Copyright 2016 by Kay Harper
Sir Isaac Newton only got it half right. He’s the one who proved that whole gravity thing –what goes up must come down. There is, however, an additional aspect that he left hanging in the breeze. What goes down must come up, at least if you’re on a hike. Did I say up? Oh no, I meant up and Up and UP!
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I blame Bill. Maybe that’s harsh, but my husband’s need, bordering on obsession to find off-the-beaten-track scenic wonders prompted the whole thing. Truthfully, I did have a hand in it. Three months earlier, while pouring over a map, Bill exclaimed, “Hey, Honey, did you know there’s a place called Little Grand Canyon in southwest Georgia?”
Canyon? My ears perked up. I had been a sucker for monstrous holes in the ground ever since a trek to the Grand one back in the 70s. Googling, I found Little Grand Canyon in a flash—Wow! Wow! Wow! Images of red and white rock formations that were rising up through tall pines made this canyon look like it belonged out west.
My mind snapped to. A-HA! What was once to be a simple stop on one of Bill’s motorcycling adventures was now a must-see destination for us both. It was Little Grand Canyon or bust!
Talk about fate! It just so happened that we were already scheduled to go to a family reunion in (of all places) Georgia! Brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, old friends and new were about to congregate at Brother Bill’s place north of Atlanta where swapping stories and laughter would be the major pastime. To top things off there would also be very fine food—the hallmark of any Harper gathering.
And so, our plan was in place. On our return trip home to the Gulf Coast of Florida we would travel (on backroads, of course) to the great southwest of Georgia where Little Grand Canyon awaited our awe.
We pulled into the park about 1:00 pm for what we thought would be a leisurely walk. Resembling a ghost town, signs led us to the Information Center, which had no information—in print or in the person of a ranger. No maps either. There were a few signs, however, so we followed the one that read, To Canyons 1 – 5.
We entered on a shady trail that plunged us deep onto a broad, pine-covered path. Considering the name of the place (Providence Canyon State Park), and the serenity that enveloped us, I said a short prayer. “God, please guide us and protect us on our journey.”
A few hikers passed by. We or they asked, “Would you please take our picture?” Then nature’s splendor lulled us into a slow and steady pace. Twenty minutes later we were down on the water-streaked canyon floor as the trail took us along the towering trail.
We reveled in the beauty, but later learned that it was actually formed by erosion—evidence of poor farming practices back in the early 1800s. Be that as it may, it was a spectacular!
After we had trouped through all five canyons we prepared to make our ascent. Trudging on the muddy orange path we swung around to the right and headed out. The trail was more level than we remembered, but we knew uphill was waiting just ahead. But no, we bounded across the forest floor and sailed on. At one point Bill asked, “You know that group of college girls that left ahead of us? I don’t see their footprints?” I shrugged off the alarm in his voice.
The view was thrilling as nature wrapped itself around us. We’d been walking for about an hour when we saw the first red stripe on a tree. Perhaps there had been others, but we were too busy eyeing the landscape to notice. We stopped. What? Whoa! We looked at each other and simultaneously shouted, “Are we on that trail?” A sign at the top had warned, “The Red Blaze Backcountry Trail requires a permit due to the difficult terrain and distance—7 MILES!”
Bill cried, “We’d better turn around.”
But I thought, How hard can it be? So I chirped, “Look, it’s easy going as far as the eye can see, and so what if there’s a little rise and fall every now and then.” My innate optimism was about to get us into big trouble. Bill started to object, but he knew it was no use. The wilderness was too inviting. So, we skipped along, feasting our eyes on the flora and fauna—swigging down our water supply.
Rounding a bend, Bill stopped suddenly and whispered, “Look! A deer!” Some 40 yards across the forest a fawn was nibbling lazily beside a toppled log. Our stares caught Bambi’s attention, and for a full minute we locked eyes and hearts with her before she bounced away.
Did I say we were still on the canyon floor? That reality was driven home to us when the path started to climb—straight up! Huffing and puffing we made our way to what we thought was the top only to find yet another rise waiting. The huge roots along the way became rest areas where I sat to whimper and whine. “I hate this! I can’t walk another step. Everything from the waist down is screaming STOP!”
Bill was sympathetic at first, but when he’d finally had had enough of my grumbling, he barked, “Look, we have to do this. You’re just making it harder on yourself with your hysterics.” I knew he was right, so I sucked up my gut and stopped complaining—at least out loud. But each time we passed one of the six primitive campsites out there in no man’s land I thought, Who in their right mind would hike all the way out here, on purpose and spend the night!
The interminable climb wound in, out, over, under, around and through the lush green, and I thought, If I could have beamed here, I’d find all this magnificent. At the moment, however, all I could do was put one foot in front of the other. Only excruciating willpower kept my feet dragging upward. That, along with some mighty help from above.
We found benches at the top of a couple of the steepest sections and sat in silence—taking tiny sips of water from our now soon-to-be depleted thermos. I’d been clutching the old straw hat I’d worn on the way down for three hours until I shrieked, “HOT!” and hurled it into the bushes. Bill started to retrieve it, but I screamed. “Leave it!” We slogged on in silence.
No other humans were fool enough to take the hard trail that day. Seven, (let’s count them) seven miles later the trail finally ended, or so the sign said. But the path headed onto a new trail, and turned off onto another, then another. “Which way is out?” I screeched, and sat down for a good cry. “It’s not enough that we’ve just walked for FIVE HOURS, now we’re LOST!!!”
Miraculously, my scream jogged my sense of direction. I stood up, pointed and announced, in no uncertain terms, “This is the way out!”
To which Bill yelled, “No it’s that way!” In a moment of supreme panic we parted ways. But when we’d walked only about 100 yards in opposite directions, my Girl Scout training kicked in. Never split up when you’re lost in the woods. So I screamed, “BILL, BILL, BILL!”
Joining forces we entered an area called The Homestead, which turned out to be a graveyard for cruddy old cars! I started inspecting them for a potential night’s lodging, but nature and critters had overtaken them.
We sat stumped for a few minutes as the day’s events raked through our minds. I tried calling and texting for help, but the boondocks afforded no service. Then, I remembered my prayer at the beginning of our journey. Didn’t I ask for guidance?
Suddenly, the park’s name flooded my mind. PROVIDENCE Canyon! I stood up, certain that guidance was, indeed, being supplied. Racing down one of the many paths I sang, “I know this is the way out!” Bill followed reluctantly. But after another fifteen minutes of more ups, downs, twists and turns we finally made it to the main road, only to discover we hadn’t come out where we’d gone in!
The thought of having to walk still further made both of us howl, “Where’s our car!” Just then, some nice folks happened by and picked us up. As we downed bottles of their ice cold water in the air-conditioned comfort of their old RV, they drove us to our car—a mile down the road. Providence had finally delivered us from Providence!
That day I made a vow. If I ever get back to another canyon—be it big, small or in between, I will enjoy its astonishing beauty from above, not below. Now, it’s just another lesson I had to learn the-hard-way. You see, nature is pretty set in its ways. What goes down must come up!
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