Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Search for billion-year-old agates in Minn.

The Moose Lake State Park visitor center includes
a display of Lake Superior Agates.

State gemstone, great fishing
found in Moose Lake park

Day hikers can discover some of the oldest agates in the world on the west segment of the Echo Lake Trail in Minnesota’s Moose Lake State Park.

The western segment is the part of the trail following Echo Lake's northwestern shore. Its total length is about a mile. Adding the trail’s eastern segment more than doubles the length and heads into a campground.

Located in Carlton County, Minn., there’s no “Moose Lake" in the park, which is named after the nearest town – which in turn is near Moosehead Lake. To reach the trailhead, leave Interstate 35 at Exit 214, taking County Road 137 east into the park. Go right/south to the park office; past it, turn right/west into a pair of parking lots. The trailhead is on the eastern lot’s south side.

Echo Lake
Once on the trail, veer right/west at the next two junctions. This takes you to Echo Lake’s north shore, where there’s a small swimming area. Swimming is restricted to only a few feet from the shoreline, so it’s perfect for little children.

The calm, 104-acre Echo Lake reaches a depth of 47 feet. Fishermen like the lake for its black crappies, blue gill, largemouth bass, northern pike, northern pike, and panfish, particularly pumpkinseed sunfish. You’re likely to see rowboats and canoes on the waters.

At the next junction, veer left/west; the other way takes you to a picnic area. You’re now on the stem of the lollipop trail.

Though you may be taking in the blue lake and verdant scenery, keep one eye to the ground for agates. Lake Superior Agates – Minnesota’s state gemstone – are common in the park.

Eons in the making
The agates began forming some 1 billion years ago when lava flows covered this region of the world. As the lava hardened into rock, small bubbles formed where water vapor and carbon dioxide had been trapped. Over the eons, groundwater filled these bubbles with minerals that cemented to form literally millions of agates. Many agates locally have red bands due to the region's high iron content.

Erosion gradually dislodged the agates from the lava beds. Glaciers during the last several ice ages polished and smoothed these rocks, as well as distributed them across Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. Though a common rock, collecting of agates is not allowed in the state park.

For the next 0.3 miles, the trail ascends about 30 feet to a loop. This circle, which also is a third of a mile long, boasts a number of basswood, birch, maple and pine trees, making it ideal for an autumn walk, especially in early to mid-October. The morning and early evening, when the sun lights up the maples’ red and the birch’s yellow leaves, mark excellent times for a walk.

Upon returning to the loop’s starting point, follow the route back to the parking lot. If during summer, make a day out of it by enjoying a swim or picnic lunch. Also stop at the visitor’s center, which offers a display of agates found at the park (Fair warning if with children: The nature center has a small gift store.).

Read more about day hiking Northeast Minnesota in my Headin’ to the Cabin: Day Hiking Trails of Northeast Minnesota guidebook.