Boat Tour of the Upper Dells

August 11, 2003

We boarded the first tour boat to the Upper Dells on Monday morning. We soon reached the point pictured above which was referred to as the gateway to the Upper Dells. We were soon informed about the origin of "Wisconsin Dells". Wisconsin means "dark rushing river" and Dells means collections of flat plates of rock. The rock is said to be Cambrian sandstone, dating back about 500 million years.

At left above is part of Blackhawk Island. We heard a lot about it as the site of a hotel and saloon catering to the lumbermen who brought rafts of logs down the river before the dam was built. With water 20 feet lower, there were fearsome rapids. There is lots of colorful lore about the lumbermen. Above right is a view of the right shore.

At right above is a rock profile which is called Blackhawk Rock. Blackhawk is remembered for fighting for his people, who were largely exported from the area to western reservations. He reportedly hid on Blackhawk Island for a time.

We entered a region of the river called the narrows, which had a minimum width of about 50 ft and ran 100 ft deep. With the river 20 feet lower before the dam, this was a stretch with fearsome rapids. One sharp bend was called the "Devil's Elbow".

Belieing its storied and violent past, the river was dark and green and luxuriant.

We traversed a narrow passageway around a rocky island called Steamboat Rock.

The rock had curious holes and depressions in it. It was called Cambrian sandstone.

We stopped to explore some water-carved passageways called "Witches Gulch". This had obviously been a tourist attraction for a long time. It had concrete and stone pathways probably dating to early 20th century.

From the guidebook for the Dells' tours: "Before the improvements of the late 1800s, no white man had ever ventured into Witches Gulch. The narrow chasm was filled with fallen trees and branches, hundreds of years of river debris."
"H. H. Bennett attempted to explore Witches Gulch, but the debris and a powerful waterfall blocked the way. Undeterred, he returned in the winter, by skating up the river. According to legend, Bennett cut an icy staircase into the frozen stream and so pierced the depths of the gulch."

"Bennett found Witches Gulch so beautiful that he and a local steamboat captain built walks through it in 1875. Since that time, Witches Gulch has been a regular shore landing for Dell's Boat Tours. "

We left Witches Gulch and crossed the lake to dock under this rock formation at upper right, which is called the Demon's Anvil.

We disembarked and climbed to a famous rock formation called Stand Rock, where photographer H. H. Bennett had photographed his son jumping the gap in about 1890. He had to invent a photo shutter to do it.

We had a cooperative german shepherd to do the jump for us.

Brenda is under an overhanging rock formation called " Visor Ledge".

Leaving the towering rock formations, we headed back through the narrows toward the dock. We met the next tour boat on the way back.

To Lower Dells tour

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