We have been keeping track of all of the live animals we have seen since we entered the Pigeon Forge city limits on Sunday afternoon.

Horses: 1
Dogs: 4
Cats: 1
Bears: 1
Owls: 1 (spotted only by Andrew)
Parrots: 2
Raccoons: 1

I also had a big black bug in my shoe, but we aren’t counting insects. And we only count birds if they are fairly large, or exotic, like the beautiful bright blue parrots. They were in a cage in downtown Gatlinburg as an advertisement for some type of zoo, but they were alive and well, so they count!

We had a great day driving through the Roaring Fork Motor Trail where we stopped to play on the rocks in the river. The climate in the mountains created a cool, natural refrigerator with the moss-covered rocks and hanging tulip trees as a beautiful backdrop.

Later on, we craved even more rock-hopping, so we headed to the creek that runs through downtown Gatlinburg. That’s where Matthew spotted the raccoon. Although the rest of the family didn’t see it, it was confirmed by some other people playing in the creek.

Our most exciting animal viewing was, of course, a black bear, which we saw on Monday. The children had been nervously anticipating the possibility that we might see a black bear for the past few weeks.

“What will we do if we see a bear?!?” they asked repeatedly. “Oh, don’t worry about it! I’m SURE we won’t even see one.” I assured them. I couldn’t believe we actually saw one on our very first hike!

We started our week with a hike to the “most popular” waterfall in the Smoky Mountains. It wasn’t exactly the natural solitude we had travelled so far to enjoy. We were practically in a parade hiking down to the waterfall. And once we got there, we found a little slab of rock where we could sit between all of the other nature viewers. We stared in awe, watching young children risk their lives to climb the slick rocks along the waterfall as their parents stood below video-taping. Ah, America.

We were all laughing as some families hiked down the 1.5 mile trail in their swimsuits and flip flops, ignoring all of the large signs warning of the danger of climbing the steep rocks around the waterfall. “They act like they are going to the pool,” Andrew kept saying.

At least if any children fell to their death from the top of the rocky embankment, the authorities wouldn’t have to wonder what had happened. The parents would have it all on film… or should I say, DVD. I am definitely getting old!

Anyway, back to the bear.

On the hike back, we were shushed to a halt by a big traffic jam of people coming from the opposite direction. At the top of a cliff right above us was the bear. Several people said they saw a baby bear, as well. We snapped our own photos and video and then moved quickly down the path. (Yes… I know I sound like a hypocrite, but if you are facing possible death by bear, you should have it on DVD, right?)

“Boy, that bear was big!” we remarked smugly in loud voices as we passed people flip-flopping up the path. “Can you believe we already saw a bear?!”

With a real live bear sighting added to the list, we didn’t care about all of the tourists anymore. We were on vacation. We were in the mountains. And we saw a bear.

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