For several years, I have been trying to take Stephanie to Wisconsin Dells, and it never worked out. Either the timing was off or we had other plans, or the airfare was just too much. When our route across the country took us right through “the Dells,” I told Stephanie that there was a mystery destination in Wisconsin, and to allow a couple of extra days. Not only would I get to surprise her, I would get to share a place I went as a kid. Wisconsin Dells is only about three hours from Chicago where I lived for a time.
Wisconsin Dells originally became a tourist attraction for its beautiful scenery, so I knew Stephanie would love the outdoors-iness of it all. When we got there in the early afternoon, I quickly realized that Wisconsin Dells had gone from a quiet nature-y escape to a full blown tourist attraction. Take Ocean City, NJ, and cross it with “Clifton Hill” at Niagara Falls, and you may get an idea of what it’s like. There are T-shirt and kitschy souvenir shops, fudge and candy shops, bars, miniature golf, amusement parks, 3D movies, go-karts, and river tours to name a few of the activities. Fortunately for us, we were there in October when most of the tourists are absent, and signs everywhere proclaim “Closed for the season.”
First and foremost, we had to do something with nature. Stephanie and I have talked about taking a Duck Tour for a long time. For those of you who’ve never seen one, the Ducks, are amphibious trucks built for WWII (technically the model is DUKW). Many tourist areas offer rides/tours in these trucks that then drive into the water and become boats. The original commercial Duck Tours began in Wisconsin Dells, so it seemed the perfect place to try it out. The ride was a bit chilly, but in October, that’s to be expected. Other than that, the scenery was nice, and it’s always fun to drive a vehicle into water and not have it sink. Our tour did this a few times.
Afterwards, we went on a hike where we had the trail entirely to ourselves – another perk of off-season tourism. The sun was still out and the trees were beautiful in their bright Fall colors, and we had fun discussing what we had learned at the Chicago Seminars. The trail was short enough to do twice before heading off to meet our Couch Surfing host. (Yup, even here in the middle of Wisconsin.)
The next day was the real attraction at Wisconsin Dells. Did I mention that Wisconsin Dells is the Water Park Capitol of the World? “But Elliott,” you ask, “don’t you hate being cold?” Indeed I do, so the good folks at the Dells thoughtfully offered me three *indoor* water parks to choose from. We settled on Lost Rios – a park with a Mayan jungle theme – and off we went for the day.
Stephanie and I had the whole place basically to ourselves, and had no waits for any of the rides. Our favorite was one that shoots you into a giant enclosed blue and orange bowl where you circle around and around until you are flushed down the drain (usually backwards). Stephanie was thrilled with it, saying it felt like we were in the middle of a Dr. Seuss book. There were also all the standard waterslides including mat races, a very steep enclosed slide, a “water coaster” and twisty-turny slides of all sizes. There was even a huge play area with water spraying everywhere and lots of “controls” to change the strength and direction of the spraying water, that was as fun for adults as for kids. It also had a huge bucket that would periodically dump hundreds of gallons over everything. We spent over seven hours there acting like kids, and loving every minute of it.
After our water adventure, we slept in a bit the next morning before continuing on. We walked along the short River Walk enjoying the views of the foliage, train trestle and water once more. On our way through Wisconsin, we stopped in a town called Tomah and had lunch at Ground Round with an old friend of Stephanie’s mother and grandmother. She was very happy to meet and catch up with Stephanie, I was very happy eating bottomless baskets of popcorn, and we spent over three hours just trading stories and getting to know each other. Finally it was time to continue on our journey. We set our sights on Minneapolis and hit the road again.