During the summer of 2010 Katie planned an awesome birthday trip for us. It was a three-day camping trip to the west side of Wisconsin, complete with caves and exploring and circus museums. And then unexpected things derailed the plans. Instead of heading out west we just stayed in Appleton, replacing the epic adventure with a tame one at home, spending my birthday worrying about the future.
A lot had changed in the last four years. When she surprised me with a revamped trip, a full weekend in Wisconsin Dells, I couldn't say yes fast enough. It had been ages since the two of us had been on a trip together without family or friends to limit our schedule. We set up Noah with a sitter, the dogs with at a kennel, and sped off on a Friday afternoon for a weekend away from everything.
The first night was simple, a nice dinner at a small café and some shopping. We kicked off Saturday with a huge breakfast at Paul Bunyan's and an early tour of the river on a duck. The ducks are amphibious vehicles left over from World War II that can both handle the bucking roads around Dell Creek and the waters of Wisconsin River. One of the main features of the Dells are the tall sandstone cliffs that surround the river and creeks, though the tour also took us through the end of Lake Delton and near Lake of the Dells.
After the tour and a competitive game of mini-golf we headed over to a small zoo. This park was probably one of the toughest visits, with the half-finished state, hot temperatures, and trickle of visitors creating a state of general malaise. There were a few highlights, like when Katie fed a giraffe out of her hand and when I crept up close enough to a kangaroo to count its ear-hair. I hope that they complete it soon and can create some more comfortable environments for the animals.
The rest of Saturday kind of snuck by with a large lunch, afternoon nap, and evening movie. Too soon it was Sunday, the last day of the trip, with the responsibility of picking up Noah and the dogs hanging over us. We had one last stop to make, though, a short distance to the south: Cave of the Mounds.
This was a spot that I had wanted to visit for years with my significant lack of spelunking experience. We kind of tumbled through the visitor center and gift shop in the beginning, browsing to pass the time before the tour started. When we finally got down into the earth the unworldiness surrounded us with a cool, damp embrace. The cave is formed by two separate cracks in the limestone. These cracks allowed water to drip and flow through the opening, gradually carving away two large openings and then building up stalagmites and stalactites to refill the space.
The tour and guide were excellent, unfolding the millennia behind the cave like an unfolding book. There was a lot of long pauses for us to poke around and take pictures (and for the kids in the tour to get a bit anxious). The second cave was much smaller than the first one, so most of the tour actually went through a man-made walkway next to the natural cave with large windows onto the formations. Even with the pauses and deliberate guide the tour was over too soon.
And then we were on our way home. There was a brief stop in Madison for lunch and shopping and our trip was over. It was nice to get away from things, to drop responsibility for a few days, and while part of me would have rather been in the Upper Peninsula than the glitz of the Dells it was nice to be a relaxed tourist. Plus the bugs are really bad up north this year. Katie would have been miserable.