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  • On the Edge of Providence Canyon
  • Caitie Finlayson (bio)

I’d never seen a canyon before. I realize that, as a geographer, it was probably a professional faux pas to have not yet seen such a prominent feature of the natural landscape, but growing up in Florida, canyons—along with hills, frankly—are hard to find. But there I was, meandering my way down from Fredericksburg, Virginia to Pensacola, Florida in a van full of students and faculty on our way to the 2015 annual meeting of the SouthEastern Division of the Association of American Geographers. Each year, we repeat the same ritual taking back roads and scenic byways across the southeastern United States on the way to the annual meeting and going on a variety of field trips, the majority of which involve some level of trespassing on dilapidated industrial parks or farmland.

Providence Canyon in Stewart County, Georgia was our final field trip on day two of our travels. We’d begun our drive through Georgia that day by congratulating a mother cow and her newborn calf we’d spotted on a passing farm and had then proceeded to explore Andersonville National Historic Site and Jimmy Carter’s Boyhood Farm, with stops at peanut and cotton fields along the way. We were all tired, but excited, as we continued down to Stewart County.

When I finally have an opportunity to see the Grand Canyon, I’ll probably be filled with a sense of wonder and awe and think, “Now this is a canyon,” but as we made our way into Providence Canyon State Park and caught the first glimpse of the canyon below, I was truly amazed. It was stunning. We parked and disembarked from the van; students headed out for a hike, senior faculty went into the visitor’s center to see a film, but having never seen a landscape like this, I set off on a solo trek so I could quietly take it in and explore on my own. Providence Canyon State Park has a number of trails of varying difficulty as well as campsites, and visitors can explore both the canyon rim and the floor below. I’m partial to scenic overlooks, and we had only a limited amount of time at this stop, so I hiked (and I’m using “hiked” loosely; the trail was very well-maintained and was an easy walk) along the canyon rim.

I passed clumps of our students along the path and eventually made my way to an overlook by a picnic shelter and playground. For a while, I was the only one there. There are numerous scenic vistas along the canyon trail, but this view, of the gaping canyon and the forest beyond, was my favorite. I was struck by the deep color of the red soil contrasted against the stark, white sand. It was amazing to me that trees could hang on to these ledges, their roots visible through the sandy soil. I took one picture, and spent the rest of the time just quietly contemplating the sheer cliff faces and sloping curves. [End Page 139]

Our departure time was nearing so I began to make my way back. I ran into my students who had no real sense of urgency and seemed content to spend their entire time at the first overlook they came to. I informed them that they missed the best view and they looked so thoroughly disappointed that I told them to run back and check it out and I would let the faculty members know they’d be a few minutes late. I continued along the path and met up with my colleagues, who’d found the visitor’s center video to be highly informative. I told them where the students were and they, too, were disappointed to have missed the scenic vista, so we made our way to meet up with our students and admire the grand view.

By the time we got to the overlook, it was much more crowded. (Perhaps I shouldn’t have advertised the spot so loudly.) We watched kids climbing on the fence posts and running around the playground. Two men had made their way...


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pp. 139-141
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