I was reading in American Photo last month and saw the article about some of the top places to visit and photograph. Cades Cove, TN was one of those spots. It just so happened that my work needed me to fly to Tennessee for a week to facilitate some training. It got better when they changed it from Nashville to Knoxville. It made it much closer to get to. It was about an hour drive.
I drove from my hotel at 4:30 am on Monday morning to hit the Cades Cove Loop (which is 11 miles) at sunrise and get some great shots. I prayed for protection before I left and for a great day. My navigation system had different thoughts. I got the loop entered in and it decided to take me down a dead end road to where I could hike to the loop, but it couldn't find the loop itself. I drove back down the 2 mile winding road and went back to the highway. I drove a half mile and found a visitors center, but of course they were closed that early. So I tried some back roads. I figured the navigation could get me back to my hotel if I got lost. So I took a side road and got these shots as the sun was coming up. I had driven around for a couple hours, but I got one good shot.
Well, the road I was on would take me to part of the loop, but the road was closed. I laughed and told myself that no navigation was going to keep me from nature shots. I backtracked and went beyond the visitors center by a mile and wouldn't you know it - there was the entrance to Cades Cove. Hooray!
I came the start of the loop and this was what I saw...
It was absolutely beautiful and I knew my wife would have loved to have seen this. There were lots of fences throughout the park and I knew she would have snapped some great shots of them. I wanted to see animals and that is what I set out to do.
I first encountered a tom turkey gobbling like crazy. Everyone else drove past me, but I got out and waited and he was magnificent. I clucked a few times (I can do a mock hen turkey call with just my voice) and he gobbled right back. Here is one of the shots.
I drove on and saw a group of photographers capturing shots of a herd of whitetail deer. I stopped and got out and they disappeared. I must have had stunk or something. The deer came close and were quite animated. They tussled about and even crossed the fence right in front of one of the other photographers.
My goal in going to Cades Cove was to encounter a bear. I had heard that there are 1,500 black bear in the park and they usually come out in the morning and late evening. I had missed the sunrise, but I figured I had a chance. My hopes were soon to be as I drove over a small hill. I saw a group of people stopped on the road and sure enough there was a bear. Not just any bear though. It was Smokey the Bear! Ok, just kidding. This was a big boar that had to weigh 180-200 lbs. (At least that's how I saw it. He was large and was toppling saplings and eating the leaves. He was about 300 yards away and I took a few shots, but he was too far away. I watched him cross the road and I just waited. a minute later he emerged from behind two large trees... and headed right for my car. Closer. Closer. CLOSER! He got to about 100 yards and I realized I was on his trail. Crap! I took these shots of him as he turned. I then got in my car and waited for him to turn and go another way.
I kept encountering photographers and wildlife. Over a hill I noticed no one and saw two coyotes heading right for a herd of deer. The lead dog howled as they approached, but as you can see, the deer were alert and ready.
I saw more deer and saw them playing and eating so I stopped and got these shots. They were so cool! I have seen multitudes of deer in my life, but this area had so many different types of landscapes that you could get a variety of interesting shots.
The next parts of my adventure will be, by far, some of the best experiences of my life. I drove on and stopped to listen to some turkeys. A mountain bike went by, said hi and asked what I was taking photos of. I told him I was listening to the turkeys. He rode on over the hill. Suddenly, he came flying back towards me with HUGE eyes. "There's a big black bear coming right over that hill." That was all I needed to hear. I jumped in the car and drove 50 yards and there she was. She spotted me and kept coming. She was right along the left hand side of the road and walking towards me. I slowly opened the door and took a few pictures. I didn't want her to get too close, and I was a bit nervous so my shots suffered. Her hair bristled up and i knew she was nervous, too. I got back in the car and waited. She went over a small hill and then came back towards me. She stopped and stared at me. I opened the door and took some more shots and just then a friggin squirrel jumped by her and scared her. She jumped and huffed and about crapped my pants. You had never seen a guy my size move so damn fast! She moved to MY side of the road and came within 10 feet of my car. Here is one of the close ups. She was beautiful!
Wow, right? So cool. It gets better! I saw this pileated woodpecker, swallow, and rabbit as I drove on. Such a cool adventure and I was loving life.
Here is the best part of the animal encounters. I drove a bit more and got behind a guy who was stopped in the middle of the road. I had to stop and wait for him to move. You are supposed to pull off, but I figured he was seeing something cool. So i waited patiently. He pulled over and so did I. I asked him what he saw and he told me there was a sow and her cub right by us, about 150 yards away. Well, he and his wife (they were in their 70's) went ahead of me and spotted them. Then they lost sight of them. I quickly found them walking right towards the road where we were. So did grandma!! She turned on the afterburners and ran right by me as I was back peddling. Mama bear came right to the road and crossed about 75 yards away. I'll post photos of her tomorrow. The cub was nowhere to be seen. I hadn't seen it yet and we all just waited. i saw three cars coming and they weren't slowing down and just then I saw the top of his little head poking out. I quickly walked towards the car (so not to spook mama and get torn to shreds) and yelled for him to stop. I even threw up my hands! He stopped JUST as the little one high-tailed it for the other side of the road. He was TINY!! No bigger than a young Pug! Here is one of the shots I got.
He made it across and right up a tree. mama came over to him and grunted and he climbed down and followed her into the forest. Just then a herd of deer came by and walked right in between all of the cars. I'll post shots of that, too.
Needless to say, I had a wonderful morning. I was there for 4 hours and could have spent 10! I will definitely try to get back there sometime soon. It was a spectacular area and wonderfully preserved. I hope you can all get a chance to go there sometime. It is worth the drive.