West Baden Springs Hotel
French Lick, Indiana
Ahhhh – West Baden. The ambiance, the atmosphere, the architecture. There’s no other place like it on earth!
We return time and again to this magnificent hotel because it’s so special. Built at the turn of the century as a mineral spring resort, it was the largest domed structure in the world for nearly a century, and still inspires awe today.
West Baden and its sister hotel, French Lick, have been lovingly restored to their original 1900’s glory. The properties are about a mile apart, with a casino in the middle, and are linked together by trolley ride, shuttle bus, and paved walkways. Folks of yesteryear came here to partake of the mineral waters, and both West Baden and French Lick still offer full spa and pampering services, as well as stunning hotel rooms and upscale dining.
September has been miserable in the Ohio Valley – hot, dry, and dusty. It hasn’t rained in a month and temperatures have been hovering in the 90’s nonstop. We were looking for some relief and found a whole lot of cool a hundred miles north in Madison, Indiana.
Camped along the Ohio River, we got a little breeze off the water that made a wee bit of difference in the temperature. But touring around Madison was the coolest part.
Rising Sun, Indiana
Help! I’m at a casino and cant leave!
No, I don’t have a gambling problem, even though I’m staying at riverboat casino. I can’t leave because the RV door is jammed and I can’t get out.
I’m traveling a slice of the Ohio River Scenic Byway. In total it’s a 943 mile road designated as a scenic roadway because it follows along the length of the Ohio River. I’m only driving the southern Indiana portion, and as I’ve learned in the past “Scenic Byway“ does not always translate into “Easy Drive“ in the RV. The curvy, narrow, and sometimes rough road may not look intimidating in a car, but it’s a nail biter when your vehicle is over 12 feet tall and bit roll-y.
But hey, that’s the adventure part, right? Oh, and I’d like to apologize to all those folks driving behind me Tuesday morning that were late for work.
Madison, Indiana was my first stop on this journey. It’s a lively town filled with historic homes and buildings. There’s a rich history of riverboat trade and maritime industries here, and some of the old factory buildings are still standing.
Madison hosts a number of signature events, including the Madison Regatta where high speed hydrofoil boats race impossibly fast around the river. I’ve visited Madison many times before and they usually cater to the tourist business, but I caught the town napping mid-week in early August. Quite a few shops were unexpectedly closed. So I amused myself by walking the charming residential streets instead.
Madison has put a lot of effort into improving their waterfront and it’s a lovely stroll along a brick walkway with a great view of the new bridge. A couple of years ago the new bridge was built right alongside the rickety old iron span that had been there nearly a century. The old bridge was carefully dismantled and the new one was slid over in its place, inch by inch, on top of the existing piers. It was an engineering marvel!
I stayed at the City of Madison Campground with an excellent view of the river atop a small bluff. The campground is just a few blocks from the downtown area, an easy amble along historic streets. I don’t have any other transportation with me this trip except a bicycle. The motorcycle is a two-person job to load and unload, and Tim has headed up north for his annual GenCon geek convention. So that leaves me and the dog to find our way around on foot. Low gear and slow – just like my driving!
General Butler State Resort Park
This Thanksgiving we mixed it up and tried something different. We met my folks and our good friends Alan & Lois at General Butler State Park and let someone else do all the cooking! The Park has a swell lodge and comfortable rooms, plus a campground that’s just a short drive down the hill. General Butler offered a big Thanksgiving buffet and had a huge turnout for the feast. It seemed like all of Carrollton was there!
Driving around the first afternoon we got a good look at tiny Carrollton, located on the confluence of the Kentucky and Ohio Rivers. The weather was overcast and a bit nippy, and Carrollton doesn’t have a lot to offer, so we retreated for an early supper at the Lodge.
The day after Thanksgiving we crossed the Ohio River just a short distance downstream to visit Madison, Indiana. It’s a charming town with a bustling old-time downtown district. We visited Lanthier Winery to see their Christmas Tree Festival where dozens of decorated trees are showcased along with their wine tastings. Nearby is Clifty Falls State Park and we stopped at their lodge for coffee and enjoyed a hilltop view of the river.
This will be our last camping trip of the year as the weather now dictates that we winterize the water lines and set the coach to rest for a while. Next up will be the giant RV show in Louisville and I’ll post a full review soon.
Spring Mill State Park
It’s Guys Weekend at the cabin, so that means it’s time for Girls Weekend in the RV. What do the guys do on Guys Weekend? I imagine a lot of eating, drinking, and farting goes on. What do the girls do? Pretty much the same, only with better clothes.
I met up with my adventure pal, Rhonda, at Spring Mill State Park. By car it’s about a 2-1/2 hour ride, so that meant it took 4 hours in the motorhome. Mostly because I opted to take all secondary roads instead of the highway: average speed 45 mph.
Spring Mill has two camping sections. The larger side is a big open field. I like the wooded side better where there’s plenty of deep shade and songbirds. But it was a little tricky to back this beast into the campsite. I had to maneuver around a tree on a tight curve. A couple of miserable attempts later a fellow camper took pity and guided me in: C’mon back. Little to the left. Straighten out.
Meanwhile Rhonda was texting me from her car saying: I’m almost at the campsite. Just waiting for some fool to get their RV out of the road!
Among urban types the latest craze is to take a Forest Bath. This term is borrowed from the Japanese and simply means a walk in the woods to relieve stress. And what better place to submerge yourself in nature than deep in the wilds of Indiana. Here at Spring Mill we walked through old growth forests of towering poplar trees whose canopies stretched hundreds of feet in the air.
Spring Mill was celebrating their centennial anniversary this weekend, and the entry fee to the state park was only 10 cents. A $3 reservation also got us a boat ride through Twin Caves, where a dozen people sat straddled on a bench in an aluminum boat. The park ranger stood in front and glided us through the cave by pushing along the ceiling with heavy gloves.
The prime feature of the park is, of course, the Old Mill. It’s a three-story timber contraption fed by a long sluice of spring water. The grindstone is demonstrated every hour and bags of ground cornmeal are for sale. A living village surrounds the mill with various craftsmen demonstrating old-time arts, like broom making and loom weaving.
We spent our evenings by the campfire, and I’m ashamed to admit we got spooked by a couple of raccoons rustling in the leaves. The next morning our tablecloth was decorated with tiny paw prints, and the bag of marshmallows we had abandoned in hasty retreat was long gone.
It was a refreshing Forest Bath for a few days. And a good get-away with a gal pal. We need more excuses to take off on this kind of trip.