Lake Delton, WI - Events of Monday, July 25, 2011
The Dells of the Wisconsin River, also known as the Wisconsin Dells, is located only a few minutes from where we were staying in Lake Delton. The Wisconsin Dells is a gorge that was formed in the soft sandstone near the end of the last Ice Age. The area where the Dells are located was never covered by glaciers, but the area adjacent to it was. An ice dam backed up water to form a large lake known as Lake Wisconsin. When the waters of Lake Wisconsin eventually broke through the ice dam when the glaciers started to melt, there was a catastrophic flood that cut deep, narrow gorges in the sandstone of the Dells. The photo below is a view of the Dells from the riverwalk in the town of Wisconsin Dells.
The region around the Dells started out as a lumber area. When the railroad came through in 1857 and built a bridge across the Wisconsin River at the Dells, Kilbourne City sprang up near the bridge.
The Dells has been a tourist attraction since the 1850s when tour guides took guests out in rowboats - and the guests were asked to help row. Small paddle-wheel steamboats later replaced rowboats. When the railroad arrived, tourism really began to flourish. Motor launches replaced the steamboats around the end of the 1800s and in the early 1900s.
The name of the town was changed from Kilbourne City to Wisconsin Dells in 1931 to better identify the town with the natural landscape. Today, Wisconsin Dells is a major tourist town with rows of motels, restaurants, go-cart tracks, family-style shows, mini-golf and water parks - both outdoor and indoor. It reminds us a lot of Branson, MO, except Branson has more shows and Wisconsin Dells has more mini-golf courses and water parks. In fact, Wisconsin Dells has so many water parks they are the self-proclaimed "Water Park Capital of the World."
But we didn't go to Wisconsin Dells to play mini-golf or ride water slides - we went to see the sandstone walls and rock formations of the Dells. Since the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources controls most of the land along the Dells, the best way to see the rocks is by boat. Several companies offer different types of tours of the Dells. There are duck tours that conduct part of the tour on land. There are also jet boat tours that offer thrill rides on the river with frequent quick stops and spins that pretty much guarantee you will get wet.
We opted for the more conventional tour boat with a more leisurely pace so we could see the beauty of the rock formations along the way.
The gorge is divided into the Upper and Lower Dells by a hydroelectric dam located right in town. The dam was built in 1909.
Dells Boat Tours offers tours of both the Upper Dells and the Lower Dells. Tours of the Lower Dells last about an hour, but tours of the Upper Dells last two hours and include two stops with short walks to explore some of the rock formations up close. We decided on the tour of the Upper Dells.
A short way up the river, we approached the first rock cliffs as we entered a narrower part of the river through the formation known as the Jaws of the Dells.
Right past the Jaws is Chimney Rock...
...followed by Chief Blackhawk. Can you see his profile?
Most of the way through the Dells, the river is quite narrow, but about 4 miles up the river, it widens out into a lake that was created when the dam was built in town. There were lots of pleasure boats in this area, and there was even someone parasailing.
Off the main river on the eastern side just after the river begins to widen is Witches' Gulch, which is a narrow side canyon. Passengers can disembark and walk up a boardwalk a few hundred yards through the narrow slot canyon. We lagged back to allow the other passengers to get ahead so we could enjoy the cool beauty of the canyon in relative silence.
It was interesting to see how the swirling water had shaped the rock.
About halfway up Witches' Gulch, we began to hear water echoing in the canyon. Under the boardwalk was a small waterfall.
At the end of the canyon there is a consession stand and rest rooms. The walk up the canyon and back took us about 20 minutes, and it took about 10 more minutes to get all the passengers back and on board the boat.
Our next stop was right across the river at Stand Rock. It was a short walk up a small hill to the rock.
H. H. Bennett was a photographer who became famous for photographs he took of the Dells back in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Bennett also invented a stop-action shutter that enabled him to photograph moving subjects. Previous cameras required long exposures, and any movement of the subject caused a blur. Bennett demonstrated his new shutter with a now-famous, 1886 photograph of his son jumping onto Stand Rock from the adjacent ledge.
Today, the jump from the ledge to Stand Rock and back is recreated for cruise passengers by a German shepherd. Actually, there are several dogs who take turns jumping to make sure they are well-rested. The dog was very anxious to show off for the crowd, and we could hear it barking excitedly waiting for the command to go. The photo below shows the dog jumping back from Stand Rock.
After the jump, passengers can walk the rest of the way up the hill (paved, and not all that steep) to see more rock formations, or they can choose to return to the boat if they don't want to walk further. Of course, we did the walk. In the next photo, Paul is exploring a small tunnel through one of the rocks along the way.
Toadstool Rock has several pillars holding it up.
From the dock at the bottom of the hill we could see the entrance to Witches' Gulch (the dark area just to the right of center) across the river with Sunset Cliffs on either side. The cliffs are so named because they catch the red glow of the sunset. The Palisades are in the foreground to the right.
After we got everyone back on board, the boat headed back downriver to the dock. It was a nice day, and there were a lot of boats on the river. We all waved at each other as we passed. We can only imagine how busy it must be on weekends.
We only have a few more days in the Lake Delton area, and we have one more day trip we want to make to Madison. We'll tell you all about it in our next post.