With only one hike remaining in the eastern half of the park, I had a day with decent weather to complete a loop hike between Mount Sterling and Cataloochee in the shape of a baseball diamond full of ups and downs.
The White Wood Asters were in abundance along the Mount Sterling Ridge.
Aaahhh...the lovely mudpits of the Mount Sterling Ridge Trail...
A bridge crossing through a coneflower thicket near the lower end of Pretty Hollow Gap Trail.
Passing below the Little Cataloochee Baptist Church.
Don't those pictures look familiar? Why...YES! I took them a few weeks ago on that delightful hike up Gunter Fork. It seems the NPS put the photos and map I sent them about the slides to good use, posting them at various trailheads on the park's east side.
With the number of hikes left to do in the park reaching single digits, I was yet to really explore the heart of Cataloochee. That was to change today with two hikes, the first around the Boogerman Loop, and the second up and back Palmer Creek.
The drive from Gatlinburg to the southern entrance to Cataloochee is an interesting one...through the city, then the countryside, then over the Foothills Parkway, then winding through narrow gorges at high speeds on I-40, then up and over the Cataloochee Divide on narrow, unpaved, windy roads.
View of the ridges that surround Cataloochee from an overlook on the way in.
One of a great number of footbridges along Caldwell Fork, though this one has seen better days. It required a leap and bear hug to make it across without getting wet.
The upper reaches of the Boogerman Trail take one through some old growth forest dominated by massive Tulip Poplars. This one was unique because of its hollowed out interior, large enough to house a few people.
The higher part of Palmer Creek Trail follows the ridgeline through a Rosebay Rhododendron tunnel, in which the blooms blanketed the floor.
Upon reaching trail's end atop Balsam Mountain Road, a backhoe was just finishing some road maintenance by smoothing out surfaces.
I was finished with hiking, but I still had plenty of sights to see along the roads that cut through the heart of Cataloochee. Here's looking across the field toward the Caldwell Barn.
Fortunately, I was able to at least see one Bull Elk before leaving the valley, this guy hanging out in the yard of Palmer Place.