Category: Elk

Leaving Cataloochee

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

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.”

The “phone booth”

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.

I26 overlook
From I26 overlook

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. 

Grayson Highlands State Park picnic area
Grayson Highlands State Park

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.

Cataloochee Campground and The Possessed Truck

I got up wondering about the possessed truck. Martha and I read the owner’s manual about the alarm system. The only thing it said was to unlock the door and start the engine, but we did that last night. We did find out where the horn fuse was, so I pulled the fuse and reconnected the batteries. Nothing happened. Perhaps that solved the problem. 

I put the horn fuse back in and we drove to the viewing area. We stopped at lovely Palmer Chapel Methodist Church. With the windows rolled down and the doors unlocked, the truck madness hasn’t happened. We drove up to the end of the field, but at 10:00 the elk were likely in the forest. 

We drove past the Beech Grove School and the Palmer house. I couldn’t help but think about these poor people living in such a paradise being driven from their land and homes. We are certainly happy to have such a wonderful National Park, but was a thriving community in the late 1800’s, shipping apples and other crops all over. Some stocked the streams with rainbow trout and rented cabins to fishermen. One of the concerns was timbering. There might not be any forest left if something wasn’t done.

We drove the other direction from the campground to find another house and beautiful barn along Cataloochee Creek. We continued across a bridge and up a gravel road toward Big Creek and Waterville. I wanted to see how tough this road was. All of these mountain, gravel roads are somewhat tough, but certainly drivable. I have seen many cars on these roads. A jeep would be nice, however.

Back at camp, we fixed lunch and sat for a bit, and then the truck went crazy again, horn honking, lights flashing and door locks going up and down – it’s possessed! Ginger came out with a sympathetic face, telling me there is a Chevrolet place in Waynesville. I had best go get this problem fixed, so I drove over the mountain and called Autostar Chevrolet in Waynesville, North Carolina to see if they could help. They had an opening at 2:00. It was 12:30, so I just drove to the dealership. I told serviceman, Greg, the problem, and he looked at me funny. He asked if I had put any aftermarket things on the truck like running board led lights, inside lights or other electronic devices. No, I hadn’t. I did tell him about the ditch we drove into while looking for bears, and God knows we have hit plenty of big bumps.

I went into the lounge to wait and go through 274 emails, which were almost all junk. I got a message from Sandra that her roof had blown off her trailer on Smith Mountain Lake by a tornado that only hit her trailer. Luckily, no one was there. Danis also left me a message that Dick’s surgery went well and he would be home by now.

After a couple of hours, I walked out front, where there is a beautiful view of the mountains. A young salesman came up to ask if he could help, and we chatted for a while. He apologized for not having much inventory of trucks, but there are just no chips. I walked around looking at used trucks similar to mine. They all looked the same, even the newer ones. I walked around the service bays and saw my truck on the lift, but I couldn’t see what they were doing.

By 4:30, I asked if they knew anything. The technician was in touch with GMC, the question being whether to replace the computer for $1,000. Geez! Greg said to take it home and he would text me tomorrow when they knew something. 

Going over the mountain is becoming familiar, yet still a bit dangerous if someone comes around these blind turns too fast. I honked at all of them. We had an early dinner, then went out for wildlife viewing. We watched the elk, some right beside the car. Two babies laying in the middle of the field were so cute, their heads sticking above the grass.

I got out to take a picture of the barn with the “smoke” on the mountain behind. I noticed something flying close to the grass, but didn’t pay much attention walking around them until they started stinging me. Small yellow jackets were all over me as I made my attempt at running up the road. Every time I thought I was free, another would sting. I kept moving up the road and they kept following. I started fighting back, swatting them, killing my share. One stung me on the lip, and one in the armpit under my shirt. Swat, swat, run. I called to Martha to bring the truck up. A couple got in the truck with me, so I jumped back out swatting away. Finally free, we drove to the end of the road and turned around.

I entertained the idea of taking a Benadryl, but thought I would be OK with a couple of Advil. We went into the trailer and started getting ready for bed when the truck’s alarms went off – horn honking, lights flashing and door locks going crazy. Ginger came over as Martha held the flashlight while I disconnected the batteries again. I apologized for the noise, but she dismissed it. I took the horn fuse out of the fuse box, but we could still hear the door locks. It’s so creepy, especially in the dark. Ginger said there are weird electronic things that happen here. Clocks change time, GPS doesn’t work right and there was something else I missed as I tried not to get shocked.

With the job done, I crawled into bed trying to think of some logical explanation. It doesn’t go off while we are driving, fortunately, and it doesn’t go off if the doors are unlocked. When started it this morning, there was a message to open the driver window and then close it!? What?, but I did it. I have done that twice now… no avail. I have looked for a emergency flasher fuse to pull, but can’t find one. It has been quiet for hours and not gone off, only to start it all over again. Two ways stop it – driving it or unhooking the batteries.

Then I considered that it really was possessed, and I got a chill. I could picture a figure inside the truck, messing with me. Were they trying to make me leave? Did they put the yellow jackets on me? Did I have some ancestor who was in charge of making these 1,200 people leave their homes, their schools, land and way of life? Or did they want everyone to leave?

Cades Cove to Cataloochee

Sunday, August 15, 2021

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.

Yellow Sallies

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.

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