July 31, 2014: Chicago to Sauk City
On which preparations are made and the journey begun
The sequel to last summer’s Lake Superior trip began July 31, when J. helped me take Petunia to the Hyde Park Animal Hospital, followed by a quick dinner at Plein Air Café. Finally, we stowed all my stuff in the car and set out, with the goal of reaching Cedarberry Inn in Sauk City.
This isn’t as easy as you’d think. This summer, as last, the Jane Addams Expressway is under construction, which meant for J. driving at night at reduced speed through dozens of miles of construction barrels and barriers. Although I wasn’t driving, I could sense how stressful it was, with no end in sight. I don’t know how people commute through this nightmare every day. Of course, we’d be taking the same route back — something to look forward to! After reaching Wisconsin, we ran into pockets of construction. Even after leaving I90/94 for Sauk City, we faced construction. At least when we got to Minnesota, off the interstates, we thought, we’d face no more construction mazes.
Finally, we arrived at Cedarberry, where the next morning you bet I immersed myself in the warm jets of the whirlpool. So far I had not felt the sharp pangs caused by sitting confined in a car for long periods.
August 1, 2014: Prairie du Sac to Mill Bluff State Park to Amnicon Falls to Fortune Bay Resort & Casino in Tower, Minnesota
On which I discover sea stacks in Wisconsin
The reason for driving out of the way to Sauk City was to visit Blue Spoon Café in Prairie du Sac. Started by the Culver family of “Butter Burger” fame, Blue Spoon is nestled between one of Prairie du Sac’s main streets and the Wisconsin River. Sitting on the patio overlooking disused, abruptly ending train tracks and the river, I felt relaxed and peaceful in a way I’m not sure that I ever have. Only the need to press on and get to Tower, Minnesota, at a reasonable hour weighed on me.
J. noted some state parks along the way that he thought would make great stops, but I’m doomed to be the nay-saying killjoy. When we spotted a series of stone stacks along I90/94, however, I agreed this was worth investigating, however briefly. This proved to be Mill Bluff State Park, and the bluffs are what you might call sea stacks, formed underwater. Mill Bluff State Park is part of the Ice Age National Scientific Reserve in the Driftless Area.
Even though this park is in the driftless area, the area the glaciers missed, the geologic features are partially the result of the last (or Wisconsin) stage of glaciation. During this glacial advance, the Wisconsin River was plugged near Wisconsin Dells. The river spread out to form glacial Lake Wisconsin, covering most of what today are Adams, Juneau and other adjacent counties, including the Mill Bluff area. During this time, some of the mesa and buttes stood as islands in the glacial lake, while others were submerged. Wave action hastened erosion of the sides of the rock forms.
The unique flat-topped, cliff-sided rock structures are capped by layers of somewhat more resistant sandstone; and weathering tends to break the rock off in vertical fragments. There are remnants of the Dresbach Group, Upper Cambrian sandstone. The heights of the bluffs range from 80 feet to over 200 feet. The mesa and buttes are isolated “outliers” of the continuous limestone-capped escarpments south of the park.
We drove around a bit, talked to an elderly staffer, drove some more, then found the trail that lead to the top of Mill Bluff, up about 223 steps crafted by the CCC during the 1930s. We have a lot to thank the CCC for, 70-plus years later.
I wish I’d known more about the geology of the area as I stood on top of Mill Bluff, but even to the ignorant like me, the view is spectacular. It takes a little imagination to see the park without I90/94 dividing it.
After Mill Bluff State Park, we did have one scheduled stop — Amnicon Falls State Park, not far from Duluth. After a brief detour down a residential gravel road, we found the park we’d been to before at about the same time of day but two weeks later in the summer, with earlier nightfall. A staffer told J. about a photo contest and to look for Snake Pit Falls near the park’s namesake falls.
Amnicon Falls is indeed a photogenic spot, complete with rustic footbridge. The view of Snake Pit Falls in the growing gloom was a delightful bonus, although I’m resigned to never seeing this park in sunlight or even daylight.
The original plan had been to stop at K&B Café and BBQ in Eveleth, Minnesota, at the recommendation of J.’s co-worker. By the time we hit Eveleth, however, it was past closing time. We did stop at a rest area, where we learned about the Laurentian Divide. How did teachers make earth science sound so dull?
At last, perhaps around 11:30 p.m. or so, we arrived at Fortune Bay, a huge resort and casino complex on Lake Vermilion owned by the Bois Forte Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa. A little worse off for the 223 steps at Mill Bluff State Park, I welcomed the comparatively early night.