As usual, here is the reference map;
Wednesday, Day 3. Our itinerary for today will take us into the Cataloochee Valley, one the remote parts of The Great Smokey Mountains National Park to see if we could find some Elk. We had picked up a small tri-fold brochure from the visitor’s center in Maggie Valley on Monday. The basic map (as pictured below) doesn’t give you much detail.
As you can see, all it does it point you in the basic direction of where Elk sightings are frequent. Since we didn’t see any Elk on the western trip to Cherokee, which is supposed to be a popular place, we went north. The brochure was clear in that once you entered the park (there is a sign), the road becomes a “ten-mile narrow gravel mountain road”. Since it was day three I was getting a little more comfortable driving the winding mountain passages. The gravel part would be new, although the road to the cabin was gravel and winding, it was not ten miles long.
So we entered the park and sure enough, the road turned to gravel. It was not too terrible a drive, in fact, it was much smoother than the road up to the cabin. But then it probably isn’t driven as often either.
I joked with Wifey® that we’re going to go around a bend and a big ol’ Elk would be blocking the way.
There were many bulls, cows, and even young elk all over the place. I would estimate that there were a total of 30 elk spread out over two fields. We had missed the rutting (or mating) season by just a few weeks, so there wasn’t much activity going on. Basically, they just looked at us like “What are you guys doing here this time of year?”
We followed the basic map and saw a couple of old homes, (the Caldwell House and the Palmer House), a school, and a chapel (the Palmer Chapel). Most were from the 1890’s or so. Nothing exciting, so no pictures were taken.
So we decided to head out to our next destination, Waterrock Knob. This is located on the Blue Ridge Parkway not all that far from Waynesville or Maggie Valley.
And then the fun started.
Since the “map” didn’t really give us any info such as street names or mile markers, or even an arrow for which way to turn, we basically got lost. Wifey® has a much better sense of direction than I do, so when we came to the first unmarked intersection, she said to turn left. And being the good husband that I am, I turned left. All was well until we came to a “T” intersection with absolutely no markers of any kind. We had no idea where we were or even which way we were going. GPS never found a signal, and although the compass on my phone could tell us which direction we were headed, with all the twists and turns, it basically just kept spinning. Again she says to turn left. Who am I to argue? We then proceeded to drive up and over ridges, around switchbacks – you get the idea – for about 45 minutes, not seeing any structures, people, cars, just maybe the occasional chipmunk, when suddenly we hit paved road again. Of course, we still don’t have a clue as to where we are. We come up to a four-way intersection and I stop dead in the middle of it despite the “No Stopping In The Roadway” signs posted about every 10 feet in all directions.
We look up the mountain and we can see I-40 about 100 feet above us. I know if we can figure out how to get on I-40 we’ll find our way to either Asheville or Knoxville. Again “Turn left” (are you starting to see a pattern here?). Low and behold, the left turn became an entrance to I-40! Wifey® is a genius!
We get up on I-40 and as we come around a big bend there is a sign I didn’t expect to see; “Welcome To North Carolina”! Wait a minute! I thought we were in North Carolina! I guess somewhere during our 45-minute sightseeing excursion we crossed the line into Tennessee. We laughed ourselves breathless!
We finally found the Parkway and made it to Waterrock Knob. It has a nice overlook, with picnic benches at the parking area, and a path to the top of the knob.
We sat at one of the picnic tables and had a quick-lunch we had prepared for the day. The view from this overlook is amazing.
Our goal here was to take the path to the top of the knob. You saw in the picture our current elevation is 5820 feet above sea level. The top of the knob is 6292 feet above sea level. The path goes up 472 feet in elevation in a short half a mile distance. That makes it (at least to us flat landers) a rather steep climb. We made it halfway to the viewing platform and called it quits. At that elevation, I could not get enough oxygen into my lungs (I have COPD) to continue. But – hey we gave it a shot, right?
So we made it back down the parkway to Maggie Valley. We made a quick stop at the Elevated Mountain Distillery for a tour and some samples. They are a relatively new establishment in town, and very friendly. We picked up several bottles of their products as well. We then headed to Waynesville and to the BooJum taphouse that was closed the day before. Had a couple (well actually 4 each…) of very nice brews of theirs. I bought a pint glass to bring home (which I dropped and broke while packing the car the day we left). I’ve emailed BooJum to see how I can replace it (pint glasses are not for sale on their website), but haven’t heard back from them. So if anybody is in the area and wants to pick one up for me I’ll reimburse you for everything, glass, taxes, and shipping. Just leave a comment!
We finished the night at Haywood’s Smokehouse. This is a “don’t miss” eatery if you like Texas-style smoked BBQ. It’s quite difficult to find, as it’s a restored house in the middle of a residential area. But well worth the trouble.
For tomorrow, we have TurkeyDay and another waterfall to visit. Hope you’re keeping up with me!