I am on a photography workshop with my friend Mark Zablotsky (https://www.markzphotoworkshops.com) touring and photographing some of the most scenic places in West Virginia. We made several stops on our drive with Mark in the lead and Kevin and I following in our cars.
On our drive from Valley Falls to Blackwater Falls State Park, we stopped a couple of times, including a stop at Archie’s Barbecue, 25259 Garrett Hwy, McHenry, MD 21541. If you are traveling this way, Archies is a happening. Closed inside, a couple told us it was a drive-through during Covid, so we drove around, not noticing the big menus on two sides of the building. We finally figured it out and placed our order. Ten minutes later a young man brought our orders out to one of the picnic tables out front. Soon others drove up, and like us, tried to order from a window in the front. The friendly couple directed them to the drive-through, and we told them where the menus were. Shortly, there were cars and trucks driving up from all three directions. It seemed we were in the middle of nowhere, but it was obviously a hot spot. The food was great, though a bit expensive, but they piled it on. I would certainly go back.
We had some great discussions about “Border Patrol”. “Do you want the weed sticking out? Do you want the blob in the water? Can you crop the picture to clean it up?” One I will forever remember as I was walking away to shoot: “Don’t blow out the highlights Greg.”
It is interesting how fall colors were great in some places while others had barely started. I love shooting barns, and we found some, but traveling in a caravan of three cars, we couldn’t find a safe place to pull over in most places.
We went for the wildlife drive. It was very foggy, but the forecast was for a sunny day and the rest of the week was just afternoon showers. We saw the herd in the field. Some were lying down, some in the road, but all were fat and happy. We drove to the other end, a bit disappointed we haven’t seen any bears. There are also no deer. Ginger said the elk have driven the deer away. Still, there seems to be plenty of room for deer.
We turned around at the far end. The adjacent stream has gone down considerably, and looks like it would be fishable in a day or two. Through dense fog, we were surprised to see a single elk, because the herd was a half mile away. As we got closer, we could see it was big, with a huge rack. He was half again the size of the other bulls. He was eating fallen apples around a tree across the field. He bugled twice, the first time we heard that. Ginger would later tell us the big bulls stay on their own until time to mate.
At camp, we made pancakes for breakfast. I went over to offer some to Ginger, but she had eaten. She said she had to go to town. Her home town of Canton had historic flood levels. The Pigeon River had flooded several towns, and her mother was without water. I told her we might have to leave today, since our batteries were getting low. She said the road out was fine, but with all this rain, we should stay off the shoulders that might be soft. She said to stay in the middle of the road and make other drivers move over. I asked if she drank wine, and she said she did. I took her a bottle. She is simply the best!
I went to the “phone booth” and called Greg at Autostar. He said he didn’t know when they could see me. His technician’s home was flooded. I thanked him for their help and paid only $100 for all their efforts. They have been very kind in these crazy times.
I went back to camp and we packed up our wet, soggy stuff. Putting the camp chairs in the truck, there were three yellow bugs on them – Yellow Sallies!
I had driven this road a number of times now. It is no doubt a bit scary, but I went slowly and honked at every blind turn. As we headed down the other side, a man stopped to tell me there was a big tractor/mower coming up the mountain a quarter mile back. “You won’t be able to pass him.”, he said. “Thank you. I’ll wait here.”
After waiting 30 minutes, Martha walked down the road to meet him. She texted me to come on, as he pulled into a driveway to wait, but I didn’t get the text. Walking back up the mountain, she yelled at me to come on. We passed him and waved happily.
The GPS took us north to Asheville. Martha had some views of the flooded Pigeon River, and it looked bad. After Asheville, we got on interstate 26, which was very nice, not too crowded, winding through the big mountains. By the time we got on 81 and passed Abingdon, I was getting a bit sleepy. Martha declined driving on a busy 81, so we looked for a place to stay the night, finally deciding on Raccoon Branch, a cute, little campground where we had stayed before.
When we got there, Raccoon Branch was closed. We didn’t know where Grayson Highlands was, but we thought it was close, so we continued up the mountain. It wasn’t close. By the time we got to the state park, no one was at the gate. Driving to the campground, a ranger met us and said that campground was closed because they had no water. GEEZ! It made for a difficult place to turn around, but we made it.
Driving to the Equestrian Campground, I thought, we could have been past Roanoke by now. Thankfully there were lots of campsites. We chose #8, thankful to have a place. Martha took a shower for the first time not in the trailer.
We enjoyed a quiet evening sitting by the fire playing some music, and discussing the trip. All I could think about was when I could go back to fish the Smokies.
So how is the possessed truck you might ask. Thankfully, when driving, there are no problems. If I don’t lock the truck, there are no problems. Then I learned if I lock it with the key, there are no problems, so I removed the electric fob and removed the battery. When I get home, I will change the battery and see what happens. I am happy to not carry the bulky fob in my pocket anyway. If I lock the doors with the button inside, and then unlock with the key, the horn honks until I put the key in and turn it on. If I lock the door with the key, then unlock with the key, there is no honking. So I think it’s all the fob’s fault. Whether it just needs a new battery or not is soon to be determined. Whether is is possessed by the spirits of Cataloochee will be determined when I go back to fish. Right now I am just happy to be relieved of flashing lights, horn honking and very spooky doors rapidly locking and unlocking. And what the heck was that message about opening and then closing the driver’s side window??? As Willie commented, Gayle would have loved that kind of prank. I can hear her laughing to tears now.
I had read about the 11-mile road into Cataloochee Campground on the east side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is a one-lane gravel road with tight turns down the mountain. Pulling a trailer wouldn’t be easy. As I hooked up, I saw our neighbor, who had been here for three days with no solar or generator. I asked how he managed, and he showed me his special batteries, and said it is just him and his wife, and they are frugal with their use. He was a Norwegian named Yens, and his wife is named Liv, “Like live and let live”, she said. He said he likes to fly fish, and now I was very interested. “Do you have any Yellow Sallies?”, he asked. “What’s a Yellow Sally?” I replied. He invited me over to sit under his awning, and pulled out his backpack filled with fly boxes. He gave me three Yellow Sally dry flies. When I declined, he said he has plenty and that he ties his own. Then he showed me his nymph version. Funny how you meet a guy like this on the last day when we have a long drive, but that’s the way it works sometimes. They were a very nice couple who would have been fun to spend some time with. Live said she sometimes goes with him. Other times she reads a book, but lately in these crazy times, she writes her grandchildren, discussing the importance of Christian values. With regret, I said I had best get going, thanked them and wished them well.
I wondered if Martha would just say she wanted to go home. As we headed toward Townsend, I gave her the chance, asking if she was OK. “I’m OK. Are you OK?” So off we went, passing the turn to Townsend and onto the winding, narrow road to Sugarland. Fortunately, the traffic wasn’t as bad as yesterday. There is no cell phone service in the park, so no GPS. We were doing it the old fashioned way – using a paper map.
At Sugarlands, we took 441 through Gatlinburg. It was busy, but I’m sure it can get a lot worse. The streets were crowded with tourists. There was a line around the block at a pancake house. We turned onto 321/73, The Great Smoky Byway. 45 minutes or so later, we came to a T in the road. We took a right to Waterville. Big mistake.
We were looking for a turn on Hollow Trail to get to I40. The road turned to gravel and wound through the mountains. It was not a good place to pull an Airstream with its tight turns and steep drop-offs. When we got to the turn, a big sign said, “Trucks and RV’s not allowed on this road. Your GPS is wrong!”
A few miles up the road, there was another way, but it had the same sign. We slowly pressed on. On the truck’s GPS I could see I40 just a few miles away. I stopped to see if I could get the GPS to get us there. A car came behind us with two ladies in it. The driver asked, “Are you as lost as we are?” As Martha talked to the ladies, I was working on the GPS, noticing a motorcycle rider in a black suit turn onto a dirt road ahead of us. Not having much luck, I got out to see if the ladies had any ideas. They were from South Carolina, trying to get to 40 to get home.
The motorcycle rider in a black suit, riding a black bike came out of the woods, skidding to a halt next to me. I asked how we get to I40. He quickly lifted his helmet shield and said, “4 miles. When it turns to pavement, turn left”, and he sped off. OK, there is hope. 4 miles ahead we came to a crossroad. A sign pointed left to I40. Another pointed straight ahead to Cataloochee 16 miles. A voice inside said it couldn’t be worse than the road we had just driven.
Some ladies were tending their horses and trailers in a field next to the road. I walked over, opening a gate and walking through the tall, wet grass. They glanced at each other nervously as I approached. One said, “Turn left and go to 40.” “Not straight?”, I asked. She almost smiled and said, “Go to 40.”
We felt relieved as we got on I40 and into an incredibly different world of speeding traffic winding through the Smoky Mountains. We turned onto Cove Creek Road and finally saw a sign for Cataloochee Campground. It said, You need to have reservations. There is no cell service in the park.” The road in is rather famous for its hairpin turns on a one-lane gravel road. It couldn’t be worse than the roads we had spent the morning driving, and it was only 10 miles.
It is a tough road to drive with or without an Airstream, with blind hairpin turns. One car pulled way over so we could pass. He said, “Take care of that Airstream.” We went very slowly, passing maybe 10 cars, several going too fast. At a T in the road a sign pointed left to Cataloochee Campground. Straight ahead was Cosby 32 miles. We had been close to Cosby an hour ago.
Soon the road became paved. It even had a double yellow line in the middle! Finally, at 3:30 we turned into the campground. A sign said to stop and register. A lady sat at a table under a tarp smiling. I got out more to stretch my legs than anything. Ginger told us all about the campground with a smile on her face, happily saying there is a hand drier in the bathroom, telling Martha she could wash and dry her hair there.
“Are you going to fish?”, she asked me. “Yes”, I replied. She gave me a map with all the streams in the area, along with a brochure with fishing regulations. She showed us all the hiking trails, marking them on the map. She gave us a brochure with the local history. I asked if one could catch fish in these streams, and she replied, “If you’re good.”
We took her advice and went the wrong way around the pretty campground loop to get to site #1 (of 26 sites on Cataloochee Creek). It would have been impossible to get in from the other direction. We got settled and I walked across the dirt loop road to look at the stream. I don’t know how many beautiful trout streams are in this park, but this was another. The sun was shining and we were happy to finally be here.
One of the big attractions here are the elk. 20 years ago 50 elk were brought from the west and released. We drove up the road to see what was here. Crossing a couple of narrow bridges, we came to a huge field on the right, maybe a mile long and 250 yards across. 30 elk were grazing their way down the valley – big, fat, happy elk. Maybe 10-12 cars were enjoying the view. On the left side of the road was a small, mountain stream, about the size of Rip Rap.
We parked at the end and walked up a trail past a very nice horse camp. I was sizing up the trout stream when it started to rain. As it came down harder, we turned around, heading for the truck. Martha asked for the keys and jogged down the trail. I can’t do that, but we hadn’t gone that far.
Back at camp, the trouble began. I was sitting in the trailer, sipping a glass of wine, when I noticed the truck’s emergency flashers blinking. I went out, unlocked the truck, started it, pushed the emergency button on and off, got out and locked the truck. Soon it did it again, but this time with the horn honking. I did my thing again, wondering if there was something I had tripped to start this.
It wasn’t long before it started again. This time with the doors rapidly locking and unlocking. The damned thing was possessed! Not knowing what else to do, I disconnected the two batteries, which is not a simple task on this truck.
I kept wondering what on earth would cause such a thing.