Panola Mountain State Park offers moon light hikes to the top of the mountain. My boyfriend and I decided that we’d take the hike on a seemingly random Tuesday evening. The moon was set to be its fullest that night and we knew the views would be spectacular.
Park rangers Amy and Jamie were our guides. No one else showed up that night so I was stoked to have a little private tour. It had been years since I went to the top and I was glad to be going with my boyfriend.
Our excursion began around sunset on a cool evening. The rangers guided us up the side of Panola Mountain. Near the base, the trail is forested, dotted with small ponds and a beautiful lake right before hikers gain elevation. Around the lake are cottages, remnants of the owners who passed the park on to the state back in the 70s.
From there, we began our journey upward. The trees became more scarce, giving way to the bare face of the granite. Amy was incredibly knowledgeable about the plant life and formations found in the bulges and crags of the monadnock. She pointed out numerous types of lichen which for some reason remind me of tiny reindeer antlers. She also noted rare red diamorpha which thrives in the tiny shallow pools that are speckled across the mountain. At one stop, we found the even rarer green diamorpha!
My favorite was the black moss, which turns bright green in seconds after pouring water on it. The transformation is even faster when there is more sunlight, but since we were catching the last rays before sunset we had to kneel down and squint to see the change.
Since we hiked during the winter, we missed out on the prickly pear cacti, the sand wart, and yellow daisies that I’ve heard are stunning during the warmer months.
Then we reached the top. Beautiful! The sun set in the west, and to the right we could see the Atlanta skyline as bright as day. The city juts up out of the horizon like its own strange little mountain range. It was simply stunning.
We walked up a bit further to another crest. From there, we could see nearby Arabia Mountain and the moon rising in the east. It seemed like it was “rising” pretty fast thanks to a low-lying strip of clouds. As the clouds slipped away in the distant winds, the moon grew fuller and brighter. From where we stood, it was about the size of a dinner plate in our hands.
My boyfriend, who is generally the romantic type, whipped out a tripod and asked the rangers to take photos of us. I wasn’t expecting the tripod, or the portable light that he brought but I was glad that thy were there. Jamie took a few photos of us with the moonlight at our backs.
“On the count of three, everybody say, ‘Yes!'” I dunno what happened to cheese, but during the third photo it all began to make sense. The flash blinded me. As my eyes recovered, I noticed Jamie hand my boyfriend a small black box. Amy shoved her hands deep into her pockets and grinned.
My boyfriend dropped to one knee and I think I went temporarily def. I could see him open the box, revealing a diamond that caught the moonlight and sent it back at me like another camera flash. I think I heard him say my name and that was enough.
“Yes, yes, yes! Get up! Oh my God, get up!” I shouted. I think I pulled him to his feet.
“Speech!” squealed Amy.
I look of horror passed my boyfriend’s–I mean, fiance’s–face.
I cracked up for a second. “You don’t have to give a speech, just put it on me!” I’m seriously not using enough exclamation points for how I was really talking.
My fiance placed the ring on my finger and I know I squealed and kissed him for at least a good minute. Somewhere along the lines I regained my breath, called him a jerk and a punk for surprising me, and kicked him in the butt. Eh. It’s what we do.
The descent was a bit of a blur. I remember that the moonlight was so bright that we didn’t need flashlights at all. The light was so bright, actually, that it cast long angular shadows on the ground around us as we passed through the trees. We tried to take a few photos back at the lake, catching the moonlight and starts reflecting off of the water but nothing could capture the beauty as we saw it in front of us.
While this account doesn’t describe a normal Panola Mountain Park moonlight hike, it does demonstrate just how phenomenal the park rangers are. Three park staff members were in on the scheme! They helped my finace coordinate everything and went out of their way to make everything seem like an average walk through the woods. Thank you so much Jamie and Amy!!!!