Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Wisconsin in the Dells

Much of Wisconsin was molded by the last blast from the Ice Ages, which flattened any geological features it encountered. Southwest Wisconsin is just beyond the farthest expansion of the lobes of ice, so it avoided being flattened. But from that position it was covered by massive Lake Wisconsin during the Ice Ages. When the lake drained, the remaining river valley was blasted by the rushing water, forming the famous Wisconsin Dells.
The Cambrian sandstone (that's more than 500 million years old folks) is some of the oldest exposed rock in the world. It is also incredibly soft in most places. You can rub it off with your finger without even trying. When the river swirls into whirlpools, the rock erodes in odd shaped semi-circles. Small creeks make eerie canyons where the sides almost touch until the stream pours into the lake. For a geology buff, this is really cool stuff. Small ferns cascade down the cliffs towards the cool moisture.
Erosion continues as the river rises and falls, chewing into the soft rock. Where the necessary minerals are included in the sandstone, it makes a harder cap atop the more eroded rocks. You can see tilted sandstone beneath other horizontal layers. How would you like to have this for a vacation home? At one point, we all got off the boat and climbed up to look at Stand Rock and the famous Jumping Dog. Yes, there is a dog that jumps across the five foot gap between these two rocks. Why? Who cares about a jumping dog? H.H. Bennett is the photographer who made the Dells famous after the Civil War. He made his own equipment, mixed the chemicals to put on a glass plate, hauled the lot on site, took a picture, and developed it right away before the chemicals decomposed. Thank God for digital cameras! It was impossible to take any action shots because of the time required to expose the chemicals. Any movement just showed as a blur. Bennett invented the camera shutter to reduce the time required for a photo, enabling stop action shots (the favorite of many photographers!). What has that got to do with a rock? To prove his stop action shutter, his son jumped across this gap, while dad captured him in mid-air, something that could not have been faked. I was impressed!
As we enjoyed the perfect weather on the lake, I kept asking myself where the birds were. This area is perfect for Ospreys and Bald Eagles. We finally saw one Osprey, and I believe this one is a juvenile Bald Eagle. Everyone who agrees, raise your hand. Vultures, of course, have been everywhere.
To lose our "lake legs" from riding a boat for 3 hours, we drove down to Mirror Lake State Park to just hike around, enjoying nature. A Wisconsin Ent greeted us with rounded eyes and mouth. Crimson berries from Jack-in-the-Pulpit glowed in the shady forest. These northern Jacks look much larger than ours in Kentucky.
Forests of ferns lined the trails. Some day I'm really going to take a good fern class so I can these beauties apart when I see them.
Sunset in Wisconsin. The perfect way to end the day!

1 comment:

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