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Indiana Dunes

by Richie

 

INDIANA DUNES

Indiana Dunes
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Along the sandy shores of Lake Michigan, just east of Gary, lies Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Hugging 15 miles of shoreline, this National Park Service property has a State Park located in the middle. And here in this lovely setting we are relaxing for a few days.

PARK

It’s a welcome relief to the previous couple of nights we spent in Chicago – parked on the tarmac sandwiched between tractor trailers. That was a clever spot to camp downtown, and we weren’t too terribly nervous about the dicey surroundings, but it sure is an improvement to be tucked under the trees in a calm, serene state park.

SAND

We spent several days hiking around the lake, dunes, and marshes. There’s plenty of well-marked trails to amble, mostly easy walks. We were looking forward to Trail #2 which had a long boardwalk across an even longer marshland. But after walking for an hour we found the boardwalk, well, boarded up. It was in disrepair and quite dangerous. So a quick consult of the map diverted us to Trail #9 which climbed up steep dunes with ankle deep sand. A more strenuous hike to be sure, but worth the view at the top.

TRAIL

These dunes are really impressive. They’re not the puny mounds of sand found in Florida, but large hillsides with old growth forest of black oak and beech. In the woods a variety of spring flowers were in bloom, and on the dunes thick prairie grass waved in the ever-present breeze from the lake. Way out in the distance, across Lake Michigan, you can see the skyline of Chicago looking for all the world like the Emerald City of Oz.

FLOWERS

The communities surrounding the National Park offer plenty of activities for tourists. But the weather was a bit nippy for long excursions on the bike – a mid-May cold snap kept us closer to camp and bundled up in gloves and hats. I did manage a short ride to neighboring Beverly Shores, a swanky lakeside community with a public pavilion and beach access. There I found, along the lakefront, a cluster of residences called Century of Progress Homes, which were featured at the 1933 Chicago Worlds Fair and relocated to this area by an ambitious contractor. Pretty in pink!

Century of Progress Home

Century of Progress Home

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Wabash River

Wabash River

Prophetstown State Park
Battle Ground, Indiana
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We are camped in northwest Indiana where the Tippecanoe River meets the Wabash. This was originally the site of the largest Shawnee Indian village in the Midwest. And here Chief Tecumseh and his brother, The Prophet, prevented settlers from encroaching westward. That was highly unacceptable to the governor of the newly formed Indiana Territory.

So General William Henry Harrison (later to become our ninth president) launched his army against the entrenched Indians in 1811. Harrison initially offered a negotiated peace and Tecumseh would have likely accepted. But his brother, The Prophet, stirred up a bloodlust among the warriors claiming that he had seen a vision of victory and that Shawnee braves would be impervious to the white man’s bullets.

Cheifs

The Shawnee attacked at dawn and were soundly routed by Harrison’s army, who burned the village to the ground and scattered the tribe. Disgraced and ostracized, The Prophet spent the rest of his life trying to reestablish his prominence, moving ever westward until he finally died in Kansas City. Tecumseh, however, went out for revenge. He joined up with the Canadians and spent several years chasing Americans around Lake Erie, including burning Detroit, until he finally met his demise in battle up in Ontario. Thus was the War of 1812.

BATTLEFIELD

Meanwhile, a popular songwriter wrote a catchy tune about the Battle at Tippecanoe and Harrison’s victory. It  later became a campaign jingle – Tippecanoe and Tyler Too – when Harrison ran for president with John Tyler. Improbably, Harrison died of pneumonia one month after taking office and Tyler became President Number 10.

Harrison

Harrison

Here at Prophetstown State Park (named after the unsuccessful Chief) we have paused for a much needed rest. Interstate 65 through ALL of Indiana is a mess – terrible, broken pavement interspersed with numerous construction zones (keep working on it guys!) After five or so hours of a bumpy, turbulent ride we were happy to dismount in this quiet and secluded campground. It’s Indiana’s newest state park and they did it right with spacious sites and plenty of privacy landscaping. We paid a few extra bucks for a large pull-thru space that has full hook ups – meaning electric, water, and sewer – a nice luxury after a long day on the road.

PROPHETSTOWN


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Go Fast Turn Left

by Richie

Madison Regatta

go fast 1

Nothing beats a mid-stream seat for viewing a river race! Aboard our friends’ luxury motor yacht, we were a few yards from the thrilling Turn #1 at the Madison Regatta Unlimited Hydroplane Race.

 

Qualifying races were held Saturday, followed by a firework show staged mid-river from a special barge. Sunday’s races had us gripping the rails, as the #6 boat Miss Madison looked sure to win.

 

The Unlimited Hydroplane boats are super-sleek, powered by a jet engine, and rocket down the river at nearly 150 mph. They barely touch the water, skimming impossibly fast over the surface and throwing a giant rooster tail spray behind them. Careening around the tight turn in front of us, the talented and daring drivers seemed to defy the laws of physics. Remember, there’s no brakes on a boat – the drivers only have throttle control. Go Fast. Turn Left.

 

The Hydroplanes make a running start, three or four abreast, and it’s tricky to line them all up for the timed start. Then they run three laps around a 2.5 mile course. Our favorite, Oberto’s Miss Madison, had the fastest time but jumped the start line by a fraction of a second and were given a penalty that lost them the race. Better luck next year!

 

 

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Rolling On The River

by Richie

Madison, Indiana

 JULY 4-1

It’s July 4th weekend and we’re camped high on the bluff at Clifty Falls State Park. Down below our good friends Tim & Karen have moored their luxe 70’ yacht on the Ohio River. Between us is the charming town of Madison, readying for their signature event – the Madison Regatta.

The Hydro boats are lined up on the waterfront, giant cranes standing by to lift them into the water. Campers, boaters, and spectators have claimed their spots along the riverbank, and everyone is anticipating Saturday’s heat race.

JULY 4-3

The weather has been prime for a rendezvous with our friends. It’s a short drive through the woodlands of the state park and then down the big hill to the riverfront. We were picked up at the shoreline in a swanky dinghy and motored over in style to their spacious houseboat with our picnic basket in hand.

The day was spent aboard enjoying good food, splendid company, and watching the river roll by from the back deck. Later in the afternoon we took a leisurely boat ride around the riverfront to spy on the preparations for tomorrow’s race.

 JULY 4-2

Truly a perfect summer day!

 JULY 4-4

 Bourbon Slushy

1 can frozen orange juice
1 can frozen lemonade
1 bottle sweet tea
2 cans water
1 can bourbon – plus whatever spills over
Stir. Freeze. Slurp.

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Simply Summer

by Richie

Spring Mill State Park
Mitchell, Indiana PARK

On the first day of summer, the Solstice finds us in the deep woods of Indiana. It’s shorts and tank top weather, with just enough humidity to layer a sheen of sticky on your arms and remind you that summer has indeed arrived.

Shady lanes looping around Spring Mill State Park offer the perfect motorcycle ride, and there’s plenty of handsome picnic areas to relish. Every hour the sluice gates are opened and the mossy water wheel at the Old Mill churns a giant grindstone. It’s a marvelous demonstration of iron and timber engineering, the pinnacle of technology 150 years ago. MILL

 

The simpler life is thoroughly recreated at the Pioneer Village with craftsmen busy at trades of all types. They wear the heavy clothes of the period, britches and layers of petticoats, that seem unbearably suffocating in this century’s warmer climate. Our thin and wiry pioneer forefathers would be mortified at the limited clothing that scantily drapes the ample flesh rolling around the grounds today. 

Peeking into the tiny log cabins outfitted with the few possessions of early settlers – an iron pot here, a straw mattress there – kindles a yearning for a minimalist life. There’s something clean and liberating when your belongings are pared down to the basics. As if your personality has room to flourish and there’s space for your soul to soar. Without the distraction of goods and assets, minus the chattel of property and things, the superficial dressing of a material life falls away and the core of your Being has a chance to be revealed. 

Here in the modern age we seem to be defined by our Stuff. And we spend a lot of time and energy to sort and clean and maintain our junk. Jumbled piles overgrow closets and drawers, useless things wander into corners and cupboards, dusty treasures that once seemed important are stacked in forgotten boxes which fill garages and basements. It all encroaches on the livable space of homes, and we are powerless to stop the invasion of acquisition. It’s the defining aspect of the American middle class – consumerism. 

This is all brought to the forefront when we’re camping in the motorhome. For here, in about 200 square feet, are all the necessities needed to live comfortably. We can cook and shower, entertain and rest, and busy ourselves with outdoors activities. This is the pioneer cabin made easy and carefree by the miracle of electricity and the marvel of grocery stores. 

It’s the cozy space we like so much. Small and uncluttered. Simple yet elegant. I could easily stay here in the woods all summer!

EATS

 

 

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Down By the Old Mill Stream

by Richie

Spring Mill State Park
Mitchell, IN
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There’s no denying that we are State Park enthusiasts. The parks are usually dedicated around some feature that we enjoy, like a historic site or a geological wonder. Many are thoughtfully laid out, with plenty of green spaces and a network of hiking trails. The larger parks also have a hotel with a dining room that we look forward to visiting.

We found on our first trip to Spring Mill State Park that it was loaded with all these amenities, plus some unique attractions to boot.

The Inn
Grindstones

Spring Mill’s central feature is a working mill, complete with water wheel, grindstone, and water-powered sawmill. The mill’s awesome wood and iron engineering is demonstrated every hour, fascinating to watch.

 

The mill is centered in a large complex of pioneer village structures, each housing old-timey artifacts and many offering living museum demonstrations by expert craftsmen. We encountered the blacksmith, leather worker, broom maker, weaver, and herbalist – all bustling with the activities of their trade.

 

 The small, clear spring which feeds the mill also winds prettily through the main picnic area, and we saw lots of folks unable to resist the temptation to kick off their shoes and go for a wade. This was good summer fun at its finest!

This area is threaded with underground springs, and the park has several wet caves. We took a $3 tour on a small boat through Twin Caves, guided by a park ranger who gently pushed us through the cavern and spotted with a flashlight the odd formations and blind water creatures.

The astronaut Gus Grissom is a hometown hero, and a good size museum is dedicated to this space pioneer. Grissom was an early space program veteran, piloting missions for the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. He died tragically in a fire on the launch pad while conducting a routine test for Apollo 1 – a prep mission for landing on the moon.

There are numerous hiking trails in Spring Mills, including one that winds through old-growth forest where some trees have reached 300 years old. But alas, we ran out of time and couldn’t see it all in one weekend. Which begs for a return trip!

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You Gotta Regatta!

by Richie

The Madison Regatta
Madison, Indiana
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All eyes are on the skies as 50,000 fans wait for the rain to stop. The start of the Madison Regatta H1 Unlimited Hydroplane Series race is scheduled for Saturday at 1:00 pm, but officials are keeping an anxious watch on the Ohio River. For several days a steady line of rain coming from the Gulf of Mexico has dumped inches on a wide area, and the river keeps rising.

To launch the monster H1 boats for the Regatta, the Ohio River must be below 29’ here in Madison. At the Markland Dam, just a few miles upstream, the Corps of Engineers is trying to hold back the deluge. Reports say the river is now flowing over the top of the dam, and the little town of Vevay, IN, on the wrong side of the dam, is flooded.

Meanwhile, ten race boats and their crews are lined up on Vaughn Drive in downtown Madison waiting for a chance to launch. This gives fans a rare opportunity to see the hydroplanes up close and watch the crews prep their machines.

The rain held off yesterday and thousands lined Main Street for the annual Fourth of July Parade. Appreciative fans cheered the teams as each impressive H1 boat was driven slowly through town. The crowd’s favorite, locally owned Miss Madison, received a rousing reception and crew members perched atop the boat waved enthusiastically.

 

 

But the forecast is grim for Saturday’s race start. Up at Clifty Falls State Park, a capacity crowd of campers waits impatiently for race news. We are hunkered down in our motorhome with the motorcycle under tarp, hoping we’ll get to see the giant boats race today, as well as the fireworks show scheduled for later this evening.

Or, we may just have to pack up our soggy gear and go home.

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Winter Camping

by Richie

Clifty Falls State Park
Madison, Indiana
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We like to squeeze in one last camping trip in early December, and luckily in our region there have been some splendidly warm days to enjoy late in the season. The biggest joy is having a giant state park and hiking trails all to ourselves.

 

Nearby Madison is a truly unique town filled with turn-of-the-century architecture and busy shops. This is Small Town USA that’s done something right – nearly every store was occupied, nary a vacancy to be seen. Madison sports a thriving Main Street of retail and specialty stores, not the dereliction of consignment and pawn shops usually seen in declining mid-west downtown areas.

Madison was bustling on this warm day, and every storefront was decked out for the Christmas season. We saw a kitty in a lolling in a shop window, and I was asked to babysit a poodle named Mr. Right while his owner slipped in for a latte.

Something else that struck me as unusual here in Madison was the proliferation of fraternal organizations. Seems that every corner has a lodge or post of some affiliation –  a few look active, while others have seen better days.

 

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New Harmony

by Richie

Harmonie State Park
New Harmony, Indiana
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We took a drive out to New Harmony, Indiana a couple of weekends ago, and it was well worth the trip. We stayed at nearby Harmonie State Park, and were pleased with the spacious site accommodations and layout of the campground. Electric service is available, but water service is not. Spigots are located throughout to fill your tank. We didn’t consider this a problem, as most campgrounds turn off water service in Fall anyway.

Harmonie is a good-sized park, threaded with many well maintained hiking trails. We spent several hours exploring the woods along easy paths, marveling at the autumn flora. A couple of trails end at a pretty picnic area along the Wabash River.

 

 

Just a few country miles from the state park is the special town of New Harmony. Once the site of a utopian settlement, much like the Shakers, it is now a sweet tourist destination.

We stumbled on several delights in New Harmony, including a large boxwood Labyrinth (which I’ll admit to cheating on a bit), the New Harmony Inn that offers both hotel rooms and cottage rentals, and the splendid Red Geranium Restaurant – a must for brunch!

 

New Harmony also boosts a few unique attractions. The Roofless Church is a walled garden with an unusual pavilion in the center. A museum and gallery is located at the end of town, and there’s a historical library a few blocks away.

New Harmony has a tradition of electric golf carts as a preferred mode of transportation. You’ll see many residents going about their daily business in these carts, with dogs and groceries loaded in the cargo hold. Golf cart and bicycle rentals are available at the Inn. Walkways down to the Wabash River permit electric cart traffic, or you can just hoof it like we did.

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Wander Indiana

by Richie

Columbus, Indiana
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We cruised all the I’s today – Iowa, Illinois, Indiana. This was a big day on the road, and for the first time we couldn’t find a place to camp overnight. We made it to Indianapolis, much farther than I thought we’d have the stamina for, only to be shut out of the two campgrounds in town. Indy doesn’t have a lot of choices, and neither did we. So we had to continue moving south, which kept us on the road well after dark.

It’s been a bit of an adjustment coming from the sparsely populated western states back to the bustling Mid-West. We got used to having the wide open spaces to our self, seeing mostly RVs, motorcycles, and cowboy pickup trucks on the road. It felt like a camaraderie – yeah, we’ve all spat with the rattlesnakes and shat with the grizzlies. There’s dust on our tails from the long, long trail.
But now that we’re back in the citified world, we seem out of place. Rolling slowly along in our cumbersome coach, wearing grubby jeans and a flinty look in our eyes. We get stares instead of a nod, honks instead of a friendly wave.
We left on our Wild West excursion in late summer, and are now returning at harvest time. Farmers are busy with their giant corn picking equipment, leaving the fields shorn and stubbly.

Frequently Asked:
We’ve been asked a bunch of questions about our trip already. Here’s the most popular –
Did you have a good time?

Boy howdy!

Did you meet any interesting people?

No. Two reasons why –
1. Campers are on the move. They pull in, eat dinner, and close the curtains.
2. We’re not friendly.

How did Shadow like being on the road? 
He hardly complained.

 

Didn’t you get on each other’s nerves?
   Seldom was heard a discouraging word.

And then our favorite, from strangers in various towns…

Did you ride that scooter all the way from Kentucky? 
Nope, only halfway!

 

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