A day at Cataloochee Ranch is a fall tradition for Tom and me. You’ll find the thousand acre Cataloochee Ranch a mile up the mountain adjacent to Ghost Town in Maggie Valley. Third generation descendants of original owners, Tom and Judy Alexander, now run this mountain retreat for guests who like to ride horses, hike, and enjoy the peace and slow pace of the top of the mountain. If there’s room at the table they’ll let you come just for breakfast or supper and enjoy the grounds, and that’s what Tom and I like to do.
Breakfast is a family style bounty of plain good food, a chance to visit with the guests and Judy, daughter of the original owners, if you get there early enough. And the ranch house itself is welcoming, warm with over-sized logs crackling in a huge fireplace, leather sofas, wood rockers, and pictures and stories of the family and the ranch’s beginnings hung on walls made from hand-hewn logs.
The ranch is also home to an experimentation program to produce a blight-resistant American chestnut. The Backcross Chestnut Orchard is a half acre site, planted in 2007, with Chinese chestnut trees and crossed back to American chestnut trees. The process has been repeated until the orchard now on the property is 15/16th American chestnut. The most blight resistant trees will eventually repopulate the mountains with American chestnut trees which will once again be a supply for wildlife and people as well. Guided tours are offered of the site.
Tom and I like to hike to the top of the bald on the property. As you walk the road past the barns the bald stands open to the sky beckoning us to come on up. A trail winding around the south side of the mountain offers a trail canopied with oak, beech, and maple and the path this time of year is spread with the golden fallen leaves, wet with moisture from the night, looking like honey oozing off a biscuit. You hear water slapping the rocks that break the fall of springs tumbling down the slopes and spreading a wide cascade that sparkles and gurgles on its search for level ground. At the end of the wooded trail is a pasture lined with barbed wire that marks boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Cataloochee Divide Trail that leads to the top of the bald. The path is now warm and open under the cerulean sky, nary a cloud in sight. The top of the bald awards you with views on three sides, glimpses of Ghost Town, Maggie Valley, and beyond. Bright fall colors of the near forest mingle and fade to blue of farther mountain ranges. I can’t help but say, thank you, Lord.
Elizabeth, October 2012