We also sat not far from this very rare beauty in the photograph above. It appears to be a white-leaved maple tree. I have never seen his before and there were no others the same color nearby. Is there such a thing as an albino tree and how does it produce food with no chlorophyll?
The last day of our travels it began raining steadily and the skies were very overcast. We realized we would probably not be hiking very much on the leaf covered and slippery trails. Therefore, we made a plan to drive to a distant valley that hung between 6,000 foot peaks. Getting there is a real challenge because the paved road soon changes to gravel and becomes a narrow lane and then becomes very winding with many blind curves. We had to keep alert as we encountered a few cars as well as large trucks coming down the mountain as we were trying to make our way up. We passed safely, but sometimes with only inches between the vehicles and just a few feet from the steep drop off on one side. This was not a trip for the weak of heart.
We were determined to reach the top because we had been told by the ranger that we might be rewarded on an overcast day by seeing elk that had been re-introduced into the area a number of years ago. "Surrounded by 6000-foot peaks, this isolated valley was the largest and most prosperous settlement in what is now the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Once known for its farms and orchards, today Cataloochee is one of the most picturesque areas of the park."
As can be seen from the photo above, we were rewarded with a sighting of elk, actually an entire herd. We saw several striking bull elk and a number of cows as well as younger calves. Most were collared or tagged and close enough to photograph. You can see the tag if you click on the photo.
Just as we approached this large bull saw that part of his harem was on the other side of the road. He bugled loudly several times (such a haunting call) before lowering his head back and trotting over to that side of the road to herd them back and away from some of the younger males that were casually grazing nearby. The testosterone in the air was palpable.