Tucked in a little valley beside the winding Rush River in the town of Salem, Wisconsin, Roger Nelson’s ice formations sit overtop an artesian aquifer. About two dozen towering freeform frozen structures stand on a 420-acre farmstead that Nelson purchased in 1995. From where they sit alongside an unassuming country road, they can be a surprising sight to behold.
Even beyond their impressive height and intricate detail, the structures are constantly spurting water from the aquifer lying underneath. Nelson harnesses the flowing water to form these towering structures each winter. They’re like frozen fountains gone wild, rising up from the earth into icicle-like formations up to 35 feet tall. They resemble monstrous creatures or otherworldly forms, especially at night, when Nelson lights them with spotlights until about midnight.
Roger Nelson is a plumber by trade. He started this project with a single large fountain, and added more over time. The pressurized water that is the source of the fountains comes from a natural artesian aquifer about 650 feet below the surface. Nelson installed a series of underground pipes and attached upright PVC pipes to channel water into unique frozen formations. When subfreezing temperatures settle in for the winter, the structures begin to grow. They mostly start forming around Christmas and New Years. Depending on the weather, they can last as long as March.
Even once the ice structures are frozen, the cold can make the scene feel more magical. At dusk and dawn on especially cold days, steam rises up from the ice to create even more drama.