Okay, last Smokies post for a while (but not the last Smokies post, eh?).
On the last day of the trip, I made one final trip to Cades Cove in the morning, but again, came away pretty empty-handed—deer and turkeys again. Around 10:00 a.m., I headed out of the Cove and drove to the Newfound Gap Road. I wanted to shoot a few landscapes with my telephoto zoom and experiment with the compression it adds to the mountain peaks and valleys, a phenomenon that displays rather famously in the Smokies. I drove the entire length of the Newfound Gap Road over to Cherokee, NC and scouted a few overlooks where I thought I could get some good shots. I had lunch in Cherokee, then got back in the car to see if I could find a trail or something where I could shoot a little until the time was close to sunset.
After returning to the Tennessee side of the park, I was driving along the Little River Road near the Elkmont campground, when I suddenly found myself in a bit of a traffic jam. In the Smokies, that usually means one of two things: a) a very slow driver, since it’s difficult to pass in the park, or b) a bear sighting. Sure enough, it was B.
As I drove slowly past, I saw it was a black bear cub high in a tree near the road. There were probably 30 people out of their cars, attempting to take a picture with all manner of cameras and cell phones. Now, my initial reaction to this kind of thing is just to keep on going and leave the poor bear alone, but curiosity over powered my normal reticence and I pulled over to the side of the road after I’d gotten past most of the cars. I got out my 70-200 f/2.8 and added a 1.7 TC teleconverter for good measure and walked down the side of the road to the bear.
The cub was very high in the tree and surrounded by lots of tree limbs and vines, making any kind of a good shot impossible. I started to think this was really a mistake, but decided to give it a little time and see what happened. My encounter with the buck in Cades Cove reminded me that patience and perseverance sometimes pay off. So I waited.
In the meantime, car after car drove by, sometimes slowing down to get a picture, sometimes just grumbling about the “damn tourists”—of which, of course, he was one. The cub would occasionally look down from his perch at all of us, probably wondering what all the fuss was about. In my mind, though, I’m wondering where Mama Bear is. A single cub alone like this is rare, so I figured she had to be near.
Just then, the cub decided it had had enough of it and began to climb down from the treetop. I found a spot that offered a clear view through the other trees of a portion of the trunk it would pass on its way down. My hope was that the cub would pause long enough for me to get a good shot. Fortunately for me, it did.
Eventually, it made its way down the rest of the trunk and wandered off into the woods. Everyone got back in their cars and headed off with visions of bear cubs in their heads.
There’s a saying that goes: “Some days you get the bear; some days the bear gets you.” (It also sometimes refers to a dragon, but I was certain I wouldn’t find any of those in the Smokies.) This time, I got the bear. Fortunately for all of us, Mama Bear never showed or the story might have turned out differently.