Yesterday afternoon we got a hankerin' to get out of the house and up into the mountains for the night. We have been so busy building and working and whatnot this summer we haven't camped out at all, so when the feeling struck we jumped at it. We are amazingly lucky to live in a place where a 30 minute drive gets us from anything we could want from a city (except a good, cheap falafel) up to some of the most breathtakingly beautiful mountains on the planet. Sometimes I can't believe this is my life.
We settled on Cataloochee, way up a winding mountain road. It is in the Great Smokey National Park and has some really great, century old buildings you can poke around as well as these skinny little single log bridges to get you over the Cove Creek and around various trails. Henry showed off his sense of adventure while I had about 20 heart attacks watching him cross.
We walked around for a while and poked our heads in the one room school house and Beecher house. It was sprinkling a tiny bit but no one seemed to mind too much. Back at the camp site, there was a hard clay cliff-let that went down to the creek. Someone had tied a rope to a thick root at the top to help with the scaling down to get to the water. Once again Henry strapped on his courage (and spelunking head lamp) and went down to check it out.
While we were cleaning up after dinner, an older man wandered over from the next campsite over. He was with the Elk Bugle Corps and wanted to let us know that the elk herd had been coming down to the meadows in the evening to mill about in the pasture and eat in the cool dusk air. He told us about how we were in between the calving season (when the babies are born) and the "rut" (when the males start to bugle and butt heads to jockey for position at the beginning of the mating season) so the elk are pretty chilled out while the males grow their antlers and the mamas get the calves ready to go out on their own. We hopped into the car and drove down to the meadows and sure enough we found a group of mama elk with their babies!
In a small lot between the meadows, the Elk bugle Corps had a little mobile education center and they let Henry hold some shed elk antlers from a HUGE male we were actually looking at (I didn't get a good picture of him). They told us about the antler cycle- they start growing in March and while they grow they are covered in what they call 'velvet'. The males are more docile when there is velvet on their antlers because if they try to fight with them before they harden up and the velvet falls off they can get damaged. Right before the rut (next month) the velvet falls off and they start to scrape the antlers against trees and rocks to get them nice and sharp before the competition for dominance starts. After the rut, the antlers fall off and it starts all over again.
Outside the Beecher house, which was build in 1903 and has the same exact pressed tin roof shingles that we have on our house.
Kyle peeking in the old stables across from the house.
A few of the less dominant male elk like to hang out in front of the ranger station where the grass is nice and low.
After a night of sleeping in the rain, we woke up and hit the road. This was the view from an overlook right outside Cataloochee. A. Mazing.