For the SCA’s 42nd Annual Conference in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, Kevin Patrick, professor of geography and regional planning at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, produced this fascinating Field Trip Guide to enrich and contextualize our tours through the region. We are proud to republish it here.
‘Wacky Wisconsin’ Field Trip Guide (Part 1)
By Kevin Patrick
Special thanks to the Wisconsin Historical Society, and the Dells Country Historical Society.
The Dells of the Wisconsin River
Wisconsin Dells sits just upstream of the Johnstown Moraine marking the western edge of the Green Bayglacial lobe, and the eastern edge of the Wisconsin River and flooding the future site of the Dells beneath 160 ft. deep glacial lake Wisconsin. As the glacier receded from the Baraboos 14,000 years ago the ice dam collapsed and the massive lake drained in about a week. Torrents of water scoured the lakebottom and the Cambrian sandstone beneath it creating the intricate network of cliffy ravines, gulches and rocky formations French fur trappers called the Dells of the Wisconsin River.
The swift flowing, narrow confines of the Dells were a hazard to lumbermen piloting rafts down the Wisconsin River, but a picturesque treasure trove to to develop show caves. Like a cave without a roof, a never-glaciated Driftless Area. During the Wisconsin glacial advance the Green Bay lobe lapped up against the eastern end of the Baraboo Hills damming the tourists who arrived just as the upstream forests were disappearing.