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Elk, Civil War Graves, Steve Woody House in Cataloochee
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Bugling Elk, Civil War Graves, the Steve Woody old homeplace in Cataloochee ..... and more
....Story and photos by Janice Henderson
We left Maryville, Tennessee at 6:15 a.m. anticipating hitting our first Smokies trail in Cataloochee Valley around 8:30 a.m. Well, we lollygaged for almost an hour watching the elk and listening to their bugling! It is the annual season of the "rut" for the elk and the bulls were rambunctious.  What pleasure. We started hiking the Big Fork Ridge Trail around 9:30 a.m. A highlight for me on this trail was seeing the holding area where the elk lived while awaiting release into the Park around 2001. It is a massive fence/pen structure. Elk were reintroduced into the park in February 2001 when 25 elk from the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area were released in Cataloochee. Elk once roamed the highlands of Southern Appalachia, but were eliminated by over hunting and loss of habitat. Elk herds are a common sight in Cataloochee in the spring and fall.
 
Most of the wildflowers were past peak but we did enjoy looking at and photographing patches of Stiff Gentian - my first ever sighting. There were a couple abandoned pastures along the way where homesteads once stood and I think it fun to pause and ponder just how life was at these locations. One such site was that of Harrison Caldwell’s farmstead. Another such farmstead not too far away was that of Jim Caldwell, a relative of Harrison’s, whose 155-acre farm had a spring house that is now on display at the Mountain Farm Museum at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center (near the Cherokee, NC park entrance).

"Too Steep" McKee Branch Trail

The McKee Branch Trail, next on our agenda, was a HARD trail for me to hike--two hours for me to climb that mountain. I would pause for any possible reason along the 2.3 mile stretch that gained almost 1,700 feet in elevation. Let’s see.....I need a drink of water; perhaps I’ll take an Ibuprofen; let me get a snack out of my backpack; I think I have a rock in my shoe; I need to take this long-sleeved shirt off;....you get the picture. A highlight on this trail was chimney remnants belonging to the home of Addie Rose. We would hike out and back McKee Branch this day as I had never hiked the trail and I am trying to complete hiking all the trails in the Smokies. The descent only lasted an hour but it was one of those trails you don’t look up much from the foot path. The trail has been devastated by horse travel. The path is sometimes thigh-high deep gulches. It was dry the day we hiked but I can only imagine the mess after a little rain. There had been a couple of horses (and riders) ahead of us so we had to traverse the poop they deposited in the middle of the trail. Diapers on horses in the Park would be a good thing. The pungent smell of the Canton North Carolina paper mill also filled the air for part of our hike on McKee Branch.   Historical note:  Some believe the name McKee is a corruption of the McGee family name.  The McGee House was located near the junction of McKee branch and Caldwell Fork.

Civil War graves

Caldwell Fork Trail was our next juncture. Highlights on this trail for me were visiting a cemetery as well as seeing several HUGE poplar trees. According to the Hiking Trails of the Smokies book, old-timers recount that three Union soldiers are buried in this cemetery, Elzie Caldwell and Levi Shelton are buried in one grave and another soldier in another grave. The soldiers were killed April 1, 1865 by a notorious federal raider who, upon being given a Union commission, headed a mountain guerrilla force out of east Tennessee. This Confederate deserter and his troops plundered Cataloochee Valley before being driven back into Tennessee by a local Confederate unit. It’s both picturesque and peaceful around this small cemetery.

Along this trail, we met a couple from Greenville, South Carolina who were camping at Cataloochee. They were hiking out and back from the campground but decided to hike the remainder of our loop with a promise that we’d give them a ride back to their campsite. They were most interesting and pleasant hiking company.  When you look at their photos, try to figure which of them is the pediatrician and which is the obstetrician. 

Upper Caldwell Fork, aka Big Poplar Trail

The poplars were quite large--large like those trees in Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest in the Slickrock/Citico Creek Wilderness area. We haphazardly measured our arms length around one tree and the diameter was five arms-stretched lengths! HUGE!

The Woody House

Our last trail was Rough Fork. Highlights for me were really nice foot bridges on this trail as well as the Steve Woody house and accompanying buildings. This house in Big Cataloochee was built in 1880 by Steve Woody, the son of Jonathan Woody. The house was originally built of logs. Later, paneling and extra rooms were added as lumber from sawmills became widely available. The house is located about a mile from the road. His spring house is nearby. For anthropological and historical purposes, the Park has preserved several structures dating to Cataloochee’s pre-park days. Unlike other historical areas of the park, many of the structures in Cataloochee have a more modern look, and are more representative of life in the early 1900s as opposed to pioneer life in Appalachia.

Our hike today (9/24/2008) was 14.9 miles in length. When we started out earlier the temperature was 43 degrees F but it quickly heated up throughout the day making our change of clean dry shirts at the end of the day quite a luxury! Enroute home, we stopped at a Ruby Tuesday restaurant in Newport, TN where we devoured a sirloin steak dinner.  Another safe hike!

......Hike journal and photos compliments of Janice Henderson

 

Click either map graphic to view larger (opens in new window)
 
Posted 9/28/2008 @ 7:37 pm EDT.
 

Getting There....It's about 2-1/2 hours for the 110 mile trip from Maryville-- typically the fastest one-way trip time. The road signs leave a lot to be desired for assistance in finding this place.  Unless you want to travel 16 miles on NC Hwy 284, a very narrow and crooked gravel road between Big Creek and Cataloochee valley, then there is only one recommended route into Cataloochee by car: Cove Creek road.

We took I-40 to exit #20 at NC Hwy 276 (in North Carolina). About 150 yards beyond the interstate exit you'll see Cove Creek road. Follow Cove Creek road for the 3 or 4 miles it takes to reach Cove Creek Gap and the entrance to the national park.  The last portion of this route is a winding gravel road. To get into the Cataloochee valley continue down the hill.  After another 1.9 miles, the road becomes paved again.  Stay on the paved road another 3 miles to reach the valley. The road continues 2 miles more to a dead-end (the last mile is again a gravel road). This last two-mile stretch of road runs through the area where you can often see elk grazing in the meadows.
 
You'll love Cataloochee!

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Copyright 2011 by Janice Henderson. All rights reserved.