One thing I love about Wisconsin is that the county roads are represented by letters, not numbers. When there are more than 26 county roads, the letters double up. I will never forget the time Rob and I were driving through northwestern Wisconsin, south from Duluth to St. Croix Falls. At a gas station, we were alerted to a major detour. Rob went inside to ask for directions for the detour and he came back looking mischievous. “The lady in there swore at me”, he said with a smirk. “She said F-U, then told me to double F-off”. Of course, the detour meant we should take county road F to county road U, then take county road FF.
The trail off of County Road S is not too long, but winds through many different ecosystems, up hills, down valleys, over streams and ponds, to lead to a cliff overlooking the river. Some photos from the flat part are here
. The St. Croix River is a dramatic slash between my home states, Minnesota and Wisconsin, and the area surrounding it is simply called The Valley.
Rocks and cliffs rise out of the land as a reminder that there is something old and forgotten underneath. The geology of the River Valley is incredibly interesting. At a time, this area was positioned at the equator and was a vast sea bed, hence the sandstone, limestone and occasional seashell fossil. Most perplexing is that the fact that the fault under the river was supposed to separate and form two distinct continents, but, to paraphrase mine and Suzie’s favorite plaque, for reasons unknown, it never separated. This fact supports my feeling that this place is special, magical even.
This trail is kind of scary. It could eat you up at any moment. Like I said before, it is darker and colder in these regions. The tall grass could be hiding a snare, the mud in the marsh could swallow me right up. It’s as if the fault has a destructive personality that we can sense even above the surface of the water. Then there’s the cliffs, the rocks, the wrong step or crumbling basalt and your dead.
The river is a dangerous place, true, but when I am here my adolescent no-fear response does a good job at taking over so I can enjoy the sights. At this time, the river was low. It’s quieting down, and soon it will freeze over with winter. My favorite time to view the river is the spring, from the cliffs on the Wisconsin side. The ice begins to melt, and mini-iceberg chunks moan and creak as the water level raises from the spring melt. It feels powerful and very alive, rushing and swirling. Maybe my next trip home will be in the spring time.