National Geographic : 1952 Oct
A National Geographic Map We watched a gypsying mist envelop a narrow trail near by and listened to unfa miliar night sounds-the splash of a stream over rocks, whinnying of our horses, and un expected crackles of the dying campfire. "About bears," Gen whispered. No one had mentioned bears. "Iwasinacampone time, and we always kept tin plates by our sides to bang together. Scares them off and wakes up everybody to help." Fine idea, we agreed; so we tiptoed among the sleepers to the "kitchen." With tin plates by our sides, we finally went to sleep. The next morning, not far from camp, we came upon a one-story wooden building. Tom said, "That's Cataloochee School, the only active school in the park." We stopped for a visit (page 500). Mildred Deal, who teaches first, second, fourth, and fifth grades in one room, invited us in. The children, seven healthy, happy youngsters, were shy, but pleased at this in vasion of their schoolyard. We admired their old-fashioned double desks and their crayon drawings above the blackboard. A potbellied stove in a corner provided heat. A second room in the back, with no panes in the windows, served as a recreation room on unpleasant days. Black Bears by Hundreds On the trail again, Tom pointed out bear markings-their droppings, logs clawed for grubs, and big tracks in the soft ground. Hun dreds of black bears, protected in the park from hunters, range over the Smokies. Criti cal months for these animals are just before they hibernate, about Christmas. Then they must put on fat to last through the winter. Many animals and birds, among them deer and wild turkey, have become scarce in the Smokies since the chestnut blight deprived them of a chief source of food. From Trail Ridge, a climb of 1,500 feet in four miles, we could look across to Spruce Mountain. The patches of color on the moun tainside, Tom told us, were laurel thickets. These almost impassable jungles, where bears like to live, are known to the mountain people as "woolly heads," "yellow patches," or "slicks." The vastness was overwhelming. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park embraces 508,446 acres of forests, with 200,000 acres of virgin timber. In a few hours' climb horses carry their riders through sweet gums, umbrella magnolias, and shortleaf pines, com mon in our southern coastal States; then up ward under maples, oaks, and hemlocks fa miliar in more northerly States, and finally into the stands of red spruce, fir, and mountain ash atop the highest peaks. Temperature, sunlight, and shade often changed suddenly. Riding along the crest of Balsam Mountain, in the shadow of mag nificent oaks, beech, and basswood, we kept on our jackets. But we hurriedly removed them when we emerged into the hot sunlight of Ledge Bald. After lunch on a trail by a mountain stream we found a carved board which proclaimed "Round Bottom 2/2 Mi." "The lyingest sign in the mountains," Tom said. "It's a good four miles to camp." The sign was one of the more legible, however, for all over the park trail markers have been chewed and clawed by bears.