The Niagara Escarpment: Wisconsin's eighth natural wonder
Who needs the Great Wall of China and Chichen Itza? Wisconsin is full of wonders that are much closer to home. So pack up the car, fire up the GPS and get ready to crisscross America's Dairyland with OnMilwaukee.com as we travel to the Seven Wonders of Wisconsin this summer.
SHERWOOD – The upper Midwest doesn't often come to mind first when discussing the most geologically significant regions of the United States or North America.
The towering mountains along the East Cost and through the west; the amazing vistas, plateaus and canyons of the American Southwest ... these are the images that have kept the postcard and scenic photography industries churning for centuries.
But here in the Midwest, where we are a more subdued society to begin with, there are plenty of geological marvels to keep scientists, outdoors folks and those just looking for a good picture more than interested.
Few geological features, outside of the aforementioned regions, are as impressive as the Niagara Escarpment, a nearly 1,000-mile-long cliff that begins (or ends, depending on how you look at things), in east-central Wisconsin, running northeast along side Lake Winnebago, forming almost all of the Door Peninsula and continuing north east through Canada and into upstate New York.
It's the Escarpment that gave Niagara Falls its name – the river drops right off the edge along the United States-Canadian border. It's also a leading reason the Great Lakes exist.
Contrary to popular belied, the Niagara Escarpment is not a fault line or a result of glaciation on the North American landscape though the glaciers did play a part in exposing the natural feature.
"What you're essentially looking at when you look at the Escarpment as a whole is the outer edge of a circular basin; the Michigan basin which, 400 million years ago, was a shallow seat," says Eric Fowle, Founding Co-Chair of the Niagara Escarpment Resource Network. "The glaciers did come into play, in terms of helping to expose that outer edge.
"As they advanced from the north, the last glacier more or less split in half when it hit Door County. The west side of the glacier went along the Escarpment corridor, exposed that cliff face, dug out the Bay of Green Bay, Lake Winnebago and Horicon Marsh."
In short, and speaking geologically, of course, the Escarpment is a pretty big deal ... and much more than just a really long cliff. The Escarpment influences weather patterns along its length and thanks to a number of factors, even miles away from the cliff face, creates a unique environment featuring numerous plant and wildlife species not found anywhere else in North America or, in some cases, the world.
"Groundwater, for example, which seeps out through the rock face and creates the micro-climate and sort of a cooling effect that allows a variety of plant and animal species to exist," Fowle says. "A lot of people want to focus on the cliff face but we need to be broader with that definition."
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Finally, an article that's written like a pro. As a geologist (yes there are geologists living in the area) it's nice to read about geology from the area we live in. Oil, gas and oil shale ----- drill ahead!
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