Traveling north from Rockford, Illinois we had to stay off the Interstate until we reached the Wisconsin state line in order to avoid the tolls on the Interstate. Thankfully this was only 20 miles along good roads. Once on Interstate 39/90, it was a quick trip north to Madison, Wisconsin. On the north side of Madison we left the Interstate to continue traveling north to our destination outside of Pardeeville, Duck Creek Campground. Whereas the Interstate was a good road, WI-22 north to Pardeeville certainly was not! The concrete sections that made up the road bounced around a lot even with slowing down to 40 mph. Even then it took less than 2 hours to make the trip to Duck Creek, which turned out to be a very nice campground. It has around 125 campsites, but less than 50 are for transient campers. The rest were filled with permanent seasonal campers so the campground looked very full, even though there was nearly nobody there until the weekend when it filled up. They have one section of about a dozen sites for large RVs with full hookups, one of which was ours. Since the sites were all open with just a few trees shading the grassy sites, it looked like we would be able to back the RV into the site with no problem. However, there was two problems. First, the sites were not angled, which meant you had to make nearly a right angle turn to back into the site. This along with the fact that the ground on either side of the gravel pad was soft dirt meant the RV was going to dig in until I could get it on the pad. Second, there was trees and heavy brush just across the road which meant turning the truck to straighten it out was going to be difficult. My first attempt failed miserably as I simply could not get the truck back in front of the RV after having to nearly jacknife the RV to get it on the pad. I pulled the RV all the way around the campground loop to try lining it up on the extreme left side of the dirt road to give me more room for the truck. This time I was unable to get the RV to turn quick enough to stay on the pad and had to stop just before I dropped the wheels into the fire pit on the site. I pulled around a third time to split the difference in my starting location and tried again. This get the RV onto the gravel pad I had to nearly jacknife the RV again and the truck could not get enough purchase on their dirt road and just spun out. By this point I was ready to quit!! Thankfully by this point the owners realized we were having problems and came over to help. They offered to back the RV into the site for us and while they were sizing up the situation I mentioned it was too bad we could not pull through the site behind us which was empty and would turn this into a pull-through site. I assumed there would be an issue with their sewer lines, but the owner said it would be fine. So I pulled around again and headed into the site behind ours and after a couple of simple adjustments was on our pad with no further problem. I am glad we came this week and not later since during the week they began installing a 50 amp circuit and their pedestal for the new meter blocked our access from the site behind. In addition, the sewer hookup was at the extreme back end of the site which would have required the use of our sewer extension, which is so difficult to attach that we decided to just wait and use their dump station when we left. Since we had been doing this regularly since leaving Alabama, it did not seem to be a big deal. We were finally in Wisconsin and except for the weather it was nice to be here. During the first part of the week, the temperatures were mild in the upper 70s to mid 80s during the day with high humidity leading to thunderstorms in the afternoons. The storms were mostly the pop-up variety which led to some spectacular lightning shows after dark. It has been a long time since I had experienced a storm of such continuous multiple lightning strikes, all of which stayed in the clouds, thankfully. By the weekend, the temperatures climbed into the low 90s and a storm to remember on Friday. Around 5 in the evening we were under a severe thunderstorm warning for the next 30 minutes with quarter size hail expected. Thankfully, we did not see any hail, but after more than an hour of this storm, well past the time limit of the warning, we went back under a severe thunderstorm warning for another 30 minutes. Without any letup the storm continued for at least another hour, again well past the warning. When it finally ended we had received over 5 inches of rain and our county was under a flood warning until midday Saturday when it was even hotter along with another severe thunderstorm in the afternoon.
We spent Tuesday doing the laundry and cleaning the RV which was needed since it had been two weeks due to our water limitation in the Illinois state parks. On Wednesday we decided to head back south to Aztalan State Park which is in between Madison and Milwaukee. This is a small state park that encompasses an ancient Indian village from the Middle Mississippian culture from around 900 to 1300 A.D. This meant there were earthen mounds to see enclosed by a wooden palisade. As Mississippian mound villages are concerned, this was a small village consisting of only three mounds. It is noteworthy because it is the farthest northern mound village that has ever been found and I was surprised to see one in Wisconsin. It was likely an outpost from the major cultural center at Cahokia on the Mississippi River in Illinois. Unfortunately, the site was sold for farming in 1838 and the original mounds were leveled and nearly all of the pot shards and other artifacts sold for souvenirs or used to fill potholes in town. Once the Wisconsin Historical Society began buying back the property in 1921 they began the long process of rebuilding the mounds according to records from amateur archeological work. Due to the loss of archeological evidence they can only estimate the size of the individual mounds. After getting some information about the site from the volunteer in their trailer Visitor Center, we walked around the mowed path along the river and within the reconstructed palisade. It was a nice hike, but there really was not much to see. We then had a nice picnic lunch and decided to explore a side trail that we thought would be through the woods. After crossing a small stream where we saw either a badger or groundhog in a woodpile along the trail, the trail opened up into a prairie restoration project. Along with a few interpretive signs, the trail would through the prairie grasses in a large loop that was very interesting and gave a nice view that compared the natural prairie with the surrounding farm land. Overall it was a nice day even though hotter than we would have liked.
On Thursday we went to explore something different. In Baraboo, Wisconsin, is a state historical site called Circus World. It turns out that Baraboo is the home of the largest circus in the world, Ringling Brothers. From 1884 until 1927 Baraboo was the winter quarters for the Ringling Brothers Circus, when it moved to Sarasota, Florida. Why Wisconsin for a winter quarters, you ask? The obvious answer is this is where the 5 Ringling Brothers started their circus with a single ring traveling circus in 1884. By 1888 they began using railroad cars to be able to travel further each season. Each winter the circus would return to Baraboo to work on new acts, train the animals, make new costumes and circus wagons, and generally refurbish the circus. The area along the river in Baraboo became known as Ringlingville and although this was the center of the operation there were shops all over town and in the surrounding area. Once the circus headquarters moved to Florida in 1927, Ringlingville was essentially abandoned, but would eventually become Circus World Museum, a major attraction just outside of Wisconsin Dells, opening in 1959. After paying a hefty admission fee, you enter the park through the Irvin Field Exhibit Hall with exhibits about the history and contributions of each of the 5 original Ringling Brothers, as well as, exhibits related to the general aspect of circus management and history. Once you exit the Exhibit Hall you are in the midst of the 8 buildings that are left of Ringlingville. These include the Ring Barn, Elephant House, Animal House, Baggage Horse Barn, Winter Quarters Office, and Wardrobe Department. Most of the buildings are open to the public and house exhibits about the circus. These include samples of costumes, an extensive collection of circus posters, dioramas of circus parades and the 150+ railcar train used to transport the circus, care and training of circus animals, circus clowns, and circus music. One thing I remember was the use of the Sousa march “Stars and Stripes Forever.” This song was used by the circus band to signal an emergency in the big top without panicking the crowd. When the employees heard this song they knew to come running to the big top. From Ringlingville you cross the river to their small mockup of a circus. In addition to the many exhibits that took up the majority of our day at Circus World, they also have a few shows that are covered in the price of admission. In addition to their one-ring circus show in the Hippodrome, they have a comedy show and tiger act. We did make the 11:00 chowing of their circus at which was a lot of fun, but not nearly as impressive as full circuses I remember growing up. Along with a couple of clowns, they had a trained dog act, trained elephants, a unicycle act, a lady on a trapeze, and a quick change act. It was a lot of fun but fell far short of the “Greatest Show On Earth.” Outside the Hippodrome they had elephant and horse rides for the kids. After eating lunch at their outdoor grill we took in the tour of the C.P. Fox Wagon Restoration Center and W.W. Deppe Wagon Pavilion. In the restoration center they are busy restoring old circus wagons to the former glory, spanning much more than wagons used by the Ringling Brothers. They have an outstanding collection of over 50 circus wagons from all over the world, many of which are displayed in the Wagon Pavilion. This was the highlight of the day and the true showpiece of Circus World, in my opinion. There were circus wagons completely covered in 14k gold leaf and wagons that would expand upwards from the center to 4 and 5 times the height of a regular wagon covered with carvings and murals. There were also a number of circus wagons with calliopes powered by steam engines. As a part of the tour they even cranked up one of these calliopes for us to enjoy and marvel at. It was certainly a great day and completely different then taking a hike in the woods.
When we got back to the RV, Kal caught a glimpse of a new resident. She saw a field mouse scooting under the refrigerator. After trying to chase it out from under the refrigerator using a broom, it was obvious that all we were accomplishing was scarring the poor thing. Without any other options, since it was unlikely the mouse would leave on it own, Kal went to the store and bought a couple of simple mouse traps. Even though they were supposedly pre-baited, she put some peanut butter on them and placed one inside the RV and the other in the boot under the RV. When we got up the next morning we found both traps had been cleaned off by the mouse, but no mouse. Obviously we did not know how to set the traps and managed only to give the mouse a good meal. Since they were suppose to be pre-baited anyway we decided to not include peanut butter and after learning how we were suppose to set the traps from the internet, we put them out again. It was not an hour later that we heard a snap in the boot under the RV and sure enough we had caught the mouse. It soon died of a broken neck and we got rid of it. Neither of us are happy with having to kill the mouse, but we certainly could not allow it free reign of our RV. No telling what mess it would eventually leave us or damage it would cause.
As I mentioned before, Friday was forecast to have a good chance of afternoon thunderstorms, so we decided to check out the Ho Chunk Casino in Wisconsin Dells. It is advertised to have a true Las Vegas experience and it certainly was a fancy casino with all the gaming tables and a LOT of slot machines. We had an enjoyable morning in the casino with both of us winning just enough that we broke even for the day. For lunch, we sought out a local brewery for lunch and found the Moosejaw Pizza and Brewery. It is located within Wisconsin Dells, which is similar in atmosphere to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge with many fancy resorts and indoor water parks. Consequently, Moosejaw was not just a local brewery, but a very nice restaurant. We both ordered calzones, which were EXCELLENT, and I tried out their home brewed red ale. After lunch we decided to buy a mixed 12 pack from the Wisconsin Dells Brewery to try out in August with the family. Another nice day, although I don’t think Wisconsin Dells is our kind of place to visit as a rule.
With the terrific thunderstorm on Friday, we decided to just stay in the campground over the weekend. This turned out to be a good idea, as it stormed again Saturday afternoon putting an early end to the campground’s Father’s Day activities at the swimming pond. Sunday was predicted to be a low chance of rain as we the stationary front was finally to our south. You would have thought that being north of the front would mean cooler temperatures, and this was predicted, but Sunday once again was near 90 degrees. I spent a good part of the afternoon doing repairs to the roof seals in the front of the RV. I forgot to mention that when we hooked up on Monday, we had over a quart of water come pouring out the bottom of the front boot. I have mentioned before water leaking out the front and my attempts to find the cause with no real luck. I had not seen any water for months and was surprised to see so much come out on Monday. I don’t know if it just been building up or what. It has got me really concerned, so I decided to put more sealant along the front seal and spent a couple of hours in the hot sun doing it. I will note that we had no additional water coming out when we hooked up this Monday, but since I had just put the sealant on after all the heavy rain, I don’t understand it. I did get phone calls from my kids for Father’s Day, so it was not a complete bust. All together it was a nice first week in Wisconsin although I hope we can see some cooler weather.