Banking on the Triumvirate.

The National Parks began their opening in early May; and with our forecast temperatures expected near 90F one weekend day a couple of weeks ago, we hoped our early hour of arrival (we were driving in by 0830); the season (Spring, when Mama and Cubs are out); and the fact that animals across national parks had become more active when the parks were closed to humans would aid in our fingers-crossed quest to spy the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s mascot, the American Black Bear.

“Cove” is Appalachian vernacular for a flat valley between two mountain ranges; others know this geography as a “Hollow” or “Gulch,” depending. The Cades Cove Loop Road is an 11-mile one-way driving tour along the former road of the 120-ish homesteaders who made the cove their home in from the 1830’s, and is the most visited place in the GSMNP. There are quite a few trailheads from which to enjoy more of the beauty of nature, but because dogs are not permitted on the trails, and CTF was with us, we focused on the driving loop.

The road leading to the loop was quiet, the sun dappling the leaves and making us all quite satisfied that we were up and out of the door early. Early on the loop we met brake lights, certainly a sign of a SIGHTING! Indeed. In my excitement I hopped out of the wagon and did not grab my tripod; thankfully a most kind gentleman offered his shoulder upon which I could rest my lens. A “meh” first shot at the stretched end of the telephoto, but enough to excite us nonetheless.

Along this loop road are 17 points of interest; historic structures, trails and the like. No hiking on this outing (See, dogs not permitted); and we only visited structures that were accessible without a hike-in. Next time. We did, unfortunately, see too many fools taking their four-pawed with them on the hike-ins. They will ruin the park for the rest of us.

One structure is the Primitive Baptist Church, built by some of the earliest settlers to Cades Cove. From the Official Church Correspondence regarding the lack of service during the Civil War: “We…do show the public why we have not kept up our church meeting. It was on account of the Rebellion and we was Union people…”

The Visitor Center to the park remains closed, but it being at the half-way point made for a good spot for all of us to stretch our legs, while watching wild turkeys do their thing in the adjacent field and admiring the beauty (and humor) around us.

Approaching Tipton Place we were compelled to stop. Colonel Tipton served in the Mexican War; and his homestead was among the “fanciest,” with multiple glass pane windows, several rooms; as well as a bee shed and cantilever barn on the acreage. A woman walking past informed us of a cub sighting just behind the barn, playing in the stream. We set forth to snap the teddy bear, but reversed course when she followed up with, “I didn’t see its Mama.”

Tipton Place is near the end of the driving loop. We were pretty excited with having spied, to this point, eight bears. Some were much easier to observe than snap, though we still counted them. And then. A serious car jam, the clue that SOMETHING was being sighted. Anna Grace and I hopped out of the wagon to walk ahead whilst Tony rolled up the windows, lest CTF start baying his fool head off and scare off said SOMETHING.

Several candidates for Darwin Awards, and wearing inappropriate outdoor footwear were clustered around a spot along the road, dangerously close with their iPhones. Anna Grace spotted the ears first. A Mama Bear! And waaayyyy too close for comfort for us. We hot-footed it back to the wagon.

As we made our way forward in the vehicle Mama Bear came ever closer to the road, at one point being about 6 meters away. Safely ensconced and from my window, I snapped away. Isn’t she beautiful?

Coming down from our bear-sighting high we left the Cades Cove loop and pulled into the picnic area. An adjacent stream offered Cletus cooling refreshment while we noshed on our lunch, watching the stalled queue of visitors to enter the loop grow ever longer. Timing is everything, and we had had the triumvirate. On our first visit.