Wisconsin: A Farm-Lover's Trip Through the Midwest
This is the great American Midwest with a bracing dash of weird: Where else will you find an albino muskrat, world-class waterslides, and a truly foul cheese?
We feed the ducks in the town of Lodi and then continue on pretty Route 113, taking the free ferry across Lake Wisconsin. In summer,Circus World Museumin Baraboo has performances and animal attractions, but it's September, so there's not much going on. We spend a half hour doing anything interactive: posing in wooden cutouts, trying on costumes, giggling at fun-house mirrors.
Wisconsin Dells is basically Las Vegas for kids—a strip of silly attractions and rides.
TheKalahari Resortis both corporate and giddy—imagine a Marriott having a midlife crisis. The resort's outdoor water park is closed for the season, but the indoor one has seven big slides and no lines. My favorite slide is the one I call the toilet bowl: You're whooshed around a funnel and then dropped through a chute into a pool. Rather than give in and let herself be flushed, as it were, Shawnda ends up doing a painful move we name "cleaning the rim."
Climbing all the slides' stairs is work, so we grab a bite atThe Cheese Factory Restaurant. We're surprised to learn it's a vegetarian establishment, but the linzer torte is out of this world. Shawnda brings custom-made T-shirts for every trip, and this year's say "Schlemiel and Schlimazel." Wearing Yiddish T-shirts to a restaurant with Christian books displayed by the door isn't ideal—or is it?
After decompressing, we have dinner at theHouse of Embers, drawn like moths to the neon martini-glass sign. It's the type of spot that has photos of Ava Gardner and other beauties in the men's room; I half expect to see Louis Prima and Keely Smith strolling by our table. Shawnda gets into an exceedingly long conversation with our Polish waiter about how the big Wisconsin Dells resorts allegedly trick young foreigners into working for them. Shawnda, it should be noted, feels as passionately about labor issues as men of a certain age feel about Ava Gardner.
Kalahari Resort1305 Kalahari Dr., Wisconsin Dells, 608/254-5466, kalahariresort.com, from $149
Cheese Factory 521 Wisconsin Dells Pkwy. S., Wisconsin Dells, 608/253-6065, cookingvegetarian.com, torte $4
House of Embers 935 Wisconsin Dells Pkwy., Wisconsin Dells, 608/253-6411, houseofembers.com, ribs $13
MacKenzie Environmental Education Center W7303 County Rd. CS, Poynette, 608/635-8105, dnr.state.wi.us/education/mackenzie
Circus World 550 Water St., Baraboo, 608/356-8341, circusworldmuseum.com, $7 ($15 in summer)
After a regrettable breakfast at a forgettable restaurant, we turn again toOddball Wisconsin. It directs us to theForevertron outside Prairie du Sac. Tom Every owned a salvage business but craved more in his life, so he adopted the name Dr. Evermor and built a scrap-art extravaganza. Words don't do the Forevertron justice. One glance and you see a flock of birds; look closer and you discover they're all made out of old musical instruments. Dr. Evermor's work is a monument to the power of imagination and, perhaps, boredom, and I'm dying to climb all over it. That's forbidden, however, and anyway I'm not sure when my last tetanus shot was.
Taliesinis the house outside Spring Green that Frank Lloyd Wright built for himself and the woman for whom he left his wife and six children. We take the two-hour Highlights Tour ($52), which includes Taliesin and a building called Hillside. The guide refuses to discuss Wright's love life, but without personal or architectural context, Taliesin isn't very special. The guide hasn't just drunk the Kool-Aid; she's mainlined it. At one point, she compares Taliesin to the Grand Canyon—and then says Taliesin is more interesting: "You've seen one rock, you've seem 'em all."
In a village called Black Earth, kids are lining the streets, waving and begging us to honk. The Wisconsin Heights homecoming parade is about to begin! On one float, football players are sawing the Belleville-Albany Wildcats in half; on another, they're cooking them in a smoker.
At theMount Horeb Mustard Museum, I can't resist buying a yellow "Squeeze me" T-shirt. Shawnda, feeling ornery, puts her ketchup-loving friend Justine on the museum's mailing list. Based on a visitors bureau brochure, I book a room at Deer Valley Lodge. If we return to Mount Horeb, though, we'll stay at the cuteVillage Inn Motel("Just a little bedder").
We drive back to Black Earth for dinner atDavid W. Heiney'sand then hurry to the big game. As soon as we pay the $3 admission, the dark clouds open up. The band runs for cover beneath an overhang, and we sprint to the car, drenched but laughing hysterically. (Alas, Wisconsin Heights lost 22–13.)