Cataloochee—Cherokee for wave upon wave.
Fodor’s Travel Guide notes Cove Creek Road (Old NC 284) one of 15 favorite scenic national park drives. Dipping in and through the shadowy autumn landscape with our Ford pickup last month, our first seven miles on this mostly paved, winding two-lane road proved to be quite the adventure as we entered isolated Cataloochee Valley in western North Carolina.
Finally reaching the Great Smoky Mountains National Park entrance—after seven less than peaceful miles down Cove Creek Road—our rugged journey into Cataloochee Valley jolted still yet across several additional miles of rough gravel road, sharp drop-offs at the bumper’s edge. Intense leaf peeping to say the least.
At last, a sigh of relief resounded throughout as the pickup’s four wheels whirred once again on paved road into one of the largest and most prosperous settlements in 1910. The 1,200 individuals who called this rugged, beautiful valley home developed an early tourism industry, which included boarding fishermen and other vacationers. Since then the settler’s commercial apple growing business disappeared for the more lucrative tourism enterprises. Five historic structures can still be found along the road into the valley and are worth “windowing into the past.”
Other than capturing shades of autumn through the camera lens, our interest lay with the elk herd, especially during autumn rutting season. Elk were re-introduced in Cataloochee Valley in 2001 as part of an experimental program. The herd regularly frequents the valley in the crisp, early morning and then again during the waning evening hours. Photographers with their tripods and spectators seated in lawn chairs lined the road, hoping to hear the male elk’s legendary bugling call or even view two bulls sparring. We were no exception. As the morning air wrapped itself around us and nipped our red noses and ears, we lingered with cameras.
Park rangers navigated between the vehicle elk jams, directing traffic where drivers were required to stop or back up their vehicles to allow the flock of oncoming motorists to pass. The elk were not the only wildlife herd in Cataloochee Valley. Despite the difficult Cove Creek Road, tourists flocked to this beautiful section of the Great Smoky Mountains for a peak at the rutting elk and autumn leaf color.
Fodor’s Travel Guide was correct in listing Cove Creek Road as a scenic auto tour, but it was definitely not for the faint of heart.
Why are the fall colors so remarkable in the Smokies? Why do millions congregate in places like Cataloochee Valley for autumn’s fleeting color? No matter where you travel in this huge southeastern United States national park, a diversity of over 100 species of native trees can be found. Mostly deciduous, their autumn finery bursts forth every mid-October. The undulating, rounded contours of these ancient hills show off the sugar maples, scarlet oak, sweetgum, red maple, and hickories.
Fall foliage splendor in the Great Smoky Mountains—carpeted slopes of muted gold, vibrant red, bright yellow—a rich display of color, interwoven with mosaic textures mingling all the months of the year. Like a painter’s masterpiece, a mixture of hues and tones articulated across the blue peaks while they roll eternally into the distance, wave upon wave. Eloquence from the Great Master Artist’s paint brush given as an expression of His love for mankind—a unique, special gift to be cherished and nurtured always with a watchful eye.
“Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth.” Isaiah 46:10
For my collection of autumn images, visit www.corinthrose.com A Shades of Autumn gallery can be found under This N’ That. If time does not permit viewing the gallery, then linger at the opening slideshow for a few color bursts.
Thanksgiving blessings extended to all who have stopped by.