|From Panola Mountain|
I just love the above sentence. I usually make up what I think are catchy little titles to my posts, but what could possibly draw a reader in better than that sentence. To be honest, I had to look up one of the words, only because I’ve come across monadnock previously. But apparently, we Atlantans live 30 minutes west of “the most natural and undisturbed monadnock of exposed granitic rock in the Piedmont biophysiographic province.” And I believe its something you should know about and see, so I’m going to tell you the story of hiking Panola Mountain and Panola Mountain State Park .
Panola Mountain is a National Natural Landmark and the centerpiece of the Georgia State park of the same name. It is a granite mountain similar to Stone Mountain or Arabia Mountain . If Arabia Mountain is Stone Mountain’s quieter brother, Panola Mountain is the third child locked in his room to keep him from harm. As a matter of fact, there are no public trails to its summit. The public trails at the park are only 2 miles long and take you along the base of the mountain (there’s also a fitness trail at about a mile). So I put this trip off for a long time because I didn’t want to drive a hour for a two mile walk (I live North of the city). So I made my pilgrimage on the way back from another state park further East.
And I got lucky. I had heard that they had ranger led guided tours that scale the summit, but they were always at 10 am on Saturdays, which is very difficult for me to make (I work a majority of Saturdays, thus the focus of this site on Sunday daytrips). The plan was to stop and do the self guided trail along the base of the mountain, but they have started something new: what they call the Mountain Top Owl Prowl , which takes you on a guided trek up the mountain as the sun is setting. Normally you have to make reservations (call 770-389-7801) and they limit the group to 25, but the nice guide Jeff expanded the group to 27 to make room for the baboon and one companion.
The reason the mountain is off limits to untrained and unescorted personnel is to keep the mountain natural and undisturbed. It is home to many species of lichen, moss, diamorphs, and herbs that just don’t exist anyplace else. Some are endangered, some are endemic to granite outcrops, and some are just plain rare. So even though you are climbing to the 940 foot peak (the elevation gain is only about 250 feet), the star of the show is literally at your feet. You walk near and, in some unfortunate cases, over a patchwork quilt of yellows, reds, greens, greys and blacks which is visually quite stunning. But you do your best not to walk on them, if you crush them they are dead and will not be back for 800 or so years (Try growing a plant on a rock and see how long it takes). The colors come from such species as Vigueria Porteri, Minuartia Uniflora, and the most famous red Diamorphia Smallii, just to name a few. You will walk up single file and the guide will tell you to do your best to walk in the preceding persons footsteps, and tell you which colors are better to walk on if faced with no other choice, but I forget the order. Eventually, there will be a path made by the added hikers, and I guess the added attention to the park will help preservation in the long run.
You will also get to see the sun set over Atlanta, which is always nice. You may see some wildlife like deer or owls, but we did not. The granite rock in and of itself is quite picturesque. There are also some old cabins owned by the Yarborough Family (who previously owned the land) and a very serene little pond. In additon to the owl crawl (1st Saturday of the month at 8pm), and the Every Saturday 10 am hike, but they have also added a Sunday hike (2nd Sunday of each month at 2pm), so the opportunity to visit has expanded to 150 people a month and accommodates folks of differing schedules. The owl crawl is probably only 1.5 miles as you drive to a different parking area to save on time and light, but the other two go a full 3.5 miles. There is a cost involved, the hike costs $7 and there is a $5 parking fee as all Georgia Parks have. [All fees and times are current for April 2010, check their Website ] And remember reservations are required.
I hope I didn’t scare you off with the rules and fees, because it is truly a unique experience I am very grateful for having done. You see the most beautiful things that would make you scrunch your nose in disgust, if you saw it on a loaf of bread. You scale another of Georgia’s great peaks. And the money supports the great natural treasure of Panola Mountain and our great resource of Georgia’s State Parks.
Approximate Time: 1-1.5 hours (Night Owl Crawl)
Approximate Distance: 1.5 miles
Trail Surface: compact soil, granite, small life forms
Features: rare species of flora, mountain peak, panoramic views
Scenic Quality: A+
Hours of Operation: Special for hikes, see text
Facilities: At the visitor center
Maps: Guided tours none needed, at visitor center for self guided trail.
County: border of Henry and Rockdale County, near Stockbridge.