Lessons Learned from Interacting with the Elk

I actually saw this viral video before we went to see the Elk.  This was shot a little over a year ago in Catloochee Valley where I had my encounter.  The behavior of the bull in this video is a direct result of people visiting the park and not obeying the rules.  By feeding and approaching these or any other animals not only do you put yourself at risk but others to follow.

The photographer in this video was doing the same thing I was, taking photos from a safe distance when this bull caught him off guard by coming up behind him.  Luckily for this man, the young bull was just being playful and not too serious.  Unfortunately the Park Service had to put this animal down because he was becoming a danger to visitors.  A full-grown male truly rutting could have easily made this a deadly situation. Continue reading

Elk at Cataloochee Valley, North Carolina

Close Encounters of the Elk Kind

I just wanted to see the elk.

I discovered last year that Elk had been re-introduced into the Smokey Mountains in 2000. The small herd has grown to over 150. I’ve tried a few times to visit over the last year but, as Cataloochee Valley is out-of-the-way and hard to reach, I have not been able to make this happen. I was bound and determined to see the Elk on this trip to North Carolina.

We left our hotel in Maggie Valley early in the morning not being sure if the road was open into the valley due to recent snow. The cards were in our favor as we drove over the mountain on a winding, one lane gravel road with no guard rails and sheer drop offs and found the gates open. We drove slowly through the valley looking for the elk. At the southern end of the valley, we came across a herd of about 40 having breakfast and basking in the sun.

We had read the flyer on interacting with elk and the park service is pretty serious about protecting them. Basically, these are really big mammals that can be aggressive and to stay away from them. We parked the car along the road and I got out and walked about 30 feet from the car. It was 22 degrees, so Jennifer stayed in the car. I was about 300 yards from the herd and started taking a bunch of pictures.

Now the car is parallel to the road with woods and a stream on the other side of the car at my back. I finished taking about 15 pictures and turned around and froze. Standing in front of the car was a large female elk looking right at me. She was no more than 40 feet away. I noticed immediately that her piercing eyes were at a higher level than mine. As my new acquaintance and I stared each other down many things went through my brain:

  • I just had spinal cord surgery 2 months ago and CAN NOT run.
  • My cane is in the backseat of the car (weapon?)
  • Where in the hell did she come from?
  • How does something that big sneak up on you?
  • She is closer to the car than I am.
  • How did Jennifer not see this and warn me?
  • Is she in a good mood?
  • I could be on the evening news being interviewed in my hospital bed.
  • This could end up ugly……
My new friend
My new friend

The elk and I maintained eye contact. I yelled at Jennifer because she was oblivious to why my face looked so awkward. Jennifer finally saw our new friend and realized there was nothing she could do either.

Still maintaining eye contact I could sense it was going to be okay. Something about the elk’s demeanor and eyes indicated to me that she was probably just as curious as I was and she knew I posed no threat. I have no idea how long it was from when I first saw this beauty until she started to slowly walk towards the herd.

Up Close and Personal
Up Close and Personal

Her trek toward the herd brought her within 15 feet of me. I shook off my shock and was able to get off 3 shots of her as she walked by. The first click of the camera put her in a trot and she was soon with the rest of the herd.

As I think back, I am still stunned.  Having that short few moments of eye contact with this incredible animal will always be a surreal and incredible memory that I will not soon forget…..

I got to see the elk!

The Parthenon Replica in Nashville

The Parthenon in Nashville

One of the things that always stood out to me as impressive in Nashville was the exact replica of the Parthenon at Centennial Park across from Vanderbilt University.  I studied architecture in Nashville and History of Architecture was one of my favorite courses.

Ruins of the Parthenon on the Acropylis
Ruins of the Parthenon on the Acropolis
The Parthenon Replica in Nashville
The Parthenon Replica in Nashville

When we started on Greek Architecture, we had to learn many terms associated with the different parts and pieces such as tympanum, acroterium, sima, cornice, mutules, frieze, triglyph, metope, regula , gutta, taenia, architrave, capital, abacus, echinus, column, fluting, stylobate, entablature and pediment.  I remember sitting on the steps of this magnificent building and learning each part.

Exaggerated Sketch of How the Parthenon is Built
Exaggerated Sketch of How the Parthenon is Built

As with the original Parthenon, this replica is built so that it appears straight and square from a distance.  It is not built this way.  Their are actually very few straight lines in the actual construction and the Greeks were way ahead mathematically in how to properly design this optical illusion using entasis.

This was in the middle eighties and  the interior of the Parthenon was empty and I had only been inside once.  Since then, they have added the reproduction of the Athena Parthenos statue, that is the best guess (through research) of what the original statue looked like.  It was…….interesting.


Downtown Nashville

Going back home after 20 years was quite the experience.  I was very disappointed in the commercialization of Brentwood and Franklin.  Gone were the 2 lane country roads and farmland replaced by malls, hotels and restaurants.

Downtown Nashville has changed drastically also but, in my opinion, for the better.  The downtown area used to be an unwelcoming place full of peep shows and dives.  Nashville has gotten smart and embraced the Country Music and transformed the downtown area into a beautiful thriving tourist attraction.

Tootsies Orchid Lounge

From Tootsies to “Crazy Arms”

Thirty years ago I spent a lot of time on Broadway (Lower Broad) in Nashville fostering my love for live music and country music. Especially at a very famous old Honky Tonk called Tootsies.

Lower Broad is much different today from when I was there in the mid-eighties. I would bravely and cautiously venture into Nashville on a Friday or Saturday night, sometimes by myself, sometimes with friends, seeking something I was never sure of. It was dirty with homeless people on the street sharing space with prostitutes and pimps and also musicians who were hoping one day to be able to get to the Grand Ole Opry.  Many buildings were vacant next to the peep shows and XXX movie houses. I recall Ernest Tubbs Record Shop and a few minor store for tourists. There were a handful of bars, none of which were good places to be after dark, but I visited them all watching the characters in the crowd and listening to the live music all the time watching my back and for errant beer bottles flying through the air. The tourists tended to stay down on 2nd Avenue or Music Row back then.

Tootsie's Orchid Lounge
Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge

In the midst of the chaos and debauchery was a little bar I became fascinated with; Tootsies Orchid Lounge. Tootsies was small, less than 25’ wide and maybe 40 or 50 feet deep, if that. It had a sticky bar with grumpy bartenders, old diner tables and non-matching chairs with ripped vinyl seats. Then men’s room had a custom-made trough and I am still not sure what you did if you needed to sit down. Continue reading

Photos and more…..every picture has a story….

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