Thursday, June 19, 2014

Waterfalls and Sandstone Quarries

It has been a busy spring. Life, combined with lots of rain, conspired to delay getting the camper mounted on the truck. Finally, we had an open weekend with time to roll the camper out of the garage, give it a nice wash and get it ready to go. I had used a couple previous days to do some minor maintenance and electrical projects that we had identified last year. I added a master switch so we could save battery power when we are away from the truck by turning everything off with one switch. I left one outlet live to power the fridge. I also touched up the paint on the base where it had been marred and finished the opening for the truck's inverter outlet.

Note: you can click the photos for a larger version.

Washing up after the winter.

Access to the truck's inverter outlet.

The plug is wired to an outlet in the camper.

 With the camper on the truck, our thoughts turned to where should we go for our first trip of the season. We decided to do a short trip relatively close to home, kind of a shakedown trip to get ourselves and the camper in efficient camping mode again. It is surprising how much you can forget over a long winter. We picked a couple of state parks to visit- one we had not previously been to, and one that we had visited when the kids were little and wanted to return to again.

We packed up and hit the road late morning on a Tuesday. We like camping during the week when the parks are less busy. Our first destination was Pattison State Park in Wisconsin. We had heard it was the site of the 4th highest waterfall east of the Rockies. With the wet spring we are having, it seemed a good time to go check it out. The falls would be sure to be flowing.

 True to our favorite way of traveling, we took to the back roads to see what we might see on the way. Passing through the countryside and the many small towns off the beaten track is a source of enjoyment to us both, revealing aspects of nature, community and history not seen from the freeway. Our route led us to St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin where we stopped for lunch and a short walk along the wild and scenic St. Croix River. With Rocky along, we are encouraged to take frequent breaks from the road to let us all get some exercise. It increases the time to get to our destination, but we weren't going far anyway.

A few hours after leaving the city, we arrived at Pattison State Park. The park office was closed so we self-registered and picked out a pleasant campsite. There were a few campers already there but we found a site without immediate neighbors and set up camp. Being a wet spring, we anticipated rain and mosquitos so we set up the screen house. We made dinner and took a walk around the park to see what there was to see nearby.

There were some nice log park buildings, a very nice swimming beach on a lake created by a dam overflowing with water and a large picnic area. The volume of water going over the dam heightened our anticipation for the falls that we would explore the next day. We returned to camp. Being the first trip of the season, it took awhile to get the camper interior organized the way we wanted it. We read for a while and then crawled into bed for a good rest.

After a nice breakfast, we grabbed the day pack with rain gear, water and lunch and set off to find Big Manitou Falls. The trail took us through a tunnel under the highway and a short ways along the Black River. As is usually the case, the sound of the falls reached us long before we could see them. We were walking along the river and could see up ahead where the river disappeared. We were at the top of the falls. A short walk ahead to an overlook revealed the source of the thunder and mist.

Big Manitou Falls of the Black River.

We walked back to a footbridge that would take us across the river and along a trail for another vantage point.

Big Manitou Falls

The park brochure that we had picked up when we registered mentioned another falls a bit upstream. We decided to try to find it and settled on that as a good place to have lunch. Little Manitou Falls did not disappoint.

Little Manitou Falls

We enjoyed a nice walk along the river accompanied by the sound of rushing water, saw signs of spring and a healthy growing season ahead, and explored the falls before eating our lunch in a nice picnic area provided.

Spring growth

Yellow Clintonia (Bluebead)



We returned to camp after an enjoyable day. Rain was in the forecast for the following day and we decided that we had seen what Pattison Park had to offer for this trip. We resolved to pack up and head to our next destination. We hoped to have camp established in the new site before the rain hit, rather than having to pack up in the rain if we stayed another night at Pattison.

 Our next destination was Banning State Park in Minnesota.

Banning State Park surrounds a scenic stretch of the Kettle River and commemorates a period in Minnesota after the timber harvest of the 1800's was largely completed. The cities of Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth were growing and the demand for building materials was high. The Kettle River, flowing south from the Lake Superior basin, followed a fault line in the sandstone left by prehistoric seas that overlaid the area, eventually joining the St. Croix River. The durable, pink-colored sandstone exposed by the river was an ideal construction material, and quarrying began in 1892. By 1905, the quarrying was largely suspended as construction methods moved away from stone to concrete and steel. The ruins of the quarry remain in the park and are fun to explore.

Kettle River

River-sculpted sandstone

Ruins of the Rock Crusher
Ruins of the Powerhouse

 The river takes its name from the sculptural effect of the water on the sandstone that lines the banks and underlies the river. Some of the kettles, or potholes, scoured in the river bed are quite large and can create dangerous currents in time of high water.  In the park, the river drops through a series of rapids ranging from class I to class IV. These rapids are dangerous to even experienced whitewater kayakers and rafters during very high water. The steep rocky sides to the river, and undercut banks and kettles, make rescues difficult to impossible.

We arrived at the park in late afternoon and made camp. We did our customary walk around the campground which was largely empty. We were happy to have our screen house to relax in and cook our meals as the mosquitoes were present in large numbers.

Camp and Screenhouse

 We ate leftovers for dinner- pasta with cheese, chicken and broccoli-, which were just as good as the previous evening (having a fridge helps avoid wasting food). We took an early evening hike down to the river. We were very happy to have a nice breeze to keep the bugs at bay during the hike. We retired to the camper as rain threatened. The forecast called for significant rain and we were happy to have the camper for refuge.

Rest for us and the river.

 We woke to a soggy landscape but the screen house survived the storm intact. A nice breeze was drying things out quickly. We ate a nice hot breakfast, took showers and broke camp. We enjoyed a couple of very nice hikes through the woods along the rushing river, exploring the archeological remnants and imagining what it must have been like to make a living breaking sandstone blocks from the grip of the earth's mantle.

A natural fault line.
A crack in the bedrock- not manmade.

New pine cones in the making.

Nice smooth trail.
Natural stone steps.

More fractured rock.
Fractured rock.

Nice bench.

You can see the marks of quarrying.

Steel drills were pounded by hand into the rock, the holes filled with black powder and exploded to crack the stone.

On the way home, we decided to stop downstream at another quarry site at the town of Sandstone. There was a nice city park with a picnic area where we could eat lunch and explore another old sandstone quarry. There were some trails that headed into the woods along the river to explore. Our map suggested that the trails reached all the way to the Hell's Gate canyon of the Kettle- a scenic 40 foot deep gash in the sandstone with serious whitewater not accessible by road. We wanted to see it if we could reach the canyon. After lunch, we hoisted the day pack and set off upstream along one of the trails. We left Rocky in the truck since rain was threatening, poison ivy was abundant and the path was uncertain.

Way back in the center of the photo is a frozen waterfall!

You call this a trail?

More bunchberry.
More fractured rock.

We came across a train trestle high above us.

On the way back a train was crossing.

The railroad gave access to the markets for the sandstone.

Remnant of quarrying.

Water was running down the cliff.

Closeup of dripping water.

Historic photo of the Sandstone Quarry

After challenging ourselves clambering over rocks and bushwhacking through the woods for a good distance, we decided the trails marked on our map didn't really exist. We gave up on our quest to reach the Hell's Gate canyon and returned to the truck and Rocky, who was enjoying a nice nap. We returned home after a short but very enjoyable trip.

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