A Rocking Weekend

After attending the Lakeland Rock and Gem show in Minocqua on Friday, Mary and I scouted an area known to harbor some specimens of Mica Schist, Blue Kyanite and Red Garnets hidden in a rock formation deep in the forest north west of the Lac Du Flambeau Reservation.  But not being prepared for mosquitos the size of eagles, diminishing daylight and the wet conditions of the ten inches of rain just a week ago, we decided to postpone this excursion and mark the spot in our GPS and headed north in search of a campsite for the night.

We stopped at a campground just south of Hurley for the night, and met and visited with some other campers, one of which works at the nearby Racine Quarry (Small World), and we discussed geology and the mineral samples discovered and available at his work place.  I encouraged him to connect me with his work geologists to maybe arrange a private tour or excursion to explore the site.  Then after some hot dogs, string cheese and granola bars, we settled in to end the day. The next morning we took a short walk down a four wheeler trail across the ATV Bridge and watched the rushing river below, before walking back to the campground to get an early start to what would be an interesting drive northward.  We then drove through Hurley and stopped in Ironwood, Michigan at McDonalds for breakfast and some local information in light of the horrible historic storms they endured less than a week prior.

Last week the area west of Ironwood stretching in the northcentral and northwest section of Wisconsin suffered ten inches of rain in four hours and winds between 90 to 125 mph!  It has been declared a disaster area and the losses will be immeasurable.  There were three dead and many still rendered inaccessible due to washed out State and County highways, roads, bridges and many no longer having utilities or access to emergency or medical services other than cross country hunting paths and fire-lanes providing; assuming there were no creeks or rivers to cross.  The entire area is still chaotic but gradually returning to what we would erroneously consider normal. Some of the areas we were visiting just weeks ago are changed forever.  With many of the roads and highways washed out with gaps hundreds of feet long and tens of feet deep; I spoke with area residents about what roads are open and what area were accessible and eventually spoke with sheriff Matonich who himself was a near victim; as the highway he was driving on washed out and disappeared from beneath him, and was himself swept away in his police truck; as the raging swollen river washed him in a deep torrent in what used to be a creek.  The torrent of rushing water ten feet over flood-stage, carried him several hundred yards “down-stream”, rolling and twisting his vehicle into a crumpled water filled wreck, before we was able to escape through the torn open passengers window and cling to branches until he was able to pull himself ashore and hike back to what was a road and walk for assistance.  What an amazing and terrifying tale!  You can hear the terror in his voice in his radio dispatch, the media posted on YouTube as it has gone viral across the area.

In April we camped at Saxon Harbor a beautiful place complete with yacht slips, wooden bridges to cross to the lower campgrounds, and access to the beach and shoreline of Lake Superior.  Today, the caretaker is dead, 85 boats and yachts destroyed over forty sunk in the lake along with several houses, campers, trucks, vehicles and the possessions of the area residents all gone.  The beach and shoreline are now gone.  The bluff cliffs eroded directly into the lake, all that remains is the remnants of the breakwater and an eroded piece of land scattered with derbies.  Beautiful and serene little Saxon Harbor may never the same and may not ever be rebuilt, as there is precious little left on which to rebuild it.

It was about 9:00 am as we made our way from Ironwood towards Little Girl Point and encountered several detours as we drove, seeing many instances of flooding, wind damage and debris scattered along the way.  The road to Little Girl Point had barricades across the road saying local traffic only, but we slowly made our way the forty miles or so to the parking area.  It was the end of the road as the entire road was filled with construction equipment and road blocks beyond that point.  We were all alone except for a few construction workers busily working to re-open the road.  The area was littered with piles of rocks and gravel that was dumped using the parking area as a makeshift staging area for equipment and materials.  We did manage to park off to the side and walk down to where the boat landing used to be the shoreline.  It was littered with driftwood, rubble and a fresh crop of rock washing up from the deep levels of Lake Superior, mixed in with the eroded topsoil from the now missing landmass.  It was a mess, but accessible.

We walked down the shoreline and beach about a half mile and found some nice specimens of rock.  On the return trip we encountered a few other people who also made their way to the parking lot.  One family was from Richfield just a few miles from home, (Small World), another from a few miles down the road who was looking to see of their neighbor’s house was still intact.  I scooped up a couple pails of washed rock and loaded them into the van and decided to head south again.

Before we left I spoke with a another Police Officer who had showed up and complimented him on the job they had been doing, and making it known that even though we are tourists and not from the area, we all appreciate the job they are doing.  He said they still have about forty families stranded without access and they hope in the next few days to reach them.  He noted that in the last three days they rescued over three hundred families who had been trapped with no ways out by road.  They were still landlocked deep in the woods without electricity or were inaccessible and would be retrieved by road in a few days, but it would still be a two or three hour drive to work for some until the temporary military bridges are set up over the gigantic gorges left by the storms.  They     were living a nightmare and I admit we were just spectators to their nightmare.  I wished him well and we left to go south towards home.

While feasting on cold hot dogs, granola bars, pretzels and the last of the string cheese, we decided to stop off at The Dells of the Eau Claire near Plover on the way home.  It’s a County Park and I had had it on the list of places we wanted to see for a while.  Three billion years ago during the Precambrian Era before the land mass of Pangea broke up.  Wisconsin was home to an enormous volcano and the lave tubes created flows that formed the “Highlands” or what is sometimes known as the “Wisconsin Dome”.  How do we know this?  Because the Dell of the Eau Claire show us.  When the land mass broke up and the Teutonic plates shifted the flat layers of solidified lava known as rhyolites were shifted and upended to a vertical position.  They now stand as a testament of time, as the Eau Claire River now cascaded over the top and between the massive rhyolite formations.  We stopped and toured the campground, took a look at the shelters and the swimming area and park, then walked the short trail and steps down on to the rock formations and walked down the wooded trails before finding and “harvesting” a few samples of the rhyolites for my collection and to make a display.  I am told that there is a considerable possibility of finding trace placer gold in the area as well, but the depth and the rushing water of the Eau Claire River and limited access makes the potential for gathering some material for panning to be an adventure for another day.

All in all, after enjoying wonderful summer weather, and touring the northern most reaches of Wisconsin and parts of Michigan again, being grateful for not being a victim of weather, having seen friends in Minocqua, and gathering some specimens for my collection and finally seeing the Dells of the Eau Claire, it was a good weekend and provided memories for a lifetime.

John and Mary Rettler
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