The land of milk and butter . . .Next time you bite into a grilled cheese sandwich and wash it down with a cold glass of milk, think Wisconsin. The state ranks first in the nation for the production of milk, butter and cheese. And up until the late 1800s the bread for your sandwich might have come from Wisconsin, too,but a man by the name of Hoard campaigned to turn Wisconsin from wheat farming to dairy farming. You can learn all about this turnaround from crops to cows at the Hoard Historical Museum and Dairy Shrine in Fort Atkinson. It's Free. (414) 563-7769
WISCONSIN STATE DIVISION OF TOURISM (800) 432-8747
Built on an isthmus between Lake Monona and Lake Mendota, Madison is home to state government and the University of Wisconsin. Young college cyclists share space with seasoned political lobbyists, creating a demand for an eclectic mix of shops and restaurants in and around the capital. The enormous Monona Terrace Community & Convention Center, designed by Wisconsinite Frank Lloyd Wright, links Lake Monona's beauty to the bustle of the city. Madison offers many free attractions such as, the State House, Monona Terrace, Henry Vilas Zoo and Olbrich Botanical Gardens.
State House (608) 266-0382
Open Daily 6 a.m.-8 p.m., Guided Tours: Mon-Sat 9-3
Unfortunately the Capitol's Rotunda was under construction when we visited. Plywood barriers prevented even a tiny peek into its beauty. However, a four-color glossy brochure describes what we couldn't see . . . on the intereior of the dome crown is a painting of "Wisconsin," a beautiful woman in a red headdress, "enthroned upon clouds and wrapped in the folds of the American flag." Surrounding her are female figures offering many of the state's natural resources. The painting is reminiscent of Michelango's Sistine Chapel. What appears to be a frame around the painting is actually a balcony. Even without seeing this Capitol's crowning glory we were still impressed with its many other features, including the murals, statues, marble floors and pilasters, beautiful skylights and gorgeous ironwork.
Monona Terrace (608) 261-4000
Open Daily 9-5. (Gardens open till 10 p.m.)
"The long awaited wedding between the city and beautiful lake Monona."
--Frank Lloyd Wright
Designed as a cultural, recreational and governmental building, Monona Terrace sprawls across a 4.4 acre space on the shores of Lake Monona. The tri-level building with its curves, arches and domes was designed to complement the State Capitol. The Capitol Promenade is a direct link from the Capitol building through the very center of this community building and outside again to the Grand Terrace, a five-tiered garden overlooking Lake Monona and offering sweeping views of the city and the shore.
Olbrich Botanical Gardens (608) 246-4550
Open Daily 8-8 (Free on Wed & Sat 10-noon)
Free concerts every Tues. evening June-August
In 1916 Attorney Michael Olbrich was concerned about overdevelopment on Lake Monona. Instead of the rapidly growing community of cottages he wished the natural beauty of the land be dedicated as a park for public use. Using his own money, he purchased 3500 feet of shoreline and then led a fund-raising drive to purchase additional parcels. In 1929 he died suddenly and the city took over his efforts, naming the lakeshore park and botanical garden in his honor. Today visitors can see Rose gardens, rock gardens, herb gardens, perennials and a 50-foot glass conservatory, simulating the atmosphere of a Rain Forest with tropical plants, bamboo arbors, waterfalls, and free-flying birds.
Henry Vilas Park Zoo (608) 266-4732
Open Daily 10-8
The Henry Vilas Park Zoo, on the shores of Lake Wingra, contains 175 species of animals, 12 of which are endangered. Across the street is the 1270-acre University of Wisconsin Arboretum which contains Indian mounds and plants and animals native to Wisconsin.
Similar to what happened to Niagara Falls, this quiet, peaceful geological attraction is overshadowed by loud "fun-a-rama" attractions such as, water parks, video arcades, miniature golf courses and thrill shows. The intention, I guess, is to provide fun for the whole family.
Tip: Dodge the din and see the beautiful sandstone formations in peaceful tranquility by doing the walking tour of Stand Rock. Or, take one of the boat rides traveling either the Upper or the Lower Wisconsin River, or a package tour of both. The Upper cruise takes you to Stand Rock where you can get a good look at what this stuff is made of.
Check it out . . .If you do take a boat ride, notice the brown color of the Wisconsin River. That's not pollution. It's natural forming tannin, the same stuff found in tea.
This town was the winter quarters for Ringling Bros.Circus from 1884 until 1918. It is now home to Circus World Museum. A drive through town makes one wonder what it might have been like living in this quiet town at the turn of the century. The first frost would bring a dramatic change in the faces on the street. Walking among the butcher, the baker and candlestick maker would be lion tamers, trapeze artists, barkers and clowns. Must have been an interesting time.
Circus World Museum (608) 356-8341
Open Mon-Sat 9-5; Sun 11-5
History and entertainment mix nicely on this 50-acre indoor/outdoor museum which is located on the actual site of Ringling Bros.winter quarters, now a National Historic Landmark. The museum and grounds contain historical exhibits of old-time circus wagons, calliopes, and other pageantry, as well as providing demonstrations on Clown Make-Up, Circus Music, Horse-Team synchronicity and Elephant Training. Parades and Big Top circus performances are held twice a day.
They called them the "forty-eighters," a group of intellectual German refugees who had escaped from their homeland after a failed attempt to overthrow Germany's monarchies in 1848.These new arrivals to the newly formed city became the seeds of a cultural growth in theater, music and a unique liberalism bordering on socialism. More Germans followed and Milwaukee soon became known as the German Athens.
Milwaukee Public Museum (414) 649-9800
Open daily 9-5
Too much.There's just too much to see at this huge center of cultural exploration. And such wildly diverse environments, such as the Costa Rican Rain Forest, The Dinosaur Swamp, Colonial America, European Villages and The Streets of Old Milwaukee. First, stroll through Old Milwaukee, a recreation of the town as it might have been in the late 1800s. The blacksmith shop, the barber shop, the apothecary, the doctor's office, the candy store (you can even buy old-fashioned candy here) the theater, and even grandma rocking in her chair on the front porch of her humble home, give you a sense of the town's history. Old Milwaukee connects to the European Villages, representing typical 19th century homes from all the European countries. Colonial America is next. From there you can immerse yourself in the dense heat of the tropics in the recreated Costa Rican Rain Forest. Or visit the land of Native Americans. Or walk around the Polynesian Village. Or watch a dinosaur devour its prey in its terrifying environment. There are changing exhibits as well. Today they had a Harley-Davidson history. A gigantic room filled with the Hog's finest, including Elvis Pressley's machine.
Check it out . . .After visiting the museum we wanted a lunch that would give us a taste of the old German heritage of the town. Maders, a 96-year old authentic German restaurant -- inside and out -- filled the bill perfectly. The decor is all-German . . . dark wood, stained glass windows and peeking out from little dark corners are suits of armor and gnomes. Our waitress, dressed in German costume, brought out a feast of sauerbraten, sauerkraut, hot slaw, brats, fries and a glistening, golden beer that arrived in a big glass boot.
Alfred A. Boerner Botanical Gardens (414) 425-1130
Open daily 8-dusk
Beautiful walkways meander around Rose gardens filled with 300 varieties, extensive herb gardens, perennial gardens and more than 11,000 annuals. A wooden walkway leads through the woods of native plants and trees, and ends at a waterfall before ascending to the formal gardens. Many benches in gazebos, in arbor ways and by goldfish ponds provide for rest, solitude and quiet contemplation.
Check it out . . .The crabapple collection here is the largest in North America.
Tip: The cool of the evening in the butterscotch light of the setting sun is the best time to see these gardens.
OUR CAMPSITE FOR THE WEEK:
KOA Madison, DeForest (608) 846-4528
We chose this campground because it's located halfway between Madison and Wisconsin Dells. Although it lacks the charm of other campgrounds (trailers are packed like cars in a Drive-In Theater) it suits our needs for location and facilities. It has a good-sized store and laundry room and a phone where the good-hearted hosts kindly placed a chair so callers can talk in comfort. It's those little considerations that make road-weary, phone-deprived RVers happy.