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Making a Splash in Wisconsin Dells

Getting Away



The spectacular fly board in action at the Tommy Bartlett Ski Show. Tommy Bartlett Ski Show, Fly board courtesy Wisconsin Dells Visitor & Convention Bureau

“Waterpark Capital of the World!” That’s what Wisconsin Dells boasts – and it’s probably right. But you can only stay biggest if you keep getting bigger, and Wisconsin Dells is doing just that. The town is so confident of its continuing prowess that they’ve had their nickname copyrighted.

Even before the first waterpark was built, the beautiful Wisconsin River and unusual rock formations attracted early tourists to the area. In the last quarter of the 19th century, noted photographer H.H. Bennett set up shop here. His amazing landscape photos attracted even more visitors. His most famous photo is of his son jumping five feet from a rock ledge across a 47-foot-deep chasm to a flat rock atop a slender sandstone pillar. The photo went viral – as fast as it could in 1886. And, of course, there were daredevils who wanted to try the jump.

Insurance companies put a stop to the stunts in the ’40s, but visitors can still see specially trained dogs make the leap. Bennett’s studio is now a museum.

After World War II, amphibious military vehicles were brought to the area. The Ducks had landed. Still in business as “The Original Wisconsin Ducks,” they trundle tourists along woodsy wilderness paths and into nearby waters.

Downtown Wisconsin Dells – Branson with cheese curds. Downtown Wisconsin Dells courtesy Wisconsin Dells Visitor & Convention Bureau

The big new attraction in the ’50s was the Tommy Bartlett Ski Show. Its founder has passed on but the show continues. Yes, there are lovely bathing beauties, skiing pyramids, jumping and barefoot skiing, but you’ll also see innovations like the water-jet-propelled fly board and the sky ski along with the antics of daredevil clowns.

In the late ’80s, a local resort owner saw a pool complex with some exciting extras that made plain pools seem passé during a visit to Texas. Considering the shorter summer season in Wisconsin, he and his partners decided to build a similar attraction but with a roof over it, creating the nation’s first indoor waterpark.

Now there are over 20 indoor waterpark/water playground facilities in the Dells – more waterslides per capita than anywhere else in the world. America’s largest waterpark, Noah’s Ark Waterpark, covers 70 acres and features three miles of waterslides.

 Mount Olympus, one of Wisconsin Dells’ many watery attractions. Photo by Elaine Warner

The Kalahari Waterpark Resort is Wisconsin’s largest indoor waterpark with 125,000 square feet, while the Wilderness Hotel and Golf Resort holds the record for the largest indoor/outdoor waterpark resort in the nation. The combined space is equivalent to 12 football fields.

This place is kid heaven – but bring your wallet. All the parks have added attractions: video games, gift shops and other opportunities to drop a few dollars.

Visiting the Dells can be a schizophrenic experience. Part of the town offers the Branson-strip experience – souvenir stores, quirky museums and fudge shops – and the waterpark attractions. And while I loved the fudge, it was the scenic beauty and the geologic history surrounding the tourist-y town that appealed to me.

Here’s a quick geology lesson. Zip back half-a-billion years to the Cambrian Period. This area was the sandy shore of an ancient sea. Over the millennia, the sand hardened into sandstone.

During the Ice Age, a great lake existed near here, a melted glacier dammed up by remnants of un-melted ice. About 15,000 years ago that ice dam failed and lake waters rushed over the sandstone, carving deep gorges and canyons.

There are many ways to explore the area – I chose the easiest. One of the best land tours is at Lost Canyon where a horse-drawn wagon ride wanders through a mile of narrow gorges squeezed by towering cliffs. Some places were so narrow that I couldn’t see how the horses – a pair of massive Percherons – would get through.

Visitors to Lost Canyon travel through narrow gorges barely wide enough for the wagons. Photo by Elaine Warner

The Duck tour goes through similar, though not as dramatic, terrain, but you’ll also see some of the river and Lake Delton.

Both the Lost Canyon tour and the Duck tour were short compared to the Dells Boat Tours cruise. This two-hour, 10-mile round-trip takes you upriver from downtown Wisconsin Dells.

In addition to the scenery you’ll see while relaxing on the boat, there are two stops to stretch your legs. The first, Witches Gulch, is a narrow canyon with high, layered sandstone walls. The next features Stand Rock where, weather permitting, you will see trained dogs making that historic leap.

 

The International Crane Foundation, founded by two ornithologists with the lofty goal of saving the world’s cranes, is a bonanza for birders. This is the only place in the world where you can see all of the world’s 15 crane species. Necessary fencing makes photography tricky but the whooping crane enclosure is blessedly free of annoying barriers – and the majestic birds posed regally while seeming to ignore us.

Pair of whooping cranes at the International Crane Foundation. Photo by Elaine Warner

One of the town’s newer attractions is Timbavati, a wildlife park and a work in progress. The staff here is great and you’ll have a much more personal animal encounter than most places. Before my visit was over, I’d bottle-fed a baby camel, petted a zebu on the head, fed an eland and served carrot sticks to several greedy giraffes.

Ride an elephant or watch circus animals perform at Circus World Museum in nearby Baraboo. A Wisconsin Historic Site, original Ringling Brothers buildings house exhibits – my favorites, the elaborate circus wagons.

For more information about Wisconsin destinations, visit travelwisconsin.com.

All-you-can-eat invite

Food for Thought

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All-you-can-eat bodacious breakfast served home style. The buttermilk donuts are great.

Burgers, brats and their own beers. Or go for their home-brewed root beer.

Pizza and beer but don’t miss the beer cheese soup. Worth a stop for a picture of the little red delivery car with the moose on top.

Family-owned, specialty hickory-smoked ribs and heavenly cinnamon rolls

“Steakhouse/supper club with a modern edge” in business for over 70 years. Great food and super service leads to longevity.

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Calendar

July 2019

A Texas State of Mind, featuring the art of Larry G. Lemons of Nocona, TX, is coming to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK.  A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 - 6:30...

Cost: $4-$6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

Featuring more than 70 works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift of...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

A nationally touring exhibit “Bison: Ancient. Massive. Wild.” will open May 24 at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK. This exhibit explores the significance of...

Cost: $4 - $6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

A nationally touring exhibit “Bison: Ancient. Massive. Wild.” will open May 24 at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK. This exhibit explores the significance of...

Cost: $4 - $6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

A Texas State of Mind, featuring the art of Larry G. Lemons of Nocona, TX, is coming to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK.  A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 - 6:30...

Cost: $4-$6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

The University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma’s Nesbitt Gallery will feature painter William Stoehr’s powerful portraits in “Victims, Witnesses, and Survivors.” The gallery...

Cost: Free

Where:
USAO Nesbitt Gallery
1727 W. Alabama Ave.
Chickasha, OK  73018
View map »


Sponsor: Nesbitt Gallery
Telephone: 405.574.1374
Contact Name: Layne Thrift
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Featuring more than 70 works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift of...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

A Texas State of Mind, featuring the art of Larry G. Lemons of Nocona, TX, is coming to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK.  A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 - 6:30...

Cost: $4-$6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

A nationally touring exhibit “Bison: Ancient. Massive. Wild.” will open May 24 at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK. This exhibit explores the significance of...

Cost: $4 - $6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

Our summer series is geared toward teaching printmaking in the classroom. Each Tuesday night from 5:30-8 p.m., we will show several different ways to approach 4 printmaking styles. You...

Cost: $75

Where:
ARTSPACE at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Telephone: 405.815.9995
Website »

More information

The University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma’s Nesbitt Gallery will feature painter William Stoehr’s powerful portraits in “Victims, Witnesses, and Survivors.” The gallery...

Cost: Free

Where:
USAO Nesbitt Gallery
1727 W. Alabama Ave.
Chickasha, OK  73018
View map »


Sponsor: Nesbitt Gallery
Telephone: 405.574.1374
Contact Name: Layne Thrift
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Featuring more than 70 works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift of...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

A nationally touring exhibit “Bison: Ancient. Massive. Wild.” will open May 24 at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK. This exhibit explores the significance of...

Cost: $4 - $6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

A Texas State of Mind, featuring the art of Larry G. Lemons of Nocona, TX, is coming to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK.  A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 - 6:30...

Cost: $4-$6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

The University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma’s Nesbitt Gallery will feature painter William Stoehr’s powerful portraits in “Victims, Witnesses, and Survivors.” The gallery...

Cost: Free

Where:
USAO Nesbitt Gallery
1727 W. Alabama Ave.
Chickasha, OK  73018
View map »


Sponsor: Nesbitt Gallery
Telephone: 405.574.1374
Contact Name: Layne Thrift
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

A Texas State of Mind, featuring the art of Larry G. Lemons of Nocona, TX, is coming to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK.  A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 - 6:30...

Cost: $4-$6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

A nationally touring exhibit “Bison: Ancient. Massive. Wild.” will open May 24 at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK. This exhibit explores the significance of...

Cost: $4 - $6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

Featuring more than 70 works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift of...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

The University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma’s Nesbitt Gallery will feature painter William Stoehr’s powerful portraits in “Victims, Witnesses, and Survivors.” The gallery...

Cost: Free

Where:
USAO Nesbitt Gallery
1727 W. Alabama Ave.
Chickasha, OK  73018
View map »


Sponsor: Nesbitt Gallery
Telephone: 405.574.1374
Contact Name: Layne Thrift
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Featuring more than 70 works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift of...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

A nationally touring exhibit “Bison: Ancient. Massive. Wild.” will open May 24 at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK. This exhibit explores the significance of...

Cost: $4 - $6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

A Texas State of Mind, featuring the art of Larry G. Lemons of Nocona, TX, is coming to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK.  A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 - 6:30...

Cost: $4-$6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

The University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma’s Nesbitt Gallery will feature painter William Stoehr’s powerful portraits in “Victims, Witnesses, and Survivors.” The gallery...

Cost: Free

Where:
USAO Nesbitt Gallery
1727 W. Alabama Ave.
Chickasha, OK  73018
View map »


Sponsor: Nesbitt Gallery
Telephone: 405.574.1374
Contact Name: Layne Thrift
Website »

More information

The evening Cocktail Cruise offers stunning views of the downtown skyline, the Boathouse District & Finish Line Tower, the Wheeler Ferris wheel and, quite possibly, an amazing...

Cost: Adult: $20 Seniors and Children: $15

Where:
Regatta Park Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd
Oklahoma City, OK  73119
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma River Cruises
Telephone: 405-702-7755
Contact Name: Che Loessberg
Website »

More information

This event is for the young and the young at heart! Join us for a night of music under the Ferris Wheel lights - enjoy a live music preview of Wiggle Out Loud with Academia OK Mariachi Students,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Wheeler Ferris Wheel
1701 S. Western Ave.
Oklahoma City, OK  73109
View map »

More information

The evening Cocktail Cruise offers stunning views of the downtown skyline, the Boathouse District & Finish Line Tower, the Wheeler Ferris Wheel, and quite possibly an amazing Oklahoma...

Cost: Adults $20; Seniors and Children $15

Where:
Regatta Park Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd
Oklahoma City, OK  73119
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma River Cruises
Telephone: 405-702-7755
Contact Name: Che Loessberg
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

A Texas State of Mind, featuring the art of Larry G. Lemons of Nocona, TX, is coming to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK.  A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 - 6:30...

Cost: $4-$6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

A nationally touring exhibit “Bison: Ancient. Massive. Wild.” will open May 24 at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK. This exhibit explores the significance of...

Cost: $4 - $6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

Featuring more than 70 works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift of...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

Join Wendy Fox as she leads the Stab Binding Workshop in the PRESS at Untitled. A stab bound book has no signatures. It is a book that consists of flat pages, and a front and back cover...

Cost: $50

Where:
ARTSPACE at Untitled
1 NE 3rd St
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Sponsor: ARTSPACE at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
Contact Name: Laura Warriner
Website »

More information

America’s largest interactive comedy murder mystery dinner show is now playing at the Skirvin Hilton Hotel. At The Dinner Detective, you’ll tackle a challenging crime while you...

Cost: $59.95

Where:
The Skirvin Hilton
1 Park Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: The Dinner Detective
Telephone: 866.496.0535
Website »

More information

The evening Cocktail Cruise offers stunning views of the downtown skyline, the Boathouse District & Finish Line Tower, the Wheeler Ferris wheel and, quite possibly, an amazing...

Cost: Adult: $20 Seniors and Children: $15

Where:
Regatta Park Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd
Oklahoma City, OK  73119
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma River Cruises
Telephone: 405-702-7755
Contact Name: Che Loessberg
Website »

More information

The evening Cocktail Cruise offers stunning views of the downtown skyline, the Boathouse District & Finish Line Tower, the Wheeler Ferris Wheel, and quite possibly an amazing Oklahoma...

Cost: Adults $20; Seniors and Children $15

Where:
Regatta Park Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd
Oklahoma City, OK  73119
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma River Cruises
Telephone: 405-702-7755
Contact Name: Che Loessberg
Website »

More information

Fresh off of the release of their latest album, Bay Faction is on tour from Brooklyn, NY. Florida Guilt is the debut album by New York-based trio Bay Faction (comprised of James McDermott,...

Cost: $12

Where:
Opolis
113 North Crawford
Norman, OK  73069
View map »


Sponsor: IBGYBG Entertainment LLC
Telephone: 617.780.0498
Contact Name: James McDermott
Website »

More information

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