By Rob Rohde-Szudy - Madison, Wisconsin - USA


A Foreign Point of View

I bet a lot of the people reading this have a whole shelf filled with books about cruising adventures. Most of us spend the vast majority of our waking hours cooped up in an office with precious little time to indulge in such adventures. And when there is time, other tasks seem to fill it up. Still we dream of braving the ocean and making passages to exotic islands.

Maybe it’s because the worst we really “brave” in day to day life is getting fired. And the commute.

On the other hand, maybe it is because we don’t see the adventures close at hand. People say that familiarity breeds contempt, but I think it mostly breeds invisibility.

Here’s a case in point.

Foreign waters

My brother seems to be one of those people who wants to be anywhere but the place where he grew up. He’s finishing a PhD in Assyriology in Vienna, and marrying a woman from a Persian family living in southern Spain. You might need to read that again to get it all. But this isn’t really about him. It’s about her.

Kimia and Jamie

OK, first of all here’s some idea of the place where Kimia and Jamie live. This is Malaga, in southern Spain.

Left and above: Malaga, in southern Spain

Paradise, right? That’s what I thought too. People from England feel the same way, and it is a major vacation (and tax shelter) destination for them. Sort of like the Bahamas for us.

But Kimia scarcely notices the big blue Mediterranean Sea outside her door. She thought Wisconsin was paradise! Apparently there are no navigable rivers in Andalusia – only mountain streams. Apparently I helped her realize a lifelong dream of riding in a boat on a river. I knew people from Chicago come up here on weekends, but Spain? Who knew?

So we went to the Upper Dells of the Wisconsin River. I know you’ve seen some of this before, but this time you get to see more of it because I had more horsepower and we could see more in the same few hours. Also because Jamie took literally hundreds of pictures!

Getting There

First a little culture shock. Kimia said downtown Wisconsin Dells reminded her of Las Vegas. Only with strange old amphibious military vehicles providing tours.

Culture shock

We rolled on through the culture shock and put the boat in the water. Here’s the low bridge you need to go under to get to the main river. It was about 8 feet clearance – my oars barely cleared the bridge stood up in their chocks.

Gone under

You’ll turn right to go upstream once you’re out. There is a large hydroelectric dam just downstream of the launching site, so don’t turn left. And don’t try this without a reliable motor, oars and a good anchor. And have plenty of line on it – there are some very deep spots in this part of the river.

The first “attraction” is the boatyard for Dells Boat Tours. Here are a couple of their boats pulled out for maintenance.

Next is a small overhanging cliff, sort of foreshadowing the rock formations to come.

Also a foreshadowing of the large, fast jet boats that one encounters periodically even on a weekday.

First jet

The shoreline starts getting more rugged.

Rugged shoreline

And more rugged…

The kids seem to enjoy this kind of thing. Sailing on open water there isn’t much to see, but here there is.

The Kids
Here’s one of those big tour boats for scale on the cliff.

The Dells have a lot of bad places to capsize. How would you get out of the water?

Well, there is one token beach a little way up.

The Beach

Check out the odd rocks here. Right at water level the strata radically change angle. I’m no geologist, but I know that’s pretty different.

Odd Rocks

Then we pass through the narrows. I think you could spend all day on this quarter mile of river. Accordingly, here are nine photos of the place.

Going in…
Can’t tell how close you can get to those rocks. But it’s pretty close of necessity.
Check out the tiny canyon. Might lead to a cave. I wonder if anyone has been brave enough to find out.
This gives you some idea how narrow it gets.
More of those slanted strata.
And a close-up of the low rocks on the right of that last photo.
Here we’re looking back on that same spot. That bend is very narrow. It is hard to imagine all that water getting through that narrow spot without being a raging rapid. It must be extremely deep.
And some even weirder rocks as the narrows start to widen after the next bend.
Then the river starts slowly widening.
And there is a series of interesting rock formations.
Then the river splits around a large island. We went to the right.
Here’s a tempting little stream. Let’s have a look inside.
There’s a catwalk.
And around the bend is this.
I remember that this is one of the boat tour docks. We are at the head of navigation for this creek and turn around.
Sure enough, we meet the tour boat. Handy being tiny enough to tuck into a gap in the rock. The tour boat pilot asked me if I got it at “Toys-R-Us”. He seemed impressed that it was homebuilt. (Sorry about the lens flare.)
Coming out, we met another tour boat and followed them upstream.
Sometimes the overhanging scotch pines are close enough to touch.

Guess what? More weird rocks.

Then the river widens and the rocks start looking more “normal”. Kind of like the white cliffs of Dover in the UK.
That was on the right side heading upstream. We crossed what is now a fairly wide lake to get to the cliffs on the left side. Interesting.
There’s a little inlet beach past this that I forgot to photograph. Oh, remember to watch the sky. There are plenty of raptors to be seen.
By the way, check out how overloaded this little boat is with four adults plus two kids and a cooler.

The stem was immersed, which precluded planing. Still, that wider lake kicked up some chop in 15 mph of wind, and the boat handled pretty well even if it dragged half the river behind it at ¾ throttle.

Check out the wake (shown here out of the waves so you can see it).
It’s about like pushing a brick through the water when overloaded. So I was grateful I had 18 horsepower. Kimia contemplating outboard power,

Well, that’s where we turned around to head back.

But we got a better view some things on the way back.
The trees cling tenaciously to the rock, but tenacity often isn’t enough.
Some of the rocks are too barren for them to even bother.

You know, photos like these probably don’t need my commentary.

Well, I’m glad Kimia got a good look at one of our local natural wonders. She was certainly more impressed than we would have expected, but maybe we don’t notice enough of the wonder.

Now that I think about it, I guess I can see why one might find something like the dells more impressive than the sea. On the big blue Mediterranean Sea you can go a long way, but most of the time is spent getting there, and you see only a relatively featureless panorama of sea and sky. The only evidence that you’re getting somewhere is the wake you leave. On a river, however, you really feel like you’re going somewhere all the time.

There is always a new scene around the next bend.

I guess sometimes it takes a foreign point of view to show you how good you’ve got it. Granted, she hasn’t been here in February yet, but somehow I think she’d find that exotic and wonderful too.

Rob Rohde-Szudy
Madison, Wisconsin, USA

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