A Podcast Tour of Dancing Sands Spring from Unseen Madison

Dancing Sands Spring viewed from the boardwalk and looking toward Lake Wingra.

Dancing Sands Spring, just a few hundred yards from Monroe Street is a quiet refuge in the UW-Madison Arboretum. Emerging just southwest the Kenneth Jensen Wheeler Council Ring, the spring’s steady upwelling of sand, bubbles, and water is mesmerizing and soothing.

Dancing Sands has been given several names over the years, including: Ho-Nee-Um Spring, Marston, Topp, and Lime Kiln Spring (Noland, 1951). It is not known how the Native American (Ho-Chunk), who had encampments nearby, referred to the springs.

If you would like to learn more and get a first-hand account listen to Kathy Miner, Arboretum naturalist, and neighborhood resident talk about the Dancing Sands Spring, its natural history and explain its various names on this podcast from Unseen Madison.

Kathy Miner waxes poetic over the springs around Lake Wingra and especially Dancing Sands. She has license to do this because she is a published poet. Like all poets she is a keen observer and shares many of these observations in this six minute podcast from Unseen Madison. Unseen Madison, exploring Madison beneath the surface is a project of Jeff Durbin and Gordon Heingartner.

The sand boils that create the so-called “Dancing Sands” are in the lower center of the image.

The Dancing Sands Spring is a seepage/filtration type of spring (discharging directly to the soil surface) as compared with its neighboring spring, the Council Ring Spring which is a fractured rock type of spring which emerges through fractured bedrock (Wisconsin Geologic and Natural History Survey.)

Close up of the sand boils of this seepage/filtration type of spring.

Dancing Sands does not appear to produce a great volume of spring water but it flows continuously throughout the year. The volume of its groundwater discharge–measured in gallons per min (gpm)–varies throughout the year and from year to year. When the flow volume of Dancing Sands was being measured from 2007 until 2011, it varied from a low of 11 gpm to a high of 90 gpm with an average flow rate of 40.21 gpm over five years.

The nearby Council Ring Springs also has a continuous but variable flow. Over the same time period of 2007 to 2011, the Council Ring Spring flow rate varied from a low of 82 gpm to a high of 512 gpm with an average rate of 205.23 gpm over five years.

The streams formed by Council Ring Spring and Dancing Sands join and form a large pool just before they enter Ho-Nee-Um Pond. The local beaver population takes periodic advantage of this juncture to build a dam.

Again, to hear Kathy Miner talk about Dancing Sands, click here. Use the waning days of autumn to visit Dancing Sands and the Council Ring Spring, in the Arboretum just a few steps from the intersection of Monroe Street and Arbor Drive. Please use the nice boardwalk and large stepping stones to avoid compacting soil and getting your feet wet.


Noland, W.E. 1951. The Hydrography, Fish and Turtle Population of Lake Wingra. Wisconsin Academy of Arts, Sciences, and Letters, Madison, WI.

Unseen Madison

Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, Springs in Wisconsin

About Steve Glass

The blogger is a restoration ecologist, Certified Ecological Restoration Practitioner, conservation photographer, and writer living in the Midwestern United States. Check out my photos at Stephenglassphotography.smugmug.com
This entry was posted in Council Spring, Dancing Sands Spring, Groundwater, Lake Wingra, Lake Wingra Watershed. Bookmark the permalink.

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