Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Thoroughly Delightful Trip

The house at the end of the road.

I just returned from a wonderful trip to visit my friend, Patty, who lives in a cute little Hansel and Gretel cottage at the top of a mountain near Maggie Valley, NC. It's two rooms, bermed into the hill behind, and connected by a breezeway. We've known each other for eons and our history allows us to thoroughly indulge ourselves in being good friends. We share a lot of the same experiences and interests and we never run out of things to talk about. Also, as we've discussed many times, at this stage of life there's no B.S. We can say anything to each other. You know you have a good friend when you can cry as well as laugh with each other and it's all OK. I'm so grateful for her!

Patty works as a volunteer for the National Park Service in the Cataloochee Valley portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. On Thursday evening we took a picnic supper up there to watch the elk. There used to be elk roaming all over the eastern US but it's belived that the last one was killed in the 1700s. The reintroduction of elk into the park started in 2001 with the release of 25 animals from the Land Between the Lakes region on the Kentucky/Tennessee border. In 2003 another 27 were relocated from Alberta, Canada, and today the herd numbers over 100. Cataloochee was chosen for it's remoteness from civilization (many, many miles across winding dirt roads - I'm glad I peed before we left!), for the forested area to give cover and for the lush grazing provided by the valley itself.

Cataloochee Valley
We got there just before dusk and saw the first big bull grazing in the Park Ranger's yard. In the photo below it looks like he's enclosed inside a fence, but these beautiful creatures are wild and can go wherever they want. They're all monitored by radio collars in case they go too far, as was the case of number 81, who made it almost down to Asheville before being captured and brought back.

Big boy! Check out the antlers - and they're not through growing yet.
We drove on into the valley and found several cows with calves grazing and resting in the tall grass. One of Patty's compadres said that there had been another calf born just a few hours earlier and told us where to find the Mom and baby. It was interesting to find out that the biologists put the radio collars on them just as soon as they know they've arrived. Apparently, they chase Mama away and put the collar on just as quickly as they can to cause minimum stress to both animals. This one had already been collared.

Cows and calves - sorry it's dark.
We went on down to the end of the valley and found Mom all the way across from us near the trees. It took a long time for her to reveal where the baby was hidden in the tall grass, and we only got to see it take a few steps and nurse for a short while before it lay back down and disappeared. They were too far away to get a good picture, but we set up our table and chairs and ate a little dinner before the bugs chased us back into the car to finish eating. Just a little ways from us were some photographers with long lenses who let us get a much better look at them than our binoculars did. On the way out of the park we came across four more bulls, but it was way too dark to get a photo. They were right beside the road -- spectacular!
On Friday we scooted on down to Franklin, NC to a HUGE Gem, Mineral and Jewelry show. Below is a photo of part of the wholesale show, where I buy lots of my supplies to make jewelry. It goes on and on and on. Poor Patty gets overwhelmed, but I know what kinds of things I'm looking for and what I'm not at all inerested in and can quickly pass by. They have everything a jeweler could ever want here, from tools to finished jewelry and all the pieces and parts in between.

There's also tent after tent outside of vendors selling mostly rough stone. Some huge specimens that I find beautiful and fascinating, but don't know what in the world to do with them. Nor can I afford them.
Be on the lookout for new jewelry in my Etsy Store. I have new things to work with now and lots of inspiration!

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