This trip took place from April 20th through April 23rd, 2017.
James woke up quite early so Beth and I did too. She fed him breakfast while I went down to the lobby to retrieve ours. Technically I didn’t go down to the lobby. At our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express, the lobby was on the second floor so I had to go up to get breakfast. The free continental was tasty and had good variety with scrambled eggs, sausage, muffins, bagels, pancakes, oatmeal, cereal, juices, and my favorite, cinnamon rolls. Beth wanted a cup of coffee and had to walk me through the process of preparing one for her. She neglected to mention, however, that I should leave about an inch of room at the top of the cup so it wouldn’t spill. My hands were quite full with a tray of food and I spilled hot coffee on my hand about half way back to the room.
Our time in the Wisconsin Dells area wasn’t very long but that didn’t stop me from doing my sightseeing homework. The points of interest in the maps below show all the important addresses from our trip including some sightseeing rejects that didn’t end up making it into our two and a half days. It was Friday, our most wide-open day for touring the area, so we set off for the mini golf course after James’ morning nap (around noon).
This was Beth’s first time to what people affectionately call ‘The Dells’. Her family traveled a lot but most of their trips were out West to visit extended family in California. I don’t think she was prepared for the volume of kitsch she was about to experience as we drove through town. There are at least one-hundred hotels, hundreds of restaurants (a surprising amount of them pizza-related), several theme parks, multiple animal exhibits/petting zoos, souvenir shops, weird art, curiosities, oddities, and lots of tourists. The tourist-friendly area was just opening fully for the Spring season but the crowds were still sizable.
I had researched a couple different mini golf establishments but Pirate’s Cove ultimately won my support over others because it has 91 holes! I brought up the idea of trying to golf them all with Beth a week earlier, expecting her to reject it outright, but she was surprisingly okay with the idea. We arrived and I went up to pay while Beth took care of a wet diaper. I was soon greeted with some disappointing news; there were only 72 holes available for golfing. One of Pirate’s Cove’s five courses (the one with a bonus, 19th hole) was closed for maintenance for another month and a half. I paid up front for all 72 holes for both of us and saved $25.25 in the process by buying in bulk (our total was $43.50).
Beth and I started with the easiest course of the four available, Blackbeard’s 18. We talked about possibly placing a wager on the outcome of our four-course-faceoff but couldn’t agree on one for the moment. I wore James on my chest in a Babybjörn and he was fairly content for 16 holes. Ater that it was clear he was ready for another nap. He was wearing a football-themed stalking cap with a big puffy fuzz ball on top that blocked my vision. I won’t blame that completely for my horrible play in that first round but it certainly didn’t help. Beth beat me by a whopping seven strokes!
The winner of each round gets a free cone at Scoopy’s Ice Cream shop (on the same property as Pirate’s Cove) so we headed that way afterwards. The shop is attached to a large souvenir shop and all three employees seemed rather disinterested in communicating with us. The older woman behind the ice cream counter was deeply involved in her computer and, being especially Minnesota-Nice, I didn’t want to interrupt. It’s not like there was a bell or anything and I didn’t want to give her a heart attack by suddenly speaking up four feet behind her. She finally noticed us and got Beth her scoop of rainbow sherbet. James fell asleep in his car-seat so we drove around for a bit and decided to get lunch at a place near our hotel so we could eat there while he slept.
Our lunch destination was a local restaurant chain known as Mac And Cheese Shop (M.A.C.S. for short). There are only four locations of this eatery and they’re all in Wisconsin (two in the Dells). They specialize, of course, in different types of mac and cheese. It’s all they sell, in fact. Beth had the Chipotle Mac with chicken, pepper jack, mozzarella, chipotle sauce, and a hint of lime. I ordered the Memphis Mac which has pulled pork, provolone, mozzarella, BBQ sauce, and onion strings. It was simply wonderful. There’s no better way to describe it. It was savory and delicious and I want another bowl right now. I wish this chain was in the Twin Cities. Hell, if I had any money I’d inquire about opening my own franchise down the street from our house.
James woke up from his nap giggly and happy. Beth fed him formula and fruit puree for a late lunch/snack. He played with stuffed toys and rattles for a while and we watched a Parks and Recreation marathon on TV. I’m not the type to just sit back and relax on vacation so I got restless around 5pm. I suggested we set out to explore a nearby park before dinner. I had seen a lake briefly from the highway on our approach to Lake Delton the day before and looked it up online. I had pre-researched a different state park North of the Dells but Mirror Lake State Park would do nicely for a bit of hiking.
We parked and went to check out the lake. Mirror Lake is so named because the high cliffs on either side provide a wind-break that keeps the shallow water relatively calm most of the time. Beth used a park map to choose a spot on the Northern end of the park for us to walk around; the Echo Rock Trail. I wore James on my chest again and we started to hike. The trail was sparsely populated so we had it mostly to ourselves. The few people we did come across headed in the opposite direction enjoyed cute baby smiles. There were two very large rocks twenty feet apart roughly half way down the one-mile loop. I’m not sure which one was Echo Rock. They did look very similar so maybe the joke is that the second rock is an echo of the first.
The trail goes around one of the large rocks and we followed it. I was taking pictures longer than Beth would prefer and Beth had to double-back to see where I was (which she often has to do when I doddle). We then crossed a large foot-bridge over a small creek. Just up from the creek there is a huge, luxurious cabin on the lake that I later learned is a restaurant on a small sliver of non-park land called Ishnala Supper Club. Their menu online is filled with delicious-sounding yet expensive dishes.
We couldn’t decide where to head next, another trail or the car. I wanted to find a view of the bridge we crossed when I first saw the lake the day before so we pressed on. Not ten feet down the trail at the Northernmost part of the park a doe crossed in front of us. She stood in the middle of the trail and stared us down for more than a minute. She must have figured we were alright because she kept going and nibbled on some plants just off the trail. There were two more deer, one of which looked a bit younger, that crossed in the same place. Beth, James, and I just stood still taking pictures and watching them eat peacefully. After six or seven minutes we decided to continue down the path and leave them alone. Just around the first bend, however, the trail forked and the fork we needed to take was blocked for electrical line installation near the highway. I guess my bridge view will have to wait until our next visit. The deer were still quite close to where we left them and we watched them graze again before heading back to the car.
For dinner Beth chose a well-reviewed restaurant called The Green Owl that was just a block from our hotel. James fell asleep once we hit the car so I went in and placed a to-go order. I ordered the Cuban sandwich (pulled pork, ham, mustard, and Swiss cheese on Italian bread) while Beth got a small black olive pizza. While the food was being prepared we explored the area by car. The well-known Kalahari is just down the road so we went there first. At one point in the past it was home to the largest indoor water park in the world. Other places now make that claim but we saw waterslide components in a back parking lot so they might be planning an expansion. I then drove us across the street towards the Great Wolf Lodge and the outlet mall. There’s a large entertainment center nearby that I would have liked to visit if we had more time. They had bowling and bumper cars! If you order food in the restaurant next door it is brought to you on a model train for some reason. Yes, that does sound fun.
I drove back to The Green Owl and grabbed our to-go order. There are hundreds of places to eat in the Wisconsin Dells and Lake Delton area, many of them pizza-related, but Beth chose The Green Owl for it’s high reviews on TripAdvisor and Yelp. I questioned Beth’s interest in getting pizza because we planned to go to Pizza Ranch, a buffet, the following evening. She assured me that her love of pizza was strong enough to eat pizza every day. My Cuban sandwich was fantastic and was coincidentally the third restaurant meal I had of the trip that included pulled pork. I wasn’t necessarily doing it on purpose, each meal just appealed to me most of the respective menu items available.
James went down for bed easier on night two after looking at himself in the mirror for a couple minutes (he’s not vain). It was still clear that he prefers his own crib but he fell asleep without too much argument. We needed baby food because we only had enough for two days. It’s not like we forgot to pack enough, we were running out at home too. I volunteered to go out on a shopping run and since I was going out anyway I asked Beth if she would mind if I stopped by the local casino. Dead tired, Beth didn’t mind as she was going to sleep anyway. There aren’t a lot of grocery stores in Lake Delton (probably because there are only 4000 year-round residents in the Dells area) so my choices were the Walmart to the North and the Walmart to the South. The casino was to the South so I decided I’d just go that way. I should have done better research, however, because the Walmart to the South was six miles away, a full five miles beyond the casino (whoops!).
Once finally at the Walmart I found the baby food quickly and found James a wide-brimmed hat to protect him from the sun (and hopefully improve our vision when carrying him in the Babybjörn). I went to use the self-checkout and an older employee standing thirty feet away shouted that the machine I was using didn’t accept cash. One statement was already more than I needed but she continued, “If you would like to use cash you must use one of the machines over here!”. They must have a lot of people discover at the end of their transactions that don’t have the proper form of payment but I didn’t need to be told twice (or once). I paid with my card, as I intended to do the entire time, and headed back towards the casino.
I parked at the Ho-Chunk Casino in Baraboo, Wisconsin and wandered through the sportsbook and slot machines looking for the table games. There was only $40 cash in my wallet because that was all I was willing to lose. I’m a big fan of roulette, as you may know, and I found one of the two tables they had. It was pretty full but luckily one of the seats was evacuated as I walked up. I like to bet on either black or red and five numbers in the middle each time. The bet minimum was $10 (per betting area) so this could all be over in two spins if it went completely wrong. I started with $10 on black and $2 on five different numbers (4, 11, 18, and two that random ones). Eighteen hit on the second spin and paid off 35-1! I immediately set $20 to the left of my main stack. It became my walk-away money. I hit another number, four I think, and set aside another $20. Now I was playing with house money and a decent amount of it!
I eventually settled on the same five numbers (4, 11, 13, 17, and 18) and continued betting red or black as well. When my numbers don’t hit I like the hands where my color does and I get my money back. My walk-away pile reached $90 after hitting two more numbers and I was feeling pretty good. My neighbors weren’t so lucky. One of them lost everything he was playing with and plopped down another $200. One needed to go to the bathroom and left his friend in charge of his chips. He was so interested in gambling away all his money he instructed the friend to keep betting his numbers (he was probably superstitious and afraid he’d miss one). A woman sat down in a freshly abandoned seat next to me and told me she lost $600 playing slot machines and was trying her luck at roulette for a change of pace. These were not my type of gamblers but, then again, I’m far from the usual gambler. I’m too cheap to lose large sums of cash like that! I lost all but $4 of my play stack so I stood up with my $90 walk-away money (a $54 profit) after only fifty minutes of ‘work’. It doesn’t hurt that I hit four numbers out of the twelve I sat for. I know the house odds are stronger for roulette than most table games but so far in three trips I’ve had favorable luck. I went back to the hotel a tired winner. End of day two.