Golden trees and black bears in Great Smoky Mountains and Cades Cove

November 28, 2022

On Halloween, we explored the warm colors of autumn – pumpkin orange, harvest gold, bonfire red – along the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which straddles the North Carolina-Tennessee border. And we found them too, despite the lateness of the leaf-peeping season, in a year when the trees turned early. In this mountainous region, the fall season starts at the mountain top and then colors the slopes and finally the valleys. We found plenty of colors to please us.

Chimney tops

Tennessee’s Chimney Tops were especially beautiful with black-trunked trees, gold and orange leaves, and a jagged, jagged rock cliff.

A graceful, slender tree reminded me of the brushstrokes of a Japanese calligrapher.

Blue Ridge Parkway

Cruising along the Blue Ridge Parkway, we stopped at numerous overlooks for views like this one: a bright, golden valley, flanked by jagged mountains.

Clouds catching on distant mountain tops at Thomas Divide Overlook

Suitable Halloween colors

red and orange

and more

And more! I drank it, knowing that fall color (such as it is) wouldn’t arrive in Austin until around Thanksgiving — now, actually.

Red leaves with clouds

Blue Ridge Wild Turkey

A particularly beautiful stretch of golden trees demanded our photograph.

A golden wood

A flock of turkeys decided to cross the road, and drivers politely stopped for them.

safely across


Cades Cove

That afternoon we drove to Cads Cove, a picturesque valley in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Native Americans lived in Cades Cove for thousands of years, before being pushed out. In the early 1800s, families of Anglo settlers came to farm and build log cabins, primitive churches, a mill, and other structures that still stand today. Their numbers grew, and by 1900 700 people were living in Cadds Cove. Only 30 years later, however, most of them accepted purchases for their land when the national park was established.

Today, the valley is managed as a historic district, and former management practices of grazing and hay are being phased out to maintain open fields, according to the Cads Cove tour brochure. Prescribed fires keep grasslands clear of shrubs and trees and help re-establish native plants.

An 11-mile, one-way road runs through the valley, which visitors can drive, walk or bike. Cadd’s Cove is said to be one of the most visited areas of the park, but there were few visitors on this cool, drizzly afternoon.

We moved into the quiet, tamarind meadows in blissful solitude. Whenever we saw a line of cars stopped on the side of the road, we quickly learned that a bear had been spotted.

Like this hairy guy, high up in a tree. See him?

Here is a broader view.

The Methodists in Cove outnumbered the Baptists, as the brochure states, but they managed to establish a church. It, built in 1902, replaced an earlier log church.

Behind, a cemetery quietly commemorates the Cove Methodists.

The departed are not forgotten. Some tombstones were decorated with flowers.

Others with coins and flags.

Peaceful, but a little spooky, perhaps, this Halloween afternoon?

A quick look inside

One of the log cabins along the loop road. It belonged to George Washington “Carter” Shields, who fought for the Union in the Civil War.

The human history of Cades Cove is interesting, but seeing a bear in the wild is more so, at least for me. We saw 4 black bears this day, exceeding my expectations. Later, when we mentioned our bear sightings to Asheville residents, we usually got a laugh and something like: “Oh yeah, we get bears in our yard all the time.” OK, so bears to Ashevillians are equivalent to deer to me – no big-deal garden visitors who can be rather annoying.

But they certainly like to decorate with bears here!

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