These photos are from the Cataloochee Valley in the Great Smoky Mountains. I couldn’t resist visiting. The descriptions promised elk, and the valley was called the Cataloochee! I mean, the name was a fun enough reason alone to visit.

Here’s an excerpt from my travel journal that day:

So I kinda figured since I was visiting a valley, I’d just drive right in. Someone should really mention the one-lane dirt road up and down the side of the mountain that accomodates two-lane traffic required to get there! I somehow managed to drive in without driving off the side of the mountain or having a heart attack. How do I always end up on roads like this?!?! But I digress. Because I found my trailhead, and I was off! Oh, how freaking gorgeous this place is! And although every trail guide told me this trail would be busy, I didn’t see another soul (not one all day).

About a half mile in, the trail stopped at a river. I looked across the river and saw the trail picked up on the other side. There was no way to cross but to go in. Well, it wasn’t that deep and the current didn’t look that strong. So I did what anyone would do. I took off my shoes and rolled my pants over my knees. I had a couple thousand dollars worth of camera equipment in one hand, shoes and socks in the other, and my full pack on my back. I got in.

Well, the current was stronger than I thought, the water was deeper than it looked, and the rocks were slippery. And…I fell in. Save the camera at all costs! I let out a screech, used my shoes to fall on and held my left hand straight in the air. Saved! And then my Coach sunglasses fell off my head and into the river. Of course. (Mind you, I’ve never owned a pair of nice sunglasses before in my life! I was not losing them now.) I ran everything to the other side as fast as I could, took my pack off, and went after the sunglasses. Also…saved! By the time I got to the other side with all items accounted for I was soaked and laughing hysterically. And greeted by hundreds of purple butterflies (not even exaggerating).

Let me tell you — the Smokies are some of the most beautiful mountains ever! I wandered for miles up into the mountains. Until, of course, I realized I somehow wandered off trail and was feeling kinda lost at the top of some mountain. Was I even on a trail? When was the last time someone was up here? There are so many damn leaves on the ground. Anything that might have been a trail at one time was disguised by fallen leaves. Was this an animal trail or a people trail? Ahhhh. I’m so damn good at getting lost. It was 5pm, I was at the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere, I hadn’t seen another living soul all day, but at least I was pretty sure I could figure out how to survive overnight. Good times. Eventually, I did find my way back. And then I found some wild elk hanging out in a meadow.

This place. Freaking gorgeous.