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82 Entries
Dan & Peggy DuVall Email
06/27

Comments:

On Monday evening 06/20/2016 at 5:30 PM we met up with Esther Blakely to begin our tour of the Cataloochee Valley in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  It was wonderful!!  Before we left Florida for our vacation trip, we had been told by friends from our church to be sure and see the elk in the Catalouchee Valley.  We had never seen elk in the wild.   So, while we were on the road, we googled and found Cataloochee Valley Tours.  At first look, the price of $80 each seemed a lot for a 4 hour tour that we might be able to do on our own.  But when the description of the road into the valley mentioned a gravel road we waffled a little on doing it with our car.  We decided to find out more info about the tour and called and left a message.  Shortly, Esther called us back and we had a great talk.  It was apparent from her enthusiasm that we needed to sign up.  It was a last minute thing but she just happened to have 2 seats available for the evening tour.  It was dark when we returned to our starting place.  We were comfortable in her Chevy Tahoe Hybrid SUV, along with another couple.  Esther runs an Eco-Tour Company.  We left no trace behind from our tour.  Esther is well informed on the area, wildlife, flowers and area history.  She took us to the spot where elk were reintroduced into the park valley in 2001 and heard about the wild life project.  We saw many elk, including bulls, cows and new calves and a glorious sunset.  During the tour she provide bottled water, binoculars for viewing, snacks and all we had to do was roll down the car windows as we listened and observed.  We stopped in several areas and viewed the surrounding area accompanied by stories and background about the valley.  She has personally talked with valley residents and relatives of the valley residents about the history of the area.  She is very well informed and has a genuine interest in the rich history of the Catalouchee Valley and its descendants.  She is motivated and dedicated regarding eco-tourism.  We highly recommend this tour.  The $80 was well spent!


Bob and Amy Cross 
06/23

Comments:
We had the most wonderful time on our recent Firefly Tour!  Esther made the evening memorable with her knowledge and personable attention to every detail. Even the homemade cookies were spectacular!  We will be back for an Elk Tour!


Rhonda Wade Email
06/16

Comments:
Esther,
Had a great time on our 6/10 Firefly tour! 
Your knowledge of the fireflies, wildlife and the mountains in general made the night all the more special. Flashing fireflies, twinkling stars and a small, intimate group made this a memorable night.


Marilyn Windham Email
06/13

Comments:
On June 7th we went on the firefly tour. This is our second tour, our first seeing the elk. I cannot say enough about our experiences in nature with Esther, who is so passionate and knowledgeable about the history and the environment of the area.
We will remember these trips for years to come. I highly recommend Cataloochee Valley Tours if you love nature and want a personal experience with a first class guide.


Mary and Steve McNeil 
06/09

Comments:
We had the pleasure of going on the Firefly tour with friends and experienced something that we most likely could never have done without Esther's and Tim's knowledgeable guidance. 
A beautiful experience, for sure.


Donna and Tim Mahoney-Lynch Email
05/27

Comments:
We were given this tour with Esther as a gift and in spite of living here for several years, had never heard of it.  The most encapsulating statement I can make is that it will no longer be the best kept secret around as we will be singing Esther's praises to the mountain tops!

The tour was beyond spectacular.  We had been to the valley before to view the elk , but it would be like comparing strawberries to strawberry shortcake as Esther added so many extras to make it a totally enjoyable experience.  Starting with the spotless hybrid, eco-friendly vehicle, all the way to the final reflection on the mountains, the tour was incredible!

If you are looking a a stress-free, informative,  educational, first class experience,  which is respectful of nature and the people who used to live in the  Cataloochee Valley community with someone who is knowledgeable about nature and history and a delightful person with whom to share a few hours, Esther is your gal!  [wink] God bless you and best wishes, Esther!!


Sharron & Paul W. 
04/30/15

Comments:
My husband and I and another couple just took the Eco-Elk Tour in April with Esther and I won't ever forget it. Esther has a way of painting a picture and telling the story of the Cataloochee people and their way of life and about their sacrifices in order for us to be able to enjoy the very land they lived on.

Anybody can take this tour themselves but they won't really know the history about the land and the people that lived there. There are even some people still alive that lived there as children and Esther has had the opportunity to talk with some of them and has great stories that she tells about their life in the Cataloochee Valley. She has so much enthusiasm and expression when she talks about the Cataloochee people that you can start to picture what it was like for them so many years ago.

Esther is an excellent driver and knows the whole area like the back of her hand and we were glad for her to do all the driving on the very winding roads.

I highly recommend taking this tour, it was the highlight of our vacation!
PS...She also gives you good Treats!


Nancy and Steve 
04/10/15

Comments:
We took the evening elk tour with our son's family and it was the highlight of our spring vacation! As other comments note, Esther is an exceptional, knowledgeable tour guide, and she made every minute interesting not only to us adults, but to our 3 grandkids, all under the age of 10. We recommend this tour to everyone. Be prepared: at the end as Esther repeats one of environmentalist John Muir's notable quotations and you watch the sun set over the majestic mountains, you may be moved to tears at the sheer beauty of it all.


Donald and Elizabeth Williams 
01/06/15

Comments:
We took the Cataloochee Elk Tour right after Christmas.  The tour was absolutely beautiful.  With Esther as our guide, we were introduced to a time period of long ago and all but forgotten.  She is very knowledgeable in the history of the settlers, the geography, and the elk.  Being a conservationist, she brings the migration and the re-introduction of the elk to the Cataloochee Valley to life with her love and reverence and her enthusiasm for all aspects of the endeavor.  Her face shows the compassion she has when telling the heart-wrenching stories of how the settlers had to leave all they knew and begin life all over again.  She is an absolute delight to be around and to be educated by. We recommend this experience to all who visit the area; both young and the not-so-young.  The tour is primarily in a vehicle; not a walking tour for the entire four hours.  Cataloochee Valley itself offers you its natural beauty of sights and sounds and with Esther's narrations, the experience comes to life.  If you have been to Cataloochee on your own, you have visited the Valley.  If you take the Cataloochee Valley Elk Tour, you learn the Valley.....Esther, we hope to visit you again....   


Stuart and Debra 
12/05/14

Comments:
Ester's tour was the highlight of our fall trip to the Carolinas. The majestic elk herds were a sight to behold, and Ester's knowledge of the area, the history, and the wildlife really enhanced our visit. We recommend this tour with a double thumbs up!


Bonnie Bridges Email
10/17/14

Comments:
Riding into the beautiful Cataloochee Valley with Ester was a spiritual experience for me. She conveyed more than facts; she demonstrated love and respect for both the wildlife inhabitants of the area and the people of the past who sacrificed their own heritage so that all of us could enjoy this sanctuary of nature.

I was so thankful to get to see the elk again, and I am looking forward to a firefly tour! Thank you, Ester. You clearly love your job, and you do it well. (The memory of that treacherous road into the valley had made me think that I would never get to see it again. Your driving did not give me a single anxious moment even though I have a severe case of road anxiety!)
Bonnie


Jay and Renee Davis 
10/15/14

Comments:
Oct 10th
Your eco-tour of the valley was a most wonderful experience, it far exceeded our expectations!  We came away with not only beautiful photographs of the valley and the elk, but a good understanding of the history of the area - thanks to your knowledge and expertise.  I HIGHLY recommend your tour to anyone thinking about visiting the area!
Thank you for sharing Cataloochee Valley with us!!!
Jay & Renee Davis


June Damanti 
10/08/14

Comments:
If you're looking for a special experience, take one of Esther's tours. It's worth every dollar!  Within minutes of being picked up...a nice convenience, by the way...Esther felt like family. Her knowledge of Cataloochee is extensive and she shares it in a way that feels more like you're listening to oral history than a tour presentation.  I loved getting the information instead of just seeing the place without knowing its history.  And oh yeah...it was nice to leave the driving to her as the road is not the easiest to traverse. 


Doc Lawrence Email
09/11/14

Comments:
I am a veteran journalist and published author with a specialty in travel and tourism. My guided tours here in the USA and other countries have all been fascinating, but this one is equal to or better than any. Esther Blakely is articulate, informed and energetic. I was particularly impressed with the depth of her knowledge and compassion for the locals who were displaced by the National Park Service/Department of the Interior. She respects and honors the land and all creatures great and small. I am grateful to have this experience and without hesitation heartily recommend a tour with Esther. It's transformational!


David & Paula Hoffman Email
09/02/14

Comments:
My husband and I travel quite a bit and usually shy away from any kind of guided tours because the guides usually are not very well informed.  We booked this tour with Esther Blakely on a whim and are so glad we did. 
First Esther is a lovely woman and loves the Cataloochee Valley and talks about it as most people talk about their own family.  Not only is she knowledgeable but absolutely loves her subject!!!  We learned and saw more in the short 3 hours we spent with her than we could have ever seen on our own and left feeling like we were leaving our home place!
We cannot recommend her tour enough - having read about Esther Blakely's accomplishments we felt honored to have such an esteemed guide.  We will visit her again!!!


Zev Haselkorn 
07/12/14

Comments:
Esther is intelligent, informative, friendly, and she has a wonderful sense of humor. I highly commend her to you as a wonderful guide & host. 7/12/14


Janet 
07/01/14

Comments:
My family and I recently went on the elk tour with Esther.  This tour was the highlight of our vacation.  We saw lots of elk and learned so much about the valley's history.  I would recommend this tour to anyone.  We can't wait to plan our trip next year to include some of Esther's other tours!


Par & Ken Gregory Email
06/24/14

Comments:
Ken and I took an eco-elk tour at the very end of April, 2014.  Esther was ill, so Tim subbed in her place.  We enjoyed the tour immensely; Tim was easy to converse with and entertained us with many stories of the area and its inhabitants, both people and animals.  We would highly recommend this tour to anyone who would like to venture into a beautiful natural area, where peace and quiet is still attainable.


Jackie and Roy Ramey 
06/15/14

Comments:
The recent tour we took to see the Synchronous Fireflies was AMAZING! This is a trip a small child to an elderly person would enjoy. 
We were picked up by Esther at our B&B in a very comfortable vehicle and driven to the site of the fireflies.  We were actually taken to 4 different sites and the fireflies really put on a great show.
I would recommend Esther for any type of tour, and actually we are returning to the area in September for her to take us on the Elk Tour. 


Lemar Sheaffer 
05/12/14

Comments:

Cataloochee Valley Tours is amazing, so is Esther.  The untouched beauty of the valley is breath taking and the elk are simply amazing.  It is a special gift to see these creatures in their natural habitat. We learned things and saw things we would have never learned/seen if we had made this journey on our own.  Esther was so gracious and didn't mind all my picture taking.  Her knowledge of the area and wildlife  is very impressive.  It truely was a memorable and most enjoyable evening.  A treasured memory for sure!   If you are in the area make time to do one of her tours you will be so glad you did.  Our tour was at 5:30, we arrived early and spend the afternoon in the charming little town of Waynesville, NC, also a hidden gem. 

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