Our Facebook feeds were lit up a couple weeks ago with reports from fellow photographers about their elk sightings.   In our area, the best places to see elk are Oconaluftee and Cataloochee,  both of which are on the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.   Marcy and I had never been to Cataloochee, so we decided to make the 2-hour-plus trip last Saturday. It was a straight shot up Interstate 40 to Exit 20 in the North Carolina mountains, then about a half hour further up to the park entrance which included a stretch of very narrow, winding, gravel, mountain road.  We arrived at around 8:45, apparently after elk rush-hour and saw just this one bull. He was much more pitiful looking than the noble creature I expected to meet. (Pitiful, in good part due to the tree branch stuck in his horns.) Then, I wondered what was that unsightly opening near his eye (picture below).  It only seemed to appear when he was bugling.  I was soon to learn that this is a preorbital gland similar to our tear duct, that secretes scents to mark territory or pheromones during mating. (at least according to Wikipedia.) 

Despite the lack of elk sightings, we had a great time enjoying the mountain scenery.  From Cataloochee, we dropped back down into Maggie Valley, then hit the Blue Ridge Parkway to Cherokee, North Carolina and then back across the park toward Gatlinburg and home – a 250 mile Saturday, trip.  But after all, we are on our Photo Journey … 


Bull Elk, Cataloochee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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