Rarely do I need
to look for a reason for a vacation or a "getaway" --
although I could easily find one if I needed... And not unlike a
fair number of you, I
believe that a plan is necessary. After all, a lot of the fun is
in the planning of an event -- especially if it involves time away from
the everyday grind. Planning heightens the anticipation; planning
makes for a smooth and more worry-free event. But
sometimes -- every now and then -- the spontaneity factor can be a
whole lot of fun as well. Heidi and I had one of those moments
recently. And I wanted to tell you about it, simply because it can also
serve as a planned event, as I am aware that for those of you with
families, spontaneous isn't always that easy. In that case,
planning is definitely a must.
Our discussion started as a simple question: Is there a
place fairly close by where we can go fishing for a day? The
answer seemed obvious enough; there are a great many places that could
fill the bill. But going is one thing; going to someplace
new -- where I am not familiar with the lake -- is quite
another... What started as a short fishing trip ended as a
totally different, and very fun, affair. We decided to simply go
scout out a lake not far from a familiar destination and return again at
a later date to fish... Suddenly Heidi said: "Why don't we go
just for fun and spend the night - we can go have dinner at that little
place where you once had a blue gill fish fry?" Well, she had said
the magic words and suddenly we were packing to leave in the morning.
Our destination? Wisconsin Dells!
The Dells is another place that I have driven past on
numerous occasions (like every time I head north on a fishing trip), but
have stopped at only two or three times. I am aware that the place
is the ultimate water park destination, but I found out that there are
plenty of other things to do in the immediate area as well. Our
little getaway was decidedly short, but we had a great time nonetheless.
We left early on a Wednesday morning and headed straight for a town
called North Freedom, Wisconsin, home of the Mid-Continent Railway
Museum. North Freedom is just six miles west of Baraboo (about a
half-hour from the Dells), just off Highway 136 on County PF, and it
appeared as if a blink of the eye might cause one to miss it altogether.
Our plan was to visit the railroad museum there and to take a ride on
the 1900-era train cars pulled by a diesel locomotive. I felt a
bit like I had been transported to the set of Wild, Wild West.
Perhaps it is left over from my fascination with trains as a kid or
perhaps I never grew up, but I have always liked trains and I think that
this is one of those places that kids of all ages can enjoy.
The ride itself takes only about 50 minutes on an old
spur of the Chicago and North Western Railway through rural Sauk County,
but there is far more than just the ride to enjoy. There is the feeling
of being transported back in time to a simpler life, and there is the
history and other information provided by the volunteer conductors and
there is the peacefulness of the open space. And of course there
is the museum itself, where dozens of old rail cars, freight cars,
cabooses and steam locomotives are in various stages of restoration -
all very cool! (Keep in mind that all of the work here is
done by volunteers; if you are really into trains and can help out, I'm
sure that your efforts would be welcomed) There is a nice gift
shop and picnic area there, or you could - as we did - enjoy lunch in
North Freedom at the Carol's Railroad Inn Cafe. Great home cooking at really
great prices! There are also special events like the Autumn Color
Weekends, the Pumpkin Special, Snow Train and Santa Express. Or,
enjoy an evening of fine dining, a multi-course meal and a three-hour
experience in one of the vintage First Class cars built in 1914.
Now there is an evening that I want to try!
Prices are very reasonable for the experience and for a
bit extra, you can ride in the caboose and even on the locomotive.
But don't be late for your trip, 'cause this train leaves promptly
at the times scheduled... the good news is that there are three to five
trains that depart, depending on the day. Mid-Continent Railway
Historical Society is a non-profit organization. Check with them for details about trips, charters, special events and dining
We left New Freedom and headed straight for our hotel.
There are an incredible number of
places to stay in and around the
Dells; we had decided to request an early check-in at the Hilton
Garden Inn -
mostly because of the membership card we have. (It helps to build
points for future travels.) Almost immediately we headed for the
Dells boat tours. Looking at the possibilities sent my head
spinning. There are scenic tours, jet-boat tours or tours on the
Ducks, Upper Dells, Lower Dells or the "Complete Tour", which is a combination of all three,
can be done... We decided to forgo the package and accompanying
savings and just take a ride on the Original Wisconsin Duck. Now
these babies are the originals
from WW II: "Their finest moment was
D-Day, June 6, 1944, when more than 2,000 Ducks were used to transport
troops and supplies at Normandy. It was touted as the greatest
amphibious operation in history as Ducks allowed the Allies to make a
beachhead on the rugged shores of northern France under heavy enemy
resistance." (From the Original Wisconsin Ducks website) I'm
sure that a lot of you who read this will have already taken the ride
that is truly over the hills and through the woods and into the waters
of the Wisconsin River... but for those of you who have not, I strongly
urge you to go do this. It is an 8 1/2 mile, 1-hour trip with
plenty of great scenery, breathtaking views, excitement, history and fun
(especially the plunges into the Wisconsin River and Lake Delton!).
We probably had time for more, but we wanted to relax a
bit before dinner. If you really want to pack in the fun, there
are water parks galore, Tommy Bartlett's Show, wildlife parks, tours,
golf (mini and regular courses are everywhere) fishing, Ripley's Believe
it or Not, theater, dinner shows, museums, festivals... well, I could
name another 50 things to do and still have more, but I think you get
the idea. The neat thing is that, in the Wisconsin Dells Travel
and Attraction Guide, there are things for families to do, things for
"grown-ups" to do, things for groups to do and things for just about
everyone to do - no matter what your taste or desire. My desire
for the moment was to relax in the shade of an umbrella and sip a
cocktail before dinner...
After a refreshing shower, we dressed and headed east
about 10 miles on Highway 23 (just outside of Briggsville) to one of the best little
dinner venues Wisconsin has to offer. A local had let the secret
out to me many years ago and I had not been back for about six years, so
I was really looking forward to it. It was about 7:00 when we
pulled in to the parking lot. Only one car was there and I was
afraid that the place was closed. Apparently the secret is a
well-kept one... The Cove Supper Club was open, it just wasn't at all busy. We
were seated at a table overlooking Lake Mason and ordered a
cocktail while we checked out the menu. I couldn't believe my
eyes... there on the menu was Walleye Cheeks - not only as an appetizer
but as a dinner entree as well! Heidi an I split the appetizer
version, I ordered my favorite: Blue Gills (all you can eat!) and Heidi
chose the Cod. It was a quiet evening - no one else ever came in -
and we thoroughly enjoyed our dinners. This is a fabulous little
spot and if you are in the area, you just have to stop. I guess
the secret is no longer a secret... but just promise not to tell anyone
else. We left The Cove more than full and certainly content.
We also slept through the night like children.
On the way back home, we talked about our mini getaway
and about how much fun and how relaxing it had been. For a true
spur of the moment thing, it felt good. Sure, we put off some
chores and other things that needed our attention. But
sometimes you just gotta say, what the heck! The Dells are so
close by - perhaps that is one of the reasons that the area is always
hoppin'. But another plus is that the gas tank still had a little
left when we arrived back home.
With today's prices not showing
any signs of moving any direction but further up, the Dells just might
get even busier. If you are looking for a great little getaway
idea - either as a "spontaneity check" or as a planned event, consider a
short car ride, followed by a ride on a train and one on a Duck.
It is good fun on less than a tank of gas, and there is more to see than
one could ever do in a weekend. I think that I will be going back