High Cliff State Park: historical and natural sights

I’ve been challenging myself, as it seemed an amusing and interesting feat, to discover and write about destinations that are low cost, interesting, and or spectacular.  To my surprise, finding such locations nearby has not  been that difficult.  There are plenty of fantastic places in the area and High Cliff State Park is no exception.  With in its boundaries, ancient structures reside for viewing, both man made and natural.

As its name sake implies, the main attraction of the park is a limestone cliff, being part of the Niagra Escarpment. It provides a vista that is rare in Northeast Wisconsin.  Had that been the parks only feature, it would have been a satisfactory visit.  However, there are other attractions, some incorporating the cliff, that make this place great for a small adventure.

When I arrive, after passing the park entrance building, I am delighted by a quaint marina on my right, a gently rolling expanse of green before me and lake Winnebago beyond the green.   My first destination, as my car slowly climbs upward, is the observation tower.

The tower, which stands on a plot of mowed grass and is joined by a rustic looking pavilion, stretches above the treetops at the crest of the cliff.   img_0272 As I climb, I suddenly sense a fear of heights overcome me. Maybe it’s because I’m atop a cliff and, yes, I’m climbing higher.  My breath is shallow and my heart pumps fiercely, as I grip the wooden rails with vicelike force.

As I reach the top, I am rewarded for ignoring my phobia and, although it should be expected, am stunned by the panorama.  Lake Winnebago spreads before me, as it stretches into the horizon.  On the banks and further inland,  farms and houses appear as something from a small Lego set, tiny.

I assumed the tower would have been the highlight of the park, really it’s not.  Nearby the tower, the Red Bird Trail head lies and without warning, after a small journey, I’m face to face with Chief Redbird.img_0277

Chief Redbird, of what was then known as the Winnebago(now Known as the Ho-chunk), was said to be a friendly, trustable Native American leader who met a tragic end.  He was Imprisoned for starting the Winnebago Uprising, as he was following the Ho-chunk code, because  he mistakenly believed two of his tribesman were wrongfully accused of murder and given to a rival tribe for execution. There were a few casualties on both sides as the militia were called to stop the rampage.  Red Bird surrendered in portage and, against his own wishes, was not sentenced to death but died in prison, awaiting his  trial.  Two of his companions, who were also imprisoned,  would later be pardoned by John Quincy Adams and released.

Today a statue, which was erected in 1967,  stands in honor of the Chief near the edge of the cliff.  He extends his arm in a greeting as he surveys the land and lake before him.  I spend a few moments gazing at the statue and then move onward.

The Red Bird Trail is rather pleasant, However, I wouldn’t use a stronger word.  Yet, forged in the grasses along the side of the trail, I find foot beaten paths.  I follow these paths and what appears as ordinary woodlands transforms into a more picturesque setting that beckons the daring.img_0285

The cliff is lost in the forest, riding a steep slope.  When I discover it, I am dazzled by the sight as  I can tread the limestone at the very edge, my fear of heights gone for the moment.  The cliff curves and juts and I navigate it feeling calmed by the woodlands, yet thrilled by the chance at such a daring endeavor.

After a free spirited adventure, I return to my car feeling refreshed.   I now drive to another trail, as I follow sign posts directing me towards what is known as the Indian Mound Trail.  Instantly, after reading the sign, hope is welling in me as I anticipate  catching a glimpse of something I’ve only heard and read about.

I know  of  effigy mounds, having heard such structures have been found in many areas of the state.  These mounds, built by the late nomadic woodland Indians, were constructed for ceremonial and burial purposes.  The exact reasons for building them, of course, has been lost with time.  They assume either symmetrical or woodland animal shapes.img_0307-1

As I begin my trek down the trail, I’m disappointed.  Although I’m surrounded by the beauty of basswood, oak and hickory trees rising from a leaf matted forest floor, I was anticipating more and become discouraged.  I walk through the pleasant forest and turn a corner, there they are.

They’re not spectacular, nor show stopping nor a thousand other adjectives one would use to lure a potential visitor to an attraction.  They appear almost natural except, upon seeing how flat the surrounding land is, I know they’re not.  They’re simply hills or, as they are properly called, mounds.

I find it amazing, however, that these mounds still survive as evidence to a very different way of living.  These are not burial mounds, as there are a total of nine on the trail, the reason they were built is not clear.  Yet, they’re shapes are still visible as each has been labeled by the park accordingly.img_0317

As I stroll along the thought provoking mounds, I come across a path to the family campground, discovering well cared for sites.  I rejoin the trail and view a few more mounds as I soon find myself where I began, the Indian Mound Trail being only a mile long loop.img_0328

Leaving the trails behind, I notice an old museum at the foot of the cliff.  The building is the only surviving building of the High Cliff mining community, having been constructed in 1855.  It’s clay and sand bricks were excavated from the shores of lake Winnebago.  As it boasts the title of post office and general store, the building  was once the congregation area for a town lost to history. The museum is closed after Labor day and only open select days in the summer.

For the last leg of my adventure, I also journey into a vast green field with freshly mown grass, working my way to the beach.  When I arrive, I find little sand and a very tiny area for a would be swimmer.  The view from hear is nice, however,  as I spy a breakwater and watch the whitecaps lap the shore.img_0336-1

This day, I leave the park fulfilled, having viewed ancient structures. From limestone cliffs to sacred mounds, i feel the satisfaction of observing and walking along sights that have pleased natives for centuries.

Admission to the park, if you don’t have a State Park Sticker, is eight dollars. Considering the parks contents, it is eight dollars well spent.  One can go horseback riding on the 8.5 mile bridal trail as well, horses are not rented at the park.  Camping, as this is definitely is a great spot,  is $18.00 dollars a night for non electric sights, pets are allowed. Whether a few hours or a week, this place is a great place to hike, kayak, camp, horseback ride or just enjoy the outdoors.

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