Wisconsin Landmark Saved From Destruction
Just North of Madison Lies an Important Relic From an Ancient Mountain Range
by Annie Shao, age 16
If you travel north of Madison on Highway 12 for about 25 minutes you will cross the Wisconsin River at Sauk City. Soon after crossing the Wisconsin River Bridge, Highway 12 begins its climb through an ancient mountain chain. This is Wisconsin’s famous Baraboo Range.
This 1.7-billion-year-old remnant of mountain has survived ice ages, human progress, and all other tests of time. The ancient Baraboo Range is also an excellent site for geological research, providing scientists with important clues to Wisconsin’s past.
Just north of Ski Hi Road and near Highway 12, a portion of the ancient mountain chain has gone unnoticed by the general public— until now. This area is called the Point of Rocks.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s scientists carefully studied the Point of Rocks outcropping, and other similar areas near Baraboo, to pioneer important theories in the field of geology. The scientific principles developed by UW researchers in those days are still taught today at colleges and universities across the country.
The Point of Rocks outcropping is approximately 4,000 feet thick and forms the southern limb of the Baraboo Range. The Van Hise Rock in Rock Springs forms the northern limb. Van Hise Rock is named for the famed UW geologist, Charles Van Hise. This site is included on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Robert Dott Jr., a retired professor of geology at UW-Madison, led a recent fight to protect the Point of Rocks and have it listed on the Wisconsin State Register of Historic Places. This effort was successful and eventually approved. Then the National Parks Service considered the site for landmark status and placed it on the national registry.
It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when Wisconsin almost lost the Point of Rocks to development.
Thirty years ago, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) cut off about ten feet of the Point of Rocks to create a softer curve on Highway 12. More recently the DOT considered destroying the entire outcropping so the highway could be expanded to four lanes. Appalled by this idea, Dott and other geologists rallied against the proposal and successfully defeated it.
The Point of Rocks and the Van Hise Rock are ideal places for studying the terrain and topography of central Wisconsin. Now the Point of Rocks is officially a national landmark. The area will be preserved so that our generation and future generations can also learn from these ancient rock formations.
This is a place of great beauty and living history. It is also an important place because pioneering UW scientists used these ancient rocks to advance the field of geology.
[Sources: Baraboo News Republic; Wisconsin State Journal; Wisconsin History Atlas]