Saturday, May 21, 2016

Hike heads across 1.75-billion-year-old rock

Devil's Lake from East Bluff, courtesy of Flickr.
Map of loop, courtesy Wisconsin DNR.

Trail passes
500 feet
above lake

Day hikers can walk atop ancient rock laid down by rivers some 1.75 billion years ago at Wisconsin’s Devil’s Lake State Park.

The 2.6-miles round trip East Bluff-East Bluff Woods Loop is best done on dry days in spring through autumn. September and October is gorgeous as harvest leaves frame the trail and neighboring Devil’s Lake. The trail does gain 500 feet of elevation.

To reach the trailhead, from Baraboo take Wis. Hwy. 113 south. Enter Devil’s Lake State Park by turning right/west on County Road DL. Follow it past two junctions – one for the campgrounds and the other with Old Lake Road – then turn left/south onto Park Road. Cross the road that leads to the park headquarters. Pass through the first parking lot and use the second one. The trailhead leaves from the east side of road just after it exits the second lot’s south side.

The trail ascends asphalt steps (0.2 miles the steps give way to a boulder stairway) up the East Bluff that forms one side of the valley holding in Devil’s Lake. Shade provides for cool temperatures at the fern-covered base, but temps rise as the trail gains elevation.

Ancient rock
Upon reaching a trail junction, go right/south, beginning the loop. Breaks in trees soon yield views of gleaming 360-acre Devil’s Lake to your right/west.

During the last ice age, the lake was part of a river of glacial meltwater flowed here, but the glaciers left sediment that plugged the ends of the valley, leaving behind the waterbody. Today, the lake is spring-fed and varies in depth from 40 to 50 feet.

At 0.4 miles from the trailhead, the trail reaches its crest. Be careful, as the uneven pathway passes some steep drop offs. The lake is about 500 feet below.

The trail crosses Precambrian Baraboo quartzite. The 1.75 billion-year-old red quartz sandstone is about 4000 feet thick in this area. For several million years, the rock was just sandstone, deposited here by braided rivers that also carried iron oxide, which gives the stone its scarlet color.

Then about 1.6 billion years ago, the sandstone was crumpled into wrinkles and folds, probably because a small continent collided with what was then the edge of North America. The heat and pressure from this folding metamorphosed the sandstone into nonporous quartzite. That ancient range, now known as the Baraboo Hills, probably rose higher than the modern day Rocky Mountains.

At 0.6 miles in, the trail zigs and zags around rocks, going by Elephant Cave and Elephant Rock, so named for their size not their shape (Though the former looks more like a divot and the latter a bison.).

East Bluff Woods segment
The trail angles left/east at 1.1 miles to connect with the East Bluff Woods Trail. You’re now at the loop’s bottom.

At 1.2 miles is the intersection with the East Bluff Woods Trail; go left/north onto it and begin the loop’s long east side. The East Bluff Trail does continue straight/east, as it forms an L-shape, but to keep distances down, save that segment of the trail for another hike.

There are no lake views from the East Bluff Woods. It’s less crowded and more peaceful, though, as it heads through a forest of maples and oaks with some sumac and birch mixed in.

The trail around the 2.1 mile mark begins to follow a steep slope as you close on your starting point. Upon reaching the access trail, go right/northwest and take it back to the parking lot.

Tip: Good hiking boots needed on trail as the quartzite can be wet and slippery.

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