July 2010 Issue
Expect the Unexpected
Indiana offers an array of natural wonders and historical treasures.
Most people unfamiliar with the geography of Indiana assume that it is completely landlocked. But a quick look at a map of the United States reveals that Lake Michigan pushes into the northwestern corner of the state like the tip of a giant curved finger. An actual visit to the shore is a revelation. The beaches are surrounded by sand dunes, some of which are a couple hundred feet high.
“A lot of people have a visual of these dunes as big piles of sand, sort of like the desert dunes,” says Brandt Baughman, property manager at Indiana Dunes State Park. “That’s not the case at all. They’re constantly moving, constantly adapting. But they have cottonwoods, white oaks and white pines growing on them. From a distance, they just look like very hilly forest. It’s only when you come around the north side, where they get that exposure to the wind and weather from the lake, that you see a lot of exposed sand.”
The Dunes and beaches are just two of the unexpected pleasures travelers will find in Indiana, which is endowed with attractions ranging from wineries and casinos to natural wonders.
Beaches, for example, are just one of the draws at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, 15 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline between Gary and Michigan City. Nature lovers delight in the diverse habitats found in its 15,000 acres. “You can see all these habitats in other places, but you’d have to drive at least a day and a half to see each one,” says public information officer Lynda Lancaster. She describes hiking trails through remnants of tall-grass prairie and marsh, dunes dotted with prickly pear cacti and the southernmost quaking bog in North America. The bog, six feet of sphagnum moss that grew over a pool of melted glacial ice deposited in the clay soil more than 10,000 years ago, supports various trees and plants, including insect-eaters such as the pitcher plant and sundew. And the bog is true to its name — it actually moves.
“If you start jumping up and down, you can see the trees shaking around you,” Lancaster explains. “It’s like jumping on a trampoline.” But she urges visitors to stay on the boardwalks unless they’re accompanied by a guide — people have actually fallen through holes in the moss into the water below.
The national lakeshore, actually a patchwork of parcels, surrounds Indiana Dunes State Park. Baughman says the 2,182-acre park’s guarded beach, with its snack bar, restrooms and gift shop, was named one of the top 10 family-friendly beaches in the United States by tripadvisor.com in 2008.
“In Indiana, many of the Lake Michigan beaches don’t really have facilities — they tend to be a little more remote,” he says. The popular campground, which was completely renovated in 2005, has 140 spacious sites with paved approaches and electrical hookups, two bathhouses with showers and flush toilets, two playgrounds, water fill stations and a dumping station. Other amenities include 16 miles of hiking trails and a nature center with displays on the history, flora and fauna of the dunes that is undergoing a $300,000 upgrade scheduled for completion in late August.
“All of our development is on the western 20 percent of the park,” Baughman says. “The eastern 80 percent of the park is nature preserve.”
Visitors who don’t set up camp at the state park or national lakeshore stay in nearby Chesterton. According to Chesterton Duneland Chamber of Commerce executive director Heather Ennis, the quaint town of 12,000 boasts one of the largest historic business districts in the state. The storefronts are occupied by shops that sell everything from vintage clothing to gourmet gadgetry to art, and independently owned restaurants serve a wide variety of cuisine. The accommodations include chain hotels/motels, independently owned inns and bed and breakfasts. One such place, The Gray Goose Inn, is a B&B on 100 acres with a private lake, plus hiking and cross-country-skiing trails.
Vacationers desiring a resort-style getaway near the lake will want to check into the Blue Chip Casino, Hotel and Spa. In addition to the permanently anchored “riverboat casino” — a 200-by-400-square-foot single-level gaming vessel with 2,000 slot machines, more than 50 tables and a live poker room — the property boasts five restaurants, two live-music venues, an indoor pool and two hotel towers. The entire second floor of the year-old luxury hotel tower is devoted to Spa Blu, a 10,000-square-foot facility with nine treatment rooms, a full-service salon and a fitness center.
“We are about half a mile or so from Lake Michigan and Washington Park, where there’s a beautiful beach,” says general manager Ted Bogich. “The views of the lake from our hotel rooms are just magnificent.”
Antiques Road Trip
Those who prefer antiquing to swimming, sunning and gambling can hit Antique Alley, a pair of loop trails that begin and end in Richmond. The first, which runs along the historic National Road west to Knightstown and returns via St. Rte. 38, boasts an astounding 900 antiques dealers along its 66 miles, more than 500 of which are in Webb’s Antique Mall. The second 80-mile trail, which provides access to a relatively modest 300 dealers, follows U.S. Rte. 27 north to Portland, continues east into Ohio and returns to Richmond on the National Road.
According to Nancy Sartain, director of leisure sales and marketing for the Wayne County Convention and Visitors Bureau, the hub of Antique Alley is Cambridge City, a charming community just west of Richmond where a dozen antiques shops and malls can be found in a three-block area. “All the antique shops and malls there are just top quality,” she says. But she singles out the National Road Antique Mall for its selection of sought-after Hoosier cabinets.
Follow the Vines
One of the biggest surprises in the Hoosier State is the 48 wineries it boasts, approximately half of which are located close enough to each other to create three wine trails. Indiana even has a signature wine: Traminette, made from the grape of the same name. Nine wineries are situated along the Indiana Uplands Wine Trail, which starts just north of Louisville and winds its way through the rolling hills west to Uniontown, then north to Bloomington. To the north is the Indy Wine Trail, a loop that connects seven wineries in and around Indianapolis. And in the southeastern corner of the state is the Indiana Wine Trail, which leads travelers to a half-dozen wineries between the Madison/Vevay area and Batesville.
All of the wineries offer tastings and tours, according to Indiana Wine Grape Council marketing director Jeanette Merritt. A number also offer amenities such as restaurants and gardens. Madison Vineyards Estate Winery even has a bed and breakfast. Merritt reassures aficionados that Indiana wines are indeed good stuff.
“Three-quarters of our wineries have won medals on wines that they have entered in not only the Indiana National Competition, which is one of the largest in the country, but in competitions around the country,” she says. “They all have bling on their bottles.”
When You Go
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
Visitors Center, 1420 Munson Rd., Porter 46304, 219/926-7561. nps.gov/indu
Indiana Dunes State Park
1600 N. 25 E., Chesterton 46304, 219/926-1952. dnr.in.gov
Chamber of Commerce
The Gray Goose Inn
350 Indian Boundary Rd., Chesterton 46304, 800/521-5127. graygooseinn.com
Blue Chip Casino, Hotel and Spa
777 Blue Chip Dr., Michigan City 46360, 888/879-7711. bluechipcasino.com
Wayne County Tourism Bureau
Webb’s Antique Mall
200 W. Union St., Centerville 47330, 765/855-5551. webbsantiquemalls.com
National Road Antique Mall
39 W. Main St., Cambridge City 47327, 765/478-9070. nationalroadantiquemall.com
Indiana Uplands Wine Trail
Indiana Wine Grape Council, 765/496-3842. indianauplands.com
Indy Wine Trail
Indiana Wine Trail
Madison Visitors Center, 800/559-2956. indianawinetrail.com
Madison Vineyards Estate Winery
1456 E. 400 N., Madison 47250, 888/473-6500. madisonvineyards.com