Rock it, park it, trail it in Wisconsin
Friday, May 23, 2014 8:41 AM
During the weekend of June 7 and 8 - in addition to taking in local events like the Rhubarb Fest in Lanesboro, on Saturday, June 7, - it's a good time to head to Wisconsin.
This photo was taken in the fall of 2009 at the Mississippi and Mount Trempealeau overlook from Brady's Bluff in Perrot State Park. Check out that park; a rock, mineral, gem and jewelry show in Viroqua; and more during the weekend of June 7 and 8 in Wisconsin. LISA BRAINARD/BLUFF COUNTRY READER
There are two good reasons. First is the 2014 Viroqua Rock, Gem, Mineral and Jewelry Show, held Saturday, June 7, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, June 8, from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., in the Viroqua Middle School gym, at 100 Blackhawk Drive.
New TV shows like "Prospectors," "Gem Hunt" and "Game of Stones" are bringing all the intriguing aspects of rockhounding back to the public eye. Check out our local scene - a bit tamer than television - at this annual show. It's co-sponsored by the Coulee Rock and Mineral Club of La Crosse, of which I'm a member, along with the Viroqua Rotary Club.
You can check out a dozen dealers with offerings that include lapidary arts, gemstones, crystals, minerals, agates, fossils, jewelry, polished stones, slabs, rough rock, geodes, carvings, spheres and specimens. Register for door prizes. Let the kids go "Fishing for Fossils." See flint knapping demonstrations.
There's a food court, a silent auction, and - yes - air conditioning in case it turns very hot. All this is offered in addition to the literal "rock stars" of the show. Plan to take the family - and a rock or two you'd like to have identified.
Free parks and more
Another great reason to visit the state is a variety of free admissions and opportunities offered June 7 and 8 at the Wisconsin DNR's state parks and trails, promoted as a "4 Pack o'Fun." Plan to take in free park admissions, free fishing, free trail fees (although I didn't see the fee waived for horseback riding), and free ATV/UTV riding.
For details, go to http://dnr.wi.gov/news/features/feature.asp?id=8&article=2
Wildcat Mountain Park
Here are highlights regarding a couple parks that aren't too far away.
Wildcat Mountain State Park is near Ontario, Wis., (a nice drive from the Viroqua rock show). It features both hiking and horseback riding trails in the sharp, scenic hills and bluffs near the Kickapoo River valley. I can attest it's a great park to explore.
Keeping with a rock and geology theme, one may note it is part of the Driftless Area, missed by glaciers that covered most of Wisconsin. The hills, made of Precambrian sandstone with limestone tops, have many exposed bluffs.
"Kickapoo" is an Algonquin word meaning "that which goes here, then there." Surely this is a good name for the river which flows for 125 miles over 65 miles of land, with a fall of nearly 350 feet through what are called the Ocooch Mountains of western Wisconsin. The name "Ocooch" came from a small band of Indians related to the Winnebagos called the "Ocoche." The tribe was wiped out by smallpox brought by the earliest white people.
The mountains are high castellated bluffs, sometimes referred to as "the Dells of the Kickapoo."
The Kickapoo River, like the other rivers of the Driftless Area of Wisconsin, probably was formed by small glaciers or spurs of ice which had nothing to do with the massive glaciers know as the Wisconsin Ice Sheet which covered the rest of Wisconsin.
Perrot State Park
Perrot (basically said as "pair-ROH") State Park is south of Winona - of course on the eastern side of the Mississippi. It has a fascinating history, but let's keep to our geology focus here.
"In the Cambrian period, beginning about 600 million years ago, Wisconsin slowly sank beneath a shallow inland sea. Eventually, it rose and the sea drained. Then, in the Ordovician and Silurian periods, roughly 400 million to 500 million years ago, other shallow seas invaded and retreated from Wisconsin.
"The shallow seas deposited thick layers of sand, and deeper waters deposited mud and limy ooze. Piling atop one another, these sediments became hundreds of feet thick. By pressure and natural cementation, the layers in this giant 'sandwich' became sedimentary rocks called sandstone, shale and dolomite (limestone).
"The seas retreated about 400 million years ago and erosion became the next natural force shaping the landscape. Water and wind cut downward into the rock more than 1,000 feet. This process still continues today.
"Hiking up Brady's Bluff west trail, the layers in order include Cambrian rock, Wonewoc sandstones, Lone Rock sandstones, St. Lawrence dolomite and Jordan sandstone. The highest rocks, capping the bluff, are early Ordovician dolomites called Prairie du Chien dolomites.
"Trempealeau Mountain, standing alone across the Trempealeau River, is about 425 feet high. The other bluffs in Perrot State Park are in some points 500 feet above the Mississippi River.
"Perrot is located in a unique geological region called the Driftless Area. When the last glacier swept down from the north, it dramatically changed the landscape of Wisconsin. Southwestern Wisconsin escaped that force, leaving the bluffs of sedimentary rock and the unique topography, which you can see at Perrot.
"Before the glacial period that started about a million years ago, the Mississippi Valley was deeper than it is now and the Mississippi River flowed in a 5-mile wide flat valley north of the park. As the glacier melted, its waters ran down the old valley and plugged it solid with glacial debris. This forced the river to change its flow to the current valley south of the park. Glacial deposits raised the river about 150 feet from its pre-glacial level."
It's all quite interesting. Yes, a trip to Wisconsin seems in order, starting with the Viroqua show.