Watsons Wild West
W4865 Potter Road, Elkhorn, Wis., (262) 723-7505
About 10 minutes north of Lake Geneva you’ll find teepees, covered wagons, colorful characters, tasty food and Wild West folklore aplenty, all built around an impressive collection of structures and artifacts both authentic and reproduction. In a fun atmosphere that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but visitors get a taste of what it was like to pan for gold, watch a medicine show and belly up to the a saloon bar for a cold sarsaparilla (root beer).
Owners Doug and Ellen Watson, along with their costumed employees, offer up humor, tall tales and a selection of shows with themes like “Lewis & Clark” or “Mark Twain” that entertain but also educate.
The General Store brims with 1800s staples like food tins, horse tack, copperware, oil lanterns and the like. There’s a collection of more than 2,000 branding irons and cowboy oddities like high-backed saddles and ornate spurs. There’s also an Old West post office and Blacksmith Shop.
Call ahead before you visit to book breakfast, lunch or dinner and an entertaining tour.
Don’t forget to wear your cowboy boots, pard’ner.
Open May thru October, Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sundays 1-5 p.m. Occasionally closed for private tours, so be sure to call ahead.
2016 Wildflower Walkabouts
Various Locations throughout North Central Illinois, Naturalland.org and Seversondells.org, (815) 964-6666 and (815) 335-2915
Organized by the knowledgeable folks at Natural Land Institute (NLI) and Severson Dells Nature Center (SDNC), this series of free, guided tours in different locations each week is enjoyable for all ages, with various levels of hiking ability required. Learn about spring wildflowers, trees, birds, animals, rivers and streams, and the natural histories of various wildlife sanctuaries. The series runs through June 29 and alternates between Tuesday and Wednesday nights at 6 p.m.
Walkabouts usually last between 90 minutes and two hours. The Natural Land Institute is a non-profit land trust and conservation organization based in Rockford, which has protected more than 16,000 acres of natural land in Illinois since 1958. Its service area covers 12 counties in northern Illinois. Its mission is to create an enduring legacy of natural land in northern Illinois for people, plants and animals.
Severson Dells Nature Center is a non-profit organization that provides 17,000 people each year with programs and classes that connect participants with nature in the northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin area.
June Wildflower Walkabouts will take place June 21 at Harlem Hills Prairie Nature Preserve in Loves Park and June 29 at Searls Prairie Nature Preserve in Rockford.
Driftless Area & First Peoples Exhibit
Galena & U.S. Grant Museum, 211 S. Bench St., Galena, Ill. (815) 777-9129, galenahistory.org
The Galena-Jo Daviess County Historical Society recently opened its long-anticipated exhibit “Driftless Area & First Peoples” at the Galena & U.S. Grant Museum. It tells the story of our amazing land and the Native American inhabitants who first lived, hunted and mined what is now called Galena and the Driftless Area.
Several years in the making, this is the museum’s first professionally designed exhibit, designed by Split Rock Studios from the Twin Cities, working in collaboration with museum Curator Ray Werner. “The exhibit will appeal more to the senses – sight hearing and touch – utilizing modern technologies to attract and educate all ages,” Werner says.
Features include a life-size, hand-painted color mural depicting an adult mastodon being hunted by the first known human inhabitants of this region; an interactive showing glacial advances of the last ice age; an examination of unique native flora and fauna; interpretation of artifacts demonstrating different cultural periods of Native American history; videos that address the importance of the Driftless Area and its natural and human heritage; A replica, life-size mastodon tooth that can be touched and felt by visitors; and interactive, pull-out “discovery” drawers with information about the period.
“This is a very important exhibit for the museum,” says Nancy Breed, Historical Society executive director. “Research has shown that history museums must use innovation, interactivity and technology in their exhibits to effectively reach and educate a diverse audience. It’s no longer good enough to simply place an artifact in a case. We need to interpret its story and do so in a modern way.
“Driftless Area & First Peoples will give visitors a glimpse of what they can expect in the new history museum when it’s built.”