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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Parfrey's Glen, A Special Place

Parfrey's Glen State Natural Area is a place that one of our patients told me about when we were chatting about hiking and I finally got a chance to check it out when I stayed at Devil's Lake last week.   The state's first official state natural area is a gorge deeply incised into the sandstone conglomerate of the south flank of the Baraboo Hills.

From the parking lot it's a little under a mile, mostly alongside the creek, to reach the breathtaking gorge.  There's lot to see, including a small meadow and a variety of flowers were blooming including another new one for me.  About as tall as I was I saw it up and down the creek  at the water's edge.  Anyone know what it is?

The rest were ones I knew and sure signs that summer is almost here.
Wild Geranium, Fleabane, Virginia Waterleaf and Solomon's Seal

About 500 million years ago, this area was covered by a shallow inland sea. Over time sandstone was deposited along the seafloor and wind and waves battered the surrounding Baraboo Hills, leading to the quartzite deposits visible in the sandstone. More natural forces, including the glaciers, created the river that is now Parfrey's Glen Creek.

The forces of nature are still at work in the gorge, recent floods in 2010 destroyed most of the boardwalk and trails and diverted the creek.  A young man who was exploring near me was looking for trout and was happy to discover little pockets of them since they were scarce the last few years.  Since they were about the size of my pinky finger I'll just take his word for it that's what they were!

The sandstone walls are embedded with pebbles and boulders of quartzite. The moss-covered walls are moist from seepage, cool and shaded.  I could feel the temperature drop and could have stayed there all day in the cool shade.

hikers tackling what is left of the steps after flooding

Only a few other folks came and went as I walked around with my camera, and the couple above even helped me out by taking my backpack so I could clamber up unencumbered when we passed each other going through the boulders.

Once past the boulders the reward is a small waterfall surrounded by lush ferns.  The microclimate in this special spot encourages plant growth of rare species but at this time of year most plants I saw looked familiar.  The area above the falls is currently off limits due to the damage from erosion and flooding so heed the signs and give nature a chance to recuperate.

If you're coming in the summer months be prepared for mosquitoes.  There were a few around but the rains have really ramped up here lately and the temperatures are getting warmer too so I lucked out by getting here early in the season and my all natural Bug Me Not was enough to keep them away. After I got back to the parking lot I left my heavy camera equipment in the car and hit the Sauk Point section of the IAT which begins from the same parking lot.  More on that later!


  1. What a pretty area! Nice flower pics.

  2. Pam, always enjoy the places you explore. We'd like to get to the Door Peninsula ourselves. Geologically it's sort of the opposite of the Bruce Peninsula here in Ontario. But I wanted to comment on that plant in your 2nd photo. After seeing a similar picture here the other day, I think it's Giant Hogweed, which is a seriously poisonous and invasive plant. Touching the stem can leave you with serious burns to your skin. And it seems to spread along waterways here. It's known for it's giant leaves and flowers, but that bulge on the stem where the leaf comes out to the right gives it away. If you see it again, be careful!