If you go to Oconaluftee, you have to see the Elk. I keep seeing them but don’t “see” the herds as much as the people, who live in the area. By that I mean, there’s a whole group of people that follow the Elk (and now the eagles) around and report where they are at different times of the day.

I photographed this pair at the end of last summer. There are many times when you feel like you are looking at a large herd, which I think is the point. The Elk are really back, and they are growing in number quickly. They roam around with wild turkeys in tow and pretty much own the place now. Cars stop and people pull out cameras and the Elk pose. It’s crazy! And you know where this will end, before too long, we will have an open hunting day of Elk to prevent them from taking over Cherokee!

This is a young buck, who is a very big guy. You better believe that he kept a close eye on me. I was in the car, thus the soft image, and just rolled down the window and quickly snapped this photo. So, you don’t have to spend money to have fun in the “Smokies”! Bring a hot cup of coffee or cocoa, some snacks, and stop along the side of an open field and wait.

If they know, the Forest Rangers will tell you where the Elk are located at any given time of the day. That’s how closely these animals are watched. And please don’t get close. I use at least a 300mm lens to photograph them. All the photographers in the area are begging people not to walk up to these guys. They are not Georgia cows! They are fast, lean, and mean and some can weigh up to 700 pounds.

Let winter be winter. The trees are bare and the rivers are deep and cold. I remember wading in the Oconaluftee River when I was young. I grew up and continued to waded in the river. This was the first place where I began to collect river stones—something that I have almost stopped doing because my house can’t handle anymore piles of rocks! LOL!