A City with a Heart – Elkhart, IN

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Elkhart, INA popular myth of how the city of Elkhart got its name is that native American indians noticed that the shape of Island Park, within the city at the confluence of the Elkhart and St. Joseph Rivers, resembled the heart of an elk.  However, the city was actually named after the Shawnee indian chief Elkhart, who was a cousin of the famous Shawnee chief Tecumseh.  Today, the town is dotted with painted Elk on parade, celebrating its namesake.

Elk Art on Parade

Historic downtown Elkhart

RV /MH Hall of FameElkhart is known for two things – “RV Capital of the World” and “Band Instrument Capital of the World.”  Since we are of the RV persuasion, we chose to check out the 80,000-square-foot RV museum that pays homage to the industry.  During our visit, we viewed a collection of 52 vintage RVs dating all the way back to 1913 and chronicling Americans’ century-old penchant for hitting the road with the comforts of home in tow.

RV/MH Hall of Fame

The story of America’s journey through the evolution of the RV

This 1916 “telescoping apartment” is the precursor of the current slide out.  Both side cabinets slide in and the rear section then “telescoped” into the main compartment and was secured for travel.  The industry has gone a long way since then, as slide outs are now fast and easy to operate with just a push of a button.

1916 Telescoping Apartment

1916 telescoping apartment

We always appreciate and follow any walking tour that a city offers.  Elkhart is no different, as they have developed the Elkhart Gateway Mile, a walking tour around town connecting all three unique districts; Arts and Entertainment, Garden and the Riverwalk.

Elkhart River Walk

Beginning of the Riverwalk

Ten Commandments

Is anyone paying attention to these commandments?

Painted Elk HArt

Rhythm of Summer

We enjoyed our walk around town, particularly fascinated by the windows and architecture of restored buildings, colorful murals and summer blooms coloring the area.  The locals consider the Riverwalk a gem, as it winds around downtown, with some intermingled features to explore.  It includes bridges connecting to Island Park, whose shape has been compared to an elk’s heart.

 

 

Historic Downtown Elkhart

Main street – Elkhart

And some other colorful murals around town:

Band Mural

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These adorable critters were hanging out by the river to cheer us along:

After working up an appetite wandering around town, our tummies were growling and we remembered LuAnn’s of Paint your Landscape recommendation for a great place to eat and quench our thirst.  So, off we went to lechyd Da Brewing Company, a local restaurant, to savor their yummy pizza drizzled with balsamic vinegar and covered with arugula.  Yum!

lechyda Da Brewing Company

First pizza I’ve tasted with balsamic vinegar, yum!

After gobbling up the tasty pizza, we took a walk around our park at Elkhart Campground (see Steve’s review here).  We had a chance meeting with Carla (who recognized Steve from our blogs) and Jerry of Cozybegone, and after chatting for a while we invited them over for a happy hour the following day. Over good eats and drinks we got to know each other well and we were able to learn more about the area, as they had already been at this campground for two months.  That’s what I love about blogging – we get to meet such cool people!

cozybegone

Happy hour with Carla and Jerry of Cozybegone

On another day we ventured further out of Elkhart and drove to Indiana Dunes State Park within the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Indiana Dunes consists of 2,182 acres of primitive, beautiful, historic and unique Hoosier landscape. Large sand dunes, located beyond the entire shoreline, have taken thousands of years to form, and tower nearly 200 feet above Lake Michigan.

It was about an hour away, and we used our time there to meet the “3-Dune Challenge”.  This hiking challenge is named for the trio of dunes – called the Tremonts – which highlight the length of the trail.  Mt. Tom, Mt. Holden and Mt. Jackson are each nearly two hundred feet above lake level, and believe me our calf muscles were burning after hiking over all of them in deep sand!

The trail was described as the most difficult in the park, rugged and challenging with 40-degree slopes.  The description did not lie, as it was the toughest and longest 1.5 mile hike we have done!

3 Dune Challenge

Lake Michigan behind me

On the way home we swung by the pride of Southbend, Indiana – the University of Notre Dame – which was  founded in 1842.  It resides on 1,250 acres and is well known for the quality of its physical plant and the beauty of its campus.  We drove around the campus, from the collegiate Gothic architecture and park-like landscape to the exquisite outdoor sculptures and breathtaking views.  Not a bad place to go to college…

We were also able to arrange a tour of the Entegra motorhome factory while in town, which made Steve very happy.  These coaches are “the next step up” from Betsy, and we were happy to get a private tour of the factory floor.  As usual, pictures were not allowed – but our mouths were hanging open for over an hour as we watched them building these beautiful rigs.  We never get tired of factory tours!

And that’s how we spent our busy week in the city of heart.

Next up:  The legacy of Henry Ford



 

Along the Heritage Trail – Amish Country in Indiana

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You know you’re in Amish country when you see these as you travel down the road…

But in this post I’ll focus more on what we saw along the Heritage Trail, a 90-mile route that led us through the small towns of Elkhart, Bristol, Middlebury, Goshen, Shipshewana, Nappanee and Wakarusa in Northern Indiana.  We were deep in the heart of Amish country, where we took a free audio CD tour beginning in Elkhart, our home base for a week.  The visitor center provided us with it, and we think it’s worth stopping for if you want to see and learn about the area.

Amish Acres

This was our first self-guided driving tour following an audio CD, which provided driving instructions and information as we went along.  It took a little getting used to, but after the first few turns we had it figured out.  The route wound through several small towns and past many miles of corn and soybean fields.  The broad horizon was punctuated by neat red barns, white farmhouses and black horse-drawn buggies.  The history of the region and the Amish people who began settling here in the 1840’s was detailed, as were the various must-see attractions along the way:

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Although we had already learned quite a bit about the Amish way of life during our stay in Ohio last year, we saw many more farms and businesses while driving through this area. Here’s a look at some of the highlights along the Heritage Trail, which took us most of a day – including stops along the way.

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Quilt Gardens

Many of you know that I like flowers, and when they are grouped together to form a giant pattern like a patchwork I’m in heaven.  This region is dotted with thousands of blooms, with up to 20 large flower gardens planted in classic quilt patterns.  These living displays adorn the seven communities along the Heritage Trail from May 30 to Oct 1 and can be viewed for free.

Here are some samples, with detailed descriptions, including the different kinds of flowers planted:

Seasons of Change pattern

Seasons of Change pattern, Ruthmere

Seasons of Change pattern

Cross Town Rivals Pattern

Cross Town Rival, Elkhart

Cross Town Rivals pattern

Driving along and following the audio CD tour is one way to view these gardens.  We also walked around the city of Elkhart and biked the Pumpkinvine Trail in Middlebury, which gave us an up-close view of these somewhat hidden attractions:

Beauty and the Beast Rose Quilt Garden, Elkhart

Beauty and the Beast Rose Quilt Garden, Elkhart

Beauty and the Beast Rose pattern

Other patterns:

Vibrant outdoor quilt murals also added to the experience:

Amish Quilt Commemorative Stamps

Amish quilt commemorative stamps

Pinwheels and Ribbons of Hope

Pinwheels and Ribbons of Hope

More scenes along the Heritage Trail:

Apple Art could be seen dotting the town of Nappanee.  These are  4-foot apples stationed around town, each with its own appealing artistic design.

Amish craftsmanship could be admired or bought at shops in Middlebury:

Amish Country

Amish craftsmanship

The Old Bag Factory (built in 1890) in Goshen has been renovated, and is now an eclectic collection of artisan shops.  In one of the historical displays we learned that those little paper plumes found in Hershey’s Kisses were originally made here from 1921 to 1982 – cool!

Old Bag Factory, Goshen

In Wakarusa we stopped by to get a sugar fix on candies, like their Jumbo Jelly Beans.

Wakarusa Dime Store

The dime store in Wakarusa boasts the largest jelly beans in the world!

Shipshewana is known as the midwest’s largest flea market, but we skipped it as traffic into the property was horrendous and we don’t have room in Betsy for trinkets from places like that anyway.

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Quality outdoor Amish furniture near the flea market

On another day we biked the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail, a 16.5 mile linear path connecting Goshen, Middlebury and Shipshewana, which was originally  a railroad corridor.  This trail, which passed through woodland, pastures and cultivated fields also included one of the quilt gardens that can be viewed up close at Krider Gardens.

Pumpkinvine Trail

Water Wheel, Krider Gardens

Water Wheel at Krider Gardens

The countryside along the trail was home to the third largest Amish community in the USA.

Amish Country

Pumpkinvine Nature Trail

 

 

Amish Country

 

Amish Country

Driving the Heritage Trail was not only fun, but also informative and scenic.  I have to agree with the editors of LIFE magazine that it is “One of America’s Most Scenic Drives.”  It was interesting and there were a few surprises at every turn.  But for me the quilt gardens were the star of the tour!

P.S.  We have good friends traveling with us this week and having so much fun, which is why I am a bit behind with my posts.  We’re now in Mackinaw City, MI.  Stay tuned!

 

Next up:  More about the city with a heart!



Athens of the Prairie – Columbus, IN

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Large Arch, Columbus
Two Arcs de 212.5

Two Arcs de 212.5

Our first stop in Indiana was at Columbus, a small city 40 miles south of Indianapolis.  We had been to the Indy 500 in 2008, long before starting our adventure, so we were looking for another interesting city in the area.  By the way, if you haven’t been to the Indy 500, put it on your bucket list – even if you aren’t a racing fan it’s an experience you’ll never forget!

Columbus turned out to be an unassuming town with a population of 44,000, and a big reputation.  As always, the visitor center was our first stop, and we were aghast when we were charged $3 for a map of the city’s art and architecture tour.  I’m sure you fans of architecture would be more than happy to pay it, but we usually get all maps, brochures and tons of information from a visitor center for free.  Anyhow, we bought the map and then watched their 15-minute video about the city of Columbus.

Columbus Post Office

Huge Columbus Post Office, circa 1970; from a distance I thought it was a big car wash!

From the video we learned that it’s the unique and varied architecture that put Columbus on the map, and it was due to the foresight of J. Irwin Miller of Cummins, Inc.  In case you don’t know, Cummins is the builder of millions of diesel engines used around the world in trucks, tractors, generators and…motorhomes!  In 1957, Mr. Cummins made an offer to the city that the Cummins Foundation would pay all architect’s fees for new public buildings in Columbus.  But there was a catch – they had to hire architects from Miller’s pre-approved list.

First Christian Church/1942

First Christian Church, circa1942.  Steve thought it was one of the ugliest buildings he had ever seen!

St Peter's Lutheran/1988

St. Peter’s Lutheran with its 186-foot steeple

Thus this small midwestern city has buildings by Eero SaarinenEliel SaarinenI.M. PeiKevin RocheRichard MeierHarry WeeseCésar PelliGunnar Birkerts, and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.  Many of the structures feature interiors designed by Alexander Girard.  I don’t know who any of these guys are, but they’re apparently well known in the world of architecture and with their work they made the city somewhat famous.

The Commons Building

The Commons, circa 2011

We are not serious fans of architecture, but the story of how this small city has strived to be its best is both interesting and inspiring.  We strolled around and viewed only a few of the more than 60 private and public buildings designed by the notable architects.

Bartholomew County Jail

Bartholomew County Jail circa 1990 – maybe criminals enjoy living here?

Public art and sculptures were located throughout the city.  For some, we had to pause to figure out what they were about.

Exploded Engine /1984

Exploded Cummins engine – fabulous display, according to Steve

Large Arch, Columbus

Large Arch (1971)

 

And that’s how Columbus got its nickname as the “Athens of the Prairie”.  It’s due to the city’s many large contemporary architectural structures and public sculptures.

Cummins Engine

A happy motorhead next to a motor!

 

 

 

When Steve learned that Cummins, Inc. is the #1 employer in the city, he immediately tried to find an engine plant tour.  You see, many motorhomes like Betsy have Cummins engines.  Unfortunately, he was disappointed to find out they don’t give tours, and he had to settle for a picture of him with a nice ISL engine just like Betsy’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walking around town and gawking at all of these interesting buildings made us hungry and thirsty.  And what better way to cool off on a hot summer day?

Can you say COLD BEER?!

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Beers served in chilled glasses specific to each brewery – Jordy’s Pub rocked!  Oh yeah, they had good food too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mississinewa State Park

We left Columbus after only two nights and headed up north.  Our next stop was at Mississinewa State Park, with the intention of getting back to nature and having some quiet, peaceful evenings.  But when we arrived there we found once again that state parks are completely packed with noisy families during the summer, especially on weekends.  We like to see people having a good time, but I had trouble dealing with the nearby screaming (and drunk) mom who was having way too much fun.  Fortunately, all the families left after a couple of days and it seemed like we were in a totally different place.

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To get away from the madness, we hiked, biked and stayed away from the campground as much as possible those first couple of days.  But alas, staying away from the crowd also led to my encounter with the chiggers 😦

I’m happy to report that the itching is gone, and hopefully the remaining scars will disappear in the next few weeks.

Blue Heron Trail, Mississinewa Lake

Yes – run, run as fast as we can away from these crazy campers!

Here are some things we encountered while in the wild, and somewhere along the way is where I picked those damn chiggers…

I was pleasantly surprised to see these gulls along the lake!  I last saw gulls in Alabama, and here they were as a reminder of our fun times along the coast.

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In the evenings we strolled to the lake for fresh air (the park was very smoky as most campers had fires going).  We even took a nap on the picnic tables while waiting for the sunset.

Mississinewa Lake

A little nap while waiting for sunset

I was finally rewarded with a gorgeous sunset to cap our stay at Mississinewa Lake.

Mississinewa Lake

 

 

Next up:  Quilt gardens and vast farmlands in Amish country



 

Chiggers Attack! – Peru, IN

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Adult Chigger

I’d never heard of chiggers until we arrived in Indiana.  It’s not that they’re only found in Indiana, but that’s where they found me and had their feeding frenzy.  I didn’t realize what hit me until the discomfort began.  These nasty tiny mites with big bites left me scratching, seemingly without end, for several days.

Adult Chigger

Adult Chigger roaming around my laptop cover.  I terminated this one right after the picture was taken

Being out in the great outdoors most of the time, we are constantly exposed to unsavory critters.  We try to heed warnings and pay attention to information about local plant and animal hazards while hiking in unfamiliar places.  But nothing prepared me for the discomfort I would feel a few hours after this hike, when I noticed a cluster of bites on my mid-section, and the itching and scratching began.

Catching up a Chiggers

Maybe a bunch of chiggers “hopped aboard” as I sat down here to have my picture taken?

Flower patch

Another area where I might have picked up those chiggers

 So, what are chiggers?

  • Chiggers are not insects – they belong to the arachnids and are part of the same family as spiders, scorpions, and ticks.

    Adult Chigger

    This adult chigger had eight legs, and I let it live just long enough for me to take the picture

  • They don’t burrow into the skin like ticks; instead they inject digestive enzymes that break down the skin, allowing them to slurp up the dissolved skin cells.  For a detailed explanation, check out http://animals.howstuffworks.com/arachnids/chigger.htm
Chigger at work

A chigger feeding. Image credit to Wilson, Tracy V. HowStuffWorks.com. 25 July 2014.

  • It’s the baby chiggers (larvae) that feed on the tissue of mammals (me) for nourishment.  These images are of adult chiggers, but of course I killed them anyway.

    Adult Chigger

    Adult Chigger – very tiny!  But the larvae are almost microscopic in size

  • Chiggers go for the thinnest skin on our bodies, and the bites tend to cluster in places that are delicate and sensitive.  In my case, they had their party around my waist area and other unmentionable parts.
  • Once they’re done feeding, they drop to the ground and molt into nymphs – while the unfortunate human is left miserable for several days.  In short, they “eat and run”.

How to  keep them off

If you’re in a place where chiggers could be your neighbors, here are some precautions I learned for avoiding my misery in the future:

  • Long pants and long sleeves are a must, with the pants tucked into the socks for extra protection.
  • Stay on the trail and out of tall weeds and patches of brambles – hard for me because sometimes that’s where the best pictures can be taken!
  • Shower promptly and scrub thoroughly immediately when we get home.
  • Wash hiking clothes with hot water to kill any chiggers that might be living there.
  • Have calamine lotion, antihistamines or hydrocortisone ready in case of future attacks.

My “chigger attack” occurred on July 18th.  Eight days later, I no longer get up at midnight to apply Cortizone 10, but I’m still itching and scratching.  Time is the only remedy for my discomfort.  Although Steve cringes every time I show him the affected area, he is blissfully oblivious of my suffering, as most men have tougher skin and are rarely affected by these little devils.  As they say, “women and children first”!

And that, my dear readers, is your “chigger education” for today.  We must continue to enjoy the great outdoors, and avoid the chiggers whenever we can!