Hiking on the south bluff of Devil’s Lake State Park is rugged and not for everyone. There are no trails and more dangers than we need to go into here. That’s why we now offer guided tours. On our last tour, we made a couple of really cool discoveries!
First, we found what we believe is a Native American marker tree. True marker trees would be one hundred or more years old and were used by Native Americans to navigate the wilderness and locate to points of significance such as water, religious sites and so on. Devil’s Lake State Park has few remaining known marker trees. Markers on the bluffs are easy to dismiss because they are smaller and look younger than expected, however, you must remember that trees on the bluffs are often stunted. This is because they grow on a thin layer of topsoil over a bed of rock. You may have heard of Devil’s Lake State Park’s unique “pigmy” forest caused by exactly these conditions.
Sadly, this south bluff marker tree is now dead and won’t remain for much longer. Our guess is that originally it was bent to point directly at Devil’s Doorway across the valley. One hundred and fifty years ago, before the bluffs were overgrown by maple forests you could have lined your eyes up with the tree and seen the famous rock formation right across the way. Devil’s Doorway, of course, had great significance to the native people in this part of Wisconsin.
Northern Yellow Lady’s-slipper
Our second cool discovery was a blooming Northern Yellow Lady’s Slipper. This flower is a plant of Special Concern in Wisconsin needing a specialized wet, but not too wet place to live. There was only one plant and it is surrounded by a sea of invasive garlic mustard and Japanese barberry plants. While we did clear some of the invasives nearby, it would take a lot more work to restore the habitat. Chances are the yellow Lady’s Slippers on the South Bluff may not outlast the marker tree..