We did our 4th of July outing a day early this year and went to Rock Springs for artesian well water, rock scrambling, crystal hunting, and a short hike to the Van Hise rock. It isn’t the first time we did this outing. It was a little trip down memory lane.
My daughter recently “graduated” from our homeschool. We did this same day trip when my daughter was ten or eleven years old. (I’m understandably dealing with more than my fair share of Auld Lang Syne after homeschooling my daughter from shapes and colors through high school.)
She’s always been a rock hound and found ten times more quartz crystals than I did—as usual. I think because she was looking for crystals and I was looking for handholds! I did find a couple small crystals and some handsome chunks. Bring a hip or fanny pack to tote stone. You will need your hands free for climbing. The rock is loose, so be sure that you or your kids are not climbing directly above or below anyone else for safety’s sake.
We climbed all the way to the top of the scree slope in the abandoned quarry (25 or 30 feet of loose stone and some solid monoliths) that comprises most of the Ableman’s Gorge State Natural Area. There is still a very large and active quarry on the other side of the river. The entire time we were there was punctuated by the sound of crushed rock being dumped into railroad cars. Most of the rock taken from this area is purple/red quartzite used mostly for creating railroad beds, but you will also see it used in local road making—the roads look purple!
The whole area that we covered from the artesian well to the historic Van Hise rock is only a half mile. We found out about this area from Roadside Geology of Wisconsin. We used this book a lot when we were learning geology throughout my daughter’s education at home. The whole area around Wisconsin Dells is good for learning about glaciers, glaciation, and earth forces that bend, shape, and create rocks and how water interacts with rocks to form caves and cave rock formations, crystals, sea mounts, and islands. Van Hise rock is a famous proof of many geological forces.
The artesian spring is right on the side of the highway with some space to park. The spring is controlled and emerges from a pipe. People pull up to get water all day. While we were there, a car pulled up just long enough for a young woman to fill her water bottle and a few minutes later a man pulled over to fill an entire trunkful of glass gallon jugs. We brought along a couple of empty growlers and refilled all of our water bottles before and after our trip into the nature area on the other side of the road.
First, we went into the main part of the inactive quarry with the rock faces towering above us. (Watch out for the poison ivy–just stay on the gravel in the parking area and the trails in the nature area and you will be fine. There is none of the poisonous weed in the quarry.) The crossbedding in the rock, and farther down the face the ripple patterns, was beautiful. There were a lot of wild flowers blooming. The kind that you only see in hot, barren places. The scree slopes where you can find loose quartz crystals are farther down the trail that parallels Highway 136. You are never more than 50 feet from the road and the trail is fairly level. (You are in a river valley. The river is on the other side of the road.)
There are a couple of blast shelters just off the trail in the quarry. Kids enjoy going into these cave-like cement structures. There are also some cave openings at the top of the main scree slope where we climbed to hunt loose crystals. (They are quite small.)
Our walk ended at 15-foot-tall Van Hise rock. We doubled back on the same trail to the spring, closely followed by a cloud of mosquitoes. Be sure to spray yourself well with insect repellent before you start this hike or just keep moving! We weren’t bothered by bugs when we were on the rocks.
This outing was just as enjoyable the second time as it was the first time. Maybe you can go home again! Begonia