Reading the Rocks in Wisconsin Dells

Reading the Rocks in Wisconsin Dells

We have just enjoyed a return visit to the Wisconsin Dells. I say a “return visit” because, in the army, I was stationed at Camp McCoy near Sparta, Wisconsin. The closest place to go for an escape from military rigor was the Dells. Later, when I was in a National Science Foundation teacher training seminar, we spent a day at the Dells learning about the area’s geological history. I have been to the Dells nearly a dozen times and watched it change from a primitive camping area to a tourist water wonderland. As a geologist, I enjoy reading the rocks in Wisconsin Dells.

The Dells area is geologically interesting because the glaciers did something unusual there. For reasons still debated by geologists, glaciers that covered all of Wisconsin went around the Dells area. That left a very different geology compared to the rest of the state. Where we live in Michigan, glaciers dominated the whole state. Our house sits on a glacial moraine where glaciers dumped sand and gravel as they moved south.

In our gravel pits, we find rocks that came from hundreds of miles north of us. When I took my earth science students on field trips to area gravel pits, they found pieces of copper from the upper peninsula and Jasper conglomerate from southern Ontario. There is no exposed bedrock in southern Michigan, only sand, gravel, and clay left by the glaciers. Hundreds of pothole lakes and ponds cover the area, making it home to a variety of wildlife not abundant in Wisconsin. Farming in our area involves fruits and berries that are rare in Wisconsin.

Reading the rocks in Wisconsin Dells tells us a whole different story with exposed sedimentary bedrock and very little sand and gravel. The area’s rivers are very different, with large pillars and buttes that were spared by the glacial ice, and very few ponds. The whole ecological area of the Dells differs from the surrounding part of the state, and the varied ecology provides different natural resources. For example, the grasses that grow in a place like the Dells provide grains not as easily grown in glaciated areas.

Reading the rocks in Wisconsin Dells tells us that God has provided radically different ecological systems for our benefit. If all areas of the planet were the same, that would limit the available resources. The wisdom of having multiple agents to prepare different soils, different amounts of water, and different mixing of minerals reminds us of the message of Proverbs 8:22-31. That passage personifies Wisdom as being there when God created all these things. Learning to read Earth’s geological history shows us the methods God used to prepare this planet for human habitation. How blessed we are to travel and see places like Wisconsin Dells and learn of God’s wisdom, love, power, and patience in all He does.

— John N. Clayton © 2022