Pewits Nest, Wisconsin State Natural Area, Lower Falls

Those looking for a nice weekend or day trip from Chicago, Northern Illinois, or Wisconsin should check out the natural features near Baraboo, Wisconsin.
This post is on Pewit’s Nest State Natural Area.

The dominant feature at Pewits Nest is a 30- to 40-foot deep gorge formed during the retreat of the last glacier. Associated with it are Skillet Creek, shaded cliffs, and a northern dry-mesic pine forest. When Glacial Lake Baraboo drained, Skillet Creek cut a narrow canyon through the Cambrian sandstone, forming a series of potholes and low waterfalls. The layers of Cambrian sandstone show that a finer-grained sediment was laid down by the Cambrian seas “inside” the syncline, a process different from that at Parfrey’s Glen where coarser Cambrian conglomerates and sandstones are found in layers. Skillet Creek has a gradient of 38 feet/mile and an average flow of 0.8 cfs. Within and above the gorge grows a narrow fringe of forest dominated by red cedar, white pine, hemlock, and yellow birch.

The hike to the gorge is about 0.9 miles. I would rate it as very easy. There is elevation change to get to the top, but anyone in reasonably good health who can walk will not struggle with this one. The main danger is getting too close to the cliff edge and falling off.

Pewit’s Nest Directions

The DNR link above provides directions and a map of newly closed areas. I cannot tell precisely from the map if I was in a closed area or not when I took the vertical images from above. I do not believe I was in a closed area for the third, horizontal image that shows a tiny portion of the lower falls.

Judging from the map, all the trails appear to be open but there is no longer any access to the gorge itself.

I had never been in the gorge but wanted to do so in the winter if things froze solid enough. That option appears to be gone, at least legally.

Feature Image Details

For the feature image, I used a Canon 24-105MM F4 L Lens at ISO 125, 45mm, 3.2 seconds at F22.

I do not recommend an F22 or anything greater than f16 because you run into diffraction limits which makes for decreased sharpness. I was trying to get a longer exposure to blur the water. F16 would have resulted in an exposure half of F22 (each F-Stop doubles or halves the time).  1.6 seconds likely would have been long enough to get the effect in the water that I wanted. All that said, the image is very sharp, so F22 does not seem to have hut the image any.

Pewit’s Next Tips

  • This park photographs best on a cloudy day.
  • Perfect conditions would be bright overcast, with little wind, with wet rocks just after a rain.
  • Light drizzle works very well is there is little wind.
  • The rain saturates the leaves as well as the colors on the rocks.
  • Use a polarizer to remove glare.

Polarizer Tips

People misuse polarizers. I generally do not use them on sunny days, especially if I have a lot of sky in the image. Why? The polarizer will darken the sky in a very non-uniform manner that is hard to correct even in Photoshop.

I often use polarizers on cloudy days and did so on these images. Here is a second image from the bluff area with a narrower angle view.

The gorge contains at least three waterfalls.

To get those images, I was in a place where if I fell I would have died. I do not want to exaggerate the risk as there was not that much danger as long as one is paying attention. It is easy to take a step back or slip if one is not careful.

Similar shots are available from the main trail, but they will have trees blocking a portion of the scene.

Portion of Lower Falls 

That’s all you can see of the lower falls from ground level, at least legally. Swimming and wading are prohibited.

I edited out a small portion of one rock where some idiots attempted to scratch their names. The rock is very hard and you have to get wet, so, fortunately, the area is not very defaced.

Equipment List

Those interested in my equipment and recommendations can find it here: Mish’s Equipment List.

Nearby Locations

Devil’s Lake State Park, Parfrey’s Glen, Ableman’s Gorge, and the International Crane Foundation are close by.

Ableman’s Gorge

  1. Ableman’s Gorge State Natural Area, Wisconsin – Part 1
  2. Ableman’s Gorge State Natural Area, Wisconsin – Part 2

I have an entire series on the International Crane Foundation. That link will take you to some of them. Look for those tagged “Mish Moments”.

Click on the link for a search, or better yet, scroll through my Mish Moments Home Page until you find them.

I will cover Devil’s Lake State Park and Parfrey’s Glen in subsequent articles.

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Coming up: A second post on Pewit’s Nest them Parfrey’s Glen.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock

4 thoughts on “Pewits Nest, Wisconsin State Natural Area, Lower Falls

  1. Mish, when I scrolled back from the 3rd shot through the 2nd, something jumped out.

    Relax the eye to see that the 2nd shot has a strange geometry. For instance, the flat, still area of water above the falls looks taken at an angle. That is, the flat area of water is not on a plane aligned with real gravity. A visual up-and-down mismatch both the stream above the flat water and the falls.

    The falls seem to be skewed because the rocks have a strong south-east to north-west planar flow.

    And then, ignore the water at the bottom of the falls. The curved indent in the rock behind and to the right of the falls makes the picture look like it needs to be rotated counter-clockwise.

    All in all, a weird sort of Picasso cubist aura.

    No. Intoxicants were not involved. 🙂

  2. No rotation necessary. I assure you my camera was level horizontally. But when shot from above, I was pointed down. That does distort things a bit. The third shot at ground level is likely square or close to it in both directions. Reflections are inverted. Perhaps that is throwing you off.

    1. Yep, since the effect was only noticeable going from 3rd to 2nd, not 1st to 2nd, I figured the effect required the 3rd shot for priming. The 1st shot doesn’t have the cubist effect because the stream is a vertical line and the surrounding rocks are symmetric and balanced.

      BTW, I personally like the 3rd shot most because it sees inherent beauty where most pictures would be flat, forgettable snapshots. Experience says that’s very, very hard to do.

  3. It is also likely I shifted my position a bit between the first and second shot. The wide-angle view did require me to be much closer to the cliff edge than I wanted!

    The shot at ground level is a completely different angle, many feet to the left of the overhang where I was precariously perched. A few others were on the ledge where I took the shots from above, but I ventured further than anyone else at that time.


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