Wisconsin Nature, State Parks March 02, 2019
Some Of The Oldest Rock Art In America Is Right Here In Wisconsin And It’s Truly Awe-Inspiring
Roche A Cri State Park is an awesome and unique spot located about 30 miles north of the Wisconsin Dells and 40 miles west of Tomah. The name means
crevice in the rock in French. The dominant piece of the park is a 300-foot sandstone outcropping that managed to escape the last Ice Age. For years, it poked through the top of glacial Lake Wisconsin, but in the present day, it’s a large landmark jutting out of the otherwise flat landscape of central Wisconsin. The sandstone is Cambrian, meaning it dates back hundreds of millions of years.
The rock formation would be fascinating on its own, but this particular piece of strange prehistoric rock is also the only spot in Wisconsin with accessible rock art. The base of the large bluff contains ancient petroglyphs and pictographs The carvings date back to before A.D. 900, while the pictographs are about 500 years old.
This unique and fascinating state park is easily accessible off I-94 in the middle of the state and though it's less well-known, it should be one of your bucket list stops. Possibly the steepest cliff in Wisconsin, the stone here dates back 500 million years. About 15,000 years ago, the area was covered by a 1,800-square-foot glacial lake known as Lake Wisconsin.
Now, this is a huge butte that juts out of the landscape and stands 300 feet above the surrounding flatlands. There are five miles of paths up and around the rock outcropping that make this a fascinating place to explore and discover.
You can climb to the top of the rock, but it does require mounting hundreds of stairs, so please keep that in mind when deciding if this is the right trek for you. It's a spectacular hike and the surrounding scenery is fabulous any time of year, but it is a bit of a climb.
The rock paintings, petroglyphs, and carvings, however, around the base of the rock. There are petroglyphs resembling birds, canoes and geometric designs that date back to before 900 AD as well as paintings that are more recent and then carvings from around the time the state was formed that are thought to have been done by soldiers that camped in the area.
The large rock outcropping would likely have been used as a guide by Native Americans and may have had other meaning to them. The various writing on the walls may have been for leaving their mark, but also may have been a form of communication between those who traveled through the area and used Roche A Cri as guiding landmark.
Some of the petroglyphs are very easy to see and recognize and you'll be fascinated by the idea that they've been a part of this incredibly old landmark for hundreds of thousands of years.
Other places, the paintings, and carvings are harder to see. It's truly a look back to the past and you'll realize you're standing in the same spot those who did the markings did thousands and thousands of years ago. This spot is special and sacred for all the history it holds.
If you can physically do it, I highly recommend the climb to the top. It can be a really peaceful and introspective climb while you think about how much this simple piece of rock has seen and endured. There are layers upon layers of history just stacked up and surviving all the world has thrown at it right here in the middle of our state.
There are signs and information here describing not just the petroglyphs, but also the more recent carvings that seem to have been done by men on horseback, based on their height. Each bit tells a story and is part of the fabric of the story of our great state.
Often these types of carvings can be hidden or difficult to find or see and that they are fairly easy to get to at the base of Roche A Cri makes them some of the most important in the country. You won't find any other carvings like this in the state that are on public land and so easily accessible.
Roche A Cri became a state park in 1948 and this massive piece of our history has been protected. While visitors are invited here on this important land, we also have to be careful and respectful. To lose this fascinating and important piece of our history would be a shame.
Roche A Cri State Park is located at 1767 State Hwy. 13, Friendship, WI 53934.
Did you know Wisconsin is home to a number of ancient Native American burial mounds?
Man Mound in Baraboo dates back to 750-1200 AD and is the only surviving anthropomorphic effigy mound that remains in North America.