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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.

The white pinnacle and other white coloration is kaolin, a white clay.

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 worst.

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.

Jimmy Carter

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 four years.

Jimmy Carter’s boyhood home and farm are well-maintained as a national historic site,
with lots of outbuildings and related farm activities.

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 national news.

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 Central Georgia. 

Plains is full of Jimmy Carter buildings and
background, even a Jimmy Carter peanut.
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 Enterprise, Alabama.

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, Alabama.

For more information:

Providence Canyon Outdoor Recreation Area:

 http://gastateparks.org/ProvidenceCanyon

New Georgia Encyclopedia: Providence Canyon:

http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/geography-environment/providence-canyon

Explore Southern History: Providence Canyon State Park:

http://www.exploresouthernhistory.com/providencecanyon.html

Jimmy Carter National Historic Site:

https://www.nps.gov/jica/index.htm

Encyclopedia of Alabama: Boll Weevil Monument:

http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-2384  


 

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