Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Wis. trail heads into 200-feet deep gorge

Van Hise Rock near Ableman's Gorge SNA,
courtesy of Wikipedia.
Hikers can walk into Wisconsin’s ancient past through a rare 200-foot deep canyon at the Ableman’s Gorge State Natural Area.

Ableman’s Gorge Trail runs about a little less than a half-mile round-trip. The gorge stretches for nearly a mile in an L shape through this section of the famous Baraboo Hills. The state natural area is a 126-acre site.

To reach the trail, from Rock Springs, take Wis. Hwy. 136 north. Look for a small pull-off parking area next to an artesian well on the road’s side. From the parking lot, cross the highway and go left/north.

The trail runs along the cliff’s base. This leads to a former blast shelter used at a former quarry between Rock Springs and the state natural area.

In short order, the trail veers back toward the highway, passing through a wayside for Van Hise Rock. The monolithic outcropping is made entirely of the pink-purplish Baraboo quartzite.

At one time hundreds of millions of years ago, an ancient sea pounded against a cliff of quartzite here. Sediment brought by rivers from the north gradually settled at the sea bottom, lifting the waters over the cliff top. Quartzite pieces broke off and mixed with pebbles and conglomerate; all were buried beneath even more sediment at the bottom of the new, higher sea floor.

Fast forward to the end of the last ice age when the Baraboo River, swollen with melting glacial water, carved through those layers, creating the chasm.

Given the gorge’s unique geography, the plant life here is atypical of what you’d find in the surrounding area. Various ferns, the rare Allegheny-vine, the Canada Mayflower, and the Virginia water-leaf cover much of the ground. On the gorge’s north-facing slopes, a cool and moist environment support plants usually found in northern Wisconsin, including Canada yew, hemlock, mountain maple, and yellow birch.

The trail ends just as Hwy. 136 bends to the left/west. Sometimes in spring, deer trails allow you to walk further into the gorge, but by summer it’s overgrown.

There’s also a parking area on the left/southwest side of Hwy. 136 just beyond the bend. That access leads to unofficial trails that run a ways into the gorge and to the Baraboo River’s shores.

Rock climbing is prohibited along the trail and in the state natural area.

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