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Wisconsin Dells
by Tom Mugridge

Should you find yourself in the vicinity of Madison, Wisconsin, you may want to take a little excursion up to Wisconsin Dells. Here you'll find a day or more of activities that can suit your every mood.

The Dells (from the French word "dalles", meaning flat-layered or slab rock) were formed 500 million years ago during the Cambrian period, when the area was under a sea. Layers and layers of sand and salt formed at the sea's bottom, and eventually solidified into sandstone.

About 1 million years ago, at the beginning of the Ice Age, glaciers started to transform much of the landscape in northern and eastern Wisconsin. The Dells were untouched by glacial sheets, but only by a few miles. When the ice melted about 15,000 years ago, the rushing waters found their way through the Dells, pushing ice and rock through the sandstone, leaving us with the rugged beauty we see today.

If you'd like a relaxing commune with nature, cruise the Upper and Lower Dells in a river boat. Even if you have only a day's time, you can still take both cruises. The Upper Dells take about 2 hours, the Lower Dells just 1. On average, they leave every 20-30 minutes in the summer, but check to be sure.

Departure times are listed on a large message board near each dock, so you can tell at a glance when your next opportunity is. There's free parking at both, and a complimentary shuttle takes you back and forth between them. If you do plan to take both tours, buy the combination ticket. You don't have to take both rides on the same day, and this'll save you several dollars.

Sandstone at the Dells

Among the many things you'll see during your river ride are the beautiful sandstone formations. Pictures can't do justice to the subtle colors and striations. If you catch a cruise when the sun is low in the sky, the colors become even more vivid. Your tour guide will describe points of interest along the way.

The Upper Dells has an "out-of-boat" experience you probably won't forget. You'll take a level boardwalk through an eerie but beautiful canyon that, even during hot days, is remarkably cool. A stream runs through it, and has made amazing carvings over time. At the end is a refreshment stand, in case you've worked up an appetite or thirst.

The Lower Dells has a somewhat steep incline or two, so be prepared. A demonstration is done at Stand Rock to commemorate the first "stop action" photograph taken, by H. H. Bennett in the late 1800's. His son did the original leaping (it took 18 times before Dad got the picture just right!), but today a trained dog jumps to Stand Rock and back.

If you want a picture you're warned to be ready -- the dog doesn't stop in mid-air to pose! From Stand Rock you'll take an inclined walk to re-board. There's another concession stand available before you do, just in case!

The Dells

While cruising through the Dells may be a main attraction, there are plenty of other things to do, too. The colorful main drag is replete with shops where you can buy candy or fudge, or lots of T-shirts.

You can get your photograph taken while wearing Old West attire, take a ride in a restored WWII landing vehicle, or play some miniature golf. Wax, and other, museums and curiosity/ horror shops also dot the strip.

For more information, there are several Wisconsin Dells websites you can visit, or consult your favorite guidebooks.

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Tom Mugridge

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