Evading Severe Weather in the South and Finding Our Happy in Cloudland Canyon State Park, Georgia

There was 1 night recently where we ended up with reservations at 3 different campgrounds. This sounds absurd, and frankly, it really was. When we left Arkansas, the National Weather Service was already calling for severe storms where we were headed. As we evaluated the forecast with our future reservations in mind, we knew heading east was our best bet.

We left our amazing U.S. Army Corps of Engineers site near the Blakely Dam in Arkansas and headed toward Sardis Lake in Mississippi. After a long day of driving, we pulled into the state park where we had reservations for the next 2 nights. Upon entering, both Will and I got a bad feeling about the campground, and our feelings did not improve once we finally located our spot (there were no signs and our spot was on the edge between the operating campground and the defunct area, right beside a less than welcoming mobile home). We did not even attempt to back into the spot and immediately booked 2 nights at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campground next door.

At this point, we were still unsure how we were going to tackle the impending storms, but when we started talking with the campground host, we began feeling even less certain about staying. Based on the forecast, we were right in the middle of the storm with the highest potential for tornadoes, hail, and other severe weather. Even though we really liked our new spot, we were concerned that if we stayed, we would be risking our home. Before even fully setting up camp, we made the decision that we would move on the next morning, bright and early. Will pinpointed a state park in Georgia that was about as far as we could confidently drive in 1 day (which was still hours beyond our longest travel day to date) and was outside of the forecasted hotspot.

On moving days, we typically roll out of camp around 10 AM at the earliest, but on this particular day, we pulled out of camp at 7:30 AM. A true feat! It had stormed off and on throughout the night and it was raining as we left, so we knew we were in for a long day of driving. The state park was about 6 hours away and would take us from Mississippi, through Alabama, and into Georgia.

As Will drove, I continually refreshed the radar, keeping a close eye on the tornado warnings and heavier cells within the storm. We typically stop once for gas and tie that in with lunch, but on this day, we ended up stopping once to change Little Bird, once to make lunch (then eat on the go), and twice to get gas. Shortly after 12 PM (central), we hit the heaviest rain we would encounter all day. As we drove northeast along I-59, we saw rivers of water gushing down the hillsides beside us. It was when we were on this stretch of road that we learned of the tornadoes that were touching down near Birmingham—where we had driven through just an hour earlier.

As we pulled into the state park, the rain let up, though only giving us enough time get set up. When we checked in, we confirmed the location of the tornado shelter, as we had done the night before in Mississippi, and left with a hope that we would not be seeing the park ranger in the coming hours.

In the early evening, the storms seemed to dissipate around us, though we were completely shook by the news about the tornadoes just south of us, along the exact route we had traveled earlier. We could see more cells moving our way, but for the most part, they seemed to go around us. While we had some rain off and on, nothing materialized, and we actually saw the sun peek out before setting.

The following morning, we woke up to beautiful, cloudless blue skies. When Will entered the information into our family calendar after making the reservation, he accidentally called it Cloudless State Park, not Cloudland Canyon State Park, and it turns out he was not wrong.

When we checked in, we also picked up a trail map in the hopes that we would be able to get out and explore. From this map, we learned that one of the trails in the park was listed as a top 10 hike in the U.S. by Backpacker Magazine in 2017. The West Rim trail was accessible directly from our campground, so we did not even give it much thought…clearly, this was the hike we were doing.

From the campground, you can miss the most strenuous parts of the trail while still seeing the most beautiful scenery. While we would have loved to have hiked down into the canyon, with Little Bird and Daisy in tow, it made the most sense for us do the easier portion. Boy were we in for a treat!

The 3-mile trail from our campsite was one of the more beautiful and scenic hikes we have ever been on. It was moderately difficult, in that there were many rocks, stream crossings, and lots of tree roots, in addition to narrow trails with a steep drop to one side, but it was absolutely worth it.

There were spectacular views at every turn, and we simply could not get enough. While the hike took us a little longer than it would typically take for a similar length trail, we had snacks for Little Bird, plenty of water, and a delicious lunch waiting for us back at the camper.

After the stress of evading the storm and the less than ideal driving conditions the day before, this hike was exactly what we needed. There is nothing that quite grounds us like a good hike and time in nature.

We truly believe that God was watching over us and guiding us during these few days. Although we had to change our plans, we would have never experienced God’s creation at this amazing state park. We are taking these lessons to heart and are continually becoming more comfortable with being flexible and adapting to the ever-changing situations we find ourselves in. Hunkering down for a snowstorm in Texas was one thing, but we simply could not have that mentality with possible tornadoes and hail. We continually take into consideration what is best for us and our home. And we continually thank God for keeping us safe and for providing guidance on this journey.

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