Friday, April 18, 2014

Bliss, bears, and belligerence at Cloudland Canyon State Park

I thought I'd take a break from all of the Florida posts in order to share with you my experiences at Cloudland Canyon in Georgia. My older sister and I camped inside the park, and we had the whole campground to ourselves for the most part -- aside from a passing bear in the night and a very loud deer in the morning.

We chose a campsite that was situated near the babbling waters of a deliciously cool creek (seen in the photo below). We used the creek as a sort of primitive refrigerator by placing our drinks in the water and surrounding them with stones so they wouldn't be carried off by the current. It worked like a charm.

That night, as I lay in my hammock, being lulled to sleep by the sounds of the creek, I caught a flash in my peripheral vision. I blinked and looked around. I was suddenly filled with joy and awe as I realized that our entire campsite was populated by a host of fireflies! I called out to my sister and asked if she was seeing what I was seeing; her answer was a hushed, mesmerized, "Yeah...." 

They wafted about languidly, blinking their fluorescent buggy Morse Code to one another. I held out my hand at one point, watching as it became limned by the pulsing glow of each passing firefly. It was such a quiet, magical experience, and I am so grateful to have had it.

When I'm camping, I generally wake up once or twice a night; this trip was no exception. It was still dark; the air held that pre-dawn chill that clings to everything. I drifted between la-la-land and Cloudland, and at one point, that familiar, musky-greasy-dirty bear smell hit me right in the sinuses. I was too groggy to look around and investigate, but it was unmistakably derived from a black bear. I went back to sleep.

The next morning, I was trumpeted awake by a large passing buck. The scenario was pure comedy; I was sleeping face-down in my Warbonnet Blackbird hammock. The deer -- moving from the direction of the nearby creek toward the deeper woods -- walked behind the hammock, and loudly announced his presence to the world. My head shot up; I was instantly awake. My adrenaline was pumping, my eyes were wide. I probably looked ridiculous. I looked around and there he was; striding quickly and purposefully, head held high, the bastard. It was like being roused by a military bugle call.

After I exited my hammock, I stretched and looked around.... Oh.

Our black bear friend -- remember him? -- left us a present in the night as he passed:

It was fresh; still leaking sap. It wasn't there the night before. It was ten feet away from my hammock. Fun times.

 That morning, my sister and I took had a saunter on the West Rim Trail; the hike was fantastic. The trail takes you through several small ecosystems and skirts around the edge of the canyon, offering multiple opportunities to take in the weathered, tree-covered expanse that the park is named for.

This flower -- a hellebore, I think? -- smelled heavenly. I wanted to bottle its essence and wear it always.

It was such a great camping experience that the end of it was almost paradoxical. As we were leaving, I decided to fill up the gas tank at the first station just outside the park before we got on the highway. Long story short, for some reason, my fuel gauge didn't pick up on the fact that there was gas in the tank after I filled up.

I went inside to inquire about the pump, not thinking it could be my car that was the problem. The owner came out, tested the pump, said it was fine. He walked around my car, saw my out-of-state plates, and then proceeded to lose his mind, accusing me of trying to scam him and threatening to shoot my tires if I tried to leave. I remained eerily calm in the face of this sudden assault, and I stayed where I was, and I called the police. I ended up filing a report against the xenophobic asshole, and then we got back on the road to look for another gas station. A few miles later, my fuel gauge finally registered the fuel input.

I laughed.

Let me ask you this, dear readers: have you ever encountered hostile locals while you were traveling? How did you react to their abuses?


  1. I squinty-eyed laughed through the entire entry, right down to Hillbilly Bob and his Shotgun. Such fond memories. I loved that trip.

    1. Yeah, it was a great trip. Looking forward to a possible camping expedition with you up in the great white north-ish areas. Imagine the bear encounters THERE. Or being woken/maimed by a moose. I think I'll sleep in the van.