The Wisconsin Series - Weekend in the Dells

A girls' four day weekend in the Dells. Given we were there over the Thanksgiving Holiday in the off season, many of the attractions and shops best known in the Dells were closed. It was nice to have a weekend of R~n~R away from "the guys".


Afternoon Road Trip to Cashton's Amish Community

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by MilwVon on November 29, 2012

Any time I'm close to one of Wisconsin's many Amish communities, I enjoy driving through to see what I might see. Since my friend had heard me blab on and on about the Amish and enjoyed seeing my photos from several road trips, she was up for an afternoon trip up to Cashton.

We took the scenic route out of the Dells, west on Wisconsin HWY 33. The drive would be about 65 miles and take around an hour and a half. It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon, so we thoroughly enjoyed the drive.

As we approached an area that I recognized from my September trip through the area, I stopped to tell her a bit about the Amish, their culture and farming techniques. Within minutes we were upon one of my favorite farms, which I have photographed several times from varying angles. They had harvested their corn with the shocks still drying as they stand on the flat farmland.

Just beyond this farm was the next Amish homestead where they build custom cabins. Also on this property is a bakery that is open to the public. I had never really noticed that Countryside Bakery was there, so it was a nice stop on our journey. Inside, they sold lots of homemade goodies including breads, sweet rolls, donuts, candies, jams & jellies along side other Amish goods including rugs and baskets.

We bought several items, which were very good. I especially enjoyed my donut which was perfectly and lightly glazed. Along our drive, we also shared the chocolate marshmallow "drops" which were really good. My friend also bought a large container of granola which she had for breakfast the next day with yogurt. She said it was the best granola she had ever had! I only wish that I could have bought some cinnamon breakfast buns to take home which of course means . . . another trip to Cashton will be in my future. Maybe once the snow covers the beautiful landscape throughout the Coulee region and valley.

After the bakery, we headed over to Down a Country Road, a collection of Amish shops run by an "English" couple who have become friends with many Amish in the area. Previously when I've been through this area, they have not been open or I had very limited time to explore. It was nice to visit with the owner and do some browsing of many handmade items including mittens, dolls, rugs, baskets, quilts and food items similar to what we saw at Countryside Bakery.

As a photographer, I enjoyed looking at the many matted and framed photographs taken of Amish folks going about their daily lives. I was surprised to see several that included their faces, including children playing on a school playground.

Down a Country Road keeps seasonal hours so be sure to check out their website before planning a shopping trip: http://www.downacountryroad.com/ .

Our last stop in Cashton was at the Old Country Cheese Factory on Old Country Road D. This too was an area that I had not previously explored and have made a mental note to return in hopes of capturing a photo or two along the road. Unfortunately, the two photo ops I had were at great distance or moving in a direction that made composition of a decent photo difficult at best.

At the cheese factory, we watched them making Munster cheese via live monitors of the production area. While this is now operated as an "English" factory, some 230 Amish farms sell their milk daily for the cheese produced here. They report that over 120,000 pounds of milk is processed daily!

If you are in the area, traveling on HWY 33, you may see signs for K&K Cheese. That is the current owner's name for their business as Kevin & Kim Everhart are the owner/operators of the factory. At the actual factory, you will see both names (K&K Cheese and Old Country Cheese) on the signs as you approach the humble white building that houses the factory and retail sales area.

For more information on Old Country Cheese, including their hours of operation, check out their website: http://www.oldcountrycheese.com/ .

I hope you will take time to check out the photos I took on this trip through Cashton!

For Kids of All Ages

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by MilwVon on November 29, 2012

With our weekend trip to Wisconsin Dells, one of the "must see" places on my list was the Circus World Museum in Baraboo. Roughly 30 minutes from our timeshare, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit even though we were there in the off season.

Circus World Museum is one of ten Wisconsin Historic Sites as recognized by the Wisconsin Historical Society. The Ringling Brothers, five of them, founded their circus troupe in 1884 in Baraboo, Wisconsin. This location along the Baraboo River was known by the locals as "Ringlingville" as it was the winter home to their circus for nearly 35 years (1884 - 1918). With original historic buildings dating 1897 to 1918, this is the largest number of "circus structures" remaining in North America, this area has been recognized as a National Historic Landmark Site. Several of the original buildings used to house and train the circus animals are being used today to display a number of artifacts and historical exhibits depicting the evolution of circus entertainment.

During their winter exhibit season, visitors have access to several display areas including some of the original buildings built by the Ringling Brothers in the 1890's. I enjoyed time spent wandering inside looking at the exhibits inside the the Animal House (c 1897), Elephant House (c 1897) and the Ring Barn (c 1901). I especially liked the clowns' exhibits in the Ring Barn.

Of particular interest, are some of the newer exhibit buildings across the Baraboo River (just a short five minute walk across the bridge along a nice walkway). The Circus Wagon Pavilion is a large display area featuring dozens of antique circus wagons and floats. The museum is home to nearly two-thirds of all known circus wagons remaining today. Adjacent to that building is the Wagon Restoration Center where much of the magic takes place to restore artifacts donated or acquired by the museum.

The elegant beauty and exquisite craftsmanship that goes into the detail of the hand-carved wagons is remarkable. Fortunately, these iconic treasures from the 19th and early 20th century are available to be seen up close by visitors walking the grounds and throughout the various buildings.

The Circus World Museum was a valued resource in the making of the 2011 movie "Water for Elephants" staring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson. Some of the set props and wagons used in the film are also on display at the museum. There was an interesting article written about the museum's role in helping producers stage their movie in as realistic a setting as possible given it took place in the late 1920's. Here is a link to that article from 2010: http://host.madison.com/entertainment/movies/article_1f2b00be-9f30-11df-aa02-001cc4c002e0.html .

For visitors in the summer, there are many more activities available to participate in including "Big Top" performances, animal acts and magic shows plus pony, elephant and carousel rides. There is also food and beverages available at their full service restaurant, the Cookhouse Grill. Visitors will also find popcorn, hot dogs, snow cones and cotton candy sold on the grounds.

During our visit, they had a continuous loop film available in the theater located in the Irvin Feld Exhibit Hall & Visitor Center. Comprised of three movies telling the history of the circus and the Ringling Brothers, we stayed and watched the first telling the story of the Ringling Family and their role in the advancement of circus entertainment in the United States.

For current exhibit seasons, hours and admission prices be sure to check out their website: http://circusworld.wisconsinhistory.org/Visit/AdmissionsHours.aspx.

Additionally, for those wishing to do research on circus history or to look up past performers who worked with a circus, there is a archive library available by appointment. The Robert L. Parkinson Library and Research Center has maintains circus history from 1793 to the present. Their archives include photographs, films, transcripts, music and posters, as well as a data base of over 300,000 circus performers and employees. It is the foremost resource for scholarly research of circus history available anywhere in the world.
Circus World Museum
550 Water Street
Baraboo, Wisconsin, 53913
(608) 356-8341

Creativity Abounds

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by MilwVon on November 29, 2012

I have never been much of a creative type, so my visit to Dr. Evermor's Art Park & Studio was a real eye opener! From Wisconsin's HWY 12, you might whiz right past the roadside junkyard if it weren't for the handful of sculptures along the driveway entrance into his sculpture park. Even knowing it was somewhere in the area, I nearly passed it by, but fortunately stopped and turned around only to find out they didn't open until 11:00am. So I headed on to Prairie du Sac with a plan to stop again on my return back through to the Dells.

There is no admission fee to cruise around the converted junkyard turned artistic menagerie of stuff. As you pass by the gated entrance, you will immediately see a collection of very old items, many of which are truly antiques. I enjoyed checking out an old red telephone booth, a street vendor's flower cart and some old junky cars.

Being a bowler, I've always been intrigued with what folks do with old bowling balls (we have one we acquired with our house that is a patio ornament). Back in Greendale, Wis. where the US Bowling Congress national offices used to be, the Kopps Custard location has several of them lining their inside walls. Here at Dr. Evermor's there were several pieces that included old bowling balls, although they were not THAT old since many were made of urethane (from the 1980's) or had finger inserts (also a product of the 80's). It would have been cool to find some really old wooden or even rubber balls out there, but in my cursory tour throughout the park, I didn't see anything that looked REALLY old.

The Forevertron was created to fantasize time & space travel and is the centerpiece of Dr. Evermor's collection and park, literally. Recognized as the largest scrap metal sculpture in the world, it is amazing to see all of the relics that are included in the humungous sculpture. Reportedly weighing over 320 tons, Forevertron spans 120 feet across, 60 feet deep and 50 feet tall. It was so large, it took three photos merged together into a panoramic image to get the whole thing in one image. (Please be sure to check out the photo which is attached to this review!)

All of the pieces in the Forevertron are estimated to be at least 50 years old, with some items dating back to the 19th century. A pair of bipolar electrical dynamos constructed by Thomas Edison are one such example of some really old stuff used to build the Forevertron! Also in the sculpture is the decontamination chamber used by NASA for an Apollo moon landing mission. I'm not sure how these sorts of items found their way to a metal scrap yard in Wisconsin, but I think it's pretty cool to see them here today as part of something even larger and more creative than their original purpose.

While strolling through the park in the back left corner is the most creative and imaginative collection of recycled metals including band instruments of all types. The Bird Band features some 70 sculptures, most of which are constructed using old retired and otherwise useless instruments. On the day of my visit, the wind was brisk at times. I love hearing the bells and wind chimes created into several of the birds. Equally amazing was the tall string instrument. I'm really not sure if it is supposed to be a cello or guitar, so you'll need to take a look at the photo and decide for yourself. And what orchestra or band would be complete without a conductor? Dr. Evermor even created that too!

Dr. Evermor is actually the name of the artist's alter ego. Tom Every is the artist responsible for the vision and imagination that inspired the Art Sculpture Park and most of the creations found throughout. I have read that he he no longer spends time in the park or actually creating pieces for display. As you wander about, you will no doubt see several open air studios on the grounds where others work creating whimsical art from old and discarded junk. During my Sunday afternoon visit, there was nobody around except for Lady Every, who opens and closes the public access gates on the days the park is open to the public. Generally speaking, they are open Thursday through Monday, 11am to 5pm.

Located about 30 minutes west of Wisconsin Dells (about five minutes beyond Baraboo), they do suggest calling ahead (608-219-7830 ), however, if you are planning a special trip out their way.

Added Notes:

As I was doing some online research on Dr. Evermor (Mr. Tom Every) I stumbled upon this book listing on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Mythic-Obsession-The-World-Evermor/dp/1556527608/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1339461933&sr=8-1&keywords=Dr.+Evermor . I find it pretty amazing that such a creative and artistic genius is sharing his work right here in Wisconsin.

Also look for an upcoming episode of History Channel's "American Pickers" which will feature Dr. Evermor's Park: http://host.madison.com/news/state_and_regional/american-pickers-like-every-s-hidden-gems/article_7e74bdf6-efda-11e1-ab1b-001a4bcf887a.html .
Dr. Evermor's Forevertron Sculpture Garden
Highway 12
North Freedom, Wisconsin, 53591
608-219-7830

Historic Wisconsin Winery

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by MilwVon on November 29, 2012

Located about 40 minutes from Wisconsin Dells, Wollersheim Winery makes for a nice leisurely day trip.

In 2012 Wollersheim Winery was named the "Winery of the Year" at the San Diego International Wine Competition. Additionally, they have received numerous awards and accolades on many of their wines. They were proud to celebrate their 40th anniversary when it was proclaimed "Napa Valley thunder was stolen by a winery in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin."

This location was recognized by the Dane County (Wisconsin) Historical Society in 2011. Originally founded by a Hungarian winemaker who chose this location overlooking the Wisconsin River back in the 1840's for his vineyards. Unfortunately the cold Wisconsin climate was not conducive to the European varieties of grapes he was attempting to grow, so in 1849 he packed up his bags and headed west with the California Gold Rush. There Agoston Haraszthy. became known as the founder of the California wine industry.

The Wisconsin vineyard was later purchased and operated by Haraszthy's manager Peter Kehl in 1856. He continued to operate the winery through the end of the 19th century. In 1899 Wisconsin experienced an especially harsh winter that killed most of the vines. After that the farm became a dairy farm, with cows and other livestock.

Fortunate for wine enthusiasts, the Wollersheim family bought the farm in 1972 from fourth generation heirs of Peter Kehl. Bob & JoAnn Wollersheim were committed to returning the land to grow grapes and produce wine. They experimented to find the best grapes to grow in Wisconsin. Their story continued as they raised their family on the farm, with their oldest daughter meeting and falling in love with a young French exchange student who came from a long family lineage of wine makers.

Today Julie (Wollersheim) and Philippe Coquard operate the Wollersheim Winery. In addition to their wine making business, in 2010 they received licensing to distill and produce brandy. They also own and operate the Cedar Creek Winery in the Milwaukee suburb of Cedarburg.

The winery is open daily 10am to 5pm year-round, with tours offered every hour starting at 10:15am and lasting about an hour. Price for the tour, which includes a tasting at the end is $5 per person. For those folks only interested in a tasting, they offer their "featured wines" sampling in their tasting room free of charge. They also offer a "red flight" or "white flight" for $3 per person.

Wollersheim also offers a Caseclub Membership as well as packaged sales in their visitors' center. During my visit a family was buying all of the stuff necessary for a nice wine & cheese picnic. They bought a couple of bottles of wine, cheese and a box of crackers. They were debating hard cheese or cheese spread, so eventually they settled on buying both along with some summer sausage.

Check out their website to find out more about their Caseclub Membership offerings as well as special events held throughout the year.
Wollersheim Winery
7876 State Road 188
Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin, 53578
(800) 847-9463

Yummy Fish Fry + Sprecher's Root Beer!

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by MilwVon on November 28, 2012

So it's the Friday after Thanksgiving and what does 75% of America have for supper? Turkey leftovers, of course. For the remaining 25%, if you're in Wisconsin, there is a high probability that a Friday fish fry is "what's for dinner". Since my friend and I left all of the Thanksgiving leftovers at home with the guys, we were part of the 25% looking for a decent dinner option while in the Dells.

I really do love Sprecher's root beer so when I learned that they had opened three restaurants round the state including one in the Dells, I was all over that option. We called ahead to make sure they were open given that many restaurants in the area are seasonal, often closing after Labor Day. Fortunately, they were so off we headed for a relatively early supper.

The place was really dead, with only one other group in the dining room . . . and a couple of guys sitting at the bar. Our server Carl was very nice and prompt in greeting us. With menus in hand, we did consider alternatives to fish, including burgers, flat bread sandwiches and a number of delicious sounding entrees including lemon chicken pasta, short ribs, fettuccine alfredo and steaks (ribeye, sirloin and filet mignon). But in the end we both opted to order their Friday night special.

The fish fry dinner included three pieces of cod, prepared in the traditional manner (deep fried) or baked . . . along with sides that included cole slaw and mashed cheese potatoes. The menu price was $12 and included your choice of Sprecher's root beer, Sprecher's draft beer or an "old fashioned" beverage (whiskey or brandy) of your choice. I chose the root beer and my friend ordered the El Rey light ale.

If you are staying in the Wisconsin Dells area or even passing through, be sure to stop and pick up a copy of the Wisconsin Dells Visitor Guide magazine. Inside you will find a free appetizer coupon (up to an $8 value). We enjoyed our fried cheese curds before our dinner arrived.

The other Sprecher's Restaurant & Pub locations are in Madison and Lake Geneva. All three used to be Houlihan's until the owner changed brand affiliation in 2010/2011. This was found online on the foodie website "CHOW":

"I am the General Manager of Sprecher's Restaurant and Pub in Lake Geneva. I would like to answer your questions above about ownership. We are licensed by the brewery to carry their product, use their name and logos. We are an exclusive ownership for the (S)tate of (W)isconsin." (March 10, 2011)
Sprecher's Restaurant & Pub
644 Wisconsin Dells Pkwy.
Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
(608) 253-9109

Very Nice Timeshare Resort in the Dells

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by MilwVon on November 28, 2012

Christmas Mountain Village is a large resort affiliated with Bluegreen Vacations Unlimited, a large timeshare developer and management company operating resorts mostly in the United States. This resort has multi-ownership structures so it is possible to rent a cabin, cottage, villa or townhouse style unit from a resort owner or an owner through the Bluegreen timeshare structure. They also have an RV and camping park on the premises.

Resort guests and owners have access to a full scope of amenities including dining and recreational options. In addition to their indoor and outdoor swimming pools, they are well known throughout Wisconsin for their golf course and ski slopes. Off property but very nearby, guests can also find horseback riding and snowmobiling.

Onsite they have dining options including Mulligan's Bar & Grill. During our visit, we considered going there to watch the Packers' game on Sunday night, but opted instead for a pizza delivered from Firehouse Pizza which is also offsite but very close to the resort. NOTE: When you are in the Dells you will no doubt notice all of the pizza places throughout town. Heck, this is a tourist area catering to families and kids, so of course they have plenty of pizza joints up and down the strip.

That said, be careful as you could be in for sticker shock when ordering pizza. Moosejaw Pizza and Dells Brewing Company is well known for theirs. Having been there several years ago, I was thinking it might be a good place to order a pizza. At $19 for a 14 incher with two toppings, I nearly fell out of my chair! The pizza at Firehouse was a couple of bucks less expensive . . . still a tad bit overpriced in my opinion given what we're used to paying for a really good pizza in Milwaukee.

As for the timeshare cottage we had, it was a very nice two bedroom, one bath unit that was freestanding without neighbors on any adjoining side wall. The total square footage of the unit was around 900 sq. ft. The living area was cozy and would have been on the crowded side if we had the maximum occupancy of six. The living room had a sleeper sofa and an arm chair. The wood fireplace was nice, although we didn't buy any wood to burn. (Wood is available throughout the area, including the resort's shop for $4/bundle.)

The eat-in kitchen would have also been a bit on the tight side has there been six of us using the cottage. The dining table only had four dining chairs, with two additional folding (card table type) chairs found in the closet. The refrigerator was full sized, although the range, oven and microwave were all on the smaller kitchenette size. Again for just two of us, it was all good.

We had two bedrooms which were spacious enough for two adults in each. The first had a queen sized bed while the other had two twin beds. Both had a dresser, average sized television and a hotel style clothes hanging area (no closets).

Our bathroom was the standard shower over tub, toilet and vanity with sink with off-name brand toiletries provided for those who enjoy that sort of thing from their lodging provider.

I picked up this rental from one of my timeshare forums for under $200 for the week. So even with staying just four days and three nights, $200 was still a great deal. I have found that there are a lot of rentals available throughout the year at Christmas Mountain Village with the going rate "in season" (summer and winter) of around $700 per week. Off season rentals can often be found for around $350 to $400 per week. Be aware, however, this resort does charge a mandatory $65 per week housekeeping fee. You should attempt to negotiate this into your rental fee when dealing with individuals who own there.

NOTE to those considering a future stay here . . .

I've read many of the older reviews here on IgoUgo and understand that this resort is a bit on the dated side. Some of the furnishings in many of the units are reaching the end of their lifespan. The resort understands this and has an expensive updating and renovation project in the works. Scheduled to begin in 2013, all units throughout should see improvements over the coming three years. Owners, including those in the Bluegreen timeshare system are paying sizable "special assessments" to complete the renovations that necessary to keep up the high standards owners and renters expect.
Christmas Mountain Village
S944 Christmas Mountain Road
Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, 53965
(608) 253-1000

http://www.igougo.com/journal-j77595-Wisconsin_Dells-The_Wisconsin_Series_-_Weekend_in_the_Dells.html

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