By Robert Wallace
This Trip Could Get Interesting
This camping trip was going to be interesting, to say the least. The Cade’s Cove campground has no showers or electric hookups (not that it matters since I’m going the tent route, alone), and strict rules about food and storage due to bears. But what should make it especially … um … interesting is the weather report: My first two days … rain.
As a wildlife photographer, I’m always searching for the next great place to go for viewing wildlife and all the special wonders nature has to offer. I had originally planned on taking a road trip from my home base in Georgia to Montana but with a family member's wedding close on the horizon, I’d thought better of it. So instead, I made other plans, my new destination: Cade’s Cove in Townsend, Tennessee. A historical valley nestled within the Great Smoky Mountains.
When it Pours, Best to Hunker Down ...
Now with all of my camera gear, clothing, tent, toothpaste, deodorant, and baby wipes (my shower alternative), it was time to hit the road. Once I was past Atlanta, Georgia the weather forecast came to full fruition. Good thing my gear is weather-sealed, I silently thought to myself.
Normally I’m pretty stoked for light rain when it comes to nature photography but this rain went between a light drizzle to a good drenching downpour. By about 3 pm or so, I’d arrived and finally had the tent erected. I considered just hunkering down so I would be well rested come tomorrow.
There is Something (or Someone!) Out There !
Then again, the sun doesn’t start setting until around 8:30 pm. Yep, you guessed it. I ran back to my SUV and headed for the 11-mile paved loop that takes you through this wonderful landscape. At about the 4-mile mark (I’m guessing) I came upon cars and trucks at a standstill (reminds me of New York City at rush hour).
At the sight of this, a big ole grin appeared on my face because I knew that this could mean one of two things…a deer or a bear. Thankfully the loop road has some small pull-offs and I took advantage of one.
Donning my camo rain gear and grabbing my camera, big lens, and tripod I proceeded on the slushy trek past the paused traffic.
There's Bears in Those Trees!
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how giddy I was on the inside when I came up on a BIG momma bear and her cubs stretched out on a tree limb. Ignoring the rain, I may have taken a few too many pictures of her doing … well … nothing. That was okay because this, my friends, was just my first loop around and the start of a promising trip.
The next morning after a somewhat restless sleep (partly excited about the coming days and partly being in a tent smack-dab in the middle of bear country) my alarm informed me it was 6 am and day two was waiting to embrace me.
It was still raining as predicted but who cares…right?
Wildlife Photographer's Paradise
This time around on the loop, about a mile or less, I was greeted by lots of White-tailed Deer grazing on the wet dewy grass and weeds of a foggy meadow with mountains caressed by low hanging clouds as their background. It was breathtaking and once again my finger got a little too crazy. Thankfully I had more batteries and memory cards because through the loop it was a wildlife photographers paradise!
It truly felt that around every corner there were does and bucks grazing, unbothered by the constant rain, within the fields and meadows full of flowers. It did not end with the deer either. Throughout the day I had the pleasure of photographing more Black Bears (males and females with cubs), a family of wild hogs, a coyote and numerous colorful birds such as the Indigo Bunting, Goldfinches, Hawks, and Pileated Woodpeckers to name just a few.
My last two full days in Cade’s Cove continued to bring on the same beautiful characters (everything previously mentioned minus the hogs) and some of the best sunrises and sunsets that I have experienced outside of lakes and oceans. Then finally - an end to the rain. I actually ended up going through all my clothes and had to go and get a Cade’s Cove t-shirt from the campground store.
One of the things I chose not to do this time around is night walking along the Cove’s loop. It’s closed to motor vehicles from dawn till dusk but always open to hikers and bicyclist. That is in my plans for the next time here in October.
A Beautiful Good-by
What an experience. I had never encountered that many wild bears in such a small area before. This adventure was more than I had hoped for and I’m already planning for the next trip here. On the day that I had to leave and after everything was loaded up I made one last loop around.
This time…there was only one deer to be seen as if to say goodbye.
Heck, after averaging at least two black bears (not including the cubs), 10-20 deer, coyotes, and beautiful birds each full day, I can’t complain about just the one deer seeing me off … a silent “til next time”.
The End ... for now.
Robert LaBron Wallace is a wildlife photographer with a deep love of the natural world. Originally from Florida, he recently moved to Georgia, after spending a couple of years in that other wild place, New York City. His images are are featured in: Migrants in Central Park, The Warblers Are Coming! Robert is a regular contributor. Follow Robert on Instagram