Month: August 2015

The Mossy Glen State Preserve Trip

The Mossy Glen State Preserve Trip

My son and I took this trip together on Aug 23, 2015.  Below is a topographical map of the area, the pink X is where we parked the red X was our destination, the blue is our travel path, I will explain the route later, first I will give a history of what Mossy Glen is.

Mossy Glen is an 80-acre preserve featuring a rugged forested area along the Silurian Escarpment. It is located 6 miles northwest of Edgewood and 6.5 miles northeast of Strawberry Point in Clayton County. The area was donated to the Iowa Conservation Commission in 1978 by Mildred Hatch in memory of her father, Charles A. Hesner, and her uncle, Henry Hesner. The area was dedicated in 1979 as a biological and geological state preserve.

The preserve is representative of a prominent line of bluffs across northeastern Iowa known as the Silurian Escarpment. This escarpment consists of massive outcrops of 430-millon-year-old dolomite (magnesium-rich limestone) formed in a shallow sea during what geologists term the Silurian period. The Silurian Escarpment forms the southwestern boundary of the Paleozoi

c Plateau landform region, a broad area of rugged topography in northeast Iowa. Extensive rock outcrops, slumped dolomite blocks, steeply dissected ravines, and “karst” terrain (including sinkholes, springs, and caves) are characteristic of the rugged landscape found along the Silurian Escarpment. Mossy Glen contains several of these distinctive features.

The mature forest in the preserve is dominated by red oak and sugar maple. Ironwood is a common understory species in addition to witch hazel, leatherwood, alternate-leaved dogwood, bladdernut, and Canada yew. Over 300 native vascular plants have been found here. Bloodroot, spring beauty, squirrel corn, and white trout-lily begin blooming in April, followed by wild ginger, false rue anemone, Dutchman’s breeches, bishop’s cap, blue cohosh, toothwort, wild geranium, jack-in-the-pulpit, nodding trillium, bellwort, and showy orchis. Many ferns also grace the preserve, including ostrich fern, Goldie’s fern, smooth cliff-brake, northern lady fern, narrow-leaved spleenwort, creeping fragile fern, spinulose wood fern, sensitive fern, Christmas fern, blunt-lobed woodsia, rattlesnake fern, and interrupted fern. Wood nettle covers the bottomland floor in the summer and can make travel uncomfortable.

About sixty birds have been observed here. Many are neotropical migrants, including cuckoos, flycatchers, warblers, and vireos as well as veery, scarlet tanager, woodthrush, redstart, Louisiana waterthrush, and ovenbird. Several of these birds need large tracts of unbroken forest for successful breeding.

In the early 1900s, Mossy Glen was a popular picnic spot. The road on the west edge of the preserve once extended over a bridge across Mossy Glen Creek, but was abandoned in 1978 after the bridge washed out. Occasional logging, especially of walnut trees on the valley floor, was conducted prior to state ownership.


From Edgewood, take Highway 3 west 1.5 miles to Eagle Avenue. Turn north (right) and go 4.75 miles to the end of the road. Park on the edge of the road at the top of the hill. Do not block the field access to a nearby farm. Walk north along the road into the western portion of the preserve (sign: Mossy Glen State Preserve).

Now Mossy Glen is located on a dead end gravel road and when we got to the last farm on the road the “road” took a turn for the worse.  We got out inspecting the road and I said this is where a mean dog comes.  Sure enough my son says here they come.  Three Basset hounds and one white colored mixed breed of some kind came running at us.  All of them were friendly and seemed happy we were visiting.

I determined it was ok to make the attempt with my Outlander Sport as it had clearance to take the chance.  I managed to make to the last tree in the second picture and decided to park in a field waterway as the road got ruttier the further one traveled.  It had rained the night before and I could feel the tires slip into some of the ruts.

We got out and all four dogs followed us to where we parked.  I grabbed my camera and tripod and we began the accent to the valley floor.  The old road bed quickly disintegrated until nothing more than wheel tracks was visible with multiple fallen trees blocking the road.  We came across the sign the DNR placed probably back in 1978 when they got the land as the sign had been snapped off and propped up against a tree with another tree limb concealing most of it.  It was becoming obvious this preserve has had little care which meant it would be in its raw state.  The four dogs continued to follow us down to the bottom.

We came to a barb wire fence and followed this to the east until we found the creek as shown in the following image.  Only the white dog was following us at this point and he went ahead of us walking the creek bed.  We started walking along the stream as the going was much better than trudging through the over growth on the forest floor.

Again numerous trees blocked our way and we had to find the best route around them which usually meant through the water.  We continued traveling this way for almost 45 minutes.  I took various shots along the way but found little of interest.  Then we came upon the first rock that obviously led to the sites name.   Looking upstream revealed larger upon larger slabs of limestone pile ontop of each other.  Each slab was cover in green lichens and moss and for the first time we were in another land that seemed far removed from Iowa.  It was a scene from Land of the Lost without the reptiles.  The loudness of the creek was more pronounced now and we walked forward to take it all in.

The following panoramic gives a full view of the main feature of the preserve.  I could have stayed there all day enjoying the sounds of the water and the visual beauty of the moss covered limestone.  The second picture is one of my son up on the rocks to put everything in perspective.

I took various shots of the more interesting water courses among the rocks.

All good things come to an end and it was time to begin the journey out of the ravine.  Here comes the white dog again and I told my son to keep an eye on him as we could follow him out.  I do believe this dog was getting a kick out of leading us out and it took us right up the face of a 45 degree slope.  Soon the dog was nowhere to be seen and we were left on our own on the side of that slick hillside.

We used whatever we could for hand holds and toe holds as the ground was slick from the rain the night before, not real muddy just not real stable footing.  I went on all fours in some locations and found it was easier.  Finally the slope got less steep and looking ahead we could see numerous large trees blocking our direct path.  We worked our way through the forest towards where we knew the roadbed had to be.  When we finally got to a fence we found out how far off we were.  In front of us lay the dogs farm about a half mile away, between us was a fully grown corn field.  We were almost a mile from where we thought we would be!

We jumped the fence and began a course through the corn field as this was the most direct path.  Let me tell you my 54 year old body was getting pretty sore and extremely thirsty at this point, note to self to bring water next time.

Next obstacle was another barbwire fence and pasture and more fence.  On fenced in area had sheep grazing.  We avoided the sheep area and followed the fence line eventually coming to the edge of a soy bean field.  We followed this to the gravel road.  As we headed back to the Outlander, almost a mile away due to the curvy nature of the road, here came the same white spot dog to greet us.  The tree line in the first picture is where we came out of Mossy Glen.

We walked past the farm house and never saw anyone and the same three basset hounds came to greet us and followed us back to the vehicle as if they were saying goodbye.  I was glad to have made it back safe and sound.

Would I do it over?  Defiantly, just not follow the same exit strategy.  The shame is the DNR appears like they could care less if people can reach this property and it appears the farmer does what he can to keep some type of road open.  If you are physically able and enjoy nature this is a must do.  I would also recommend a travel companion to assist if you got into trouble it would be almost impossible to get out and there is no cell service.

Duane Klipping

Bonfire Photography