high cliff escarpment state natural area is inside high cliff state park in calumet cty, wisconsin on the eastern shore of lake winnebago. here is a fantastic length of exposure of the niagra escarpment, the dolostone rock formation that arcs from southeastern wisconsin to niagra falls.
a hardwood forest atop the escarpment contains a number of effigy mounds, mostly water panthers and a set of twin buffaloes. the combination of the gloaming, shagbark hickories, mounds, and limestone was exquisite. three lunes here to celebrate.
three generations of riyeffs up and down the cliffs. last sna in calumet cty!
the christmas vacation almost over, i made a brash decision to head up to calumet county for two sna’s, converging on lake winnebago with three generations of family.
stockbridge ledge woods was the first stop, a mature forest atop the niagra escarpment, according to the wdnr website. lots of sugar maple, beech, and oak. though it’s january, it was in the upper 30s so felt like a thaw. some snow still clinging, but lots of places bare too. lots of moss and lichen, but also some liverwort coming up (or hanging on?), and some grasses still green. woodpeckers briefly the only sounds aside from upright primates.
the niagra escarpment, made of ordovician-silurian dolomite, is the edge of an ancient sea with exposures from new york thru southeastern wisconsin. the exposures in this part of wisconsin are known collectively as “the ledge.”
just under 3,500 acres in the baraboo hills abutting the southern shore of devil’s lake, south bluff/devil’s nose is (by southern wi standards) a huge swath of oak and maple forest. according to the dnr’s website, it’s home to a number of rare birds and plants, and pine glen and messinger creek are found here, though we didn’t encounter these this trip. devil’s nose is the eastern end of south bluff, along where the railroad curves out and away from devil’s lake.
our trip was up the first, northwestern-most bluffside in the site, as the kids were along. but they had already hiked the east bluff and gone to ski-hi (apple orchard) by this time, so i was immensely impressed by their stamina and eagerness on this gorgeous, off-trail, up-bluff, windy, sometimes a little rainy hike. it was a fabulous time, and my first time on the south bluff after nearly forty years of visiting devil’s lake. will be coming back.
p.s. my camera was struggling w/ our starting to lose the light on an overcast midwestern day, so photos a little rough. i’ve taken a few sharper images from my wife’s too.
the cherney maribel caves are part of a 50-ft outcropping dolostone bluff in manitowoc cty. most of the “caves” are indentations at the foot of the exposed bluff, but a small army of very dedicated volunteers have been clearing out the actual cave in the bluff. apparently (our very informative tour guide in the cave informed us), water has been trickling down thru lifelines in the dolostone for millennia, carving out the caverns with all manner of fantastic features. but then the last glacier filled in the cave with till and moraine from a sinkhole. they’ve been slowly removing the deposit, which filled the caverns about six feet high before removal.
beautiful hardwood wood too, with cedars on the base of the cliffs. well worth the visit.
oakfield ledge is a section of the niagra escarpment of dolostone that ranges from new york up thru canada down into wisconsin a bit west of where i live in milwaukee. here the outcroppings are not as dramatic as door county’s shoreline cliffs, but they’re quieter and more heavily colonized by life given that they’re surrounded by woods.
at this site in fond du lac county (not manitowoc like i put on twitter a few times!), deep fissures have formed in the dolostone’s fractures. b/c of this, we were able to get down into the escarpment, a first for me. usually the ledge is the side of a hill or a dropoff into water, so one can see it or walk on top of it, but not thru it. we spent a good amount of time down in the canyon. lots of life all over though, in the wood and in the little oak savanna on the edge of the site. late summer in the midwest.
the wdnr site says that a diverse snail fauna lives at the cliff base, but we sadly didn’t find any…
first id’s of white baneberry and pale-flowered leaf cup!
new camaldoli hermitage, founded in 1959 by camaldolese monks based in italy, sits on a mountain in the santa lucia range overlooking the pacific ocean in big sur, california. it is a vibrant contemplative community of monks with daughter houses in berkeley and san luis obispo.
i have a particular affection for the camaldolese since my spiritual mother‘s teacher was bede griffiths, an english benedictine monk who ended up as superior at saccidananda ashram in tamil nadu, india, which ended up incorporated into the camaldolese order. plus, i’m very keen on the works of one of new camaldoli’s original monks, fr. bruno barnhart, and of the current prior, cyprian consiglio. the hermitage is well worth checking out if you’re in the area or looking for a spectacular place for a retreat.
the fence loop trail winds up beyond the hermitage, and we hadn’t climbed it before our visit a couple weeks ago. a beautiful walk with views of canyon and mountain and ocean and sky. redwoods and granitic rock.
my friends, the natural bridge and rockshelter sna has exactly that, a formation cut into the sandstone over millions of years and the largest in the state. excavations done here reveal remains and artifacts dating back to ca. 9,000-8,000 bc. (!) it’s a wonder surrounded by upland oak forests and remnant prairie.
we’d visited before (and my wife, mamie, graciously agreed to be in a few shots for scale), but it’s been too long. the rock shelter is 60′ wide and 30′ deep, but it was late in the day and i simply didn’t have the energy for more pictures. next time (again). it was hard to see all the initials and words carved into the bridge’s base; i’m not a stickler for humans not interacting with natural environments that are being preserved, but the degree of defacement is tough.
up and down and up and down, then some tiny virginia waterleaf just starting out.
for ten-thousand years
in this neighborhood
you’ve sprung out the earth
with verdant drapery
ridges and pockmarks
over wind, sand, oak
“we’ve lingered” referring to our species, in no way attempting to erase the 200 years of the settler-colonial project in wisconsin.
hemlock draw is yet another gorge in the baraboo hills. the terms (“draw,” “hollow,” and “gorge” are used fairly interchangeably in the area.) this particular gorge has honey creek running along its bottom between sandstone and conglomerate cliffs.
the draw is named for hemlocks b/c this is another place in the hills where more northerly species of plants (including hemlock) grow in the southern part of wisconsin. it seems this is b/c of the species’ ability to linger along the microclimates of the gorges where cooler conditions have prevailed; communities that died out this far south with the retreat of the glacier were able to hunker down in spots that persisted cooler.
there are sea stacks here from when the whole area was under water, tho’ we didn’t catch them this time as the day was drawing on and legs were getting weary. next time.
first id of yellow-rumped warbler, and some more signs of forb life here than in other spots we walked that day. the bare cliffs are imposing and majestic.
cleared forest, lamb’s ear
a new world from rot
wtih last year’s bear corn
if you made it this far: there was some burn along the top of one ridge, and this hollowed-out snag was still standing precariously, with the glossiest burn all around the interior. smell and touch are absent, but the view was fascinating too.
a winding rural road up one of the baraboo hills out past baxter’s hollow took us to the top of pine hollow. pine hollow sna is a sandstone and baraboo quartzite gorge roughly 300 ft deep w/ flanking cliffs as high as 80 ft (according to the dnr’s page). a wide variety of life here, as the deep gorge affords a variety of habitats. hemlocks and white pines tower over the cliffs.
moss and ferns lie thick on the ground along the stream bed. there’s also a sedge meadow at the bottom of the hollow, but we spent our time up in the stony heights.
a late spring snow was falling and swirling up and down the gorge while icicles hung off the outcrops along with the moss and liverworts. trackless and gorgeous (pun very much intended). also, a first id of rattlesnake plantain.
pewit’s nest is a sandstone gorge thru which runs skillet creek. it appears the gorge was formed when glacial lake wisconsin burst its shores and carved out all manner of getaways in the surrounding terrain. it’s a beauty with several low waterfalls and a small forest surrounding.
on this trip, some titmice welcomed us onto the path, virginia waterleaf was getting going, and we had the pleasure of meeting a barred owl just hanging out in the top of a conifer growing on the northern side of the gorge.
the site was being abused by folks leaving garbage and tromping off the trails a while back, and i was glad to see that it looks like things are going better now, and that it’s because the dnr enabled access rather than denying more access. that is, they made more deliberate paths, put up wooden fences to steer folks thru the site and off the bluffs etc. good stuff and a welcome end to easter sunday 2022.