Enjoying the Outdoors in Northern Indiana

While staying in Indiana, I was lucky to find a bike rental shop right across the street from the Pumpkinvine Trail which travels 17.5 miles through the Amish countryside, linking several towns. The time I spent here was one of my favorite biking experiences. This rails to trails was named “Pumpkinvine” during its railroad days because of all the curves and turns. The path travels through a lovely shaded forest with frequent glimpses of open fields.

Pumpkinvine Trail

I rode past many Amish farms and homes and it was a great look at every day life. I felt I had been transported back to a much simpler time and I frequently stopped just to soak it all in. I saw people working in their fields and gardens, for example two young women tilling a small plot with a pony pulling a plow. Buggies and wagons regularly passed by on the country roads. Horses and cows grazed in the fields. Women hung their laundry out on lines and horses were hitched in driveways. An Amish one room school sat quiet for the summer.

Bike trail through Amish country
A country road crossed by the Pumpkinvine Trail
Amish farm house
Amish one room school

I also passed several phone sheds set apart from the homes and used by the community like the one below.

Amish phone shed

The highlight was when a small cart pulled by a pony with four young children came quickly down a dirt road and drove in a circle around an empty lot near the bike trail. I was a little surprised 😮 when I saw one of these children with an infant loosely perched on her lap. I feared the baby might slip out since the kids seemed to be so young to be “babysitting.” (What, no car seat)? They took off carelessly laughing and headed quickly back up the road. Perhaps children’s freedom is a given here as I also saw a small boy (about three or four) hanging out by himself for awhile at the end of his driveway. There didn’t seem to be any adults around, but perhaps he was being watched.

The trail went past Krider World’s Fair Garden which I mentioned in the last blog. This garden was originally displayed at the 1933-1934 Chicago World’s Fair. It is a shady respite from walking or biking with paths winding by a pond, small waterfalls and many plantings.

Krider World’s Fair Garden

Some of the main features exhibited at the World’s Fair can still be seen here like the toadstools and the Dutch windmill.

On another day while doing my quilt trail scavenger hunt that I also wrote about in the last blog, I drove past Riverbend Park in the town of Middlebury. The Little Elkhart River flows through here and it was so pretty that I pulled over to explore. I found a trail that went along the River and through the woods.

Little Elkhart River, Riverbend Park, Middlebury

By the water I found many beautiful dragon flies. Well, I thought they were dragonflies but when I researched later, I found out it was a damselfly called “Ebony Jewelwing.” Damselflies are thinner than dragonflies and fold their wings up, holding them together across their backs. As a flying adult, they only live about two weeks. I learned something new as I have very little knowledge (if any) about dragonflies and damselflies. The body of the male Ebony Jewelwing is a metallic blue green and a striking color. The female is duller with smoky brown colored wings and white spots on the tips.

Male Ebony Jewelwing
Female Ebony Jewelwing

It is hard for me to pass up a botanical garden and the city of Elkhart has beautiful Wellfield Botanical Gardens with over 20 individual sections. As a botanical garden Wellfield is unusual -it is built on wells that have provided most of the drinking water for Elkhart since 1885. Much of the Park acreage is devoted to water with fast moving Christiana creek flowing at the edge of the park and a small lake in the center.

Christiana Creek
Lots of sitting areas at Wellfield Botanical Gardens

I thought the children’s garden was quite delightful with a multi level treehouse to play on as well as an area with raised beds to learn about gardening. When I visited though, there was not a child in sight.

Children’s Garden Treehouse

Since opening, Wellfield has been improving their gardens with a current focus on a Japanese themed island garden to open this Fall. I took the photo below of the Asian inspired curved bridge.

Thanks for reading! In the next post I look at two years of full time RV living and our favorite states we visited during that time. Stay tuned!

Following the Quilt Trail in Northern Indiana

Quilt garden identification sign with garden in the background
Quilt Mural – Double Wedding Ring

Quilting is a popular activity in Amish country and six communities in Northern Indiana have created the Quilt Garden and Mural Heritage Trail. There are 17 quilt inspired gardens and 21 hand painted quilt themed murals. On two different days, I drove around to see the quilt trail and found it a nice way to learn about the area and enjoy some artistic creations. At each garden and mural site I found a sign with the name and information about the quilt pattern as well as the flowers selected for the gardens.

“Grandmother’s Cross” quilt pattern – the largest quilt garden with 3,500 plants

My favorite of the quilt gardens was located at the Dutch Country Market in Middlebury. They even had a platform to stand on to better view the garden from above. I really liked the lavender colored flowers.

“Mother’s Delight” quilt garden
Dutch Country Market with quilt garden

The Dutch Country Market was also a treat to visit. They sell a variety of items including jams, honeys, pickles, peanut butters and their specialty, homemade noodles. The store features a viewing window to watch the process of making the noodles. I saw racks of dough sheets hanging and watched as a worker fed the sheets into a machine to cut into strips.

I bought some noodles to try. Here in Indiana, they use the noodles in a soupy meat based broth. I prefer the browned butter noodles we had in Pennsylvania Amish country. One night for dinner I made some browned butter noodles using noodles from this market and fresh butter from a local Amish dairy.

Dutch Country Market homemade noodles

In the town of Goshen is the Elkhart County Courthouse hosting a quilt garden out front with a pattern of flying geese called, “The Wild Blue Yonder.” The garden was pretty but I thought the grand court house was the most gorgeous sight.

Elkhart County Courthouse, built in 1870
Goshen Old Bag Factory – “Reflection Quilt Garden”

I headed over to Bonneyville Mill County Park in Bristol for two reasons. The main reason was to see the mill, but also to see a quilt mural called “Trapunto and Appliqué.” This is a scenic park with a rushing stream, ponds and forest trails.

Bonneyville County Park Quilt Mural
Bonneyville Mills

Bonneyville Mills is Indiana’s oldest continuously operating grist mill, established in the 1830’s. The day I visited was “Scottish Oats” day with a demonstration on how the oats are ground and used. We were treated to homemade oat cakes and oatmeal served with real maple syrup. Brochures with recipes were also provided. A variety of grains ground on the premises such as flours, oats, spelt and cornmeal are sold here in cute little sacks.

Scottish oat grinding demonstration

In downtown Bristol is the Elkhart County Historical Museum (below) and another lovely quilt garden called “Turnstile Garden.”

The City of Elkhart has a quilt garden next to the impressive Ruthmere Mansion built in 1910. When I arrived the mansion was having their last guided tour of the day, so I popped in for a look. It took about an hour and a half to see the furnished home and grounds.

Ruthmere Mansion – “Joseph’s Coat” quilt garden
Ruthmere Mansion

Krider’s World’s Fair Garden in Middlebury featured a quilt garden called the “Krider Festival Rose Garden.” Krider’s World’s Fair Garden is a little oasis of lush green that was once displayed at the 1933-1934 Chicago World’s Fair so visitors could see what the nursery business had to offer. Krider’s gained more than 250.000 names and addresses from these visitors after they signed the register. Using this list, Krider Nurseries grew into the largest mail order nursery business in the U.S. One of Indiana’s first garden parks established in a town, it is still maintained today with many of the same features from the time of the World’s Fair.

Each year the Quilt Gardens Heritage Trail brings a change of design and sometimes location. It was a nice scavenger hunt and If I lived in the area it would be fun to see how it changes from year to year. I will close with a photo of the Varns & Hoover Hardware Store which displays the “Welcome to Middlebury Murals.” This store has been in business for over 125 years and is a fixture on Middlebury’s Main Street.

A Little of This, a Little of That – Exploring Shipshewana Indiana

The town is named for Chief Shipshewana of the Potawatomi Tribe

Staying in the Amish areas of Pennsylvania and Ohio has been one of our favorites, so we were very happy to also spend time in the Amish country of Northern Indiana. All three areas have also had their unique differences. Whereas Ohio was the hilliest of the three, we found Indiana to have the flattest topography. Indiana seemed to have more creeks and rivers. Just like in Pennsylvania and Ohio, the countryside and farmsteads were beautiful in Indiana. Alas, living amongst the Amish sounds inviting, could we join? Mark actually asked our Amish tour guide in Ohio if people do convert. The answer was yes, occasionally if they are willing to adopt the lifestyle and language. Mark’s question was more out of curiosity than seriousness, but these areas definitely appeal to us.

When I called to make camping reservations in the town of Shipshewana, I was told that we would enjoy our RV site because it was near the horses. Being around horses and buggies is one of the highlights of an Amish stay, so I was happy to hear that. There also seemed to be more horses and buggies here in Indiana. Since our RV Park was off a main thoroughfare, we regularly heard or saw the Amish traveling by like in the photo above. The pasture closest to our site had several draft horses, the kind that are used by the Amish to pull the heavy wagons or farm equipment. I tried to make friends with a couple of them but they were not interested.

What’s so funny?

The draft foal even laughed at me during one of my visits 😆. So, I decided to head over to the pasture bordering the other side of the Park where a passel of ponies lived. These little guys were friendlier and more interesting and I began visiting them each evening after we were done with our days’ activities.

There were a couple of babies, including this tiny one which was no bigger than a small dog.

There is always plenty of shopping in Amish country and our stay in Indiana was no different. We were just a short distance from an Amish bulk grocery store that carried everything imaginable. Of course, Mark and I can’t shop in bulk because we live in such a tiny space, but wandering around and seeing everything for sale was very interesting. Outside was the largest collection of outdoor furniture for sale I have seen with rockers, swings, benches, tables and playground equipment. I could probably happily spend some time just walking around trying out all the comfortable seats. The possibilities seemed endless. There were also lots of outdoor decorations including weather vanes, yard ornaments and baskets. Some of the huge baskets were used as planters.

As interesting as the Amish bulk store was, our favorite was a variety shop also located next to our Park. This is the place where the Amish buy fabric to make clothes as well as already made clothing items and shoes. I had to get another serious photo of Mark trying on an Amish hat. This time it was a more proper one for church and serious occasions.

The clothing for sale featured jackets and vests made with hooks and eyes rather than buttons, an Amish preference.

Besides clothing, the store seemed to sell a little of everything including toys, books, school supplies, cards and household items. I found a German reader that is used by the children in the local schools. It was the same reader I saw in the school building we visited in Ohio. Since I studied German in school and Mark and I lived in Germany for a few years (decades ago), I bought the book to see how much I could remember.

Dresses often seen worn by Amish girls

The biggest outdoor flea market can be found here – the Shipshewana Auction and Flea Market with 900 vendors. It is so big a map book is handed out in order to navigate the complex and find vendors of interest. I thought the auctions were really interesting at a flea market we visited in Pennsylvania, so I headed inside one of the largest buildings and watched auctioneers and bidders at work on an array of collectible items. With all the people it was loud and chaotic. Mark beat a hasty retreat and I didn’t stay long either.

What, no farm grown plants?

I was looking forward to seeing some “homegrown” plants, vegetables, fruits and flowers. But there was hardly any of that. Even the baked goods the Amish are so famous for were almost nonexistent here. We found only one place and they were selling hand pies, or what I would call fruit turnovers. Almost everything seemed to be made elsewhere, especially China. It was a huge concentrated area to buy any kind of “stuff” someone might want. Many people like that, but Mark and I really aren’t in to shopping for “stuff,” so we didn’t spend hours here. My souvenir for the day was the most “authentic” thing I could find, a discarded Amish horseshoe. It even came with a little paper describing the patches of “grit” which are placed on shoes to give horses more traction on pavement.

Mark and I couldn’t resist hitting up the Amish buffets while in Pennsylvania and Ohio, but in Indiana, we didn’t have any interest. At our age, you can only overeat so much 😜 . I was happy to see that we were staying almost next door to a soft pretzel cafe. Pennsylvania Amish country had great soft pretzels, but we didn’t find any during our Ohio stay. We zipped over to Ben’s the day after we got there. I didn’t care for the pretzels 🥨, but Mark found his way there a few more times.

We found better pretzels and more interesting shopping 🛍 at the Davis Mercantile in downtown Shipshewana. With four floors in a beautiful brick building there were many interesting shops, including the most beautiful quilt store I have seen, a store specializing in jigsaw puzzles (I do like puzzles), a candy shop, “Life is Good” T-shirt shop (my favorite t-shirts), toy store and musical instrument shop. They even have an amazing hand carved carousel. We had more fun browsing here than at the famous Shipshewana Flea Market.

Quilt shop at Davis Mercantile, Shipshewana

And now for some musings on lawn care. One of the things I like best about the Midwest are the beautiful manicured lawns. We never saw lawns like this in California, so I was continually amazed by them. I began wondering if it was some kind of civil offense 😊 to not keep a lawn continually mowed. Driving around Ohio and then Indiana, I never saw an unmowed or less than perfect lawn. People have very large front yards and even with all the continual damp weather, residents were out in force to make sure they were trimmed. Below is a shining example of one section of lawn along a driveway next to our Park. This isn’t even the whole lawn, it extends much further than in the photo. How do Midwesterners have time for all this yard work? For this Californian, the question remains.

Hope you enjoyed a look at Indiana’s Amish Country. More to come on this special area in the next blog.

View from our RV site – the rain became tiring, but oh the clouds were a joy

Below, a gallery of pictures of more horses and ponies as you can never have enough (in my opinion).

Exploring the Newest National Park in Indiana

Indiana Dunes National Park

Indiana Dunes began as a National Seashore in 1966, but on February 15, 2019, it became a National Park. This makes a total of 61 National Parks located in 29 states and two territories. I was happy it had become a National Park shortly before we would be visiting Indiana, so we could check off another one on our list. This was the ninth National Park of our full time RV traveling. Located along Lake Michigan, Indiana Dunes is between the industrial cities of Gary and Michigan City, Indiana. It seemed to be the most urban of the national parks we have visited as there was more nearby traffic and the Park is broken up into sections around population and industrial areas.

Mark asked a staff person at one of the visitor centers what is different now that it is a National Park. She replied: “Nothing, except the sign.” This new designation will raise the distinction of the Park and promote it more to the public. Once we checked into the Visitor Center and got our book stamped (with an old stamp that did not reflect the new status) we checked out what the Park offered. Most people seem to come here for the beaches along Lake Michigan. Within the National Park is the Indiana Dunes State Park where the highest dunes can be found and the most favored beaches. There is no fee to enter the National Park, but if one wanted to visit the State Park, a fee is charged which makes for an interesting situation. Since we were there to see the National Park and also figured the State Park would be more crowded, we decided to just visit the National Park sections. A few places I was interested in seeing required taking a ranger guided walk, for example to see the Pinhook Bog with unusual plants. Unfortunately, this walk wasn’t offered the day we visited. I was also intrigued to see the “heron rookery” with a trail listed on their park map. When I asked one of the volunteer rangers, I found it rather amusing when she reported that there really weren’t any herons nesting out there, it was just a name.

View of the Chicago Skyline

We drove the main park road to see a few of the beaches. This was Mark’s first view of Lake Michigan although I had seen the Lake for the first time about four years ago when my sister and I visited the State of Michigan. Did you know that Lake Michigan is the largest lake entirely in the United States? As we stood on the beach we had a distant view of the Chicago skyline which I tried to capture with my long lens. Mark sent a text to family that this was as close as he ever cared to be to Chicago! I would love to spend some time and explore that City. I have only flown in there twice and once during a work related trip spent the night near the airport when our connecting flight was grounded. Sigh, apparently my Driver is not excited to explore Chicago and has been known to say that he doesn’t like the big cities.

Florida Tropical House

The Park has a unique exhibit of five homes from the 1933 World’s Fair called, “A Century of Progress.” For over 70 years they have stood in this Park along Lake Michigan. They were built to demonstrate “modern” architectural design, experimental materials and new technologies. The houses were brought to the dunes by truck and barge after the Fair’s closing in late 1934 and early 1935. They are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and are leased to private individuals or families who are rehabilitating them at no cost to the government. The bright pink house in photo above is called the “Florida Tropical House.” It has become a well known landmark for mariners.

Spiderwort – one of many wildflowers found at Indiana Dunes National Park

I decided to take a little hike on the Dune Ridge Trail to get an idea of the different habitats that can be seen on some of the dunes. This walk turned out to be a bit of a surprise as I wasn’t expecting to see the amount of trees, shrubs and plant life. In some places I felt as if I was walking in a jungle like environment due to the dense foliage.

Dune Ridge Trail
Dune Ridge Trail

Since I thought I would be walking around sandy dune and sparse plant life, I had worn shorter pants and no socks. As I walked, the loop trail became more narrow and the plants more dense. I was fearing poison ivy or ticks as I tried not to brush against anything. In general, tick bites have been my worst fear while outdoor exploring and this place looked like a ripe location. Other than finding a tick on our bed covering one time, we have avoided any tick encounters of the close kind.

Narrow trail on the Dune Ridge walk

The Park reports Indiana Dunes as one of the “most botanically diverse” of all the National Parks with over 1,100 native plant species. I could certainly see the variety on this trail which I am glad I explored, even though I ended up getting lost for awhile.

One of the more interesting species to be seen here is prickly pear cactus, one of the last plants I would expect to find in Northern Indiana near a Great Lake. The last time we saw prickly pear was in the Arizona desert. I saw small clumps of prickly pear along the trail near Long Lake in another part of the Park.

Finding prickly pear cactus in an unlikely location
Lots of water lilies on Long Lake

At West Beach we found some nice dunes with my favorite view the reflection of the dunes in this pond.

Overall, we found Indiana Dunes to be our least favorite National Park of our full time RV travels. Actually, it is the least favorite of the National Parks I have ever seen over the years. I did not think the Park was as attractive or interesting as others. As a Lakeshore, it is not near as impressive as Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore or Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, both in Michigan with stunning scenery. Perhaps if we had spent more time, explored a few more trails or areas, visited the State Park inside the National Park, our impression would have been different. But, there didn’t seem to be as much to see here and the setting did not seem “National Park worthy.” I do understand though the importance of protecting this natural area in a place with encroaching urban population. In spite of these observations, it was still nice to add this Park to our list.

Has anyone visited this new National Park and have some insight to share on your experiences here? Would enjoy reading about them!

Until next time with more on exploring Indiana!

Elkhart, Indiana – RV Capital of the World

Hideout Trailer Factory

When planning our visit to the State of Indiana, we knew we wanted to stay in the Northeastern part of the State, in the area of Elkhart known as the “RV Capital of the World.” But it wasn’t because of this designation that we wanted to come here. We were coming for the Amish Country. We had already visited the Pennsylvania and Ohio Amish areas and really enjoyed them, so of course Indiana with an Amish population as well was also on our to do list. More will be coming in future blogs about our stay here in Amish Country, but this blog will be about RVing.

Inside the factory – one of the first steps is laying the floor

The Elkhart area has a number of RV manufacturers including Thor, Forest River, Winnebago, Jayco, Dutchman and Keystone, to name some of them. We had heard that sometimes the companies give tours of their facilities, so I checked the Keystone website as that is the company that makes our trailer. The website listed days and times of the week when certain RV models are being made and the plant can be toured. On Thursday afternoons a Hideout trailer tour was offered, so after confirming Mark and I headed over to see how they made the trailer we have been living in full time for almost two years. Since no one else showed up, Mark and I had a private tour with a Keystone Company representative.

Hideout trailer build – Holding my safety glasses as they were about to fall off
The walls are up!

We were able to walk down the factory floor and see the different stages of putting a Hideout trailer together. We weren’t allowed to take pictures of every stage of building (trade secrets you know), but at a few different points we got to. This factory makes 24 Hideouts every day and each worker is paid by the piece or trailer completed. The main thing I noticed was how on task all the workers were. There was no one standing around, relaxing, talking or contemplating. They were working hard and fast. This makes sense if you are being paid for each RV completed. Most everything is made on site or nearby except the appliances and furnishings, such as the mattress and cushions.

Attaching the siding

Each worker is responsible for a small section or task, for example in the photos above, the workers are finishing up the aluminum siding and trim. I bet it would be monotonous to put on siding every day over and over. The final task is quality control. The red tape on the trailer shows areas that need to be fixed, like a messy caulk job.

We also checked out the RV Museum and Hall of Fame in Elkhart. This museum displays a few RV’s from the earliest days of the 1920’s and 1930’s to the present.

Much of the building houses hall of fame photos and information regarding leaders in the RV industry. There is also a library for research. Downstairs in one big room is the collection of RV’s from across the years which is what we were interested in seeing. Part of it is set up along a “street” so when you stand on the top landing and look down, you see the RV’s lined along side.

Mark checks out a historic RV on the Museum street

We enjoyed the Museum but the RV’s were a little crowded together which made viewing them difficult. Since the building seemed to have empty space and rooms elsewhere, I wish they would have spread the exhibit out more. Some of the old trailers were open for viewing and it was fun to see what it would have been like to camp in one from so many years ago.

Below is a photo of the interior of a 1939 house trailer and then even a covered wagon model.

In the photo below is purported to be the oldest travel trailer in the world. It was built in 1913 by a Los Angeles carriage maker for a Cal Tech professor and pulled by a Model T Ford.

1913 Travel Trailer

This 1931 Model AA Ford Housecar was named the Tennessee Traveler after it was discovered and restored. Much of the wood and all the hardware are original. The engine even ran the first day after being stored for over 40 years.

Tennessee Traveler – 1931

Mark checks out the tiny Airstream called “Der Kleine Prinz” (smallest prince) as the body is only ten feet long. Built in 1958, it is considered the smallest Airstream ever made and has a shower, refrigerator and heater.

Der Kleine Prinz

A few of the RV’s once belonged to famous people, including pilot Charles Lindbergh and the actress Mae West. Mae’s 1931 Housecar was offered to her by Paramount Studios to get her to leave the Vaudeville circuit and begin to make movies for them. It was used for several years to transport Miss West from her home or hotel to shooting locations.

Mae West’s Housecar
1929 Wiedman Housecar had a fold down bed with a canvas cover

The 1967 Winnebago in the photo below is an example of the first popular assembly line built motor home. It was priced around $5,000 and started the rush for affordable motor home production. Who would have thought that we now park next to models that sell for $200,000 or more on a regular basis.

1967 Winnebago Motor Home

I hope you enjoyed this look at the RV capital of the world – until next time!