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.
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.
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!