Thursday, July 14, 2011

Wisconsin Dells Old School

Our first trip to the fabled dells of Wisconsin! (Dell as in one of the lovely wooded and ferned little valleys than trickle into the Wisconsin River, cut through the soft sandstone that only appears here and in three other places on earth - Pottsdam, Germany; upper New York state; and Switzerland. But don't let that little factoid fool you into thinking that this was any kind of an educational trip, or even a recreational one, if you consider that kind of fun to involve physical exertion in a quiet place of natural beauty. This was a family vacation, which means it's really about the kids, which means there was some measure of the inevitable compromise and upset and disappointment and tantrumming and existential doubt -- why are we here? -- all the goodies that accompany any memorable and worthwhile venture when four divergent personalities, all of whom can have their immature moments, step out of their usual element.)

Anyway, the Dells! Good times!

Randy and I had a little Bingo competition going with invisible scorecards for every bit of fantastic people sighting - an "I Heart B00bies" t-shirt on a guy I doubt was promoting breast cancer awareness, wicked sunburns, the lady with the swim coverup that gave the cartoon illusion of a bikinied bathing beauty underneath, a Viking horn hat before 9am... "Bingo!"

Me: "Why does the Walgreens sign say 'don't forget the aloe?' If you use sunscreen in the first place, then you won't need aloe!"

Mia says, "This place is heaven! It's like a kid designed it!" as we passed the little pink shop candy shop called Goody Goody Gum Drop. Later, she cried, actual tears, "I don't want to go!" on the morning we left.

We stayed at one of the huge resorts on the strip, which was what it was. I fell for its mammoth Trojan Horse towering over the go-cart track and the hotel's ersatz-Collosseum facade with its cardboard archways displaying fake windows hung with fake curtains over a fake reading lamp next to a fake comfy chair. Did the actual rooms have any of those comforts? What do you think? But each guest did get to wear a green plastic water-park entry strip on her wrist during all three days of her stay! And the girls loved climbing into the bunk bed.

(Note for next time -- we might go with one of the cute mom and pop motels on the strip to keep up with the retro vibe of this special place in south central Wisconsin.)

Most of our trip felt like a journey back in time. The Duck boats have been around since WW II, and the rusty jokes of our young driver were straight out of the Borscht Belt. ("And to your left, you will see... a tree!" "And this gorge is named Blackhawk Canyon after the famous Native American leader, Chief Canyon!") (Next year, we'll take the upper dells boat tour - you don't get to ride in an amphibious piece of history, but you do see more of the dramatic river scenery upstream.)

Tommy Bartlett's waterski show is celebrating its 60th year in 2011 and its "iconic images of summer," as the baritone emcee called them, tapped in to some ancient and deep pleasure center of the brain, somewhere between memories of the The Go-Go's "Vacation" video and the first thrilling time at the circus.

A shaggy haired, scrawny-calved kid was sweeping up popcorn with a broom in front of our row before the show started. "It's our first time!" I told him, feeling kind of sorry for the guy. "Is it yours?" He didn't laugh, probably another one of those college kids bored with this tourist-city summer job, like the girl taking our names in line at Paul Bunyon's Cook Shanty who said, "You've never been here before? I wish I hadn't." The sweeper kid didn't laugh at my lame little joke, exactly, but he did help me find the public beach I was looking for on the map stretched out in my lap. Then he went on his way and I asked Randy to take a picture of the rows of lawnchair seating set up in the section next to us - so cute! The setting was so lovely, on the shore of a shady cove of the Wisconsin River.

Then there was some kind of disturbance, a guy yelling under a boat turned over at the shoreline; two audience members jumped up to offer assistance, then stopped -- it was my sweeping buddy, and another kid, making a joke about being trapped under the engine.

Oh. They're clowns. Classic. Turns out my buddy was part of the show, the director of the show, in fact, and a heck of a water-skier. Barefooter too, which made me think of my bloggy friend and barefoot skiing enthusiast, Karen Putz. Hey-hey, Karen!

Favorite tricks: The pyramid, of course. And two skiers doing a 360 around the towboat as it suddenly slows and turns. And another unplanned trick, when the middle skier of three fell and the boat made this pivoting maneuver and pulled him back upright while the other two skiers stayed in motion. "Dancing on a stage of water!" said the emcee.

There was more of the time machines sensation where we ate, and we ate good, baby. We got used to our restaurants' proud signs: In Business Since Before You Were Born! I had fabulous grilled walleye in the cosy and comfortable Del Bar ("This building designed by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright!" is something you hear a lot around here) and beautiful salmon at the Ishnala Supper Club, overlooking Mirror Lake. The Johnny Depp movie about John Dillinger shot scenes here. The sun was setting over the trees and reflected off the lake into the room in a kind of golden haze. Lovely.

Please note the "ALL YOU CAN EAT!" I did. Although I also had to ask, between bites of fried potato, "Isn't it all you MAY eat?"

I gained two pounds on all the indulgence, which is what you get when you "go for full immersion," as my Dear Good Sport of a Husband put it. Fresh donuts at the Cook Shack, licorice from the candy store, most of the virgin fruit daiquiri Randy brought to the side of the kiddie waterslide where I was watching Nora slide and run back to the top, slide and run, slide and run. Although that Marie Antoinette part of me, the part that complains about her uncomfortable green plastic wristpass and expects the lumberjack cook shack to have a fruit plate, probably kept me from overdoing it as much as Culver's wanted me to.

Oh you cursed little plastic green bracelet, unwelcome accessory, Dells necessity.

My kids crack me up.

Like I was saying.


Technoprairie said...

I don't understand the connection with the viking hats and paul bunyan. Any ideas?

Did you eat at any restaurants where they misspelled the name? Remember when you announced in the Ozarks that you wouldn't eat anywhere where the sign was misspelled, like at Kountry Kitchen.

Kim/reluctant renovator said...

What about the part on the Duck Tour where you have a "moment" with your tuition-starved college student/tour guide. How many packs of postcards did you buy? My least favorite part of the tour.