It was a cold, cold day when we started over the mountains week before last, but the sun was bright, a sharp contrast to the three previous days of dark and rain. Our plan was to drive to Cataloochee, a mountain community that is now an elk reserve. Just past the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, we saw sixteen female elk in a meadow right beside the road.
They didn't seem to fear us, but just kept calmly grazing, although there were several of us who had stopped to admire them. Later, we drove through Cherokee and Maggie Valley on winding roads to get to Cataloochee. It took us about an hour from Cherokee, and some of the roads were one lane with two-way traffic, which means if you meet someone, one of you has to back up until there is room to pass. Fortunately, it was a cold day in December and there was very little traffic. I wondered if it would be worth it when we got there.
It was their space, not ours, so when we saw some elk coming toward us, Hub just stopped the car and we watched. They found our car very interesting, and came right up to us and started licking the side of that nasty car.
We had driven on roads that had been salted that morning, and Hub thinks they were attracted to the salt on the car. He had to nudge the car just a little so they would move on; he was afraid they were going to scratch up the paint with those antlers.
This elk, #17, had the biggest rack of antlers I've ever seen on an animal. I think he may have been the boss.
I don't know how many we saw; they were not all in the same place. This was the first time we had been there, so I don't know if this is average or if we just had a good day.
There are some houses, a church, a school house, and some other buildings in this community, but it is very different from Cades Cove. Definitely worth the trip.