Rediscovering My Home Town with New Eyes
About the Author: Michelle Snow has been a writer for over twenty years, specializing in travel and entertainment. She blames her mother for her wanderlust and she still enjoys discovering new things about the world around her. You can find her writing regularly online for sites like Uptake, Suite101 and CitySurfing Orlando, as well as her personal blog at Zengrrl.com.
When I was younger, I loved living in my small Wisconsin town. We had several lakes to play in and just 10 minutes north was Wisconsin Dells, a midwest tourist mecca full of water parks, rollercoasters and mini-golf courses. What kid wouldn’t like that, right?
I returned several times after I graduated to visit family, but the area never held quite the same appeal. Personal issues had kind of clouded my vision to all the things I loved as a kid. I was especially fed up with how everyone in the small town seemed to know all of my business.
This fall I went back for a visit, but it was to wrap up personal business as the last of my close family had passed away. As such, I needed to stay in a hotel, and since I was doing that, I decided that I would spend my free time rediscovering what I enjoyed so much about living here as a child.
My first stop was Devil’s Lake State Park, just on the outskirts of town. When I had last stayed in town to take care of my grandmother, the park was less than a mile from her apartment. Her car still had the park pass on it, so I used that to gain admission.
Carved by the glacier that came through this valley thousands of years ago, Devil’s Lake has always been a favorite of hikers. Unfortnately, every year, a dozen or so have to be rescued because they stupidly stray off the path and end up falling over one of the cliff ledges. It’s the most visited state park in Wisconsin and is part of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail.
Since it was fall, the winding road through the park was completely covered by a canopy of colored leaves. One road I drove down had nothing but sunny yellow leaves, as if they’d absorbed all the sun over the summer months and just couldn’t hold it in anymore. Having lived in Florida for most of the last decade, I’d forgotten how beautiful the changing foliage could be.
A few days later, I decided to do an incredibly touristy thing in Wisconsin Dells – ride the Ducks. Now, I’m not talking about the animals. These Ducks are big amphibious WWII-era vehicles that had been purchased from the military and transformed into vessels to conduct tours of Lake Delton and Wisconsin River.
Despite the slightly chilly weather, the Duck was full as we took off down the road to the lake. Sliding down a bumpy hill, we splashed down into Lake Delton and began to motor to the center. Two years prior, the entire lake had disappeared during the floods of 2008. When the Wisconsin River overflowed, it breached the small piece of land separating the two. Then when it receded, the river totally sucked the lake dry.
There were minor changes made since it was refilled last summer, most notably several houses on one edge were no longer there. There was also a multi-million dollar mansion in the process of being built that was sitting on a small penisula in the lake – unfinished due to the economic times.
We then took a small land detour and after another hilly slide, ended up in the Wisconsin River. Gorgeous is the first thing that came to mind. We were the only boat in the water, so the surface took on a glassy finish that reflected the banks of the river.
This part of the Wisconsin River is known as Dells Glacier Park. It was created over 14,000 years ago and you could see the individual layers of the sandstone rock formations that have been carved by the river over time.
Our Duck cruised past several islands, giving us up close views of those layers from water level. It struck me how this natural beauty of the area clashed with the theme park-carnival atmosphere of the main thoroughfare of Wisconsin Dells. I remember doing the Ducks tour when I was younger, but I don’t recall being this wowed by the simple beauty of the worn stone islands.
I finished my personal rememberance tour by visiting the Al Ringling Theatre in Baraboo, Wisconsin, my home town. The theater has been in existance since 1915 and a recent renovation thankfully left the interior almost the same as I had remembered it.
This evening there was a special showing of the classic film, “Wizard of Oz,” and you could tell it was real film and not a digital copy since one of the reels had a splice that reversed the image for a few minutes. As such, the Munchkins were curiously silent for about three minutes.
One of the theater’s classic features was it still had a working organ, from the early silent days of film. Prior to the film, they had someone dressed as the Wicked Witch of the West playing songs from the movie. It was incredibly cool and very retro.
I guess there really is something to pretending to be a tourist in your home town. It reopened my eyes to the beauty of the area and it made all the personal stuff I had to deal with a bit easier. Granted, within three hours of checking into the hotel, just about everyone knew I was back, but thankfully I could just make small talk and walk away.
I think I’d like to revisit and explore some more in the future. Only this time, I won’t let anyone know I’m coming.