Most people don’t know Georgia has a Grand Canyon, albeit a
little one. It is a couple of hours southwest of Atlanta, near
Lumpkin, and called Providence Canyon State Park. The real Grand
Canyon took millions of years to form and is a mile deep;
Georgia’s took only a few decades to form and is 150 feet deep.
However, just like the real Grand Canyon, Georgia’s is
spectacular. And, 150 feet is still deep.
|View of Georgia’s Little Grand
Canyon from one of the many overhead observation areas.
Providence Canyon is really a series of erosion gullies that
have developed chasms, bluffs, plateaus, cliffs, cones, and
pinnacles. They combine to give an impression of a mini-Grand
Canyon, with multi-colored canyon walls. Iron in the soils of
the canyon wall produces striking hues of tan, buff, pink,
salmon, and a pronounced orange-red. Manganese adds a lavender
color. The intensity of the colors is related to the amount of
iron in the soil, and the length of time that iron has been in
contact with ground water. That varies, and then so do the
colors. The features combine into a stunning vista, one worthy
of being one of the Georgia’s “Seven Natural Wonders.”
|The view does appear to be more
of a canyon than a massive erosion gully.
The canyon provides a geology lesson. Its walls contain four
different soil layers (or formations) deposited by water over 65
million years ago. Differences in these layers account for much
of the coloration in the walls. Many of the stunning white
pinnacles and other white coloration is kaolin, a white clay. A
trip to the bottom of the canyon will expose the hiker to about
20 million years of geologic history.
pinnacle and other white coloration is kaolin, a white
Where did the canyon come from? The real Grand Canyon formed
from river erosion. There is no river at the bottom of this
canyon. But, both canyons did form due to erosion. Providence
Canyon is a lesson in soil conservation.
The region was first cleared and farmed in the early
nineteenth century. Soil conservation practices like contour
plowing and strip cropping had not yet been developed. Removing
the original vegetation opened the land gully formation from
rain runoff. Intensive cotton farming was the start of
Providence Canyon. Obviously, the local soils were extremely
susceptible to gullying and the canyon began to form after only
a few decades. So, southerners being southerners, they made a
tourist attraction out of what should be a soil conservation
demonstration area. The video at the visitor’s center is honest
about it and calls it “a spectacular testimony to man and his
mistakes.” There are many, many gullies in the South that are
scars of the Southern cotton economy; these are just some of the
The canyon wall from the canyon’s bottom.
The canyon is named for Providence Methodist Church, established
in 1832. The original church stood in what is now the middle of
the gorge. The
current church stands north of the park road. The canyon
continues to grow in width and the rim of the canyon
occasionally crumbles and recedes. Back when the edge of the
canyon was farmed, some animals and farm equipment would
occasionally fall over the rim. These would never be recovered,
as access to the canyon was so difficult. The canyon is still a
work in progress.
Multi-colored canyon walls.
There is a visitor’s center, picnic area, trails, and overlooks.
Trails and overlooks offer fantastic vistas and photograph
opportunities. There is a trail to the bottom that leads to the
various sub-canyons. The trip down is 10 minutes and quite easy.
The trip back up is not so easy. There is an extensive trail
system for those that want to explore the entire canyon system.
The canyon is about ten miles west of Lumpkin. While the canyon
can easily take a day to visit, there is a secondary attraction
very nearby. About 30 miles east is Plains, hometown of Jimmy
Carter and the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site. Older
readers will remember Plains from being on the national news for
|Jimmy Carter’s boyhood home and
farm are well-maintained as a national historic site,
with lots of outbuildings and related farm
The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library is in Atlanta, but many of
the actual landmarks are in Plains. This is a national historic
site with an extensive museum in the old high school in town. A
second museum is the old railroad depot (that served as his
campaign headquarters during the election). The boyhood home and
farm are 2.5 miles outside of town. The Carter’s still live in
Plains and their home is clearly visible from the main road
(along with the security fence and guard stations).
|If you were alive in the late 1970s, you have to
remember Billy Carter’s Service Station from the
The town is full of other unofficial Jimmy Carter attractions,
like Billy Carter’s gas station and plenty of local
entrepreneurs taking advantage of the tourists.
The farm is setup to be a working farm, like the one
experienced by young Jimmy Carter. The railroad depot focuses on
the 1976 presidential campaign. The Little Grand Canyon and
Plains combine into a wonderful way to spend a full day in
|Plains is full of Jimmy Carter
background, even a Jimmy Carter
|The museum is full of
photographs and Jimmy Carter memorabilia, including a
replica of his White House desk.
The Boll Weevil
Back to the earlier theme. Providence Canyon was the result of
poor farming practices and dramatic soil erosion.
More specifically, it is a testament to what aggressive
cotton farming can do to southern soil. Erosion was a major
problem due to cotton farming in this region. The boll weevil
devastated cotton crops brought an end to the intensive cotton
farming, causing local communities to diversify their crops and
industries. In this region one way to diversify was peanut
crops. We happened to
travel west from the canyon and Plains, and visited nearby
|Boll Weevil Monument on a main
downtown intersection in Enterprise, Alabama.
Enterprise is best-known for a monument that sets at its main
intersection. The Boll Weevil Monument was erected in 1919 in
appreciation of the boll weevil’s
influence in forcing the agricultural economy to diversify into
mixed farming and manufacturing, away from total dependence on
cotton farming. Cotton
farming resulted in Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon; the boll
weevil forced farmers into other crops, especially peanuts in
this area; and Jimmy Carter was famous for being a peanut
farmer. It is not much of a stretch to say all three attractions
are closely-related with a connection being agriculture (cotton,
peanuts, and boll weevil).
|Historical Marker noting the importance of the boll
weevil to the history and economy of Enterprise,
For more information:
Providence Canyon Outdoor Recreation Area:
New Georgia Encyclopedia: Providence Canyon:
Explore Southern History: Providence Canyon State Park:
Jimmy Carter National Historic Site:
Encyclopedia of Alabama: Boll Weevil Monument: