Saturday, October 4, 2014

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Cataloochee

What a day to be outside! Today was the first real day of fall here in East Tennessee. I'm glad I had the opportunity to enjoy it. I awoke this morning at 6 am and hit the road, headed towards the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I stopped in Newport for a quick breakfast and then hopped on I-40 east. I had intended to get off the interstate at the exit for Big Creek and drive up to Mount Sterling Gap, but as the exit was not signed for Big Creek like I thought it would be, I passed right by it. The next exit is not for another 7 miles and rather than drive an extra 14 miles, I opted to head over to Cataloochee to explore the area and hike the Boogerman Loop. Missing my exit turned out to be a good mistake!

It was a long winding drive from I-40 to Cataloochee. Shortly after entering the park I was treated to some solitude at a really nice overlook of the valley and surrounding mountains.
Cataloochee Overlook
I excitedly hopped back in the car and made the rest of the drive down into Cataloochee. Soon, I noticed a bunch of cars pulled of to the side of the road and lots of people standing by the roadside.
elk watchers
I correctly assumed that the park's elk herd was out.
elk 3
I parked the car and walked over towards the wildlife (not too close though). I took a few shots of the elk,
on the move
including some big bulls with impressive racks of antlers and even heard a few bugle. After admiring the large animals for a bit I hopped back in the car and headed a short distance to the Palmer Chapel.

Palmer Chapel was an impressive, yet simple, church located at the edge of where the woods meet the fields.
Palmer Chapel 2
I even went inside for a bit
inside Palmer Chapel
and then checked out the chapel's cemetery across the street. Then I headed back to the car and drove to my next destination, the Beech Grove School.
Beech Grove School
I parked in a small gravel lot near the school and walked over to it. There were some turkeys in a field next to the school that I watched for a bit. Unfortunately, because they were in the shadows, I did not have enough light to photograph them. I then headed inside the school for a look around.
inside Beech Grove

After Beech Grove School I headed further up the road to explore the Caldwell House. To get to the house you cross Rough Fork on a small wooden bridge.
Caldwell House
The Caldwell House looks so much different than most of the other structures that have been preserved by the National Park Service in the park. For one, it is not a log structure, but painted white with blue trim.
Calwell House closer
There were lots of rooms to explore inside and some of the rooms still had their original newspaper insulation left on the walls.
wall covering
There was also a nice view out of windows to the barn across the street.
looking out of Caldwell
After a stop at the springhouse,
springhouse
I headed over towards the barn
Caldwell Barn
and my car.

From the Caldwell House I drove back the way I came, squeezing past cars headed in the other direction. I was headed to the Boogerman Loop Trailhead for a walk into some big trees. After my hike I drove out of Cataloochee via the road that goes past the Palmer House.
Palmer House
I explored the house
peeling paper
and its outbuildings
blacksmith shop
a bit before getting back on the road. Instead of taking the interstate, I would drive the rough winding road that goes between Cataloochee and Big Creek. It was slow going, but a stop at a big rock off to the side of the road offered a nice view of the surrounding mountains.
view from rock
Driving this road also offered me the opportunity to hike the easternmost mile of the Little Cataloochee Trail.        
turnaround point
   

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