A Landing a Day

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Posts Tagged ‘Lemonweir River’

Mauston, Wisconsin

Posted by graywacke on February 16, 2013

First timer?  In this formerly once-a-day blog (and now pretty much a once-every-time-I-get-around-to-it blog), I have my computer select a random latitude and longitude that puts me somewhere in the continental United States (the lower 48).  I call this “landing.”  I keep track of the watersheds I land in, as well as the town I land near.  I do some internet research to hopefully find something of interest about my landing location.  To find out more about A Landing A Day (like who “Dan” is and what the various numbers and abbreviations mean in the first paragraph), please see “About Landing,” (and “Abbreviations” and “Cryptic Numbers”) above.

 Dan –  I can’t seem to get out of the mid 150’s (my score has been between 153 and 158 for the last 85 or so landings and between 154 & 156 for the last 20 landings), and it doesn’t help with a landing in yet another OSer . . . WI; 49/46; 4/10; 1; 155.9. 

 Here’s my landing map:

 mauston - landing1

And my closer-in view, showing my proximity to the City of Mauston, the Lemonweir R and the Wisconsin R:

 mauston - landing2

I landed in the Onemile Ck watershed (more about that in a second); on to the Lemonweir R (that flows through Mauston; 2nd hit); on to the Wisconsin R (10th hit); on to the MM (784th hit).

This was my first “Onemile” watershed.  Believe it or not, 35 times I’ve landed in watersheds that I call “X-Mile” watersheds, for example, Eight Mile Creek (which is presumably about 8 miles long).  I doubt that you’re dying to know this, but here’s my count of the various X-Mile watersheds I’ve landed in:


# of Miles

# of Hits











































 So, the winner is “Four-Mile Creek” (they were all creeks) with 5 hits . . .

 Here’s my Google Earth (GE) shot, showing a peculiar rural landscape:  flat farm fields dissected by wooded areas (like where I landed).

 mauston - GE1

I used the GE elevation tool and found that the field to the east of my landing is at elevation 1100.  I landed in a wooded valley; just west of my landing is the bottom of the valley, about a hundred feet lower than the edge of the field.

 Here’s a somewhat broader GE view, showing that the wooded areas are interlaced with the flat farm fields over quite an area:

 mauston - GE2

Now one might think that since the wooded area I landed in is a valley, all of the wooded areas in the above shot are valleys, cut into the higher, flatter agricultural lands.  That was my initial thought.  But as I moved the cursor over the GE terrain, I discovered that this is not so!  You’ll see that I marked the position of a Street View shot on the above photo (near the lower edge).  Here’s that StreetView shot, showing that the wooded area to the southeast of my landing is much higher than the nearby field.

 mauston - GE3

I figured out that the fields surrounded by woods are uplands fields, and the fields beyond the wooded areas are lowland fields (like the field in the above shot).  Most of the wooded areas are hillsides leading up to an upland plateau; it just so happens that I landed in an area where the upland fields are cut by a stream valley.

 Here’s an oblique GE shot looking southeast towards my landing which more or less shows what I’m talking about:

 mauston - GE4

OK OK.  I’m a geologist, and I care about such things.  And as a geologist, I’m sure there’s some serious geology going on here that causes this peculiar landscape.  Rolling up my sleeves, I have certainly found that this is true.  Bear with me (please . . .), and I’ll tell you the story:

 I’ll start with yet another GE shot, this one broader yet, showing the towns of Lindina and Mauston:

 mauston - GE5

Now I’ll move on to a geologic map.  Cleverly, I’ve made the geologic map at about the same scale and covering about the same area as the above GE shot.  Here it is:

 mauston - Geology

Note the location of Lindina and Mauston on both the map and GE shot.  Obviously, the colorful squiggly area on the geologic map that juts out between Lindina and Mauston is the very same area as the wooded slopes and uplands shown on the GE shot.

 Each color on the map represents a different type of geologic unit and you can see the various colors have labels.  The edges of the squiggly area include “hm” (the light brown) & “ht” (the dark brown).  The pink in between the two that’s not labeled is “hw.”  So, here’s what the legend on the map has to say about these units (no need to read all of the detail; I’ll summarize below):

 mauston - ht, hw & hm

Sufficeth it to say that these three geologic units are Cambrian sandstones.  So, more or less 600 million years ago, here near Mauston, was the shoreline of a shallow sea, with lots of sand.  The sand got buried, turned to sandstone, and eventually was uplifted to about 1000 feet above sea level, where it is now.

Before the glaciers came in, these sandstones were high above (and perched on the edge of) the Wisconsin River valley.  So, round about 50,000 – 25,000 years ago, along came the glaciers to this area.  A mile thick, and loaded with rocks, sand, silt and clay.  The ice is gouging here, melting and depositing stuff there, damming up rivers here, making glacial lakes and ponds everywhere you look.  Well, here in Wisconsin, a particularly big glacial lake was formed, known, appropriately enough, as Glacial Lake Wisconsin.  Here’s a map of the lake:

 mauston - glacial lake wisc

You can see Mauston in the lake, near the western shoreline; but look at the southern part of the map and you’ll see the Baraboo Hills.  Well, these hills – composed of really ancient (1.7 billion year old) very hard rock – dammed up the Wisconsin River (with help from the ice sheet itself) forming the lake.  By the way, see the “driftless area?”  That’s where the glaciers never ventured – the general term for glacial deposits is “drift.”

Look closely at the above map, right next to Mauston (just southwest).  Bingo!  There’s the outline of the  “squiggly area” from the geologic map (also the edge of the woods on the GE shot)!!   What the map of the lake tells us is that this sandstone upland was part of the western shoreline of Glacial Lake Wisconsin!!  (Sorry about the exclamation points, but I can get excited by geologic history . . .)

 Now, back to the geologic map:

 mauston - Geology

You can see the large areas covered in blue, with the geologic units labeled “oc” & “oy.”  Back to the legend to see what this is about (once again, no need to read the details):

 mauston - oy & oc

These are termed “offshore sand” and “offshore sand, silt & clay.”  I wouldn’t call them “offshore” deposits, I’d call them lake bottom deposits, because that’s what they are.  The lake was filled with water from melting glaciers, and the water poured in like heck.  It was flowing very quickly, and loaded with sand, silt and clay, which, naturally enough, ended up settling out on the bottom of the lake.

These deposits are now the lower farm fields that are outside of the wooded areas near my landing.  Being laid down at the bottom of a lake, they are naturally very flat. So, today, if you go out to one of those farm fields and start digging, you’ll be digging sand, silt and clay put there about 20,000 years at the bottom of the lake. 

 One more detail.  My more astute readers may be wondering about the upland farm fields, for example, the one just east of my landing.  Why are those there?  Well, back to the geologic map:

 mauston - Geology

You can see these upland farm fields comprise the yellow unit – “wc.”

 mauston - wc

Hmmm.  About 1.3 meters of “windblown silt.”  So, this windblown silt was deposited on top of the sandstone, resulting in nice flat areas with good soils that are now farm fields.  Note that the silt would have been deposited everywhere on the Cambrian sandstone areas, but it got washed away on the slopes, so only persisted on the flatter upland sandstone plateau.

It was deposited at the “last part” of the glacial period.  Why?  Well, during the warmer months of the year, the glaciers were melting like crazy, and rivers were carrying all of this sand, silt and clay, like I mentioned before.  But in the winter, the ice would stop melting, and the meltwater rivers would stop flowing.  The riverbeds would dry out, and, it being winter, nothing would grow on them (so no roots to hold the soil in place).  So, if it didn’t snow for a while, and the wind blew, there were pretty large dust storms going on (about 10,000-15,000 years ago).

The wind couldn’t carry the sand far at all (sand particles are too heavy).  The clay would be picked up, but dispersed over huge areas, so we can’t really find any wind-blown clay deposits.  But the silt?  Well, silt is between clay and sand, and was just light enough for the wind to pick it up, but just heavy enough that it got deposited in bulk not too far from the dried-out glacial streams.  Voila.  The result – silt deposits, like the ones next to my landing.

 FYI, these deposits are called glacial loess.  Loess is German for “loose,” and nobody I knew back in school knew how to pronounce it.  Some simply called it “loose,” some said “lōse” (rhymes with dose); some said “looss”  (rhymes with wuss); some said “luss” (rhymes with plus).  I kept my mouth shut, and wrote “loess” when that was the answer on the exam.

 One last thing.  Generally, Glacial Lake Wisconsin drained to the northwest (see the map of the lake).  But finally, one particularly warm summer about 15,000 years ago, the ice portion of the dam down at the Baraboo Hills broke lose – catastrophically.  A huge flood resulted.  The floodwaters carved into the Cambrian sandstones just downstream from the breach, creating the scenic rock formations of the Wisconsin River Dells.  Here’s a picture, from Wiki:

 mauston wisc dells

Wow.  I’m pretty much blogged out, and I haven’t mentioned Mauston, except in passing.  So, I’ll just present this about the name origins, from Wiki:

 Mauston was founded by Milton M. Maughs and the town was originally named Maughs Town.

I’ll close with a winter shot of the Lemonweir River in Mauston (from WRJC.com):

 mauston lemonweir

 That’ll do it.




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