October 13, 2008

Getting Back to Nature - Camping in Great Smoky Mountains

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I've been in North Carolina for 18 years sporadically exploring many different pockets of this diverse state. The mountains are an area I've wanted to see more of. So when my brother was planning a family camping trip, I tagged along. Destination: Great Smoky Mountains, Elkmont Campground (technically in TN, barely). Knowing the dynamics of the trip would be tailored to the kids, I grabbed the dog (Little Mo) and we ventured out a night early to literately unplug from everything in Raleigh. No phones, no email, no TV (missed the 1st 2 ALCS Red Sox games!), no showers, no hot water. What they do have is wildlife. The campground had ample warning signs and precautions posted regarding bears. Bears. Yes, this is black bear country. All food, anything with a remotely edible scent, must be left locked in the car. We arrived Wed night, after a long drive through the rain. Fortunately the rain stopped just before I arrived. While setting up camp, Little Mo focused on woods and let out a few low growls. We took a walk to investigate; found nothing. But the kids in a nearby site informed me (in a thick Kentucky hills accent) "There was a coyote in your campsite." Nice. We dined on hot dogs & beans around a camp fire, purged the site of food and crawled into the tent.

Several hours later, I hear a "Ummmf" sound. Is Little Mo dreaming again? No - I see her sitting at full attention, ears up, facing the outside of the tent. I hear it again. "Ummmf". A deep snorting sound. "UMMMF", it is getting louder - and closer. Raccoon?, not a chance. Coyote? No way. I've never heard a bear before, let alone run into one in the wild, but I was 99% sure this was a bear. And it is close, getting closer. Not knowing if this was a 75 lb curious yearling or 400 lb hungry male, I wasn't about to go outside and verify. Little Mo let out a few low growls of her own. Not sure if this would interest or deter the bear, I decided it would be best if we were quiet and still. Fortunately Little Mo was. Fortunately the bear moved on, eventually. After another 15 minutes or so of snorting around the area. The next day some fresh bear dung confirmed it's presence - yes aside from scaring the crap out of me, that bear crapped in my campsite!

So rest of the weekend we kept hoping to see a bear (preferably from the car). Finally, on Saturday after a day trip over to Clingman's Dome as we approached the campground, I spotted a bear in a spot where Little Mo and I walked through a couple days ago. Lighting was poor, but the camera was ready & I captured a few pictures, along with many of the beautiful vistas and foliage.

Black Bear sighting! Little Mo - on bear watch

Little River Touring Cades Cove

Hammock view

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