Dells of Eau Claire, a summer-winter contrast

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources describes the Dells this way: “The Dells of the Eau Claire River protects a scenic, narrow rocky gorge and waterfalls where geologic processes have resulted in an unusual tilting of bedrock. On this picturesque stretch of the Eau Claire River, the river cascades over rock outcrops ... the river tumbles and spills across the rock's cleavage planes while it runs smoothly in other areas." We traveled to the Dells twice, once on a beautiful July 2005 day, again on an equally beautiful day in March 2006, just after the end of winter. This is a photo gallery to contrast the two times of year.
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Addendum: The roaring Dells of Eau Claire following 2010 floods, November 3, 2010. In the article and photography below, we presented the Dells of Eau Claire in summer and winter. We have added photography of the Dells of Eau Claire following heavy flooding experienced up and down the state in mid-to-late September 2010. Our photography was taken on September 26, 2010. You'll find it interesting to see how the roaring Eau Claire covered much of what you have seen in the earlier photos of the Dells, and compare the photography. The addendum has been positioned at the end of this report. Enjoy, it was something to behold and hear and feel.
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April 5, 2006

Intro

The Dells of Eau Claire is described by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources like this:

"The Dells of the Eau Claire River protects a scenic, narrow rocky gorge and waterfalls where geologic processes have resulted in an unusual tilting of bedrock. On this picturesque stretch of the Eau Claire River, the river cascades over outcrops of Precambrian-age rhyolite schist. The rhyolite schist, a very hard rock, was formed through metamorphosis and later tilted here to a nearly vertical position allowing the rock to split readily along the cleavage planes. In the dells, the river tumbles and spills across the rock's cleavage planes while it runs smoothly in other areas where the river flows parallel to the planes. The water current through the dells has been strong enough to produce a series of potholes, formed by the grinding action of swirling sand and gravel. Downstream the flow is quite tranquil. This is an excellent area to observe fracture controlled stream flow and the development of multiple stream terraces. The rocky gorge and forested areas are wooded with a northern mesic forest of hemlock, sugar maple, yellow birch, and mountain maple. Canada yew is abundant in dense patches and the spring flora is rich. The Dells of the Eau Claire is owned by Marathon County and was designated a State Natural Area in 1973."

Some 10,000 years ago, the massive Wisconsin glacier began to melt. The meltwater created torrents of rushing water that in a few instances, cut spectacular gorges in several areas of the State, one of which is the Dells of the Eau Claire. This geologic wonder is part of a much larger glacial landscape of remarkable beauty.

We traveled to the Dells twice, once on a beautiful July 2005 day, again on an equally beautiful day in March 2006, just after the end of winter. We'd like to present a photo gallery to contrast the two times of year.

The park is located east of Wausau, following STH 52 east to County Road Y, turn right on Y and you'll come right to the park quickly.

SummerA

This is kind of an overview shot of the main gorge area that attracts lots of fun loving people, a great spot for kids, though we must warn, there are dangers and rookies need to be very careful, especially if using the water in any recreational way. here. Just left of center, you can see some white water with a two level ledge and people standing on the ledges. They dive from there into the gorge. Then there are all kinds of little areas to swim, the water is pretty shallow, and there are a few small falls to raft your body down. The water is mostly shallow, but in some places is clipping right along and is deep, and, we are told, the water here can be dangerous. We have been told that there are fatalities from whirlpools every year. Upstream is to the left, downstream, to the right. This photo as shot from a main park area above.

WinterA

SummerB

This is the view upstream

WinterB

The winter view is from a closer range. You can see a small part of the bridge curve in the upper left corner of the photo. Perhaps the most noticeable difference is that the current in the March photo is far more swift and the river is more deep than in the June photo; spring thaw.
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SummerC

From the position looking upstream, we just pivoted to the right and took a shot of the water picking up speed and rushing to the gorge, just out of view to the right. We've got two nice winter photos to use to contrast with this photo.

WinterC

WinterD

Here again, as the water flows toward the gorge in the March photos, it is moving swiftly, rustling up its share of white water.

This next photo is from circa 1900, and will force you to imagine the preceding photos, and some below, assembled all together. We'll have to go back and get this same shot, if we can, as was taken in 1900.

1900B

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SummerD

Here you see the deepest part of the gorge and the two diving-jumping levels. You can see one young guy in the air, close to hitting the water after jumping from the top ledge.

SummerE

This is a zoom shot focused on all those waiting to jump or dive next after that other guy jumped. Please note they are all riveted on the guy who just flung his body out there. Pay attention to the guy in the orange and white trunks to the lower right. You'll see him close up in a moment.

SummerF

Here he goes, from the top platform level. Jump or dive?

SummerG

It's a dive, sports fans, a swan dive!

WinterE

We do not have a winter shot exactly like the summer ones, but you get the idea from this view, and the next one of the gorge that was just out of sight in the summer photos. By the time the river hits the gorge, it's rolling through at quite a clip. Use your imagination for just a moment; the diver in the summer photo was leaping from the rocks to the upper left into the pool just off this photo to the right.

WinterF
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SummerH

This is where you end up after the jump or dive, the gorge. On the summer day we visited, this water was fairly calm, though it has just emerged from a sudden decline through a narrow gorge. We understand whirlpools and an under-tow effect can be experienced here.

We'll show you two shots of this area taken in March.

WinterF1

WinterG

The whirlpool effect at the base of the gorge is very visible from the March photos.
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SummerI

Just below the gorge is a very small water falls, probably only a couple feet in height. Small, yes, but as you can see from these two guys, they are fighting to stay above the falls.

SummerJ

Falls win.

WinterH

This March 2006 photo is just above that little falls the boys were using in the summer. If they lost in the summer, they most certainly would lose in the winter! This water is truckin' through.
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SummerK

A look downstream gives you a real good feel for the rock formations, which are almost like steps or terraces.

WinterI

This is almost the same view. In the summer photo, you see a rock formation to the right of the narrow passage. The winter photo shows you more of that rock where youngsters are thinking, we believe, about spring.
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SummerM

A different view of the rock formations almost gives the appearance of a suite of cliff dwellings. The scientists call this "stream terraces.' Note the red-orange, pinkish hue. Let's get a closer look at the rock by zooming in one section of this formation.

Here are a few summer close-ups of this beautiful rock.

SummerN

Earlier, we noted that the rock is mostly rhyolite, which is much like granite. Its range of colors is often pink to gray. They look pink here, and elsewhere gray.

SummerO

One can only wonder how many people have ventured into that cave.

WinterJ

The look is much the same in winter.
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SummerP

This is a view of the formations if you turn your back on the gorge area and look upward toward the park entrance. Rock climbing is forbidden. The rock is simply too fragile.

WinterK

Summer or winter, on a nice day, you'll always find someone sitting atop the formation enjoying the view.

Oh yes, here's a similar shot taken circa 1900...

1900A

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SummerQ

A walk through the park reveals magnificent ferns, everywhere, thriving under the forest canopy.

WinterL

Different in winter, but beautiful nonetheless.
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Addendum: The roaring Dells of Eau Claire following 2010 floods, November 3, 2010.

Wisconsin experienced persistent and heavy rains during mid-to-late September 2010, producing flooding conditions up and down the state. On September 26, 2010, as the rains subsided, I visited the Dells to see how the floods impacted. Impact they most certainly did. This will be a photo series for your viewing. It would be fun for you to compare these photos with the earlier ones taken during non-flood conditions.

DellsFloodA

DellsFloodB

DellsFloodG

DellsFloodC

DellsFloodD

DellsFloodE