Soon we are headed down the hill, back across Newfound Gap, and back into North Carolina for a late breakfast in Cherokee. Along the way, however, we run into a band of elk cows, bellies taught due to an impending calving season. They grazed on lush grass in front of us and fed for a bit until sauntering into the woods.
From there, we drive over to the historic Mingus Mill – a 19th-century grist mill that uses turbine technology to turn the millstones against one another to finely grind corn. Water from a nearby creek flows through a wooden sluice and slides down the long flume to the mill. The entire contraction is rustically beautiful and makes for an interesting photo study.
After breakfast, we head over to a quiet corner of the park. The Cataloochee Valley is a broad and beautiful dale that’s surrounded by 6,000-foot peaks and was once one of the most vibrant settlements in the Smokies before the national park’s formation. The road is circuitous as we wind our way through the hills to the valley’s entrance.