About 250 kilometers southwest of Atlanta is a network of gorges and massive ravines, graciously called the “Little Grand Canyon” by the locals. Providence Canyon is considered one of the “seven natural wonders” of the state of Georgia, except that it actually appeared not without human intervention. These impressive canyons were not created by the action of nature over millions of years. They were carved by rainwater runoff from agricultural fields in less than a century.
Providence Canyon began to take shape in the early 1800s due to poor farming practices that prevailed throughout the country and especially in the south. In those early days of farming, land was cheap, unlimited, and seemingly expendable, giving way to combinations of plantations, small farms, and, ultimately, equity. Such a system not only degraded the land, but also kept farmers in debt and hindered technological progress.
The natural forest cover was cleared for large agricultural areas, and no measures were taken to avoid soil erosion, resulting in a massive loss of topsoil. Small ravines began to form, which quickly became deeper and more extensive until they were several meters deep by the 1850s. These small channels began to further concentrate runoff, increasing the rate of erosion. Today, some of the ravines in Providence Canyon are 50 meters deep. Despite its recent formation, Providence Canyon is a treasure trove for geologists and visitors. Erosion has exposed several million years of geological evidence within its walls, revealing a wide range of mineral colors. In part, these layers are similar to the Grand Canyon and are of considerable interest to geologists.
Providence Canyon is in a region that was formed by the deposition of marine sediments about 74 million years ago. The soil in the upper part of the canyon appeared about 60–65 million years ago, immediately after the advent of the dinosaurs. The rather rough, reddish colored sand is caused by the presence of iron oxide. Beneath this formation lies what is known as the Providence Sand, which makes up most of the canyon walls. The upper part of this layer is very fine sand mixed with white clay. The middle layer is rough and brighter, interspersed with yellow (limonite) and purple (manganese) deposits. The lowest and oldest layer is black and yellow mica clay. The canyon floor was deposited about 70–74 million years ago and is orange in color but poorly exposed and overgrown with vegetation. And while Providence Canyon continues to erode, its bottom is more stable, and the growth of pines, shrubs, and other vegetation has helped stabilize the soil. In continuation of the topic, I advise you to also admire the largest canyons on Earth in a separate selection on LifeGlobe.