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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Blue Mounds State Park in Minnesota

Since we make our 'pilgrimage' to Minnesota every year, I try to find something new to visit along our routes.

This year it was Blue Mounds State Park.  I knew nothing about it except that the name sounded cool.

As we drove up (via the country route) it looked really promising!

Here's a bit from the web site:

Plains Indians depended on the bison to survive. Different weapons were used to kill bison including the lance, and the bow and arrow. It is not known if the park's quartzite cliffs were used by the Plains Indians to stampede the bison off the cliff. Local rumors have persisted for years on the existence of large quantities of bison bones piled at the base of the cliff.

No evidence exists today to substantiate these claims and stories. The large rock outcrop, first known as "The Mound," has provided the park area with an exciting past. The cliff appeared blue to settlers going west in the 1860s and 1870s. They named the prominent landmark, the Blue Mound. The mystery of the Blue Mound is not restricted to the cliffs. At the Mound's southern end is a 1,250 foot long line of rocks aligned in a east-west direction. Who built it and why is unknown. It is known that on the first day of spring and fall, the sunrise and sunset are lined up on this stone alignment. Visitors can hike to these rocks.

In 1934, Rock County citizens asked the U.S. government for a Work Projects Administration (WPA) project in the Blue Mounds area. The first phase of the project was completed in 1937 with the construction of two dams on Mound Creek. These form the present lakes in the park. In the 1950s, thousands of trees were planted around the two lakes and in the campground. In 1961, the name of the park was changed from the Mound Springs Recreation Area to Blue Mounds State Park. That wasn't the only change: the park added three bison from the Fort Niobrara Wildlife Refuge near Valentine, Nebraska to start the present bison herd. Today, the Blue Mounds' herd is maintained at more than 100 bison.

The Sioux quartzite rock was formed on the bottom of an ancient sea. Vast quantities of sand were deposited on this ancient sea floor. Ripple marks from this sandy, watery origin have been preserved and can be seen along many of the park's rock outcrops. Sandstone was formed from the further accumulation and weight of sand water. Through time, heat and chemical reactions transformed the sandstone into a very hard quartzite. The pink to purplish color in the quartzite is due to the presence of iron oxide. Glaciers have been the most recent geological event to shape the landscape in the last two million years. Glacial striations and scratches gouged into rock when loose rocks were dragged across the bedrock can be seen along the rock outcrops near the cliff line. Retreating glaciers buried the surrounding bedrock with a "glacial drift" of rock, sand, and gravel 200-300 feet deep. The last glacial advance, known as the Wisconsin Ice Stage, did not cover the southwest corner of Minnesota.

Blue Mounds State Park contains a small remaining fragment of the once vast tallgrass prairie which covered much of North America. The abundant rock outcrops and shallow soil prevented much of the land within the park from being plowed. However, heavy grazing by domestic livestock has diminished the native grasses and wildflowers and introduced foreign and exotic, weedy plants. Special management programs are now underway to restore the native grasses and wildflowers. Late summer offers visitors a panorama of prairie colors when hundreds of different wildflowers bloom and grasses grow. For example, the big bluestem grasses grow to seven feet tall, at a rate of almost an inch a day. In addition, Blue Mounds is one of several places in Minnesota where cactus grows. Patches of prickly pear cactus can be found growing in shallow soils atop the quartzite outcrops. In late June and early July, the yellow flower of the cactus blooms.

Here's a closer look at one of the bluff areas we hiked around on...

Himself standing by a boulder so you can see the size of it.

Isn't it beautiful?

Here's the view looking out of the park.

The area was mined for the quartzite.  You can still see a lot of buildings that have the stone in them.

Here's the old mine.

A closer look at the huge column that broke off.  That's probably 50 ft long!

Himself at the edge.

Yes... he always does that...

Here's are some shots of the interesting stones in the area.

Cool, yes?

On the other side of the park is a nice camp ground.

Another thing on this side is the summer bison herd.  They had already been moved to the winter pasture when we were there, but I found this interesting video about the round-up in the park.

Did you know that only 1% ish of the bison are genetically pure?  The rest have cattle genes.  And Blue Mounds has some of these pure bison.  They are working with the MN zoo on true breeding bison.  How cool is that?

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