Gooseberry Falls State Park MN
Gooseberry Falls State Park MN
The area known as Gooseberry Falls State Park MN is intricately tied to the human use of Lake Superior. At different times, the Cree, the Dakota, and the Ojibwa lived along the North Shore. As early as 1670, the Gooseberry River appeared on explorer maps. The river was either named after the French explorer Sieur des Groseilliers or after the Anishinabe Indian name, Shab-on-im-i-kan-i-sibi; when translated, both refer to gooseberries. In the 1870s, commercial and sport fishermen began to use this area. Twenty years later, logging became the principle use of the land around the Gooseberry River. In 1900, the Nestor Logging Company built its headquarters at the river mouth and a railway was used to carry the pine to the lake, where they were rafted to the sawmills. Because of fires and intensive logging pressures, the pine forests disappeared by the early 1920s.
With the rise of North Shore tourism in the roaring 20s, there was a concern that the highly scenic North Shore would be accessible only to the rich. As a result the Legislature authorized preservation of the area around Gooseberry Falls in 1933. The following year, the Civilian Conservation Corps began to develop the park. The CCC crews built the park’s stone and log buildings and the 300-foot long “Castle in the Park” stone retaining wall. They also laid out the original campground, picnic grounds and trails. The area officially became Gooseberry Falls State Park in 1937. The CCC camps closed in 1941, but their legacy lives on.
The Gooseberry Falls area allows visitors to view the geologic history of the North Shore first hand. As the Earth’s crust began to split apart along the great rift zone now covered by Lake Superior, huge volumes of lava flowed out onto the surface and cooled to form volcanic bedrock. Several of these lava flows can be seen at the Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls, and also south of the Gooseberry River along the Lake Superior shore. The rifting also caused the lava flows to tilt gently toward the lake.
The basalt lava flows along the North Shore are the birthplaces of Lake Superior agates. Agates are beautifully colorful iron-rich gemstones common to this area. Long-time rock hound and passionate fan of the agate, Jean Dahlberg, convinced the Minnesota Legislature in 1969 that it was perfect for the state gemstone. You’ll see several agate shops along highway 61 as you travel, and we encourage you to stop and see these marvels of geologic time. You won’t be disappointed by their beauty and complexities.
Here’s how these wonderful gemstones were created: During the lava flows that slowly oozed out the bedrock in this area, water vapor and carbon dioxide became trapped within the solidified flows in the form of millions of bubbles, called vesicles. Later, groundwater carrying ferric iron, quartz, and other dissolved minerals passed through the trapped gas vesicles. These quartz-rich groundwater solutions crystallized into concentric bands of fine-grained quartz called chalcedony. Over the next billion years, some of these quartz-filled, banded vesicles — what we now call agates — were freed from the lava by running water and chemical disintegration, since these vesicles were now harder than the lava rocks that contained them. The vast majority, however, remained lodged in the lava flows until the next major geologic event freed them.
During the last Ice Age, the same glacier that cleared the mud and rubble from the bottom of Lake Superior, picked up surface agates and carried them south. Its crushing action and cycle of freezing and thawing at its base freed many agates from within the lava flows and transported them. The advancing glacier acted like an enormous rock tumbler, abrading, fracturing, and rough-polishing the agates.
The Lake Superior agate differs from other agates found around the world in its rich red, orange, and yellow coloring. This curious coloring is caused by the oxidation of iron as it leached from the rocks. The concentration of iron and the amount of oxidation determine the color within or between an agate’s bands.
Gooseberry Falls State Park is part of the North Shore Audio Tour.