Last spring, Rachelle, her parents and I spent an afternoon at Cataloochee in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in search of elk. In 2001 and 2002, two separate herds of elk were relocated from Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area to Cataloochee in the western/North Carolina portion of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Cataloochee is a relatively isolated portion of the national park, similar to the much more frequently visited Cades Cove in the eastern/Tennessee portion of the park.
The name Cataloochee is a corruption of the Cherokee name for the area, “Gadalutsi,” which means “standing up in a row,” and could refer either to the mountains which surround the valley, or the abundant trees which cover them. Cataloochee was comprised of two separate communities, Big Cataloochee and Little Cataloochee.
After our previous trip, I wanted to head back in the fall during the rut (mating season) in the hopes of hearing the elk bugle. So, my wife and I planned an October trip to the mountains. Like our previous visit, we spent our time in Big Cataloochee. We picked a spot on the side of the road, unpacked our stuff and waited for the show to begin.
As the sun began to fade, our vigilance was rewarded. We spotted a group of five elk come out of the protection of the trees into the field near us. The group was composed of three bulls (male) and two cows (female). The male elk in the photograph above was very agressive and chased the other two bulls away from his harem.
The other two male elk were chased off in the direction of the road, and remained close to it – I suppose out of fear of angering their rival. I walked down the road so I could get a closer look at them.
Since dusk was quickly approaching we decided it was time to leave. As we were heading down the road toward the park entrance, we saw a large bull in the woods to the right of the road. I got out of the car and on foot followed his progress through the woods. Eventually, I was rewarded with an amazing view of this magnificent creature.
On our way out of the park we made one last stop to watch the sunset.