Quick April Tennessee Trip

We had to visit a woman near Roanoke, VA, who is hosting a foster cat that Chris wants to adopt and decided to make a quick trip down to Cades Cove, Great Smokey Mountains National Park.

We got a late start, but drove about 500 miles down to Sevierville, where we spent the night.  Early the next morning we drove on over to Townsend and up Laurel Creek Road to Cades Cove.

Almost immediately we noticed three tom turkeys foraging and displaying occasionally in an open field.  There were two turkey photographers following them.  I climbed over the fence and joined the hunt.  I was using my 600mm lens, so could stay some distance away.  The other two were using much smaller lenses, so were right on top of the birds, but the turkeys did not seem to mind.

The light was good, as it was early morning and the sun was at my back.  After awhile, a hen briefly appeared and all three turkeys began displaying in a tight group.  I had never seen anything like this as they were touching or almost touching each other.  Made some compelling shots of the three of them. 

As the birds approached the fence and were done displaying, I left the field and we continued on the eleven mile Loop Road.  We saw other turkeys, but surprisingly few other birds.  One Meadowlark, a couple of Bluebirds and a few quick looks at sparrows, but nothing much else.  We did see a few deer, including one small buck that was still sporting one horn.  Very late for this, as most Whitetails drop horns in late January or February.  A few keep them into March, but APRIL?

We made two turns around the Loop, seeing little other than very attractive scenary with oak leaves emerging on big old trees.   We did stop at some of the old structures, like Tipton’s Place, which were fascinating and quite photogenic.  It never ceases to amaze that people could live through a cold winter or a boiling hot summer in these primitive structures. 

One thing that there was plenty of, were visitors, many of them school children.  We learned that nearby Dollywood is closed on Tuesdays and apparently Tenneessee gives Easter break the week AFTER Easter.  This combination resulted in gazillion little rug rats, not very condusive to quiet contemplation or serious photography!

In the afternoon, we went back down Laurel Creek Road, stopping occasionally to make photographs of wildflowers, including Yellow Trilliums, a flower I had never seen before. 

After lunch, we were climbing back up Laurel Creek Road when we saw a crowd of cars.  There is no doubt about what this means: bears.  Sure enough, there was a mother bear and a yearling close to the road.  By the time we got out of our car, the mother had disappeared and there were youngsters in the woods trying to photograph the young bear with tiny cameras.  As I got my big lens set up, and took one bad shot, a ranger arrived and ordered everyone out of the woods (right) and off the road (not necessary) and into their cars.  I was mighty unhappy because the miscreants that chased the bear were treated just like me!

Later, we worked a side road to the East that followed a small stream and found many wildflowers growing close to the road, including more Yellow Trilliums, Sweet White Trilliums, Blue Violets, Wild Blue Phlox, Purple Phacilia,  and others.  It was perfect light for photography of these plants, as the sun was under high clouds.  

We spent the night in a Mom and Pop motel —  the River Breeze — where the Mom took a liking to me for some reason and made us cinnamon buns for the next morning.  That was a first!

We were up early and got up to Cades Cove before the gate was open.  There were already nine cars ahead of us.  The gate opened promptly at sunrise which was 7:09.    Most of the people ahead of us appeared to be in a camera club that was going to work sunrise from a high vantage point.  We were happy to see them stopped here, but alas, there was little to see again.  We did find a single gobbler first in the road, and then just on the other side of the fence.  He posed nicely and was one ugly dude!  A face only a mother could love.

Once again we made two trips around the Loop Road and stopped briefly at the wildflower spot before heading up the road to Abingdon.  Cades Cove is a great place, but really, really crowded much of the time, particularly on weekends.  Still, it is a great place to visit and we will be back…maybe for the rhododendrons.

On the way out to Pigeon Forge, I had to check out a report of a new wildflower called a Cross Vine.   A photographer I had run into the previous day had said he saw this flower blooming along the cliffs that line the sides of Route 321 from Townsend.  Just a mile or so from Pigeon Forge we saw the flowers and I stopped.  They are really beautiful yellow and red and quite numerous on the fines that hang along the cliffs.  Well worth the stop, notwithstanding the heavy traffic and noise that it brings!