Last weekend, Cindy and I visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We had planned to visit the Cataloochee Valley in the hope that we would see a Elk.
We were staying outside of Gatlinburg, Tennessee and the Cataloochee Valley is located in the North Carolina side of the park. Getting to the valley is no easy task. The roads are good but narrow and sometime gravel. In addition we chose to travel highway 32 a narrow road that winds through the beautiful mountains. If you’re not in a hurry and don’t mind being the only car on the road, this is the way to go.
Arriving in Cataloochee, we stopped at the Palmer house. George and his wife moved into the area in 1848 and became one of its most prosperous families. By 1870 George and his son had a significant farm production, and a net worth of $800-$1,000 each. Some of their market crops included corn, wheat, oats, rye, apples, honey, molasses, butter, eggs, pigs, sheep, cattle, tobacco, potatoes and cord wood. Both were informal bankers, lending money at interest and securing it with livestock and land.
After touring the house Cindy and I walked over the barn. Walking inside I noticed a couple of old buckets lying in the hay. Now the word hey is the optimal word here, because when I appeared up I found myself starring into the face of what appeared to be Prancer himself. The huge bull elk was standing on the other side of the rail. I just said “well, hello there”. He finished his chew and turned around and walked out of the stable and then out of the barn. He then walked around to the back of the barn. We still couldn’t believe what we had just seen. Heading out of the barn we went around the front and waited for the elk to appear where I took this photograph.
Until the late 1700’s Elk could be found throughout the entire Appalachian Mountains and other regions of the eastern United States.
Between 2001 and 2002 the park service attempted to reintroduce the Elk back into the area. A total of 52 North American Elk were released in to the park. The Elk wear radio collars and are tagged in order to track the progress and range of the individual animals.
Elk are now the largest animals of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The male bulls can weigh from 600 to 700 pounds while the female cows average around 500 pounds. The adult Elk is about 7 to 10 feet long and bull elk can sport antlers that may be as wide as 5 feet from end to end.
We are used to seeing deer around our place. Well if this is a deer it’s definitely on steroids. As it turned out we saw several groups of elk grazing in the fields and along the side of the road.
Most people who visit the Great Smoky Mountains will visit Cades Cove, while very few in comparison visit the Cataloochee Valley. I’m sure that the roads are a big reason, but it is well worth the trip.