Friday, October 17, 2008

Big Manitou Falls mini road trip

Did you know that the highest waterfall in Wisconsin (165 feet), and the fourth highest waterfall in the United States east of the Mississippi River, is less than thirty miles from Sand Creek?

Neither did I, until recently. Wisconsin keeps her secrets well.

I have a confession to make: I am a geology nerd. I won a 4-H purple ribbon at the 1984 Minnesota State Fair with my rock collection. So I am always on the lookout for geological oddities. Rock outcrops fascinate me; it is as if we are given a glimpse into the ancient history of this little piece of earth we call home.

My home on Sand Creek lies within a half mile of a geological hot spot called the Douglas Fault. About 500 million years ago, the continent started splitting apart along a line that stretches from Superior, Wisconsin to the Twin Cities, maybe even more. It stopped, eventually, and we have not had any earthquakes to speak of lately, but there is an ancient basalt bedrock juxtaposed against a more recent sandstone bedrock. If we drilled a deep well we would be going through sandstone; the nice little rock outcrop a mile and a half to the east is basalt.

I was doing a little Internet research on the Douglas Fault recently, and I found out that Wisconsin has two state parks with waterfalls that are there due to the Douglas Fault. And one of them, Pattison State Park, was less than an hour's drive away. So today the kids had a holiday from school due to the annual teacher's convention, and I was due for a self-imposed holiday from work. The weather was nice, so I tore the kids away from Wii Major League Baseball 2007 for a while, and off we went.

The Black River, source of this water grandeur, arises about fifteen miles northeast of my home in a bog; hence the water is very dark stained from the interaction of acid and plant tissue. The falls is a very short walk from the parking lot. The view is limited to a couple of places, however, and there is no way to get to the bottom of the gorge. That was fine with me. I didn't get any memorable pictures of the falls, due in part to camera movement caused by a very excited Labrador on one of her rare big days out with the family.

We took a half mile hiking trail down to the bottom of the gorge, downstream from the falls. The kids settled easily into the throwing rocks thing. If you look beyond Calvin, you can see that the bedrock cliffs here are sandstone, not the basalt that the waterfall was tumbling over.

There were some amazing white pines along the trail, although I am proud to say I don't think any one of them was bigger than some of the pines we have here on our 40 acres. They are impressive though.


Although I very much enjoyed our destination, I think the kids and I enjoyed the journey as much, if not more. We traveled through some very back country roads that went through Holyoke, Minnesota, a town immortalized in a song by a band I really like, The Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank. One of the nephews lives in Holyoke, and I'm pretty sure we passed by his house. There are not that many houses in Holyoke.

Not that much later we passed through Foxboro, Wisconsin. This is it.


I wonder about the history, if there is one, of this town that maybe never was.

After the falls we drove on up to Superior, which was only thirteen miles away. We laughed at how there was a bar every half mile down Wisconsin 35. I told the kids "We're in Wisconsin now, that's why we sometimes drive to The Shack on Sunday!" In fact, I was driving to The Shack to pick up some Summit Scandia beer that was on sale. 3.99 a six. I was thinking of how, if I knew where the Barack Obama campaign headquarters was in Duluth, I would pick up a sign or something. Then, a curious thing happened. The kids wanted to drive back home through Foxboro, so in turning around and driving through downtown Superior I happened to drive right by the Obama Superior headquarters. So I stopped in, made a nominal donation, and got my sign. Which is now at the end of my driveway, next to the Franken and Vote Yes.

All in all, it was a wonderful day. The natural beauty that surrounds this place where I live never fails to amaze me.

Edited to add: Here is a view of the entire waterfall. When I was posting this last night, for some reason I didn't think this photo was "good enough". But I decided I could not post about this magnificent falls without showing the bottom half, which is a more sheer vertical drop.

10 comments:

Robert V. Sobczak said...

Wow! That looks like a "bridal falls" if I ever saw one! Any chance I could post the photo of the fall on my "Photo Of Day" feature of my hydrology blog, I'll give you a photo credit and a link to your blog? And really excellent photos. It's a great blog

Deb said...

Robert- Feel free to post this on your blog, and thanks!

BurdockBoy said...

I visited that falls once. Pretty cool. I always thought you guys had the better falls up on the northshore though.

I lived pretty close to Morgan Falls, which is south of Ashland, WI. It was a pretty high falls down a red granite face, but the creek was small. IT used to be very private. I remember skinny dipping there as a child back in the early 80's with my parents.

Jayne said...

Ahh yes, the journey. That is more than half of the joy, isn't it? (I need one of those Obama signs too.) :c)

Floridacracker said...

Beautiful!
Very Steven Kingy with the dark skies and light.
The falls are pretty spectacular.

Britta said...

Hi! I'm a new reader. A Wisconsin native who went to college along the Mississippi River and spent my fair share of time teaching backpacking to adolescents in the Apostle Islands and random wilderness of Northern Wisconsin. Thank you for your photos. I'm now on the Great Plains and your photos do my soul good. Thank you.

Deb said...

BurdockBoy- No fair! My parents never took me skinny dipping! :)

Jayne- I guess the title of your blog says it all. It's all about the journey. Although with the election, it's all about the result!

FC- Somehow my favorite photo in this whole post is the Foxboro sign. A sign, then nothing. And the light was perfect.

Britta- Welcome! I spent a little time in South Dakota myself and found I could not live without the landscape around here. Hope you'll stop by again!

RuthieJ said...

Hi Deb,
I'm glad the weather cooperated and you got to take the family on a "mini" vacation. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Greg Locascio said...

thanks for the geology lesson. You live in one of my favorite parts of the world. Check out some of the falls on the Superior Hiking Trail. That's all basalt up there, if I remember right.

Deb said...

RuthieJ- It was a great time, and as always I'm happy to share.

Greg L- Welcome to Sand Creek! I've seen Gooseberry Falls, and I think it's Manitou Falls on the Baptism River. But it was nice to find a falls within an hour's drive of home.