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.
This is the same elk grazing in peace after he had runoff the interlopers.
These are the two cows he was “protecting”.
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.
Quite a few people were taking photos of this pair. And while everybody kept a respectful distance, the two elk didn’t seem to mind the attention.
I wonder if he was checking to see if his rival was still around.
He and his pair of females were still nearby.
We had also hoped to hear the elk bugle, and we weren’t disappointed in that department. We heard several elk bugle in the distance.
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.
This male popped out of the woods and then wandered back in to them – he was probably spooked by all then people attempting to take his photograph.
Suddenly, he walked calmly out of the trees again, right in front of me.
Then, he paused under a tree to graze for a moment.
By this time I had gotten back in our car. As we were passing him, he decided to go for a stroll, so we followed him for a bit, and stopped on the side of the road when he stopped.
While we were watching him he let loose with a loud bugle. What a treat!
Several other males were also in the area. We watched them for a while, and then resumed our plans to leave the park.
On our way out of the park we made one last stop to watch the sunset.
Daylight fades from the valley.
Rays of sunshine poke through the clouds.