As often as I get the chance, I’m out in the woods.
Fields, forests, and mountains indulge my inner botanist, provide the peace and quiet for “active rest”, and clear my head of the confining realities of city life. What better venue to dial down distractions and focus prayer or creative thought than a good stroll under a dense canopy?
Few would accuse me of being an “avid outdoorsman”–I fish a little and camp a bit, but generally draw the line at activities involving expensive gear or a high risk of death and dismemberment. Mostly, I enjoy walking, and the fewer people around, the better (though the kids are getting old enough that they get to tag along frequently now).
My dear wife graciously recognizes that look I get when I’ve been stuck in town for too long, and willingly takes on extra time watching the kids every so often so I can get out for a solo hike. I sing her undying praise, but she enjoys the benefits of a sane husband that come with the deal. =)
When those chances come, I’m more than a little ebullient, which often spills over in my telling everyone I see for the next few days about the trail I found. Recognizing the counterintuitive move of inviting more people to find my place of solitude, I just can’t help but share a good thing. Hopefully this can work its way into becoming a recurring feature here…we’ll see.
Sitton’s Gulch Trail, Cloudland Canyon State Park
If you live in the Chattanooga area, you’ve probably been to Cloudland Canyon State Park at least once (for the view, the camping, the disc golf, or the leg workout). It’s less than 45 minutes down the road, and a nice place all around. Call me a state traitor, but that frustrating $5 fee at Georgia’s state parks pays off in better maintenance and facilities than we get in Tennessee.
I’ve been to Cloudland (which isn’t so much a canyon as a pocket or “gulf” in the west side of Lookout Mountain) many times, but this was my first trip in from the bottom via Sitton’s Gulch Trail. The name hearkens back to what locals named the area prior to its purchase by the state and subsequent marketing makeover. Our local web news outlet Nooga.com highlighted the opening of the lower access, and I’d been meaning to check it out. This past Saturday offered great weather at peak wildflower season, so I took a shot.
In short, phenomenal. I came back feeling as though I’d never actually visited Cloudland before (having missed this part of the park). I’ve spent a good bit of time studying plants in the Southern Appalachians, and I had no idea a cove forest of that maturity and health could be found so close to home. It has been a long time since I’ve seen a healthy stand of hemlocks that size anywhere. Dropped here blindfolded, “Northwest Georgia, less than 1,000 ft. above sea level” would not have made my top ten guesses for location.
There must be something to the limestone base plus a north-facing valley that brings out the best of what the region’s ecosystem can produce. This is a local treasure, and we’ll be back, I’m sure.
Caveat Ambuletor: I could tell from the lay of the land (i.e. – lots of rocks) and the vines I came across that your results may vary on a summer hike (read: snakes, spiders, and poison ivy).