Niagara Escarpment --- all the way from New York to Wisconsin

In this eastern sector of the state, there are three major escarpments, the result of glacial sculpture and erosion. They are the Magenisan, Trenton and Niagara escarpments. The focus here is the Niagara Escarpment.

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An escarpment is a long, steep slope, especially at the edge of a plateau or separating acres of land at different heights.

The Niagara Escarpment, marked in red, is a landform called a
cuesta and it travels from Niagara Falls, New York in a semi circle westward through eastern Wisconsin. It runs predominantly east/west from New York State, through Ontario, Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois. The escarpment is most famous as the cliff over which the Niagara River plunges at Niagara Falls, for which it is named.

In Wisconsin, it lies largely east of Lake Winnebago and up through Door Peninsula and County. Door Peninsula separates Green Bay and Lake Michigan. Limestone outcroppings of the Niagara Escarpment are visible on both shores of the peninsula, but are larger and more prominent on the Green Bay. When talking about Green Bay I am talking about the bay of water, not the city.

The Niagara Escarpment consists of a gently-sloping layer of rock forming a ridge. One side of the ridge has a gentle slope, a so-called dip slope that is essentially the surface of the rock layer. The other side is a steep bluff.

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In looking at this graphic, you can see the Niagara Escarpment travels through the Eastern Ridges and Lowlands Geographic Province of Wisconsin. The Eastern Ridges and Lowlands region is primarily a plain with elevations between 700 and 900 feet above sea level, but the region slopes to form two broad ridges running from north to south that exceed 1,000 feet above sea level in some places. One ridge runs along Lake Michigan from the Door Peninsula to the Illinois border. The other ridge is on the western edge of the region, stretching from Marinette County in the north to Dane County. Between the two ridges is a lowland carved out by the glaciers of the last ice age.

I first came to learn of this escarpment while traveling through Brown County, which does encompass the city of Green Bay.

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I entered Brown County from the south along Hwys 32/57. This photo looks to the west, and the land is fairly flat, fulfilling the “Eastern Lowlands” portion of its Geographic Province.

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But look to the east from the same spot on the highway and you see the ridge, fulfilling the “Eastern Ridges” portions of its provincial name.

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I took some side roads to get to this point where I could get a good shot of that ridge. It is part of the Niagara Escarpment..

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There are some wonderful homes and land sites nestled at the base of the ridge.

I found a way to get up to the top of the Escarpment, getting on a residential road called Ledge Road. Oh boy, do these people have a wonderful view from up here. I found one man painting his house and meekly asked him if I could walk to the back of his property to take a photo of the view from the top. What a great guy --- no questions asked, “Do it.” Here’s what I saw.

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I would say I was looking to the west, perhaps to the northwest. Legend has it that on a good day, which today was, you can see Green Bay from here. Of course you have to know what you’re looking for and I did not know. Plus I had intruded on this man’s painting and property enough and did not want to overstay his kind welcome.

The Escarpment is an American Viticultural Areas (AVA) in the New York State area.
Wisconsin is working to establish its portion of the Escarpment as an AVA as well. “Viticulture” means the study of wine. Indeed along the landform sections of the escarpment, it is a vast wine region and wineries abound. Wines range from traditional varietals such as Merlot, Cabernets, Chardonnays and Rieslings to fruit wines.

LedgeStone Vineyards in Brown County, at the bas of the Niagara Escarpment along the Fox River Trail, describes the advantages of the Escarpment this way:

“The escarpment can be compared to a large cereal bowl where the edge of the bowl is the escarpment. It is a pre-glacial formation that existed when this area was covered with ocean water.

“The glaciers etched back the edges of the escarpment in Northeastern Wisconsin exposing the beautiful formations that can be observed here in Greenleaf and in other areas such as High Cliff State Park just southwest of here.

“The escarpment follows the Door County Peninsula and extends to Niagara Falls.”

For our purposes here, the western edge of the
cuesta contains very rich soils that are perfect for growing fruits, especially grapes. The weather patterns here are also perfect, with hot days and cool nights.

The entire subject is worthy of your further research, if interested.

I had no idea what this was all about when I visited. But I did notice one thing. This is the picture I took looking straight to the west from Hwy 32/57:

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Pretty flat. Then I looked to the east, and here’s what I saw:

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Quite a difference! I knew something was going on here, but until I did this research, I did not know what. Fun!

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A beautiful view of the vineyard and the Escarpment.

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And one more.

In our description of the Escarpment earlier, I said that one side is a gentle slope, a so-called dip slope that is essentially the surface of the rock layer. The other side is a steep bluff. The steep bluff is on the western side. You are looking at it.

I found a way to get up to the top of the Escarpment, getting on a residential road called Ledge Road. Oh boy, do these people have a wonderful view from up here. I found one man painting his house and meekly asked him if I could walk to the back of his property to take a photo of the view from the top. What a great guy --- no questions asked, “Do it.” Here’s what I saw.

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I would say I was looking to the west, perhaps to the northwest. Legend has it that on a good day, which today was, you can see Green Bay from here. Of course you have to know what you’re looking for and I did not know. Plus I had intruded on this man’s painting and property enough and did not want to overstay his kind welcome.

What a great day. Oh yes, I bought two bottles while there. I told Heather I had been an USAF officer for 20 years and then ra my business for 10 years, and was tired of making decisions. So I asked her to pick out a red and a white. My pal in the last Guard gave her some help. The red is a Frontenac-Barbera, 2009, and the white is a Pinot Gris, 2011. I am a beer drinker, but am excited to try these.



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South of Elkhart Lake, on CH C, we ran into this old dilapidated farm. I get a real kick out of these places. I did a special story on another one we found in Sheboygan County, entitled,
“ ‘Roman ruins’ of Cascade, Wisconsin.” I simply feel like I am in another world, and try to imagine what it was all like back in the day. Two more shots below.

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As an aside, I mentioned that the county was in the Eastern Ridges and Lowlands Geographic Province of Wisconsin. That ridge in the background is part of the Niagara Escarpment, which extends in a semi-circle all the way from Niagara Falls, New York, though Canada and down the eastern side of Wisconsin. I did a story on “LedgeStone Vineyards, at the foot of the Niagara Escarpment,” and discussed the escarpment toward the end of the story, and provide a few graphics. It is most interesting geologically and geographically.