Saturday, June 20, 2009

Doing the Dells for a Wisconsin Friday Five

Back from Wisconsin and caught up at work, I thought it was a good time to share some of the unusual things we saw in the Dells last weekend.

Given the festive nature of the vacation, I thought it would be a good time to bring back the Deezo Friday Five, which has been on hiatus as we focus on Josh’s travels.

The Dells’ claims to fame are the unique rock formations and the river tours to see them. And then it became a tourist Mecca, with operators playing “can you top this” to lure to visitors.

This created some strangeness, which, of course, we embrace.

1) Fiberglass animals and people.

I’m going to guess that there are more fiberglass creations in the Dells per capita than anywhere else in the world.

We were greeted by the Cheese Mouse and a nearby Denny’s hosted a group of 1950s icons. Then the hotel had a dinosaur slide plus a huge assortment of sea creatures.
Then, we enjoyed dinner at a place that placed moose in trees, on cars and other places where moose are not expected to be found.

2) Amazing tales of child abuse.

The name comes from the French word "dalles" for flat, layered rock. Amazing formations of exposed rock were carved by water over millions of years.

The most famous formation, Stand Rock, played a role in advancing photography.
People posing for portraits used to have to sit perfectly still for several minutes as the image was created.

H.H. Bennett invented the instantaneous shutter, but people thought his photos of dock workers throwing ropes were fakes.

So he sent his son Ashley to jump the 5.5 feet between a cliff and Stand Rock, hoping to catch him in mid-flight. He did, proving his shutter worked and creating an iconic photo.

It took Ashley 17 tries before his Dad got the photo he wanted.

You have to wonder if Ashley fell short and was falling to his doom, would Dad Bennett have snapped the photo?

On tour today, dogs make the leap, and there is a net below them. I think that shows a severe lack of confidence in the dogs.

3) Circus freaks

We traveled just south to Baraboo to see Circus World, a museum dedicated to life under the big top.

The Ringling Brothers Circus was created there in 1884, and used the small town as it winter headquarters until merging with the Barnum and Bailey Circus in 1918.

Some of the original buildings remain as a National Historic Landmark Site and are used for displays. The museum hosts the world's largest collection of circus wagons, and you can watch as woodworkers restore them.

As you know, circuses today are rather tame compared to what they were like in the early days, with sideshows showing off all types of people who today we would call handicapped.

The museum had a display of these unfortunate folks, including Eng and Chang, the conjoined twins, tiny Tom Thumb and, of favorite, Jo Jo, the dog-faced boy.

I couldn’t help but wonder what these attractions were like back in the day. You gave the barker your money, entered the tent and then what? Where they just sitting there, talking among themselves? Could you talk to them? If you taunted them, could they taunt you back? “Yeah, I’m a circus freak. What’s your excuse?”

These questions went unanswered, but they sold clown noses in the gift shop and most of my relatives were forced to wear them for photos!

4) Duck boats

The Dells seem to have the largest collection of Army duck boats in one place since Normandy.

The boats are a combination of boat and truck used during World War II.
Our guide said General Motors built about 21,000 of the vehicles in Pontiac, Mich. and many were used in the D-Day invasion in 1944, bringing supplies from ships to soldiers on the shore.

After the war, 11,000 of the vehicles were sold as surplus, and the tour founder bought 60 of them in 1946 and started offering tours of the Dells. He later started a second duck tour company in the area.

None of the ducks used in the invasion are available today. The Army learned it cost twice as much to transport the vehicles home than it did to build new ones, so they were dumped into the ocean off the coast of France.

5) Bat-less caves

After the circus adventures we headed a little further south to the Cave of the Mounds in Blue Mounds.

Designated by the National Park Service as a National Natural Landmark, the limestone cave was discovered on Aug. 4, 1939 after an explosion set by quarry workers. They were supposed to wait three days before entering the cave entrance, allowing all the displaced rocks to settle. They waited three hours.

Stalactites are the spikes that hang down from the cave ceiling are caused by water that seeps into the cave and carries minerals. They grow at a rate of 1 inch every 100 years.

We saw all kinds of magnificent formations created by the dripping water, including flow stones and hollow tubes called "soda straws," as well as magnificent colors caused by manganese oxide and iron oxide in the rocks.

You are not allowed to touch any of these, because your fingers have oil on them, and oil and water do not mix, and it would mess up the growth of the formations.
But there’s no oil on your tongue, and if you ask the tour guide, if you can lick a stalactite, she makes a funny face. Or so I’m told.

Since there was no natural opening to the cave, there was no place for bats to enter. This was disappointing.

We saw all kinds of magnificent formations created by the dripping water, including flow stones and hollow tubes called "soda straws," as well as magnificent colors caused by manganese oxide and iron oxide in the rocks.

Bonus facts:

Tommy Bartlett was a radio guy who created a waters ski show that became a Dells legend. While the rest of the family checked out the show, Jeff, Zack and I went next door to the Tommy Bartlett Exploratory, where we marveled at all kinds of hands-on science fun.

The highlight was being able to ride a bicycle on a tightrope, aided by weights. And there was what was purported to be a real Mir space capsule that never made it into space.

Then there was some pretty wild architecture. A theme park was devoted to ancient Greece and Rome, with a go-kart track running through a giant Trojan horse.

Next to it was an upside down White House, broken in two. Supposedly he attraction was a tour through the building by walking on the ceiling, which was actually the floor.

I was gung-ho for this, because even an upside-down White House could be cool. But the person selling bulk tickets told us the tour was very expensive and not very good, so we passed – because there were many other strange things to see!


RDOwens said...

It sounds like you had a good time on your vacation. I have ridden one of those tightrope bikes before.

I am not certain why Google does not permit embedding a YouTube video on Blogger. Oh well . . .

Mets Guy in Michigan said...

Bob! That's so cool! You got a longer ride, and I wasn't bold enough to rock the thing from side to side like that.

Sgt. Wolverine said...

"...sideshows showing off all types of people who today we would call handicapped."

Unfortunately, most people probably would call them disabled. I'm not sure why that's the favored term of the moment, but it is. As one who legally falls under those terms, I think disabled is among the worst options (right down there with "differently-abled" -- those sorts of euphemisms are stupid). But then again, I also don't really care that much.

Mets Guy in Michigan said...

Good call, Sgt. I should know better.

Sgt. Wolverine said...

I've gotten used to seeing "disabled" everywhere, so I was actually happy when I saw you used the term "handicapped." (I freely use the term "crippled," but that's because I don't take myself too seriously.)