"I don't want to get to the end of my life and find that I have just lived the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well."
– Diane Ackerman
Let me begin this post by admitting that both Steve and I were pleasantly surprised by our time in Wisconsin. It's not that we think the world revolves around Michigan exactly, but who knew Wisconsin was so interesting and pretty?
The landscape consists of rolling hills dotted with beautiful farms and their red barns along with trees in the midst of their color change glory. The sky all week has been a beautiful shade of blue and the sun blessed us with its presence the entire time we were here. What a marvelous visit we had.
Let me also say that Barbaboo is a nice place to hang out. Close enough to the Dells that you can reach anything over there in 15 minutes, but far enough away that you don't have to deal with all the tourist issues. Also, Baraboo is such a quaint little town. It has all the amenities that you'd want in a "big city" but most definitely a small town feel. The downtown area itself is surrounded by neighborhoods that boast beautifully maintained Craftsman, Victorian, and some post-modern architecture homes. What a delight it would be to leave your front door, walk a couple of blocks, and be at your favorite coffee shop or bookstore, or grocery store. That is Baraboo. Sadly, however, there is still the "winter" factor so there will not be any relocating to Wisconsin for Steve and I. Anyway, on to our adventures here.
Our first stop was the Circus World Museum. What an absolutely cool place that turned out to be. I must admit I was initially apprehensive because I find clowns to be a bit creepy, but my apprehension was quickly overcome by sheer delight. The museum itself consists of many buildings and a performance area that was used by the Ringling Brothers as their winter quarters. The first building we walked through housed a good number of posters that advertised the circus back from the 1800's forward. These posters were awesome and depicted different acts from the circus (like the human canon and the lion tamers) as well as the side shows.
They also had a number of diaramas demonstrating what the old-time circus (1850-1950) would have looked like which was totally cool. The circus itself, if you didn't already know this, was studied by the U.S. Army who wanted to learn how to pack and unpack in the most effective and efficient manner possible. Who better to learn from than a circus that loaded 100 rail cars full of people, animals, equipment and food, traveled for a day, unloaded and set up all that stuff for only a two-day show and then turn around and pack it all up again.
We toured through the old barns that housed all the various animals that were part of the circus, but the best part was the carriage house. This building was the size of a football stadium and it was filled with all the old cages and carriages that the Ringling Brothers used. These carriages were so ornately painted and absolutely gorgeous. Steve and I both commented on what a sight it must have been for these small towns to see these rail cars come into their rail stations and unload. There were pictures of parades that the circus had as they made their way from the rail station, through town, and onto the site where the circus was going to be. The crowds lining the streets were huge and you could see the excitement on everyone's faces. A bygone era to be sure but this little piece of Americana was so worth the time we spent there.
Apparently, in the summer, this circus museum has a mini-circus every day. The museum itself is open, of course, but they also have an entire area set up for animal performances all day long. There is a huge carousel too which I am sure plays that cool circus music. All in all it was an excellent experience and not a clown in sight all day.
Steve and I did some hiking this past week that just about killed us. Devil's Lake State Park is a beautiful place to visit and the hiking trails there are more challenging than they first appear. Steve and I took off thinking we'd have a nice leisurely 2 mile hike until we faced a wall of granite that was about 500 feet high. We scaled that wall in about a 1500 foot journey (so you can imagine it was a mostly vertical hike) and, after recovering from our mutual heart attacks, were rewarded for our perseverance with one of the most breathtaking sights we have seen so far. There are rock formations along the way that make the trip interesting but the one at the top - - "The Devil's Door" - - was incredible. Steve got some fantastic pictures so check those out in the gallery. In addition to enjoying the fantastic view, we also did some geocaching at the top of the hill. That was fun. The trip down the hill was not as easy as one would think, given the fact that you have gravity on your side on that leg of the journey. This portion of the hike was mostly straight down - - no switchbacks like on the way up and no place to stop and rest. I must say that was very hard on the knees and yes Matt (aka Chuck) it was much harder on the quads than going up! No matter, we did it and it was magnificent.
Have you ever had an experience where you expected something to be one thing and it turns out to be something completely surprising and delightful? Well that was The House on the Rock for us. We anticipated touring a home that was built into the side of a mountain by an architect by the name of Alex Jordan. Not much has been written about this man - - he's sort of "Howard Hughes-ish" in that regard so I cannot give you much information on him. So let me tell you, the house was interesting and beautiful, but it was his collection of weird stuff that made this trip cool. There were two huge buildings on the campus of this tourist attraction filled with collections of doll houses, dueling pistols, music boxes, suits of armor, pipe organs (a multi-story room devoted to just these), and the world's largest carousel. He also had an old-time street scene built with different little shops lining a cobblestone walkway. Totally cool and completely unexpected. Both Steve and I were speechless when we left the place. We experienced complete visual overload and if we had an entire day to explore the museum, we still could not have seen it all.
Our next adventure was a boat ride through the Upper Dells. What better way to spend the late afternoon than a two-hour cruise up the Wisconsin River looking at beautiful scenery. There are many rock formations that were formed from the water erosion over the sandstone cliffs that were interesting. The best part of the journey, however, was an area called "The Witches Gulch". In this portion of the river, the cliffs come very close together and create an almost tunnel-like area. Check out the gallery for some really cool pictures on this. Admittedly, the Wisconsin Dells area is totally about water parks and tourists. I would imagine that during the summer the city is jam-packed, much like International Drive in Orlando. I am not a big fan of that kind of chaos so I am happy that we came when the kids were in school!!!
Speaking of the Dells, Steve and I celebrated our 11th wedding anniversary with a wonderful dinner at a restaurant in the Dells called "Fields". We had a lovely meal and Steve presented me with some new "bling". Before we left for this trip, I put my wedding set in our safe deposit box as I felt a little nervous bringing it on our trip. Since then, however, I have felt a little "naked" without a ring as it seemed weird to not wear one after years of having it on my finger. Steve, however, remedied that for me and presented me with a beautiful solataire in white gold. What a gem of a man!
The remainder of the week was spent checking out cool stuff like an International Crane Refuge, an Army base that had several cool pieces of military equipment on display, visited the Ho-Chuck casino, and biking on an old rail line which contained cool tunnels through mountains. Steve has some nice pics from those adventures. We also visited a cheese factory and watched cheese being made. Steve purchased some sharp cheddar from that factory and made his world-famous Mac-and-Cheese with it. Yummy!! All in all, Wisconsin is a cool place to check out. It's prettier than we expected and a lot more to do than just water parks and Green Bay Packers!!!!
We leave today (10/9) and head to the Chicago area. I have school to deal with this week but Jill, Gary and the kids are coming to visit and hang with Steve and I, so that will be fun. YAHOO! Can't wait to see my grandkids!
Take care everyone! You'll hear from us again next week.