And that is why we are willing to make the long trip on a narrow, winding, dusty, gravel road over the mountain into this isolated valley.
Will Messer Barn
Because of it's remoteness, Cataloochee doesn't receive near the visitors as Cades Cove, but the number of visitors has risen the last 10 years due to the release of elk in this area. Elk once roamed these mountains but were eliminated because of over-hunting and loss of habitat.
Reintroduction began in 2001 when 25 elk were released here in Cataloochee and another 27 in 2002. The release was considered an experiment in the beginning but has now been deemed a success. At this point the herd has increased to approximately 140.
Elk males bugle and use aggressive behaviour to establish dominance over other males in order to attract females. Their calls can be heard from a mile away.
A few females grazed just several yards from where we were observing at the side of the road completely unfazed from all the attention they were getting. It is illegal for humans to approach elk but I guess they can approach us. I would have been out of there in a hurry if a bull came that close!
One year we observed a smaller bull approach the harem of a much larger bull and got chased off by the dominant bull. The smaller one turned and ran directly into the crowd of people standing by the road. It would have been funny watching all the photographers with their camera equipment scatter if it wouldn't have been so dangerous. These are wild animals and we are in their home so give them plenty of space.
(We did get a good laugh out of that though.)
Beech Grove School
Log bridge to the Caldwell House
I have so much gratitude and respect to the Great Smoky Mountains for preserving places like Cataloochee and Cades Cove and reintroducing wildlife. A few other successful introductions have been River Otters and Peregrine Falcons. One that failed was Red Wolf released in Cades Cove, mostly due to competition from coyotes.
If you love history, nature and animals make sure you don't miss Cataloochee Valley.
I get such a feeling of reverence and awe when I take in the sights and sounds of these long ago places.