Wisconsin Dells

Long before kitsch and water parks ruled the region, visitors from around the world traveled to the Dells to marvel at the iconic sandstone formations carved by a glacier that plowed through Wisconsin approximately 15,000 years ago–leaving behind a 5-mile gorge struck from rock that’s older than anything on earth.

Cambrian Rock

Word of this discovery spread quickly, attracting Leroy Gates, a lumber rafter with a notion that promotion would bring tourism to the river he loved, and earn him a buck or two to boot. In 1856, Gates offered the first guided boat tours of the Dells of Wisconsin, and made sure everyone knew it.

Gates carving (2)

Supposedly, Gates and his associate guides would sit under umbrellas sipping lemonade, while the guests would paddle their boats up river to destined attractions…

Dells rowboat HH Bennett

until steamboats took over in 1873.

Escort 1892

Fortunately, landscape photographer H.H. Bennett was there to capture it all–taking souvenir photos of the tourists, and landing a place in history as “the man who made the Wisconsin Dells famous.”

HH Bennett plaque

Today, Dells Boat Tours continues the tradition on the river…

boat ride HQ

with a fleet of 17 vessels that carry half a million passengers year after year.

Dells Boat Tours

Captain Bob piloted our riverboat north through the Upper Dells,

Wisconsin River

while First Mate Abby called out the names of rock sculptures famously characterized by H. H. Bennett:

Blackhawk
Black Rock’s profile
Chimney rock
Chimney Rock
Lovers' Leap
High Rock
stacked rocks
Alligator Rocks
cliff
Romance Cliffs

After manuevering through the Devil’s Elbow…

Devil's Elbow (4)

Captain Bob turned into a slot canyon discovered–and affectionately named Witches Gulch by Bennett. Apparently, the name was intended to be sinister and provocative. His strategy was reinforced by similar names inside the canyon, such as:

Whirlpool Chambers
Whirlpool Chambers
Witches Window
Witches Window
Witches Bathtub and
Witches Bathtub and Witches Falls

Eventually, Bennett built a tie-up dock, threaded a boardwalk through the canyon walls, and created a photography concession at the terminus.  We were about to see why, as Captain Bob eased toward the mooring.

shallow river

Abby tied up the riverboat,

Wittches Gulch boat dock

and we walked the boards,

Witches Gulch

for a closer look at the beauty of ancient splittered sandstone turned emerald,

boardwalk

and the waves of light and darkness.

sculpted rock layers1

gradiant ridges

gatekeeper
The Winnebego Gatekeeper and His Dog

sedimentary formation (2)

Next, we cruised across the Wisconsin River to the western shoreline to visit the Dells’ most precious formation,

standing rock
Stand Rock

made famous by H.H. Bennett’s photograph of his 17-year old son, Ashley leaping onto the column from a neighboring cliff in 1886.

bennet-leap-2-e1563677024968.jpg
Leaping the Chasm

We gathered under the rock for an equally impressive demonstration by a trained German Shepherd from Juneau County…

5 ft 3 in

that jumped the 5-foot gap without hesitation.

leaping shepherd

We completed the trail back to the boat, passing other impressive formations along the way…

tower slices
Toadstool
vertical lips
Cave Lips
arch and cave
Three Tongue Cave

until it was time to reboard the Marquette and return to the tour operator’s dock. As we cruised back under sunny skies, boat traffic on the river had blossomed.

river activity

Locals were enjoying the river to beat the heat,

cooling off

which was way better than any water park would ever be.

7 thoughts on “Wisconsin Dells

  1. I love nature’s water parks. They are always much more fun & no lines (usually, unless you pick a place overrun by people). We have a few state parks within an hour drive of our house. We love to spend an afternoon wading through the creeks or sitting under a waterfall. Absolute bliss! Great photos & descriptions of the trip.

    Liked by 1 person

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