The Lost Lake

The Lost Lake

Did you know that when you go out hiking, biking or snowshoeing on the Stenkie Basin Loop, you’re exploring the park’s lost lake? Now you know why the trails are often so muddy! Actually, the lake isn’t completely gone. In the photo (above) taken in November of 2000, you can still see an open water pond, but even that’s dried up quite a bit in the last few years. (Check out the Google timelapse animation at the bottom of the page.)

Steinke Basin is the location of a glacial lake created at the end of the last ice age. The lake hung around for some time. I was told (but can’t verify yet), that lake remained in the basin up to about 400 years ago before drying into a marsh. What I can tell you with more certainty is that in 1987 geologists from the University of Wisconsin drilled down into Stenke Basin and found about 30 feet of lake deposits before they it bedrock.* That’s a lot of years worth of sediment!  I imagine that in the early years, it must have been a fairly deep lake.

Steinke Basin, Devil's Lake State Park

The lake basin is visible from this view looking south over Steinke

Today when you’re hiking out on Steinke Basin, it’s not hard to see where the lake used to be. From some vantage points on the trail you can look out over the basin from one end and visualize the opposite shoreline.

A view of Stenke Basin from the SB Loop Trail (Looking West)

A view of Stenke Basin from the SB Loop Trail (Looking West)

What I find amazing is that we’re still watching the process of that ancient lake drying out today. Steinke Basin is still a wet landscape, especially in the spring. Cattail & mixed grasses fill the lowlands. Ephemeral streams carry water into the basin and then back out through a rocky stream toward Devil’s Lake. Eventually however, as the summer heat builds, the wetlands mostly dry out each season. The stream beds dry and crack in the sunlight and year by year, the remaining pond (Picture at the top of the page.) is disappearing under brushy overgrowth.

If you watch the Google timelapse below (Steinke Basin is just right of Devil’s Lake’s north shore.), you can see the how the basin has dried up and the forest has continued to encroach over the last 30 years. The lake almost made a comeback after the 1993 flood! Amazing how fast it receded again!

The park’s other lake. A lost lake. Something to think about the next time you hike the Steinke Basin Loop Trail at Devil’s Lake State Park.

Ref: Ancient Rocks & Vanished Glaciers, by retired Naturalist Kenneth I. Lange.

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