While biking on these beautiful Driftless country roads, you’ll notice several common landscape features, like hills, pastures, and streams. The Driftless area is also known for its picturesque bluffs, but there is more to these rocks than their natural beauty. If you start to pay attention, you’ll notice quarry after quarry in the area, even though some are well hidden down driveways and behind trees. In geologic terms, the landscape in the southwest region of Wisconsin is called karst. Karst is a landscape formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks like limestone and dolomite (esi.utexas.edu). Limestone and dolomite, also known as carbonate rock, are the most common quarried rocks and are used for the most purposes. It so happens that carbonate rocks cover about 2300 mi2 in the Driftless Area (Day 2013).
When driving from Readstown into Viroqua, you may not even notice the gap in the trees going 60 mph. On your bike though, you’re more likely to look twice and catch this.
And if you’re nosey like me, you’ll pull over to take a closer look.
Today, most limestone and dolostone is made into aggregate which includes stuff like sand, gravel and crushed stone used in construction. Crushed stoned is Wisconsin’s leading non-fuel mineral product (USGS 2006). From historical records, it’s obvious that many quarries already existed by the early 1900s, and there are estimated to be more than 1000 abandoned quarries in the southwest Wisconsin karst region (Day 2013). In part due to the expansion of rural road construction, large-scale commercial quarrying operations began in the early 20th century (Day 2013).
Before entering Viroqua, I turn my handle bars right onto County SS and climb the hill to Lewison Road, which I take to cut across to Highway 82. Once I’m heading east on Highway 82, I don’t pedal very far before I pass an another active quarry operation.
A local, named Edward Kraemer started a construction business in 1912. By the 1950’s the company’s focus shifted from building construction to road construction thanks to the expanding interstate highway system (Day 2013). The business changed its name to the Kraemer Company in 1996. Today, the Kraemer Company, based in Sauk County dominates quarrying operations in the area.
Kraemer Company produces about 6.5 million tons of aggregate annually (Day 2013). There are some environmental impact concerns around quarrying such as affecting groundwater flow patterns, surface drainage systems, groundwater quality, and surface water quality. In one incidence, usage of a high capacity well for gravel washing at one of the Kraemer Company’s quarries actually resulted in the drying up of Coon Creek in Coon Valley, a well-known trout fishing stream (Koperski, 2007). The well, which targeted an aquifer about 100 meters down, also passed an aquifer at a depth of about 30 meters which flowed into the creek. The company agreed to extend the well casing to bypass the shallower aquifer and the issue was solved.
I continue winding up highway 82 for about 5 miles and then take a left on County S. This is one of my favorite valleys in the area. There’s a quaint 9-hole golf course here called Serendipity with amazing bluffs across the way.
Sinkholes and carbonate caves are common characteristics of karst terrain. It is estimated that there are more than 500 sinkholes and 200 carbonate caves in southwest Wisconsin (Day 2013). Most are fairly small though. The Kraemer Company does try to avoid destroying any caves and actually notifies the Wisconsin DNR if they discover a cave while mining (Day 2013). Quarrying activities have led to the discovery of many caves, including Cave of the Mounds, Bear Creek Cave and Eysenogel Hill Cave (Day 2013).
When I roll into the town of Avalanche, I take a quick detour to the east, heading about a half mile up Avalanche road to visit a quarry I noticed on a previous ride. This, surprisingly, is not a Kraemer operation.
I recognize the name, Croell Aggregates, from the cement trucks I’ve spotted on the highway that cuts through town. Their website shows they have numerous locations from Wisconsin to Wyoming. In addition to producing aggregates and concrete, they do asphalt, paving, and seal coating (www.croell.com).
There are trucks at work in the distance.
A head back downhill through Avalanche and turn north back on County S. This is a familiar and smooth ride as the road is fairly flat for about 4 miles until I pass through Bloomingdale and take a left on County P. The uphill is slight, but after biking over 15 miles, you can feel it. A couple of miles outside of Westby, at the intersection of County P and Quarry Road is the biggest quarry yet.
I know that these quarries require destruction of the natural landscape, but you have to admit that they are beautiful in their own way.
As I head into Westby, I contemplate the heat and my sore legs. It’s been a long, hot ride thus far, so before heading back home, I treat myself to a nice big scoop of cookie dough ice cream from Ole & Lena’s. I sit and relax on the front porch watching cars go by on the possibly locally quarried roads.
Day, Mick and Bindle, Mason. (2013) Quarrying in the Karst of Southwestern Wisconsin: History, Significance and Prospects, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Koperski, C. (2007) Keeping current. Wisconsin Natural Resources, 31(1): 13-16.
US Geological Survey (USGS) (2006) The Mineral Industry of Wisconsin. In: USGS Minerals Yearbook 2006. http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/state/2006/myb2-2006-wi.pdf