State 10: Wisconsin August 5, 2017
We woke up at a Walmart in Madison, WI having had a good night sleep. The temperature was a comfortable 70 degrees all night long, and we did not even need to use our fans. While we were visiting the State's Museum yesterday, we learned the state was named after the Wisconsin River, and subsequently, the Ho-Chuck Indians are the ones who named the Wisconsin River. The word Wisconsin is actually the English translation of the Ho-Chuck Indian's description of “a river running through flat red rocks”. There is only one place in the entire state where a river runs through flat red rocks, and that location is a 1-mile stretch of the Wisconsin River located in the Wisconsin Dells, WI. What a great story! We knew we had to see the portion of the Wisconsin River possessing so much natural beauty, it inspired the naming of the state! The Wisconsin Dells were only an hour drive North from our current location in Madison, WI, so we would not be going too far off course. Since Wisconsin is America’s Diary Land, and we were visiting the Wisconsin Dells, I could not help but be reminded of the childhood nursery rhyme the “Farmer in the Dell”. The song got stuck in my head, and I drove Nate nuts by singing it for the entire hour long drive to Wisconsin Dells, WI. It was now time to find out once and for all why the “cheese stands alone”.
While enroute to the Dells, I was hard at work researching and formulating an impromptu agenda. The one-mile stretch of the Wisconsin River we wanted to see was located in the the Upper Dells. There were 4 companies which offered tours of the Upper Dells, but we opted to go with the “Dells Boat Tours”. First and foremost, the company has been offering tours of the river since 1852, and we like American companies who have been in business a very long time. Secondly, they were the only company offering two opportunities during the boat tour to exit the boat and explore significant sites located inland. Although the ticket price of $30 each was a sharp left hook to our vagabond budget, we mutually agreed to label the boat tour of the Wisconsin Upper Dells the highly coveted title of a Cross Country Couple's “Can’t Miss Attraction” due to its historical significance to the state of Wisconsin.
As we approached the Wisconsin Dells, billboards began popping up and littering the landscape. Buy Fudge here! Play Laser Tag Here! Visit Our Water Park Here! This was deja' vou of our trip into Branson, MO a few weeks ago. Commercialism was crapping up the corn fields of the mid-west once again! Clearly the Wisconsin Dells was going to be a tourist trap, but nothing could have prepared us for the hyperbole we saw. I will provide you with a taste of the low-lites; A hotel built in the shape of The Roman Coliseum, A 10 story tall depiction of the Trojan horse, and the cup de grat’ An upside down White House built to scale. This went on for block after block, until we finally reached the Dells Boat Tour dock. The more I travel the country, the more I am beginning to understand why statistically the average American has $7,837.00 in credit card debt.
We picked up our tickets, and made our way down 6 flights of stairs to the docks below. Since it was 6:00 pm, we were the last scheduled tour for the day, and we were hoping to get some great shots of the sunset over the Dells. Soon thereafter, we boarded our ship for the day the “Yellow Thunder" pictured below for a 2-hour tour. I was happy to learn the name of our ship was not the Minnow (Gilligan’s Island…Shipwrecked…. Tiny desert island… lol). The ship had two decks. The first deck was fully enclosed, and the top deck was open to air. Since the weather was a comfortable, we opted for the upper deck and the unobstructed views.
I am going to let the pictures do the explaining of the beauty we saw while on the Wisconsin Dells.
I do want to discuss the two stops during our boat trip; Witch’s Gulch and Stand Rock. The first scheduled stop was at a location called “Witch’s Gulch”, and we docked at the rivers bank about 40 minutes into our tour. Once we went ashore, we were led single file along a very narrow wooden walk way built over roaring rapids, which was about a football field in length. On either side of the walkway were flat red rock cliffs about 3 feet apart that shot up at least 100 feet into the air above us. Just to recap, you are walking through a very narrow gap at the base of two very tall cliffs, on a rickety wooden bridge, while hearing the sound of the rapids roaring directly beneath your feet! It was a very beautiful and powerful experience, but definitely not for the claustrophobic! Eeek! We then re-boarded the boat, and headed to our next stop.
Another 30 minutes into our trip, we docked at our second and final stop on the tour at Stand Rock.
Stand Rock had the unique distinction of being the site where the first instant photograph was taken in the entire world. In late 19th century, a Wisconsin man named H.H. Bennett created a new shutter on his camera allowing for instant pictures of moving subjects to be photographed. Prior to his invention, development of a picture required several minutes, and any movement from the subject would result in a blurry picture. He had an ingenious plan to prove his new invention successfully photographed moving objects instantaneously. In 1886, he went to the rock formation known as Stand Rock, which is pictured below. Bennett then set up his camera with his new shutter on a nearby ledge. He then instructed his son Ashley to jump the 5 ½ foot gap between Stand Rock and the cliffs edge. The iconic image shown below is the first Instant picture ever taken,and shows Ashley in midair while jumping the gap. It is this picture that revolutionized photography, and made the Wisconsin Dells the tourist attraction it is today.
Today children are strongly discouraged from jumping the gap to Stand Rock. However, the rock is used to train police dogs how to jump across heights. As we stood at the base of Stand Rock, a German Shepard named Comet successfully jumped the 5 ½ foot gap with ease, which is pictured below. All present were amazed with Comet's performance, and we all erupted with applause. It reminded me of my Grandma’s dog named Clancy who used to perform tricks with expert precision. I love dogs, and can’t wait to get another when my cross country trip is over. Every precaution is taken to ensure the dogs safety. There is a net below the jump in case the dog falls. The net has never needed to be used, and no dog has ever been injured. After Comet’s performance, we walked along a narrow walkway at the base of another stunning sandstone cliff line of the Dells before returning to the boat. We then made the 30-minute return trip back to the dock.
The Ho-Chuck Indians were very accurate in their description of the river, and the states fore-fathers were wise to name their state after such a gorgeous 1-mile stretch of the Wisconsin River. The Wisconsin's river rock formations are the regions original tourist attraction. Unfortunately, today the Wisconsin Dells are a footnote to $5 t-shirts, roller-coasters and mini putt-putt courses that drive tourists to the region. I can visit any state in the US, and go down a waterslide. However, there is only one place in the entire country where I can experience the grandeur of the Wisconsin Dells, and we feel honored to have had the opportunity to explore them today. We drove 10 miles southwest to Baraboo, WI where we found a Walmart to sleep for the night.