Monday, February 17, 2014


We just returned from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Park has pretty much been buried in snow for weeks. They kept having to shut down most of the roads in the Park which kept me maddeningly away from all of the trailheads I wanted to use. So I got almost no hiking done, at all, and didn't get to hike to any of the spots I'd picked out to strike off my to-do list. Alas.

But here are a few shots I took in the Park. I'll post details tomorrow when I return from work.

Not all of the Park is about the natural beauty. Some of it is devoted to the European presence in the area. This is Cable Mill in Cades Cove, a still operating grist mill.

While I had to have seen this waterfall before, I don't recall it. It's visible from the Little River Road on the way to Cades Cove. Not a bad waterfall. Maybe fifteen feet in height.

Carole and I at the Park entrance sign (the Gatlinburg entrance).
This was a coyote I saw in Cades Cove. When I showed the photos that I took of him to a ranger at Cable Mill, he told me that the coyotes had interbred with the Red wolves that the Park Service tried to reintroduce to the ecosystem some years back. Initially, he said, there were a number of coyotes that had a lot of Red wolf genetics in them, but that they'd mostly been bred out. He said that this individual was the last one in the pack there that looks like a Red wolf. (And, yes, I acknowledge that a lot of my learned friends argue persuasively that coyotes and Red wolves are actually the same animal. I don't feel that way, but concede that they may be correct.)

Cades Cove on a warm day in the deep snow.


Vicki said...

What's the main difference between a wolf and a coyote? (Of course, I Google it and save you the trouble.)

Great pics. I especially like the landscape with the expanse of snow.

James Robert Smith said...

Timber wolves and coyotes are very closely related. One of my favorite writers when I was a kid, Ernest Thompson Seton, referred to the coyote as "the little prairie wolf". And therein lies the main difference: size. Coyotes are generally much smaller than Timber wolves. And much more lightly built, specialized for smaller prey like rabbits and such (although they will take young deer and rarely even adult deer).

There is a second species of wolf here in the States called the Red wolf. It came very close to total extinction but the last groups of them were trapped (in Louisiana) and a breeding program was enacted. They are also smaller than Timber wolves, but not as small as coyotes.

The National Park Service tried to reintroduce Red wolves to the Smokies, but the problem was that coyotes had already moved into the Park and had filled the ecological niche. The danger was that the coyotes would interbreed with the Red wolves and basically genetically crowd them out. So the Park Service rounded up the Red wolves (after they'd already interbred with coyotes, leaving a small genetic imprint behind in the Park) and moved them to the Alligator Wildlife Refuge/Wilderness in eastern North Carolina where their numbers have increased dramatically (there are no coyotes there, and not likely to be now that Red wolves have established a large and imposing presence as the top predator).

Vicki said...

Thanks for the info. We have the same problem here with the dingos interbreeding with feral dogs. There are very few genuine dingos left in the wild.

James Robert Smith said...

Seems I've read about a large island park in Australia that has a big dingo population. Are they still pure dingo there? (I've forgotten the name of the park...but I do recall listening to a park ranger mention that the dingoes there are really aggressive and to be avoided.)
Since it's on an island that's undeveloped, there would be little chance for domestic dog genes to filter in.

Vicki said...

You're probably thinking of Fraser Island. With an area of 184 000 hectares it is the largest sand island in the world:


The reason that dingoes are not afraid of people and may come across as aggressive (as any wild dog is) is because in the past people fed them.

James Robert Smith said...

That's the place! Thanks!

whisper_the_wind said...

And when they collected the last of the red wolves, they were all males. What we call the red wolf is in reality a conglomeration of wolf, coyote and German Shepherd dog. This was a failed attempt to preserve an already hybrid species...oh least they tried.

James Robert Smith said...

Quite possibly.

Vicki said...

I've just been sent this and thought you'd appreciate the message:

How wolves change rivers

James Robert Smith said...

Thanks for the link!

Reintroducing parts of the web of life that have been knocked out is always a good thing.