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

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 covers Ableman’s Gorge.

Ableman’s Gorge is a classic gorge cut by the Baraboo River through Baraboo quartzite, Cambrian sandstone, and conglomerate. The cliffs and rocky slopes rise about 200 feet above the river to form a wall nearly three-fourths of a mile long, oriented east-west, which then abruptly turns south for a similar distance. The latter portion is 250-450 feet wide and is composed of irregular quartzite cliffs. Spectacular unconformable contacts with younger Cambrian sandstone can be seen on both the north and south sides of the Precambrian Baraboo quartzite. The exposures of the unconformity between the ancient quartzite and the overlying sandstone are world famous. The site tells a fascinating geological story of changing conditions in an ancient sea that first rose quietly against a cliff of quartzite and then, as layers of sediments gradually decreased the relief between sea floor and land, surged against the top of the cliff, wearing away quartzite and depositing a layer of cobbles and boulders across its upturned edge. Erosional forces and a former quarrying operation in the southern part of the natural area have re-exposed these long buried layers. Nowhere in the Midwest is such a sequence of events so displayed. The cool, moist, north-facing slopes shelter plants more typical of northern Wisconsin, including hemlock, yellow birch, mountain maple and Canada yew. The groundlayer contains numerous ferns and includes species such as Virginia water-leaf and Canada mayflower. The area is widely used for geology research and a plaque honors researcher Charles Van Hise, who formulated some of his principles of structural deformation and metamorphism here. Ableman’s Gorge is owned by the DNR and the University of Wisconsin and was designated a State Natural Area in 1969.

Ableman’s Gorge Directions

The DNR provides directions but fails to mention there are two sections to the park. Be sure to visit both. There is parking near Van Hise Rock on one side of state highway 136 and just down the road, there is a second parking area on the other side of 136.

Feature Image Details

For the feature image, I used a Canon 24-105MM F4 L Lens at ISO 200, 45mm, 1/6 of a second at F16.

Ableman’s Gorge 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 purple and pink quartzite.
  • 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.

Those images were all taken within a 100-yard area at most. There are not a lot of trails. So don’t expect long hikes.

In the Spring, there are lots of wildflowers, especially in the other section.

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, Pewits Nest, and the International Crane Foundation are close by.

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, Parfrey’s Glen, and Pewits Nest in subsequent articles.

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Coming up: More images from Ableman’s Gorge, then a new location near Baraboo, Wisconsin.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock