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Sunday, November 6, 2016

Great Smoky Mountains NP ~ Oconaluftee and Clingmans Dome {J. Commons Photography ~ Oconaluftee and Clingmans Dome}

Last Saturday the husband and I made it out for a day trip.  It's one of my favorite things to do together!  Several years ago, 2001 I think, elk were reintroduced to the Smoky Mountains near Cherokee, NC.  We have talked about going multiple times and finally went!  The drive to Cherokee was breathtaking.  The leaves were in peak color.  It was then I realized we may be in for a lot of leaf peepers at the park!

We first stopped at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and checked out the surrounding areas.  There were no elk to be seen at the time, but it was still early in the afternoon.  My parents had ventured over there a couple weeks ago and said the elk came out around 4 pm.  We decided to head up the road, visit Clingmans Dome, and then backtrack in hopes to see the elk.

Just down from the visitor's center was Mingus Mill.  The grist mill was built in 1886 for $600!  It has a water-powered turbine instead of a water wheel.  It was beautiful and very well preserved.

I love how the you can see the leaves falling!

Peeping at the leaves from the inside.

After Mingus Mill we headed up to Clingmans Dome.  I have wanted to make the hike to the top of Clingmans for a long time.  However, I had no idea it was such a HUGE tourist attraction!  About 2 miles from the top we hit a ton of traffic.  About a mile from the parking lot we were barely moving and there were cars parked down both sides of the road.  The husband has a bum knee and ankle, so I told him that if we didn't find parking at the top we could just skip it.  Thankfully, we found a spot in the actual parking lot.

View from the parking lot.

The climb to the tower is a half mile paved path.  However, it is wicked steep.  I've done a lot of hiking this year and I don't think I've hiked anything that maintained that steep of a grade over that long a stretch.  I felt so bad for Mike, unlike me, he has not been hiking all summer, but he was a trooper and made it all the way to the top with me.  

For all my snake haters - the next photo is a baby snake!!
Along the way we found this little guy.

Now, if you know me, you know I hate crowds.  I love to people watch, but at the same time a crowd just stresses me out and annoys me.  I had zero idea that Clingmans Dome would be this crazy busy.  Seriously, it was ridiculous.  If someone had told me that there would be a thousand people up there I would never have gone.  Besides the fact the path was so steep, I struggled to enjoy myself because of the sheer number of people.

First view of the tower.

We were packed in like sardines at the top and people would not take a picture, enjoy the scene, and move on.  There were also signs that showed what you were looking at in the distance.  I tried to read one of the signs, but two girls were standing in front of it, not reading the sign, not looking at the view, not taking pictures, but texting.  And don't get me started on the people that took 20+ selfies.  I snapped my couple of pictures and got out of there before I pushed someone over the edge!

View from the top.  

The Mountain Ash berries were in full bloom (is that the right word?) and beautiful against the blue sky and evergreens.

One of the many overlooks on the way back to Oconaluftee.

When we returned to the visitor center we were very surprised to find a ton of cars and people sitting in chairs along the edge of the field waiting to see the elk.  It was kind of a funny scene.  The fields are closed to keep people away from the elk, but behind the visitor center there is a mountain farm museum with several buildings and barns.  It is located on the far side of the main field.  We walked down to the farm museum and were treated to two yearling elk behind the barn eating cornstalks from a pile. We were inside the barn and they were just on the other side of the fence.

The Oconaluftee River runs behind the farm and people started to gather down by the bank.  We wondered down there and this majestic bull was getting a drink of water.  He was so large and beautiful.  And that rack!  It was darker back there, so my ISO setting was high, and sadly there's a lot of noise in these photos, but just wow!  We also were treated to hearing the bull make several noises including the famous bugle!!

The elk wandered back into the woods and we drove around to another field and found about 30 elk in a field.  Well, actually, it was a person's front yard!

The final exciting moment of the day - the park rangers came to move the herd along because it was getting quite dark and they wanted the people to move on.  Two rangers came up behind the herd clapping and shouting to push them across the road to another field and then up in to the woods.  I heard the rangers talking and letting each other know that the large bull was still behind them.  After they got the main part of the herd across the road the bull was coming up from the creek.  One ranger hopped into this car, turned on the lights and sirens, and drove towards the bull to force him across with the rest of the herd.  Well, the bull was having none of it!  He stood his ground and let out a loud, aggressive bugle directed at the ranger. It cracked me up!!  He did eventually give in and took the five does with him across the field.  It was a really amazing trip and I felt like I was in the middle of a National Park special!