Smokies in January (Day 2)

Having not gone to bed at 8:30pm since the time I was small enough to be carried to bed, my body wasn’t quite sure what happened on day 2. I woke up around 6:30am feeling the same as a person who awakes from a 10 year coma must feel; refreshed, but feeling as if my body atrophied and that getting off that soft sleeping pad was nearly impossible. The warm light that started to come through the window though made me realize that, while Cades Cove didn’t open until 8am, I could go and take a few shots of the ice that still clung to branches in the river. After putting on enough wool that I felt like a sheep, I went and took the shots I wanted and then returned to the cabin and began packing up for an entire day in Cades Cove.

With all of our camera gear packed into the car, 15 short minutes later we were driving through the twisting road and coming onto the valley floor. Cades Cove was the 2nd largest settlement in the Park with nearly 900 people living in or near the valley; the scenic loop around the valley stretches out for 11 miles to give you a sense of the scale. Now though, far more people visit than ever before. 6 million visitors a year tour the Smokies, and Cades Cove is one of the heaviest visited sections of the park allowing for all sorts of people to tour the valley. The only issue is though that there are so many people that the animals have become desensitized to the flow in and out through the valley and are little more than trained squirrels. Gone are the wiles of a creature cautious of predators, but whether you mourn the loss of wildness in a park set aside for just that or not, you certainly can’t argue you get some impressive looking photos very easily. As we first drove the loop, deer lined the fences just at the entrance and on a Thursday in January caused a veritable traffic jam so visitors could lean out their car windows and take pictures.

Our first circuit of the valley we only got out of our cars once to trek half way across a field to some deer hiding in the grass. Simply parking our car and hiking off the road made all the passers-by think we lost our minds to get so close to the deer…even though our safe distance of about 75 yards was better than the 10′ they were from deer in their cars. The light wasn’t good though, so we scouted the area for later that afternoon and took the rest of the 11 mile scenic loop, stopping to look at the old churches and other buildings that are still in the valley. We finished about 4 hours before the good afternoon light would start so we went back to the cabin for a nap and food (“these are a few of my favorite things…..”).

Around an hour before the good light set in, we were back in the valley and decided instead of following the full loop around the valley floor, to take one of the two lanes which cut across the valley to the other side of the loop. These lanes were far less traveled which would hopefully allow for us to take a picture or two of the landscape without featuring an Audi driving through it. At this point, I would like to say that a good friend of mine, who is the best photographer I’ve ever worked with, went to the valley about a month before I did and capture amazing shots of 8-point bucks leaping over fences just as naturally as if they were eating grass. Jealous, I hunted that shot all day and apparently ran into the couch potato deer who found it an effort to be moving at all. Every buck who neared a fence, with a rack of antlers that defied going through a gap in the wire, would somehow weasel and worm his way through a fence which was only 3 feet tall. The only shot of interest was one of a deer “grooming” itself in the same manner that would cause you to yell at your dog and tell him to stop. That said, the light was good and the scenery was beautiful so a few good landscapes were inevitable. When the sun finally dipped far enough over the horizon to make shooting impossible we drive back to the cabin, put some warm food in our bellies, and went to sleep looking forward to another full day.

The Inglorious Side of Nature
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