June 5: The Odyssey Tours Mystery Valley

By Dave Wendling and Tina Patterson

The giant earthcrack at Mystery Valley

The giant earthcrack at Mystery Valley. Photo by Marianne Glosenger

Anticipating 13 people joining us at Mystery Valley, we were slightly giddy to see car after truck arrive at this very special Odyssey stop. As our eighth sanctuary on the tour and kicking off point for Segment #3, the unique geological characteristics of Mystery Valley had been highly anticipated; what a pleasant surprise to get to welcome 27 hikers!

One of our Odyssey goals had been to introduce MNA to more local folks, and this was a huge success at Mystery Valley as we frequently heard, “I have lived here for years and always wondered what this place was like.” We also heard stories of local lore/history about the baseball teams that played on the valley floor and native Americans who once lived on the property, tractors disappearing into sink holes, and even the legend of a man who traveled underground for miles through the caverns and streams and came out in Lake Huron. It is also a treat to meet up with hikers who have joined us on previous hikes; we are beginning to feel like family! We are always happy to see our intrepid photographers and thank them for past work; we are receiving such great pictures from Marianne and Marilyn (thanks ladies).

We also were proud to share this special day with Aubrey Golden, MNA Board Member and President of the Michigan Karst Conservancy (MKC) and also Dave Luckins, whose knowledge of Mystery Valley and sense of humor was a highlight of the hike. Bob Preston, a retired professor, joined us on our hike and is doing a survey of the unique flora and fauna of the karst. What an amazing wealth of information he so generously shared with the group!  We won’t ever forget a perfect day with all the folks who learned about Mystery Valley, and we also recognize the importance of conservancies working together for the shared goal of saving these Michigan treasures.

Leopard in Sunken Lake

A leopard frog in the sunken lake at Mystery Valley. Photo by Marilyn Keigley.

I knew that we were in for a great day when Tina and I got out of the car and the first thing that we heard was the call of bobolinks. I haven’t seen or heard a bobolink in two years.  They are one of our grassland birds that depend on meadows and hay fields for nesting. Our grassland birds are probably one of Michigan’s most threatened birds due to habitat loss and farming practices. Mystery Valley is unique among MNA properties because it has an active hay field. However, the farmer who harvests the hay does not do so until the bobolinks have finished nesting.  This is one simple practice that can help save our grassland birds.

This is not all that is unique about this sanctuary; it’s also the first joint ownership transaction that MNA has entered into, as MNA and MKC are co-owners of this property.  The purposes of the MKC are the acquisition, management, and protection of the finest examples in Michigan of karst areas and features, as well as scientific study and conservation education regarding karst, making their mission similar to ours.

hiking through the karst field

The group hikes through the karst field at Mystery Valley. Photo by Tina Patterson

This is also the first mainly geological sanctuary the MNA owns.  A karst is a geological landscape formed by the dissolving action of water on soluble bedrocks such as limestone, dolomite, and gypsum.  This geological process, occurring over many thousands of years, results in unusual surface and subsurface features ranging from sinkholes, vertical shafts, and disappearing streams and lakes to complex underground drainage systems, caves, and caverns.  Many of these geological features can be seen at Mystery Valley.

The MKC under the leadership of Dave Luckins has created a self-guided trail system through the sanctuary. There are a series of numbered posts along the trails and a map with detailed explanations of the geologic features at each stop.  Maps are found at the trail head, and visitors to the preserve can follow two self-guided trails: Earthcrack Trail and Valley Trail. Earthcrack Trail passes a series of earth cracks including two that converge into one that is several hundred feet long and nearly 15 feet deep. Following the Valley Trail, visitors can see the sunken valley, swallow holes, and if you look closely, fossils of marine invertebrates such as brachiopods, bryozoan, and crinoids that lived 350 million to 400 million years ago.

There are too many unique geological features and special plants and animals at Mystery Valley to talk about all of them, and I would not know where to start or finish. Therefore, I would invite you to visit on your own and take the self-guided tour.  Another opportunity for a guided tour this year is on the 2012 Fall Adventure from September 7-9, which will feature a series of guided tours of MNA sanctuaries in northern Michigan, including Mystery Valley.

Check out more photos from our visit to Mystery Valley on MNA’s Flickr page.

Bonus Hike: Peter Memorial Sanctuary 

Dwarf Lake Iris

A dwarf lake iris in Moran Peter Memorial. Photo by Dave Wendling

Following our hike at Mystery Valley, a small group headed north of Alpena over to the Julius C. and Marie Moran Peter Memorial Sanctuary to catch the last of the in-bloom Dwarf Lake Iris, the logo of MNA.  We could see the carpet of green where the iris had recently been in bloom; but we were a bit too late in the season to see the field of purple we had hoped to see. However one lone iris stayed long enough for us to say the trip was a success.  This, along with Jack-In-The-Pulpit, yellow lady’s slippers, tamarack, blue-eyed grass, and cedar swamp made the day memorable. A breathtaking view at the end of the trail was Grass Lake in its pristine condition. Tina felt especially connected to the sanctuary as the tamarack brought back memories of the many hours she spent in similar forests in her youth.

The sanctuary is on Hamilton Road which has the distinction of being declared the first Michigan Natural Beauty Road in 1971.  It was the MNA that first proposed this legislation, allowing property owners to petition their county road commission to declare a certain portion of a local road to be so designated. Once so declared there can be no changes made along the roadside without a public hearing.

Of geological interest is how Hamilton Road crosses exposed dolomite near the entrance to the sanctuary.  If you search carefully along the roadside you can find sheets of dolomite solid with fossils.

Join Us on the Odyssey

The next leg of the Odyssey Tour begins on July 15 at Fred Dye Nature Sanctuary in Mackinac County. Visit the MNA website for details or to RSVP. We hope to see you there!

If you’re interested in carpooling to the Odyssey events in the Upper Peninsula (September 23-30), please contact the MNA office at (866) 223-2231. We are hoping to get a headcount and start arranging rides soon.