I spent my early childhood in Wisconsin and another four years when my husband's job took him there. It is a beautiful and scenic state!
My parents took my brothers and me to the Wisconsin Dells as children and they made quite an impression in our minds even then. My husband, grandmother, and I visited the Dells in 1973 and it was his first visit to that scenic part of Wisconsin.
It has now become a huge playground and draws visitors from not only around the state but elsewhere as well.
Many amenities have been added since the early days, as several of the videos at the bottom of this post will show.
But the lure goes back to the times of ages past. Times when glacial ice scoured this part of the country and left behind hills, countless lakes, rivers and rock formations.
The Wisconsin River winds its way through beautifully sandstone sculpted rocks capped off with plants and trees of various kinds. It was the original lure to tourists visiting this area both by land and boat.
The Wisconsin River has its origins up by the Wisconsin and Michigan border. It winds primarily in a southwest direction emptying into the Mississippi River near Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.
The river is distinctively dark in color. The reason for this is that the otherwise clear water is tinged a shade of amber by the roots of tamarack trees growing in swampy areas further north.
Many dams along the river provide hydroelectric power and one in the Dells area divides the Upper Dells from the Lower Dells.
It is on the Lower Dells that numerous boats transport visitors to view the landscape both from the water and also to points where tourists disembark and do some walking to see the sights on land.
The Upper Dells boat trips showcased more of the scenery. Boats wound around some freestanding rocks in the water as the captains told passengers much about the history of this area.
Other modes of transportation in which seats can be acquired for a price are on Ducks (old World War II transports) that take seated visitors on both land and water excursions if one chooses that option of viewing the Dells. In addition one can view these waters and scenery by canoe, kayak, motorized boats, paddle wheeler boats or even the exhilarating jet boat rides.
Many Winnebago Indians seem to have settled in the Wisconsin Dells area and used the Wisconsin River for not only a source of water but of transport. Indian tribes such as the Menominee, Chippewas, Dakotas and others would have also used the river for trading purposes throughout the years.
The Winnegagos grew corn, beans and squash but relied heavily upon fishing and hunting for sustenance. They were also reputed to be fierce warriors.
Evidence of arrowheads and other artifacts like bits of Indian pottery and hunting implements have been found in this area and are now displayed for visitors to see. Burial mounds are also located in this general locale.
The Indian Ceremonial where costumed American Indians can be viewed chanting and dancing is an integral part of what visitors to the Wisconsin Dells have encountered from the time when the Dells area first started luring tourists to this enchanting spot.
This American Indian presence was another draw for tourists to the Wisconsin Dells in addition to the spectacular scenery.
This made quite an impression on me and my brothers when we were kids seeing this for the first time.
The feathered headdresses of the Indian Chiefs were most impressive to us!
Playing Cowboys and Indians was a regular pastime back then for kids of my generation.
Naturally, there is much in the way of Indian jewelry and other handicrafts which can be purchased by tourists to take home and wear or use for décor.
From the early days to the last time we visited the Wisconsin Dells, the stores became more commercialized, offering many things that could be found anywhere. It's what so often happens with unique places when they become "discovered" and more popular.
Some of this is good and some is bad, depending upon one's perspective.
What remains despite the growth of the area and myriad of newer amenities like the indoor and outdoor water parks, golf courses, resorts, etc., is the sheer beauty of the river and environs, as well as the part played by Native Americans through the ages.
Wisconsin Dells History
While this area was first discovered by white men back in the 1600s, it was not until the early 1800s that white men started homesteading, trading in furs, and engaging in lumbering which accounted for a greater degree of settlement in the Wisconsin Dells and surrounding territory of Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin River made the transfer of goods easier so farmers, saloon keepers, hotel owners, and others could have easier access to supplies they needed. It was the same as how the Indians had used it for transport and trading purposes in the centuries prior.
Wisconsin attained the status of becoming the 30th state in the United States of America in 1848 and many of the names given counties and towns and even lakes all come from Indian names.
As an example, here are a few of the county names in Wisconsin of Indian derivation: Winnebago, Kewaunee, Sheboygan, Chippewa, Sauk, Manitowoc, Waukesha, Kenosha, Menominee, Outagamie, Shawano, Waupaca, Ozaukee, Oconto, and Waushara.
Some of the county and town names are identical.
Here is an example of some of the other Indian inspired town names in Wisconsin: Fort Winnebago, Mukwonago, Packwaukee, Namakagon, Oconomowoc, Minocqua, Ojibwa, and Nasewaupee.
The town where I grew up as a child was Oconomowoc in the county of Waukesha. How's that for a tongue twister!
The tale I remember being told about the meaning of Oconomowoc as a child was this: An old Indian had been walking for days and finally became exhausted. He sat down and said "I can no more walk." This became Oconomowoc. Whether this tale is truth or fiction, it made for a good story!
The town of Okauchee where I attended elementary school through 7th grade before moving to Texas so the story goes was derived from a sneeze. Perhaps someone out there knows the real derivation of these words. Until then, the explanations of these names will remain embedded in my mind. (Smile)
At one point of the trip one disembarks and walks through glorious wooded and rocky areas graced with ferns, mosses and the wonders of glorious nature.
Sometimes one is also walking along the water and the reflections of things mirrored in the water can be spectacular especially in the Fall of the year when the leaves of trees and shrubs are splashed with colors of reds and yellows.
Witches Gulch where one walks at times through narrow canyon walls is one of the two shore landings if taking this Upper Dells boat trip.
At Stand Rock (an outcropping of rock appropriately named) one is entertained by a German Shepherd dog who jumps from one rocky promontory over an abyss of five feet to Stand Rock and back.
This show always draws "oohs and aahs" from the crowd standing below and gazing up at the performance.
I seriously doubt that the sure footed dog ever misses his landing, but if he ever did there is a safety net below which would help to ensure his safety.
Apparently people used to make this jump many years ago!
This is the other place where one gets to do a little walking on the Upper Dells boat trip.
Black Hawk was a great Indian Chief who spent some time in this area. One of the rocks on this Dells boat trip is said to look somewhat like his profile. Can you see it in the photo below?
If one is touring the Wisconsin Dells during the time of the year when the migratory cliff swallows are building their mud dwellings on the undersides of the many cliffs and feeding their offspring, one will see a flurry of activity. They are congenial birds and gather in large numbers and when the season signals change, suddenly they are gone.
We have enjoyed our visits to the Wisconsin Dells and now with the other attractions, it has become a year round resort area.
The sheer beauty of the natural surroundings in this part of Wisconsin would be my main reason for returning to the Wisconsin Dells.
Of course people living in Wisconsin probably like some of the indoor activities of the Dells in the cold and blustery winters.
Both are good reasons to enjoy the Wisconsin Dells in all seasons of the year.
- Official Site: Wisconsin Dells
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2011 Peggy Woods