I hope that by now, you’ve visited the Cataloochee Valley this fall. The colors are at their peak. On my way to the Ranger Station, I stopped to take a couple of pictures from the lookout. The view was stunning. I’ve been very lucky in that the weather has been great on my shift days – it’s a miserably wet day today.
We now have three shifts on the Elk Bugle Corp and my shift (the middle one) is 11:30 to 3:30 P.M. I wolfed down some yogurt and a piece of bread and reported to the World Headquarters before 11:30. I had already had my first visitor contact in the Campground bathroom.
“Going to work?” asks a woman as she saw me put on my uniform shirt. I always hesitate. “Yes,” I said “but I’m a volunteer”. Having punched a clock for 35 years, I like to make a distinction between paid work and volunteering. But I shouldn’t be so humble. The other EBC volunteers call it going to work.
On the way to the Rough Fork trailhead, I saw a family taking pictures of one of theirs playing the bag pipe.
What is it about a bag pipe that makes a piper want to play it everyplace in an outdoor setting? I first saw that at MacKensie Pass on the Milford Track. There, the piper had carried it for two days and up a mountain.
Toward the end of the shift, I met my friends Linda and Mary from Asheville. Linda, a fellow member of the Carolina Mountain Club, had never been to Cataloochee – I wondered if she’d ever been in the Smokies. But I told her what I was doing and she and her friend finally came.
They were amazed at the front row “seat” they were getting for elk watching. They had parked on the side of the road along with several other groups and were just watching Elk #67 quietly grazing, yet controlling his herd. It seems that he had lost some of his cows because in another field east of the Chapel, Elk #16 also had several cows.
It was the end of my shift but I wasn’t leaving these visitors alone with elk so close to the road. Two people on horseback came out of the woods near the school and rode in the field but the elk were OK with that. Horses are not predators and the elk can sense that. This was a very visual explanation as to why horses are allowed on the trails and dogs are not. Dogs change the dynamics of the wilderness because they’re carnivores but horses don’t – they’re herbivores.
I was literally directing traffic. The road here is almost one lane and certainly not made for trucks and SUV that seem to populate the valley. So cars had to back up and swing around.
Finally elk #67 and his group walked back into the forest and I felt I could leave. The next shift had come on.