This past weekend, I went to hike around in High Cliff State Park in Sherwood with my friends Maddie and Chris. What really makes High Cliff unique, along with its aesthetic beauty, is its geological history. The first time I visited High Cliff, I went with my geology class, where we talked about the cliffs themselves, which make up parts of the Niagara Escarpment.
As the High Cliff web page explains it, “The Niagara Escarpment, often called ‘the ledge,’ was formed by the settling and hardening of limy ooze at the bottom of the Silurian Sea, which covered much of Wisconsin nearly 400 million years ago. Later, the flat-lying dolomite was tilted downward to the southeast by earth forces, leaving its higher western edge exposed at the earth’s surface.”
Visiting High Cliff, we were able to see where huge chunks of the dolomite had broken off, bending downward towards Lake Winnebago. It makes for an incredible view. Although we hiked through the park, visitors are also able to bike, horseback ride (keep in mind they don’t have horse rentals), camp and ski or snowmobile in the winter. The park is open year round, so visitors can see the landscape through all seasons. We went right into the thick of it along the Lime Kiln trail, which follows a parallel line along the escarpment.
It was a good workout, considering there isn’t a paved trail because of the rocks (be sure to choose your footwear accordingly). The greenery was incredibly vibrant and beautiful – on my past visit, everything was still recovering after winter, so it looked a lot different. I’m sure it’s especially beautiful in the fall with all of the different autumn colors. It was also cool to see all of the different caverns in crevices in between the huge blocks of dolomite, with sunlight peeking through from above.Near the end of the trail, there is a stairway that leads back up to the top of the cliffs, but we didn’t realize this and ended up climbing up and through a cavern to get back on the Red Bird trail (only to see the stairs just a little ways off, of course). Throughout most of the park there are maps and markings to find your way around, so it is actually pretty easy.
High Cliff is a big place and has over 16 miles of trails, so there is a lot to see, and not just geologically. The park also contains nine different effigy mounds created by nomadic tribes, dating between 1000 and 1500 A.D. They are all that remain of the original 30 mounds, most of which were unfortunately destroyed by the quarry operations and other developments from before the park was created.
The mounds were built in different geometric and animal shapes, and their significance to the people who constructed them is a mystery, but likely varied depending on the mound’s shape. Of the nine mounds at High Cliff, four are in a panther shape (one of which is 275 feet long) and two are buffalo, along with two conical and one linear mound. Although we did not see them on our visit, I got to check them out during my first visit to the park, and they are an incredible sight (be sure not to walk on them as they are very historically and religiously valuable).
We saw other people who had taken advantage of the sunny weather to get outside on the way down Red Bird Trail, but the park was very quiet and peaceful. There are lots of different trails to check out, so I will definitely be interested in visiting again soon. The park has some variation in ecosystems, especially along the Butterfly Pond Trail, which has prairie, wetland and forest. It is about a half-mile loop, so it is very manageable.
Whenever things get too chaotic, going back to nature always puts me in a better, more relaxed state of mind, and High Cliff is a great place for that. With our academic lives looming in the near future, I think we all appreciated spending some time out in nature and taking in the sights.