Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Little Grand Canyon in Georgia

Exploring more state park locations in Georgia  - there are 63 different ones  - is one of my goals each year. With some extra vacation days at the end of the year, I decided to visit one that would have a decent amount of winter interest. The one I picked definitely fit the bill and I convinced my daughter to come along too. It was a fun day trip.

Located in Stewart County
Providence Canyon State Park (officially Providence Canyon State Outdoor Recreation Area) in Lumpkin, GA (Stewart County not Lumpkin County!) is located near the Georgia-Alabama state line about 45 miles south of Columbus, GA. In fact it is so close to the state line that my cell phone picked up a Central Time zone timestamp once, causing a bit of confusion for a moment.

A view from the rim near the parking area
The canyons in the park are a result of erosion over the last ~150 years because of farming practices. While the farming practices were not so unusual for that period, the “loose and unconsolidated sediments” that this land rested on could not handle it, especially during heavy rains when water traveled along gullies formed by initial erosion. Erosion is still occurring today. Here is a very excellent old resource that gives some background and has excellent pictures and explanations.

There are several canyons to look at and even wander in
The erosion is over 100 feet at this point and the process has created some unique views of the underlying layers of sediments. The top layer is the Clayton formation which is a red-orange sand and clay layer. This is what the early settlers would have seen, plowed and planted in. 
An island remains for now
Below it sits the deepest layer - the Providence Sand layer is 119 feet thick  and ranges in color from white to buff to tan, and even salmon, pink, and lavender. This layer was formed as an ancient sea bed with strong currents (as evidenced by the presence of layers that are at angles). According to the resource referenced above:
"The layers of sediment visible in the canyon were deposited by water between 85 million and 65 million years ago. The presence of the fossilized remains of marine organisms in some of the layers suggests that portions of this area were once a part of the shallow ocean bottom or shoreline."
Isn't that amazing? Next time I go, I'm going to look for fossils! There are also occasional areas of white clay called kaolin. And plants, plenty of plants are there. The area is known for having one of the few native populations of plumleaf azalea (Rhododendron prunifolium), a beautiful summer-blooming red native azalea. We saw it there, heavily budded for next year.

A blooming plumleaf azalea from the summer, not this trip

Rhododendron minus, blooming sporadically
We also found Rhododendron minus, including a few out-of-season blooms! Both of these rhododendron relatives were found at the bottom of the canyon, adjacent to the seasonal streams. Wax myrtle (Morella cerifera) was also abundant throughout the canyon and the female plants were loaded with berries.

A peeling birch (Betula sp.)

In one area we found moisture-loving alder (Alnus) as well as inkberry (Ilex glabra) with a few inky berries still on it. In some areas the plant growth on the canyon floor was thick as nature worked to reclaim the territory. We found pines, sycamores, and birches.

As we followed the looping white trail we were at times at the top of the cliffs and exploring a plant community that perhaps echoed what might have been there before the farmers. There were oaks and enormous redcedars (Juniperus virginiana), and a delightful assortment of American holly (Ilex opaca). Since this was the week before my American holly post went live, I was thrilled to find so much of this.

We also found the remnants of old residents - cars that were abandoned to nature were scattered in several places, rusting, breaking and giving back to nature in various ways. As I looked at a broken window, I was grateful for the invention of safety glass.

Juniperus virginiana

We circled around to the last section of the trail and found the best views of all (see earlier pictures). We also found some longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) and female juniper trees that were loaded with vibrant blue fruits and some trees were already forming new cones. 

Flowering dogwoods (Cornus floridus) were loaded with bright red berries, persimmon fruit (Diospyros virginiana) lay on the ground, and a few sprigs of mistletoe (Phoradendron leucarpum) were noted in the bare twigs of a tree near the visitor's center. Combine those with the wax myrtle and the hollies we already saw and this was certainly a place that would be popular with birds that like fruit.

I encourage you all to explore your state parks. They are OUR parks, funded by our tax dollars and supported by our visits. To find state parks in Georgia, click here. Happy trails!

1 comment:

  1. This park has been on my list to visit for a long time. I am hoping to get there this year. Now, I know what I have to look forward too!