Cloudland Canyon

Date: Friday - Sunday, September 18 - 20, 2009
Location: Cloudland Canyon State Park, Rising Fawn, Georgia
Trails: West Rim Hiking Trail
Members: Gary, Larry & Mimi

Based on this year's club outings, all any drought-stricken area needs to do is invite us over for a weekend of car camping. We can almost guarantee anything from thunderstorms to a federal disaster declaration. Though September's trip to Cloudland Canyon in northwestern Georgia was not a total washout, we were still drying out the gear two days later.

Cloudland Canyon On Friday, with the weather service predicting a 70+ probability of rain, we (Mimi and Larry) opted for the wider main roads. We picked up US 72 at Huntsville and continued to I-24 east just above the Tennessee line. We turned south on I-59 to Trenton, Georgia where GA 136 leads to the park.

As we learned on the way home, we could have knocked off 15 miles by taking AL 117 at Stevenson, up and over Sand Mountain, connecting with AL 71 north at Flat Rock. This route becomes GA 136 at the state line. A more interesting itinerary perhaps but the driving time comes out about the same.

We had lunch at Trenton. For future reference, Trenton sports an Ingles supermarket and a shop selling ice at a reasonable price. Cloudland Canyon State Park is about six miles outside of town.

No problems checking in. We opted for campsite #28 in the West Rim Campground. Any of the sites would have been okay though some seemed more prone to water issues than others, something definitely on our minds. We set up the tent (in our shortest time ever) and the canopy (an exercise in self-control to say the least). Overhead, the clouds retreated and the sun came out.

So instead of having to hunker down in the face of an anticipated deluge, we were able to walk over to the West Rim Trail which we thought would connect with the Waterfalls Trail. Yes, it does, but not without shlopsing along for more than a mile. And we had been so surprised at the nice weather that we had just started off without water or bug spray or anything; Mimi was wearing sandals. Nevertheless we enjoyed some spectacular canyon scenery and an introduction to what we hoped would be the next day's hike.
Campsite #28

Gary arrived around 5:30 with the club's camp kitchen, plenty of firewood, and an example of how canopy shelters should be designed. We all pitched in to make the campfire – Mimi's maiden voyage into the art of splitting logs. Dinner consisted variously of sausages, potato salad, and mother's homemade soup. We adorned the picnic table with a simple red and white tablecloth which undoubtedly benefited from illumination by a Coleman lantern. We turned in around 10 PM.

View of East Rim from West Rim We awoke on Saturday to wind stirring the trees as dawn peeked through. Mimi tempted fate with a hot shower at the comfort station. When she emerged, she discovered that in the meantime, Mother Nature had provided showers (not so hot) for us all. Undaunted, Gary and Larry had breakfast sizzling and coffee perking under the shelter.

The rain never really fell hard but conditions were not favorable for hiking. We just laid around camp, rescheduling afternoon naps into the morning hours. After a few teases, the precipitation let up about 2 PM and the sky was as bright as it was going to get all day. We decided to try our planned hike.

A short path from the campground connects to the yellow-blazed West Rim Hiking Trail, itself about a five mile loop. The trail bed was porous enough to not suffer too badly from the rain. Everything was wet of course but we did not have to contend with oversize puddles or slippery mud.

A number of well-placed overlooks provided us with good views of the East Rim. It was easy to find the boundary of the park. On the right, you'd see red-shirted, white-shorted tourists behind railings. Look to the left and you'd gasp at McCottages cut into the surrounding once-forested landscape.

Our loop trail turned back to the west. While we were disappointed that clouds had filled the valley and obscured the promised views of Trenton, we probably should have been paying more attention to the imminent resurgence of falling rain – which asserted itself in spades as we crossed the park road.

Overlook on West Rim Trail
Sticks and Stones Not having much choice, we continued onward to the access trail for the walk-in campground. We had wanted to check that out anyway, albeit under drier conditions. We found the campsites to be spacious though some of them a bit of a schlep from the parking area. But for our situation, the overhanging roof at the comfort station provided much welcome relief from the downpour.

Of course now that we had found shelter, the rain started to let up. Gary's GPS located us two-tenths of a mile from our campground. No argument over taking the paved road instead of backtracking through the soggy woods. In a nod to modern science, two-tenths of a mile later we arrived at our camp.

We coaxed our wet wood into a roaring fire – well, eventually. We used the camp stoves and charcoal grill to prepare dinner. Afterwards we luxuriated in the exceptionally nice hot showers. The comfort stations were all ours due to the mass departure of many of our fellow campers, presumably due to the wetness and the problems it poses for keeping small children entertained in the twenty-first century.

After dinner we positioned ourselves around the burgeoning blaze and, while consuming the remainder of what Georgia State Parks define as illicit beverages, we solved all of Winston County's and Alabama's political problems. We then turned in, promptly forgetting all the answers.

We experienced occasional gusts of wind overnight but no additional rain. We awoke to overcast skies and just enough water falling on us during breakfast to annoyingly moisten the tents and the other things that must be folded and stashed. We broke camp immediately after breakfast, trying to avoid any more natural surprises.

We drove over to the East Rim. Checking out the campground, we noted that the sites on the west side are larger and have more trees around them. The East Rim Campground is more convenient to the park's group facilities and scheduled activities. We trekked the mostly-paved Overlook Trail. Visibility was only slightly better than yesterday's but the views were impressive nonetheless.

We finished our visit with a short walk to an observation platform overlooking the Wildlife Viewing Area which consists of a small pond and surrounding meadow. Larry spotted a Prairie Warbler but the wet overcast weather did not encourage much activity from any kind of life, wild or otherwise.

Earlier from our Overlook Trail vantage, it had appeared that the fondly-remembered sun was quite possibly shining over Trenton. With the odor of rank, wet clothing beginning to permeate the car, we decided it was definitely time to head in that direction.
West Rim from the East Rim

Submitted 30 Sep 2009
Text and Photos: Larry & Mimi Barkey
Larry and Mimi

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