After yesterday’s trip to Lambeau Field, we jumped straight into the car to drive down to Wisconsin Dells. Wisconsin Dells is a small town further down the state that we’d heard very good things about and decided to add to our itinerary for a couple of nights. It would also be the first part of the trip where we stayed in an actual motel – you know, the kind of place Sam and Dean would stay at in an episode of Supernatural.
Michelle mentioned yesterday that driving in America is terrifying, but this only really applies to her. I love it – the roads are big, nobody seems in a particular hurry and driving an automatic makes me wonder why on earth we bother with manual transmission still. We let the sat-nav take us where it wanted to on the road to Wisconsin Dells and for the first time it took us off the Interstate and down some backwoods single carriageway roads. This gave us a chance to see some of “real America” – sleepy farmhouses and towns with populations of a thousand that still manage to sustain endless strips of burger joints and mattress stores. It was interesting, and I suspect we’ll try to leave the Interstate more often now.
Arriving in Wisconsin Dells, we soon found the Motel and checked in. It was a 25 room, two storey affair that differed from the countless other motels in Wisconsin Dells only by the colour of the paintwork. The room is pretty basic, but clean and comfortable, and there’s a couple of lawn chairs up front that made me want to buy some beers, maybe some chewing ‘baccy and pass the time on the porch.
But before we settled in to our new redneck lives, we went for a walk around town…
Wisconsin Dells is a peculiar place. It’s a small town that appears to have been co-opted to serve the countless holiday resorts and water parks in the Dells area. It’s also on the Wisconsin River, at a particular place where some apparently unique cliff formations exist. So the town consists of the usual pretty US wooden houses surrounding a single street of the tackiest, tourist-centric businesses I’ve ever seen. In the half mile length of street, it has around five old timey vintage portrait studios, six or seven novelty t-shirt stores that sell t-shirts with sub-meme level slogans in every colour as long as it’s neon and a large number of themed “experience” businesses (Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Wizard Quest – we’ll get to this in a bit). I think we were a bit overwhelmed by the gaudiness of it all after quaint and restrained Green Bay, so we got some food and settled in to watch some of the UK election coverage.
We woke up this morning and immediately decided to try Wizard Quest. This weird attraction was one of the first things Michelle added to our list of possible places to visit when we began planning this trip, so it was inevitable that we tried it. And it looked weird enough from the web site and frontage that it had to be the first thing we did.
Wizard Quest is a live adventure game where you’re let loose in a fantasy themed environment full of elves and magic castles, and trapped wizards! You’re given a sheet of paper with a number of clues on it and have to proceed around the four elemental areas (earth, air, fire, water) solving the riddles and collecting various parts of the puzzles. Once you’re done with an area, you type your answers into a computer terminal and you’re given points. If you get enough points, you can free a wizard – but only if you can find them.
I think we both started it thinking it was going to be a kiddy game and we would breeze through it, but it wasn’t! It was HARD and physical – kind of like all of the games of The Crystal Maze in one. For example, to find the fire wizard (spoilers, look away now) you had to climb into a ball pool, locate what can only be described as a “ball pool sewer pipe” and inch your way through to a tiny hole at the other end. Kind of like a light-hearted Shawshank Redemption.
Michelle undertook this part of the “quest”, defying any expectation I had of her. “I hope I don’t get stuck”, she turned back to say before submerging herself and climbing in. “I’m stuck”, she soon added, “push me through!”
Luckily, she was able to find purchase and get through to the other side where we freed the wizard, but I genuinely thought the Wisconsin news tonight would end with “… and finally, what on earth compelled this 30 year old woman to climb into this tiny hole?”
In the end, we got two of the four wizards, and had to endure a slightly embarrassing certificate awarding at the end of it. But I had a genuinely good time, and would definitely recommend it to anyone visiting.
After Wizard Quest, we wandered up and down the strip a bit. It’s funny how empty and quiet the place is, for an apparently popular tourist destination in the US. We’re gradually coming to realise that tourist season for Americans really only starts around Memorial Day later this month, since lots of places are closed until then. I prefer this though, it means we can see everything without being crushed by swarms of people, desperate to get their neon t-shirts or vintage portraits.
I kind of like Wisconsin Dells as well, despite (or because of) the tackiness. It’s like a mini-Vegas but with Wisconsin’s unique friendliness.
Tomorrow we head out west to Iowa, and the first part of our trip that enters Tornado country!