Friday, August 26, 2016

Rock half the Earth's age await on day hike

Trailhead for Echo Bay Hiking Trail
Echo Bay Hiking Trail map
Day hikers can walk atop rock almost half the age of the Earth on the Echo Bay Hiking Trail at Voyageurs National Park.

The 2.2-mile trail consists of three stacked loops, the third or northernmost of which really is intended to be used only as a ski trail. Part of the route runs alongside Lake Kabetogama.

To reach the trailhead, from U.S. Hwy. 53, go north on County Road 122. Turn right/east onto Northern Lights Road/County Road 332. A parking lot is on the road’s north side.

The excitement begins even before you reach the trailhead, however. On Hwy. 122 about 2.3 miles north of Hwy. 53, pull over where there's an exposure of black rock cutting across light gray granite. The gray granite is 2.7 billion years old, part of the Canadian Shield that was the forebear of the North American continent and among some of the oldest exposed rock on Earth.

The black rock is about 2.1 billion years old. As the continent began to split apart, magma was able to rise through the cracks and fill as well overlay some of the adjoining area. The magma, which cooled and hardened into the black mafic rock at the exposure, filled an area stretching more than 50 miles north through International Falls into Ontario.

Back at the trailhead, go right/east from the parking lot. The trail curves north through a forest and in 0.4 miles comes to a junction. Go right/north and continue alongside Kabetogama Lake. The lake formed when an ancient glacial flow sometime during the past 2 million years carved out the valley. At the end of the last ice age some 10,000 years ago, glacial meltwater settled in the valley.

The trail begins to climb as approaching the lake, and the aspen forest gives way to a rocky pine-covered ridgeline. The outcroppings here are about 2.692 to 2.695 million years old.

When these rocks were formed, they were at the southern edge of the Canadian Shield. As neighboring islands and small continents slammed into the shield, it expanded, until becoming the continent we know today.

In 0.7 miles, the trail reaches the junction with the third loop. Go left/south away from the lake. Should you accidentally turn onto the top loop, it runs for 1 mile and reconnects with the next junction.

The underlying and exposed rock here largely is schist. It began to form when a mix of rock flowed down the shield’s continental slope into a deep sea and settled in a clay mixture, forming a sandstone known as graywacke. The buried graywacke then was compressed and heated, transforming into a flaky rock known as schist.

The trail soon leaves the ridge and ascends into the lowlands. At 0.2 miles, the trail junctions with the other end of the third loop; go left/south here.

The schist bedrock joined the Canadian Shield (which much of the schist had eroded from) when an ancient island arc known as the Wawa subprovince pushed north, raised and compressed it, then merged with the proto-North American landmass.

In 0.1 miles, the trail arrives at the northern end of the first stacked loop. Go right/west. In just a few steps, a spur to the left/south leads to the top of a knoll, offering an overlook of a wetlands. Many years ago, beavers created this wetlands area by flooding a forest of ash trees via their dam building. At one time, the dead trees served as a great blue heron rookery.

From the overview, take the spur back to the main trail and turn left/west. In addition to the ancient rocks and the beaver pond turned heron rookery, the sounds and sights of warblers and woodpeckers are a highlight of the hike.

The trail eventually curls south then east around the wetlands, arriving back at your parking lot in 0.8 miles.

Learn more about the park’s day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at Voyageurs National Park guidebook.