(Photograph by Lamar Fuss)
The first reaction upon arriving at Providence Canyon State Park was a surprised, “Would you look at that!” The awe-inspiring sights in Providence Canyon State Park don’t seem to belong in Georgia. They belong somewhere else, out west where cowboys ride horses and rope cows.
Far from the well-traveled roads and not widely known, Providence Canyon in rural Southwestern Georgia startles visitors with vistas more associated with the West, Colorado, and the Rocky Mountains. Appropriately nicknamed “Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon” and called “one of the seven natural wonders of Georgia,” it consists of a large area of gullies up to 150 feet deep, with towering formations carved from the earth.
The formations, very uncommon in the South, have been created from the dual action of rain runoff and underground flow and provide a hue of earth tones. The carved areas of earth that look like rusting iron are indeed caused by ancient iron ore deposits. The clay and sand creations have hues of tan, pink, red-orange, and rich brown clay. The sunlight at sunrise and sunset touching the multi-colored soils creates a fantastic light show of illumination.
The erosive process is ongoing. The canyon grows wider and deeper daily. Trees standing precariously on cliffs often can have the ground taken out from under them and plunge onto the canyon floor. Between visits of only a few months, erosion around the canyon lip was obvious. Places where it was safe to stand on the first visit were precarious perches by the second. Visitors are warned constantly not to get too close to the edge of cliffs for their safety.
While the Grand Canyon formed over eons, Providence Canyon is a relative newcomer. The erosion began with the removal of trees by local farmers in the 1800’s and has occurred over less than two centuries.
Day visitors can experience Providence Canyon in one of three ways. The easiest is to stand in the picnic area and take in the scenic overlooks. The 3-mile Rim Trail passes the spectacular canyon formations and allows the visitor clear views of these wonders and great photo opportunities. A longer 7-mile hike takes the nature lover on a longer trek through more than 1,000 acres of Providence Canyon State Park and can easily be hiked on a day trip.
Prominent signs near the trailhead warn visitors to make sure they are up to the hike physically. For the most part, the hikes are non-demanding trips, but there are some sections going up and down the slopes, especially when wearing a backpack, that can take the wind out of most folks’ sails. A clay bottom stream has to be forded even on the shorter trip, and the wet hiking can be more demanding when rainfall has been heavy. On the 7-mile hike we encountered perhaps a quarter mile of muddy wet hiking, which we hardly minded.
Along the common part of the shorter and longer trail, the remains of old cars, long abandoned and partially embedded in the earth, provided an interesting sight. Much more beautiful are the red Plum-leaf Azaleas flowers blooming in July and August. This azalea is scientifically grouped with rhododendron and is shrub size.
George T. Bagby State Park lies about 30 miles south of Providence Canyon and offers a lodge and cabins, including a limited number dog friendly (www.gastateparks.org).
Just to the south of Providence Canyon, Walter F. George Lake separates Georgia and Alabama. Across the bridge in Eufala, Alabama, visitors will find a number of hotels to choose from. Downtown Eufala also has several very good restaurants.
Providence Canyon State Park (www.gastateparks.org, 229-838-4244) has a five-dollar admission fee or the visitor can purchase an annual pass. The park is located
7 miles west of the small town of Lumpkin on Highway 39C. Signs along the way announce the turns, for those not using GPS. The park offers a variety of wildlife for viewing, as anywhere best done as early or as late in the day as possible. For those who enjoy primitive camping, a limited number of sites are available with reservation and at a fee. Primitive camping is the best way to assure a sunrise or sunset view of the canyons. Reservations for the primitive campsites can be made on www.gastatepakrs under the reservation menu.
Tim Ohr can be contacted thru www.timohr.com. He is the author of nine books, including Florida’s Fabulous Natural Places, The Illustrated Birds of North Carolina, The Illustrated Birds of Texas, hiking and canoeing guides, and a novel of the Vietnam War, Under the Gun.