Panola Mountain: Atlanta’s Granite Outcrops, Part 3

This is Part 3 of a 3-Part series on Atlanta’s Granite Outcrops. To learn more about Atlanta’s Granite Outcrops and the unique ecosystems they support, please view Part 1 – Stone Mountain and Part 2 – Davidson-Arabia Mountain and Nature Preserve of the series.


Written and photographs by Rosemary Cox, Trees Atlanta certified volunteer TreeSpeaker

Close your eyes, breathe deep, and immerse yourself in the primeval aroma of pristine air and damp earth: the petrichor. This is how ranger Will Parks instructs hikers to Panola Mountain State Park to experience their guided walk across this National Natural Landmark.

Unlike its sister granite outcrops (Stone Mountain and Arabia Mountain), Panola provides a glimpse into the past, allowing visitors to view the mountain as the native peoples would have seen it centuries ago, untouched by the ravages of quarrying and the impact of millions of trampling feet.

Park ranger Leslie Mobley explains that preserving Panola’s unique and delicate environment is facilitated by the strict guidelines imposed by its status as a state conservation park—the first of its kind in Georgia. Panola Mountain was purchased from its private owners in 1970 by the Georgia and Nature Conservancies and sold to the state in 1971. Today, even though some areas of the Park are open to fishing, camping, and other exclusive activities such as archery, tree climbing, geocaching, and bouldering, the designated conservation area (which includes the mountain) restricts public access to ranger-led hikes with a limit of 25 people per day. Geology and geography have also played a role in its preservation: the granite is unsuitable for quarrying, and film crews are discouraged by the roar of jet airplanes passing over on their way to the Atlanta airport.

Despite my long association with Stone Mountain and Arabia Mountain, I had never walked on Panola Mountain until this March. Joining a guided hike with several friends, we passed through a forest in succession, thick with fallen leaves and painted buckeye (Aesculus sylvatica), just breaking bud. The wooded area leading up to the mountain provided a fascinating record of human activity, from erosion gullies left from improper farming practices to rusty iron artifacts of moonshine stills. But I was stunned by the magnificent beauty of the mountain itself.

We could see the evolution of a solution pit: 50 thousand years from granite to pine forest. Wild deer rushed past, startled from their thicket, and amazing plant life surrounded us: vigorous gray lichens and resurrection mosses covering the granite, carpets of yellow trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) clinging to pockets of soil on the slopes, prickly pear cacti (Opuntia humifusa) poking out of rock ledges, and spikes of green beargrass (Yucca filamentosa) defining the edges of tree oases where serviceberries (Amelanchier arborea) were white with early bloom. Predictably, the Diamorpha smallii was abundant in the solution pits, but even that rare beauty was upstaged by the threatened granite stonecrop (Sedum pusillum) growing in mats of green moss (Hedwigia ciliate) under the drip line of red cedar trees (Juniperus virginiana): a mutual community in perfect balance. Monadnock spring at Panola Mountain is truly wondrous.

Posted on: March 28, 2022