Stone Mountain is one of metro Atlanta’s most popular hiking spots. It also happens to be one of the 7 natural wonders of Georgia joining the ranks of; Amicalola Falls, Warm Springs, Okefenokee Swamp, Providence Canyon, Radium Springs and Tallulah Gorge. Stone Mountain was formed from an upwelling of magma, about the same time that the Blue Ridge Mountains were formed. Stone Mountain is a giant igneous monolith (meaning it is one continuous rock) that has a circumference of 5 miles at the base above ground but extends further underground. While it is very large it is not the largest piece of granite in the world, and some of the mountain is not composed entirely of granite as composition ranges from quartz monzonite to granite and granodiorite (according to the Georgia Geological Survey Bullet). It is unclear what the largest piece of granite in the world is; I’ve heard the same claim from the Polar Caves in New Hampshire and from a rock in Yellowstone.
There are many interesting species to observe at Stone Mountain as well. During the rainy season in the pools clam shrimp (Laevicaudata) and fairy shrimp (Anostraca) can be observed. Both of these are orders of small bivalves and crustaceans. The fairy shrimp is most commonly known as the sea monkey or brine shrimp. Clam shrimps are very similar but they have a protective shell around the shrimp. They are both able to enter a state called diapause, in this state the eggs basically dry out and remain that way until it rains again. The eggs can even survive being out in space! Centuries later the eggs are still able to hatch. The species are not mobile unless they are aided by wind, bird’s feet, or currents. Fairy shrimp can well found on every single continent, including Antarctica.
Rare plants are also found in the stone mountain park including the Georgia Oak (Quercus georgiana), and Confederate yellow daisy (Helianthus porteri). In fact, the Georgia Oak, which is also called the Stone Mountain Oak, was 1st discovered at Stone Mountain. The Oak only grows on dry granite outcrops, therefore it can also be found on Panola Mountain, and Arabia Mountain. If you are on the walk up trail it can be found near the large chestnut oak in the middle of the trail and before the rest pavilion halfway up the trail. It is distinct due to its shiny green leaves that have 5 irregular points. The points at the base of the leaves are less pronounced than the ones at the tip. The leaves are also hairless except for along the vein on the underside. In the fall they turn dark red or brown and remain on the tree until the spring when new buds form. The twigs, which remember are the past year’s growth, are deep red. The buds are red-brown. The bark is scaly and gray to light brown. The trees are endangered so there is no time like the present to go and see them.
Helianthus porteri a subspecies of sunflower that is also called Porter’s Sunflower and Confederate Daisy. It grows in Georgia, Alabama, and Carolinas on granite hillsides. They are annual plants that grow to be about 40 inches tall and have 7 or 8 pedal yellow flowers, about 30 or more flowers per plant. They are not endangered but due to their limited range, the populations are considered stable. They can be found in areas with soil, but they also prefer areas that do not have too much soil. Flowering occurs after the summer heat but the plants themselves start growing in February.