I love Stone Mountain (Georgia). If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a giant rock outcropping just east of Atlanta that kind of seems like the landing spot of a huge meteor millions of years ago. But it’s actually a huge “mountain” of granite that formed from within the earth’s crust during the time that the Blue Ridge mountains formed (thanks Wikipedia).
Even though it didn’t land here from outer space, it’s still pretty cool. There’s a huge park area all around the main dome/mountain. During normal operations, they have hiking, biking, camping, attractions and rides for kids, a ferry, shops, and an awesome laser show on the side of the mountain in the summer. And of course my favorite, the hike to the top.
The Chiropractor and I have made many trips here together, but more frequently I’ve gone up and down the mountainside solo. A couple of years ago I decided I wanted to do some training for an upcoming trip that was going to include some great hiking opportunities, and I started hiking Stone Mountain every Thursday morning. It’s about an hour drive from our house to the park so it’s a little bit of a time commitment for a 1-2 mile hike. But the view is so worth it!
I’m not nearly as consistent these days, but I still love going when I can. I’ve made the trek a couple of times since the pandemic hit and it means even more to me now. Here’s what I love about Stone Mountain and how it’s unexpectedly helping me stay grounded in July 2020:
- It has stayed open! The hike to the top, that is. Of course we are asked to observe distancing guidelines, but that’s not hard there. I am SO grateful that they have not closed off the trail. Thank you whoever made that decision! Being able to get out in nature has been a huge blessing for me during this craziness
- It’s diverse. On any given day you’ll hear fellow hikers talking in at least 2-3 different languages, if not more. Speaking for myself, it’s a good place to be reminded of the humanity of every person around me, especially those with seemingly different backgrounds than my own. When we’re all struggling to ascend that final stretch, or taking in the view while catching our breath halfway up, or enjoying the air conditioning in the building at the top, or watching in awe as someone does it all with a toddler on their back—it’s easier to remember we’re all brothers and sisters sharing a common, physical experience in nature. I wish for more of that.
- People are inspiring. You’ll see the athletes who are running it up and down multiple times or those hiking with weight vests or maybe even doing it all barefoot (yes, I’ve seen that more than once!) but you’ll also see those who might be doing it for the first time, are not sure they can make it to the top, and are stretching themselves to the absolute max. But they’re out there doing it. Those people actually inspire me more than the conditioned athletes who whiz by me, because they’re doing it despite the struggle.
- Nature is good for us. If you need some endorphins, go exercise in nature. (For an extra dose, do it with a new friend!) There’s something about connecting with the earth that makes our brains/hearts/souls expand a little. And this isn’t just your neighborhood nature walk, this is one of the coolest of God’s creations in this area! Climbing up this ginormous rock and then seeing the nonstop canopy of trees from the top (and on a clear day, the Atlanta skyline and Kennesaw Mountain) is nothing short of awesome. And even though it’s crazy hot and humid in the summer, there is always a breeze at the top to reward you.
As I was finishing my hike last week, I felt an unexpected but very real gratitude for this place. It allowed me to experience all of the highlights listed above during a time when so much has been shaken down or taken away. Its very existence was a physical reminder that the earth is still standing. The clouds are still rolling by. There are still animals going through their own life cycles. People are still accomplishing amazing and hard things every day. Things are going to be okay.
Having extolled the virtues of the Stone Mountain experience, I have to acknowledge that there have been plenty of events related to racial tensions that center around Stone Mountain Park due to the monument of confederate leaders etched into the mountainside. I’ve also made a conscientious decision that it’s okay—and maybe even important—to acknowledge positive experiences there even while we recognize and fight against systemic racism or any other form of discrimination. I think because Stone Mountain is a bit of a hub of activity/focus on this particular issue, it actually makes it that much more meaningful that I or anyone else can go and enjoy it, and appreciate all the beautiful diversity it draws. Despite controversial issues that I can’t wrap up neatly, the awesome beauty of nature and the diverse people who are drawn to this place provides a rich experience that for me is worth sharing.