My daughter and I took full advantage of the first mild weekend of the spring season. We traveled west to Magnolia Bluff County Park for an early morning hike.
Magnolia Bluff is the second highest point in Rock County, and if you hike to the west lookout of this sandstone/limestone bluff around sunset, apparently you are in for a treat. (I can’t wait to return for sunset.) As we hiked up to the top of the bluff we saw green plants just beginning to poke their shoots out from underneath the blanket of fallen leaves of the forest. We talked about the life cycle of decaying leaves on the forest floor. Most of the green that we saw was a result of moss covering fallen logs and exposed rocks, but we did see a few ferns beginning to unfurl their fronds in the early spring.
Only one type of flower graced the forest floor, and I did not recognize it. It came in clusters of white, blue or lavender flowers, intriguing the geneticist in me. A quick email to the DNR naturalist garnered a prompt response that it is one of two species of Hepatica that we have in Wisconsin. Because these flowers only bloom for about a week, my daughter and I were lucky to catch sight of these ephemeral flowers on our hike.
Paper birch trees lined our walk and were everywhere we turned. The leafless trees of the forest canopy revealed squirrel and bird nests. My daughter stopped often to admire rocks along her path and looked hard with binoculars for the woodpecker who was very busy somewhere above us.
At the top of the bluff, we had a picnic lunch, pulled out our watercolor paints and our journals, and we recorded our experience. We listened for the turkeys that were gobbling in the field across the way; we watched the crows and marveled at several beautiful, but unidentified, birds flitting from tree to tree.
All in all it was a lovely, delightfully tiring morning.
I had never before explored Magnolia Bluff Park, but this weekend my daughter and I discovered a real treasure. So often we spend our time longing after the attractions and special places of faraway locales, when we have marvels in our own backyards.
A little reading about the bluff teaches you about Galena dolomite and the St. Peter limestone that make up the bluff, the water that has shaped it, and the plant and animal life that fills it—including the rare plants of its forest. It is a marvelous natural wildlife area. I would love to hike the bluff with a geologist and a botanist in tow—I could learn so much.
For my daughter it was a chance to discover something special close to home, to have a picnic (one of her favorite activities). For me it was a chance to spend some quality time with my daughter—no technology, just backpacks, a picnic lunch and Mother nature to accompany us.
This natural area is a true gem. If you have a chance, go and visit the Bluff and see what treasures you can find in our back yard.
©2013 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.