Day Four – Tuesday Oct. 27
We awoke to weather forecasts of moderate to heavy rain and wind in the afternoon and decided to visit the Cataloochee Valley section of GSMNP. After a light breakfast we packed up our coffee and snacks and headed out in time to take some photos of the fog still rising out of the valley from an overlook on Rte 19 just South of Maggie. With a backdrop of peak fall foliage it was breathtaking. The drive into and out of Cataloochee is the worst part of a visit there. Lots of twisting and turning partly paved and mostly gravel roads, over and around mountains for about tem miles. This takes the better part of 45 minutes before you drive into the valley. We were greeted at the gate by a lone bull elk which, we found out later, was recovering from a parasite attack of to his hind quarters. We soon came upon wild turkeys and the main herd of elk which were lounging and grazing in a meadow alongside the road. Here we found the largest concentration of visitor we were to come upon this day, all 5 vehicles with one or two occupants each, far from the hoards of visitors usually at Cades Cove.
We leisurely drove back the road through the valley floor taking in the old buildings and the surrounding mountains still shrouded in the morning fog and mist, colorful peaks pushing through above the clouds! As we left the ‘crowds’ behind we stopped often to watch the turkeys vying for feeding position by hopping at least a foot in the air to defend their territory. After an hour or so a light rain began to fall and we decided to head back out of the valley. As we approached the bull elk guarding the entrance we stopped to get some photos and a member of the volunteer elk patrol talked with us for about 10 minutes about the origin and growth of the herd and how they had outgrown the valley and began searching out other areas to feed. It seems that a portion of the herd has migrated to the Oconaluftee visitors’ center where they have invaded the adjacent Mountain Farm Museum exhibit in search of food. The rangers in that area are not pleased by this at all!
We decided to return to the rental house as the rain seemed to be on the increase and once there we had a leisurely lunch and spent the afternoon and evening lounging on the sofas watching TV, reading, and surfing the web. The rain kept increasing and the wind picked up to the point that lots of fall foliage was becoming ground cover. DW whipped up a great chicken dish for supper and we worked at getting the fireplace going to off the evening chill.
Day Five – Wednesday Oct. 28
Today we were off to a slow start as we lounged over breakfast surveying the changes in our view of the surrounding mountains. A lot of the brightly colored leaves were gone and fog still crept up from the valley, however the sky was clear and it looked like it would turn into a nice autumn day. Once again we packed up our lunches and set out to explore the Southern edges of the park. Our first stop was Soco Falls which is right off of Rte 19 near the Blue Ridge Pkwy. Yesterday’s rain had the creek full and water thundering over both sections of the falls. We then back tracked to the Parkway and made out way toward Oconuluftee. The visitors’ center was crowded as usual so we continued on the Mingus Mill where the keeper had the pot bellied stove fired up and was explaining the workings to a few visitors. There was a crew doing repair work to the siding and their Skil power saw sure looked and sounded out of place!
We next headed back out of the park and into Cherokee where we once again picked up Rte. 19 for the scenic trip to Bryson City. We arrived just in time to watch the steam train pull out for its trip to Dillsboro. We continued into the Deep Creek section of the park where we stopped for lunch and a brief rest. Returning to Cherokee we once again entered the Blue Ridge Parkway and enjoyed the drive through numerous tunnels. We took the Balsam Mountain turnout for a trip to Heintooga picnic area. The view from the lookout beyond the picnic grounds takes in Clingman’s Dome and Mt LeConte. You can see Rte 441 and make out vehicles as they traverse the park. We came upon some folks tracking a bear which had been fitted with a radio collar. I guess it has been causing enough problems that the nearby campground has been closed. We noticed a cage trap set up off the road to try to move the bear to another area.
Leaving Balsam we headed back into Maggie Valley where we found that mid-week visitors were pretty scarce. Then it was back to the lodge for an afternoon nap and making preparations for our grilled steak dinner.
Day Six – Thursday Oct. 29
On our last full day of vacation the plan was to make our way East on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Again we found some color left on the mountains and morning fog hovering over the valleys. We stopped at numerous overlooks to just sit and enjoy the views, chatting with others doing the same. At a few places we ran into couples taking photos of each other with the mountain backdrops. I always offered to take a photo or two of them together if they wished. Hopefully I succeeded in mastering the many different cameras I came across. We drove on the Parkway closing hoping to get a closer look at the mountainsides threatening to come down, but the closure was far enough away that we couldn’t see much. As it was near lunch time we stopped at the Pisgah Inn for a burger and a meatloaf sandwich which were quite tasty. Every table in the restaurant has a great view of the mountains and valleys beyond. Our server told us that this would be the last week they would be open, closing on Saturday for the winter.
We returned on the Parkway as far as Rte. 23 where we headed for Waynesville and a stop for fuel then back to the house for another fire and an evening meal of leftovers. Chicken, steak, pasta and a small salad turned out to be very enjoyable and filling. Before bedtime we began packing for Friday’s trip home.
Day Seven – Friday Oct 30.
With I-40 still closed by the rockslide and wanting to make better time than we could by using back roads, I decided to use the ancient migratory route back to Columbus, U.S. Rte 23! With the highway following interstates as far north as Virginia and then being fairly limited access on through Kentucky and Ohio this proofed to be a good choice. Having left at about 9:30 am, we were settled in our recliners and ordering pizza before 7:00 pm. It then sure felt nice to stretch out in my own bed again!
I would highly recommend Dancing Wolves Lodge for your next stay in Western North Carolina.
While you are there be sure to visit Cataloochee Valley, the gem of the Southern Smokys.