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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

January 2019

Through March 2019, Oklahoma Contemporary is partnering with Madison Square Park Conservancy to bring Erwin Redl’s installation Whiteout to Campbell Art Park. Whiteout is comprised of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Campbell Art Park
NW 11th and Broadway
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
Telephone: 405.951.0000
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
Website »

More information

Visitors to Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary will be able to let their imaginations run wild as they travel back in time with life-size animatronic dinosaurs along a half-mile...

Where:
Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary
1 Nature Place
McKinney, TX  75069
View map »


Sponsor: Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary
Telephone: 972.562.5566
Contact Name: Stephanie Jennings
Website »

More information

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

ArtNow is Oklahoma Contemporary's annual exhibition of Oklahoma-based contemporary artists. It closes with art sale - the first big party of the year with cocktails, tastemakers and the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Oklahoma Contemporary
3000 General Pershing Blvd
Oklahoma City, OK  73107
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
Telephone: 405.951.0000
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Through March 2019, Oklahoma Contemporary is partnering with Madison Square Park Conservancy to bring Erwin Redl’s installation Whiteout to Campbell Art Park. Whiteout is comprised of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Campbell Art Park
NW 11th and Broadway
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
Telephone: 405.951.0000
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
Website »

More information

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

ArtNow is Oklahoma Contemporary's annual exhibition of Oklahoma-based contemporary artists. It closes with art sale - the first big party of the year with cocktails, tastemakers and the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Oklahoma Contemporary
3000 General Pershing Blvd
Oklahoma City, OK  73107
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
Telephone: 405.951.0000
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Through March 2019, Oklahoma Contemporary is partnering with Madison Square Park Conservancy to bring Erwin Redl’s installation Whiteout to Campbell Art Park. Whiteout is comprised of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Campbell Art Park
NW 11th and Broadway
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
Telephone: 405.951.0000
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
Website »

More information

Visitors to Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary will be able to let their imaginations run wild as they travel back in time with life-size animatronic dinosaurs along a half-mile...

Where:
Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary
1 Nature Place
McKinney, TX  75069
View map »


Sponsor: Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary
Telephone: 972.562.5566
Contact Name: Stephanie Jennings
Website »

More information

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

ArtNow is Oklahoma Contemporary's annual exhibition of Oklahoma-based contemporary artists. It closes with art sale - the first big party of the year with cocktails, tastemakers and the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Oklahoma Contemporary
3000 General Pershing Blvd
Oklahoma City, OK  73107
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
Telephone: 405.951.0000
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Through March 2019, Oklahoma Contemporary is partnering with Madison Square Park Conservancy to bring Erwin Redl’s installation Whiteout to Campbell Art Park. Whiteout is comprised of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Campbell Art Park
NW 11th and Broadway
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
Telephone: 405.951.0000
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
Website »

More information

Visitors to Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary will be able to let their imaginations run wild as they travel back in time with life-size animatronic dinosaurs along a half-mile...

Where:
Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary
1 Nature Place
McKinney, TX  75069
View map »


Sponsor: Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary
Telephone: 972.562.5566
Contact Name: Stephanie Jennings
Website »

More information

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

ArtNow is Oklahoma Contemporary's annual exhibition of Oklahoma-based contemporary artists. It closes with art sale - the first big party of the year with cocktails, tastemakers and the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Oklahoma Contemporary
3000 General Pershing Blvd
Oklahoma City, OK  73107
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
Telephone: 405.951.0000
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Through March 2019, Oklahoma Contemporary is partnering with Madison Square Park Conservancy to bring Erwin Redl’s installation Whiteout to Campbell Art Park. Whiteout is comprised of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Campbell Art Park
NW 11th and Broadway
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
Telephone: 405.951.0000
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
Website »

More information

Visitors to Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary will be able to let their imaginations run wild as they travel back in time with life-size animatronic dinosaurs along a half-mile...

Where:
Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary
1 Nature Place
McKinney, TX  75069
View map »


Sponsor: Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary
Telephone: 972.562.5566
Contact Name: Stephanie Jennings
Website »

More information

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

ArtNow is Oklahoma Contemporary's annual exhibition of Oklahoma-based contemporary artists. It closes with art sale - the first big party of the year with cocktails, tastemakers and the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Oklahoma Contemporary
3000 General Pershing Blvd
Oklahoma City, OK  73107
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
Telephone: 405.951.0000
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
Website »

More information

You weren't going to keep them anyway. Break your resolutions in style with your girlfriends: check out The Melting Pot's special Resolution Buster Ladies’ Night Out. The evening will...

Cost: $29.95 per person

Where:
The Melting Pot
4 E. Sheridan Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Telephone: 405.235.1000
Contact Name: Rob Fazle
Website »

More information

Find your new fave on 1/17! The COOP Showcase brings local artists together for a live concert experience you won't find anywhere else. 

Cost: $10

Where:
Tower Theatre
425 NW 23rd St
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
View map »


Sponsor: Tower Theatre
Telephone: 405.708.6937
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Through March 2019, Oklahoma Contemporary is partnering with Madison Square Park Conservancy to bring Erwin Redl’s installation Whiteout to Campbell Art Park. Whiteout is comprised of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Campbell Art Park
NW 11th and Broadway
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
Telephone: 405.951.0000
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
Website »

More information

Visitors to Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary will be able to let their imaginations run wild as they travel back in time with life-size animatronic dinosaurs along a half-mile...

Where:
Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary
1 Nature Place
McKinney, TX  75069
View map »


Sponsor: Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary
Telephone: 972.562.5566
Contact Name: Stephanie Jennings
Website »

More information

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

ArtNow is Oklahoma Contemporary's annual exhibition of Oklahoma-based contemporary artists. It closes with art sale - the first big party of the year with cocktails, tastemakers and the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Oklahoma Contemporary
3000 General Pershing Blvd
Oklahoma City, OK  73107
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
Telephone: 405.951.0000
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
Website »

More information

Tickets are now on sale for the the first must-attend party of 2019 - featuring signature cocktails, tastemakers and live art-making! ArtNow is your opportunity to party with a purpose and purchase...

Cost: $75-$150

Where:
Oklahoma Contemporary
3000 General Pershing Blvd
Oklahoma City, OK  73107
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
Telephone: 405.951.0000
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Through March 2019, Oklahoma Contemporary is partnering with Madison Square Park Conservancy to bring Erwin Redl’s installation Whiteout to Campbell Art Park. Whiteout is comprised of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Campbell Art Park
NW 11th and Broadway
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
Telephone: 405.951.0000
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
Website »

More information

Visitors to Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary will be able to let their imaginations run wild as they travel back in time with life-size animatronic dinosaurs along a half-mile...

Where:
Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary
1 Nature Place
McKinney, TX  75069
View map »


Sponsor: Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary
Telephone: 972.562.5566
Contact Name: Stephanie Jennings
Website »

More information

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

Celebrate during MLK weekend with fun! From Saturday 1/19 through Monday 1/21, experience our Winter Fun Pass for just $19.95! This pass includes unlimited laser tag, bumper cars, frog hopper, kidz...

Cost: 19.95

Where:
Andy Alligator's Fun Park
3300 Market Place Dr
Norman, OK  73072
View map »


Sponsor: Andy Alligator's Fun Park
Telephone: 405.321.7275
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

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