Arts & Culture » Visitors' Guide

Wonewoc, WI



Whether you crave an aura cleansing or a simple rustic retreat, the Western Wisconsin Spiritualist Camp (304 Hill, Wonewoc) offers weekender and pilgrim alike a peaceful respite in the rolling, unglaciated countryside of southwestern Wisconsin. Sure, you could go to the Dells in less time, but approximately 20 miles to the west of I-90/94 along highway 33 lies the gateway to the great unknown.

Cabins range in size ($10 to $20 per night), but most are small, one-room cottages with a bed, sink, and wood-burning stove (toilets and showers provided in the camp bath house). For more modern accommodations the six-unit motel has clean, comfortable rooms with full bath ($27 weekends, $23 during the week). Meals are announced by the clang of a bell and served in the large dining hall, cafeteria style. Simple home-cooked stews, roasts, casseroles, and a daily vegetarian dish will run you $4.75 or less during the week and $5.50 on weekends.

The camp's main attractions--readings, seances, message services, and workshops--can be booked at the registration office, and while participation is by no means mandatory, a little paranormal insight never hurt anybody. A half hour reading costs $20. Message services require a nominal donation, and if a seance is more to your liking, be sure to reserve a seat in advance. They're popular. Curiosity seekers are welcome, but a closed mind gets in everybody's way, so be respectful. The camp is open June 1 through September 1 (closed Mondays); the motel operates year-round. From East Street in Wonewoc, take Hill Street around the bend to the camp. Watch for Hill Street Motel signs. Call for reservations: 800-850-7113 or 608-464-7466.

If the idea of a night's sleep on "Spook Hill" is just too much for you, you might try one of several nearby alternatives. The Garden City Motel (608-462-8253), at the intersection of highway 33 and 80/82 approximately four miles north of Wonewoc in Union Center, has 13 adequate rooms, but the real action is in its two geodesic domes. These fiberglass huts, popular with both romantic couples and hunting parties, sleep up to six. Swag lamps and chrome are the prevailing decor, and each has a small kitchenette and shower--sorry honeymooners, no circular tub. They may not be posh, but they're incredibly popular with regulars, who book reservations up to a year in advance. (Motel rooms, including tax: $26 for a single, $30 for a double; a night in the dome is $45 for two people, $55 for four, $65 for six.) The Valley Inn Motor Hotel (608-462-8251), on highway 80/82 just south of Elroy, has 30 bright, clean rooms with full bath and TV priced between $30 and $42 per night. Its entirely indifferent proprietor seems eager to unload the place at first opportunity; the restaurant and lounge are now closed. The Voyageur Inn (608-524-6431), on highway H one block east of highway 33 in Reedsburg, has "viking-sized" remodeled rooms with cable TV. It also has an indoor pool, health facility, and restaurant and lounge, not bad for a big, modern conference center. (Prices range from $39 to $79; rooms are cheaper weekdays and off-season.)

For more exotic--and let's face it, probably more comfortable--lodging the area is host to several bed and breakfasts, most of which are seasonal establishments open May through October to coincide with bicycling season. Just five miles north of Elroy on highway H is Waarvik's Century Farm (608-462-8595), a 156-acre family farm in tranquil surroundings with walking trails. The 140-year-old log cabin ($75 per night for two people) with loft bedroom and balcony overlooking the garden is tasteful pioneer, complete with small kitchen and a connecting outhouse with a tub/shower fashioned from a livestock watering tank. The guest house offers three bedrooms with shared bath ($50 per couple). Couples with kids are confined to the two-room family suite in "Mom & Dad's" house ($75 a night for family). All prices include tax and a full breakfast prepared with fruits and vegetables picked fresh from the garden. Reservations, particularly for the cabin, are recommended.

Up in the hills overlooking the valley at N3260 Overgaard Road is the Stillested Bed & Breakfast (608-462-5633 or 800-462-4980). This log chalet with massive fireplace offers tremendous eastern views from both the large living-room windows and the outdoor deck, but the sleeping accommodations are a little less than private. When Carole Colbo says "welcome to my home" she truly means it. The first-floor bedroom ($50 per night including breakfast) and shared bath is just off the kitchen and living room. The downstairs suite ($75-$95 per night) is a little more tucked away and has a private shower. The house sits on 40 wooded acres with a short walking trail and picnic area. Carole is a very pleasant host, and if you don't mind the intimacy, the views are certainly worth it. (No pets or children under 14.)

But if you crave privacy, Mascione's Hidden Valley (608-489-3443) on County Road just eight miles west of Hillsboro may be a better bet. Occasionally resembling an overgrown miniature golf course, this former horse-breeding farm, on 80 rolling acres, is undeniably picturesque. The five two-story barn villas are colorfully decorated with hunting, nautical, Native American, and English motifs. Two-person villas ($90 per night) come with gas fireplace and kitchenette. The four-person villas ($190 per night) are huge, two-bedroom lodges with a wood-burning fireplace, full kitchen, and a balcony overlooking the living room. All have full baths and TVs with VCRs; prices include a five-course breakfast served in the dining room. An outdoor pool, creek, and walking trails are spread throughout the grounds. (Again, no pets or children under 14.)

As you drive west on highway 33 from Hillsboro, you may notice a towering 40-foot arch lurking above the Hirsch Dairy Farm. It's not a hydraulic milk viaduct. It's art: the farm is home to the only experimental arts-based think tank in the country. Although it's not open to the public, they occasionally host open houses.

Bicyclists flock to the pastoral landscape of Juneau and Sauk counties for the 97 miles of bike trails along the abandoned railroad bed of the Chicago Northwestern that stem from Reedsburg and extend as far northwest as Minnesota. The 400 Trail, the newest addition to the network, is 22 miles of packed limestone stretching through the sandstone bluffs and rolling dairy farms along the Baraboo River from Reedsburg to Elroy. From there it converts into the granddaddy of Wisconsin bike trails, the Elroy-Sparta Trail, which carves 32 miles through the Hidden Valleys. It also goes through three rock tunnels, the largest of which is three-quarters of a mile long, so bring a flashlight. Bike rentals, trail passes ($3 daily, $10 season) and maps are available in downtown Elroy at the Elroy Commons (608-462-BIKE) and in Reedsburg at the visitor center in the old train depot at 240 Railroad Street, two blocks south of Main Street (800-844-3507). Headquarters for the Elroy-Sparta Trail (open May through October) is on highway 71 in Kendall (608-463-7109).

Most of the surrounding eateries offer simple home cooking and plenty of it, but the Alpine Haus (850 Water, 608-489-3888) in Hillsboro is a quaint cut above the rest. Specializing in Austrian, Swiss, and Yugoslavian cuisine, busy proprietor Anna Josellis does the cooking and decorating, and even sews the waitstaff's costumes. The Wiener schnitzel ($9.95) and civapcici sausage ($7.50) are highly recommended, but everything looks good. Desserts are worth saving room for. Carousel horses add to the atmosphere. (Open 11 AM to 8 PM; breakfast served Saturday only. Closed Monday.)

Greg's Quality Market (848 Water, 608-489-2326) has been selling beefy rings of homemade bologna for 70 years. "It's not just for sandwiches," says sausage maker Greg Helgerson, who is quick to suggest recipes for the big beefy rings. "Other bolognas just aren't the same."

Back in Wonewoc, the M & D Cafe (215 Center,608-464-7277) serves up breakfast, lunch, and daily specials in a basic, bright diner courtesy of a mother-daughter tag team big on hospitality; it's the only place in town without a liquor license. If you've got a taste for doughnuts, the Wonewoc Bakery (220 Center, 608-464-3360) could save your life. In addition to the fresh-baked bread, cake, and fruit-filled kolacky, they also shelve locally produced clover honey. Down the street Degner's Tavern (115 Center, 608-464-3995), a dusty old beer hall with an expansive century-old back bar, plays host every morning except Sunday to a lively game of pinochle religiously attended by a colorful gang of retired locals.

You can't swing a catfish without hitting a fish fry on a Friday night in Wisconsin, and the Wagon Wheel (229 Center, 608-464-7217) is by far the local favorite. All-you-can-eat beer-batter cod with soup, salad bar, and a choice of potato is $5.50. On a busy summer evening folks will gladly wait up to an hour at the bar or even in their cars if they have to. And if "all-you-can-eat" is all you need to get you in the door, the Club Chapparal's nightly buffet of nothing-fancy American favorites is sure to satisfy. Saturdays they serve prime rib ($12.95), Sundays turkey and stuffing, fried chicken, ribs, and ham ($6.95). Located five miles east of Wonewoc on highway 33, it's open Wednesday through Sunday (608-464-3944). At Berry Ranch on highway 33 about a mile west of the club, the Chapparal's owners sell locally grown organic produce and pick-your-own strawberries throughout the summer. A few miles east of the Chapparal, on Main Street in tiny LaValle, is Granny's Pantry (608-985-7886). Get there early for the biscuits and gravy. It closes at 4 PM Monday through Thursday, at 9 PM Friday, and at 2 PM Saturday and Sunday.

If you don't mind being called a flatlander-- "cause that's what ya are"--you may want to brave the Center Tap (608-462-8128). On highway 80/82 just west of 33 in Union Center, it's just four miles north of Wonewoc. While the service is friendly, on two separate occasions beer-bloated regulars seemed a mite provoked by the sight of an unfamiliar face. "You got something to say to me?" may not be anyone's idea of dinner conversation, but the steak 'n' taters ($6.25) are big and tasty. Strap on the feed bag and keep your eyes to yourself.

Across the road the Spring Valley Restaurant, Bar & Golf Course (608-462-8691) serves basic fare in bland surroundings, but the malts are surprisingly good. Sit back and watch the activity out on the links while sampling the flavor of the week.

Had enough animal fat and Pabst Blue Ribbon? At Ione's Natural Foods (327 Division, 608-462-8300), 78-year-old Ione Bauer stocks an eclectic arsenal of Chinese herbs, vitamin supplements, and organic foods. A nutritionist with a decidedly holistic bent, she's up for company and will do her "chemical free" best to get you straightened out.

The Painted Forest, a turn-of-the-century meeting hall built by the fraternal organization Modern Woodmen of America, is considered one of the finest examples of interior folk art in the country. Painted by artist Ernst Hupeden in 1899, the lodge walls depict the group's initiation rituals. Also on display are ceremonial robes, masks, and props, including a wooden goat that was hung from the ceiling and ridden by blindfolded pledges. The museum is seven miles southwest of Wonewoc in Valton on highway EE just one mile west of highway G in the heart of Quaker Valley. June through August it's open Saturday, 1 to 3 PM, or call 608-983-2352 to make an appointment for one of Mr. Gordon Johnson's insightful guided tours. No admission fee, but donations are gladly accepted.

If you continue south on highway G toward Ironton, you can see and hear "The Story of Cheese" at the Carr Valley Cheese Company (S3797 County G in LaValle, 608-986-2781 or 800-462-7258). Tour the factory with its milky vats of curds and whey, or just peek through the windows of the gift shop, where they sell their own cheddar, colby, jack, and other Wisconsin cheeses, as well as jams, syrups, honey, and fresh curds. Open 8 AM to 4 PM Monday through Saturday. (For best cheese watching get there before 1 PM).

Of course the sloping, rich landscape of this corner of the state is by far the area's best attraction. For a leisurely drive through it, head north from Wonewoc on highway G to Mauston or west on highway FF to Hillsboro. One word of caution: when driving the byways and back roads of Hidden Valley, keep an eye out for the Amish. Those slow-moving black buggies come up quick when you're rounding a corner at 50. Nobody, particularly the Amish, enjoys the head-on collision of beast, man, and machine.

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