another bear jam.  A 2 year old 250 ish pounder\ He was close to the exit between Sparks Lane near where the horse trail crosses loop road.  It was laying down in a ditch behind some brush but I could hear it crushing acorns.

Sorry that was as good as I could do with the light I had t o work with, but at least a documented bear.

Our last full day we were trying to decide between going to Cataloochee to see the elk and chasing black bear again.  Sharon wasn’t really feeling the trip up and over to Cherokee and Maggie Valley.  So we grabbed Subway and headed to one of my HAPPY Places.  Kent’s cove, I mean Cades Cove.

Before we even got to the “Entering Cades Cove” sign I saw some black movement on the side of Little River Road.  There was a pull off close by and by the time I got my gear out there was only 3 people watching the bear.  Miss Sharon must be the bear whisper.  She went bearing with me 2 years ago and had an up close and personal with a 2 year old. Once Sharon caught up to me with her binoculars, the bear had started to move straight towards her.

We were on the side of the road about 10-12 feet higher than the bear.  He just kept coming straight at us.  Once he got close enough my lens would no longer focus, I knew it was time to go.  I thought he was going to come up the slope and onto the road, but instead he just disappeared,  There was culvert that ran under the road. The bear went into it like it uses that as it’s own highway.  This was a large bear and I would put it at 300-350 pounds.  I felt a little sorry for it as the flies would not leave it alone.  Watched it for a good 7 minutes and 40 or 50 photos.  Never got a butt shot to see if it was a female or a male.

OK, trip was a success and pressure was off as I was pretty sure I had at least one full-frame black bear photo for my blog.

Stopped at the camp store for restrooms and to get Sharon her Ice Cream and we started around the loop.  It was early,, maybe 2:30 and usually don’t really find anything good until close to dark.  Bear whisperer Sharon strikes again.  Brakes light lit up everywhere and knew it wasn’t a deer jam.  I got out grabbed my gear and starting walking passing car after car.  Sharon drove the car and moved up when she could.  It was a HUGE male well over 500 pounds just hanging out on the edge of a field.  Once I got there, at least a mile hike up to where the bear was he just started walking straight up the tree line towards where I had setup.

He then got inside my minimum focal length of 33 feet and I put a couple cars between me and the bear, he crossed the road heading up the hill and then starting eating acorns.  I would not want to end up on the wrong end of those teeth! 

After about 20-25 minutes Sharon finally rolled up to where the bear was, but he was long gone.  I’m on cloud nine and jump back into the car and decided we would head back to town when we rolled up on yet another big bear eating acorns.  Shot about 6 frames and moved on.  He wasn’t doing much, just sitting on his haunches and munching away on acorns.

Man, what a special day in Kent’s Cove!

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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.

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Kent’s Cove GSMNP

I was contacted by the National Parks Service while I was in the Smoky Mountains in September.  They wanted the rights to use my name to rebrand Cades Cove into Kent’s Cove.

I recently received a prototype hat.  What do you think?


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42 of 52: 2014

Week 42 of 52: Baby Ring Neck Snake

Photo Sep 23, 2 33 47 PM-FrameShop

Not really sure how I spotted this little guy sunning himself on a flat rock.  Had to put on my macro lens, then he looked like a 6 foot snake.  Added the dime to show scale.  He might have been 4 inches long.

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40 of 52: 2014

Week 40 of 52: Lone Oak, the famous oak tree across the road from Dan Lawson’s place in Cades Cove GSMNP.


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Thanks for stopping by, Life is good, and I am blessed!