Cloudland Canyon   Jess Riddle
  Jan 09, 2005 12:06 PST 

Cloudland Canyon State Park, in the northwest corner of the Georgia,
protects a gorge incised into the edge of the Cumberland Plateau, Sitton
Gulf. The bottom of the north facing, forked, generally less than half a
mile wide gorge, lies as much as 800 feet below the surrounding plateau.
Sheer sandstone cliffs, with occasional vegetated ledges, that drop from
approximately 1800' form the walls of the gorge, and combine with three
cascades to produce much of the public appeal of the site. Trails through
the surrounding uplands alternate between second growth mixed hardwood
stands with abundant white oak and young, nearly pure stands of virginia
pine. Virginia pine also mixes with chestnut oak to form most of the
canopy on the ledges and along the well defined rim of the gorge where
many of the individuals are quite gnarled for a short lived species.

Chestnut and white oak dominate some of the more sheltered slopes at the
upper end of the gorge, and eastern hemlock occupies the moistest sites at
the base of north and east facing cliffs. Tuliptree also grows along the
streams and to some extent mixes with the hemlocks. Other overstory
species may occur on the lower slopes in the deep part of the gorge, but
the trail network does not provide access to those areas. Topography
similarly segregates the understory vegetation. On the plateau,
fringetree and sparkleberry in small patches are the main woody shrubs.
Sparkleberry and mountain laurel also occur along the rim of the gorge
where the former is often stunted to less than head height, and takes on
twisted bonsai-like forms. Mountain laurel also covers the drier slopes
in the gorge, but catawba rhododendron is considerably more abundant on
the moister slopes. The upper part of the west fork of the gorge showed
no signs of human disturbance beyond the foot trail that passes through
the area, and old crowns are visible in the bottom of the gorge at least
as far downstream as the confluence of the two streams. The gorge
provides excellent shelter for the forest along the stream, but soils may
not be rich enough to support great height.

Jess Riddle