Thursday, October 29, 2015

Strange orbs haunt Devil’s Punch Bowl

Run! This gorge is haunted!
Topo map, Devil's Punch Bowl Trail.

Short day hike heads into
geological wonderland
in west-central Wisconsin

Intrepid souls can explore an allegedly haunted glen in west-central Wisconsin.

A 0.25-mile round trip trail at the Devil's Punch Bowl Scientific Study Area takes day hikers to a waterfall and a gorge carved out of sandstone. Be sure to also keep an eye out for strange balls of light that many claim maneuver about the surrounding woods.

To reach the trail, from Menomonie head west on Wis. Hwy. 29. Turn left/south onto County Road P then left/southeast onto 410th Street. Look for the parking lot on the left/east side of the road between 490th and 450th Avenue.

The hike begins with a descent from the parking lot down a stairs to the waterfall’s lip, which is made of hard sandstone. By midsummer, the stream is a mere trickle; waterflow is fairly good during the spring snowmelt, though. The water drops into the punch bowl, a gorge through which the intermittent stream makes it way to the Red Cedar River.

Into the gorge
Return to the parking lot and follow the trail heading southeast. This cuts along the edge of a meadow then enters a woodlands. Once there, a wooden stairs winds to the bottom of the gorge, which is about 60 feet deep.

The gorge is strikingly beautiful, a fern-covered glen with a light sheen of moss growing over the rock walls, as water from the falls fans out across small rocks in the streambed.

The gorge walls are compressed layers of sediment – aka sandstone – which settled at the bottom of warm tropical sea that covered this region around 500 million years ago.

Flooding from glacial meltwater carved out the soft sandstone around 10,000 years ago. Springs now drip water out of the recessed portions of the walls, which in winter results in intriguing ice formations.

Orbs and gnomes
Beyond the intriguing geology may be something even more fantastic – strange orbs of light that some have reported at the site. These orbs apparently are able to change their size, shape and color, as they shift between trees. Other visitors at night have claimed to hear disembodied voices and strange noises.

Among the rarer stories is that of meeting small, gnome-like people. The pointy-eared creatures (replete with pointed hat) are about three- to four-feet tall.

The creek can be followed east to the river where it first intersects with the Red Cedar Trail. By late June, though, the creek's shores beyond the glen usually are overgrown and generally impassable – unless you're an orb of light, of course.

Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.