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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Prophetstown State Park
Battle Ground, Indiana
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Truly a perfect summer day!
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.
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.
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!
Spring Mill State Park
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.
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!
The Madison Regatta
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.