A prelude to the big wildflower show


Cloudland Canyon State Park. 122 Cloudland Canyon Park Road, Rising Fawn. 7 a.m.-10 p.m. $5 parking fee. 706-657-4050, gastateparks.org/cloudlandcanyon.

The 3,845-acre park, located on the western edge of Lookout Mountain, near Trenton in northwest Georgia’s Dade County, is one of the state’s most scenic state parks. It contains rugged geology and offers exceptional hiking. Visitors are afforded a range of vistas across a deep gorge cut through the mountain by Sitton Gulch Creek, where the elevation ranges from 800 to more than 1,900 feet. The canyon can be seen from an overlook, picnic area and other locations along the rim trail. At the bottom of the canyon, two waterfalls cascade across layers of sandstone and shale, ending in small pools below. Quirky yurts, cottages near the canyon edge, a modern campground and walk-in tent sites are available. Backpackers can camp in a hemlock grove on the 2-mile Backcountry Loop. The main entrance is on Ga. 136, 8 miles east of Trenton and I-59 (Exit 11) and 18 miles west of LaFayette. A second smaller entrance that takes visitors into the mouth of the canyon is off Canyon Park Drive on the outskirts of Trenton.

For our first big spring wildflower walk of the season last weekend, several of us Georgia Botanical Society members found ourselves in one of the state’s botanical hot spots — the mouth of Cloudland Canyon in Dade County in extreme northwest Georgia.

Even though it was only the second day of spring, the early spring wildflowers were breathtaking. I was amazed that so much already was in bloom. We were on the Sitton Gulch Trail in scenic Cloudland Canyon State Park. At the bottom of the canyon, the trail is nearly flat as it runs along rugged Sitton Gulch Creek, a beautiful fast-flowing mountain stream.

“We are about to see one of Georgia’s botanical wonders,” said our leader, Rich Reaves, at the outset.

In several spots, we found the forest floor densely carpeted with the blooms of spring beauties — small, low-growing wildflowers with five white flowers marked by distinctive pink stripes.

In other spots, clusters of toothworts, with their white and pinkish blooms, vied with spring beauties for growing space. We found three species of toothworts, so-named for the “toothed” rhizomes of some species.

Among other wildflowers in bloom or near bloom were hepatica, rue anemone, trout lily, halberd-leaf and larkspur violets, harbinger-of-spring and sweet Betsy and decumbent trilliums.

But it was only a prelude for the even bigger spring wildflower show yet to come. Over the next several weeks, an even wider variety of dazzling wildflowers will be in bloom all over Georgia — mountain coves, Piedmont forests, meadows, old fields, South Georgia swamps. We’ve planned several more treks to see them all.

More information on Georgia Botanical Society field trips (free and open to the public) is at gabotsoc.org.

In the sky: Over the next week, the moon will "wax" to full. By April 4 it will be the "flower moon," as the Cherokee peoples called April's full moon, said David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer.

Also, a full lunar eclipse will be visible April 4 in Atlanta. However, we will see only part of it. The eclipse will begin at 6:15 a.m., but the moon will set partially eclipsed at 7:27 a.m.

Mercury is low in the east just before sunrise. Venus and Mars are in the west at sunset and set a few hours later. Jupiter is high in the east at dusk and is visible all night; it will appear near the moon Sunday night. Saturn rises out of the east around midnight.