2016-10-20.Indiana Dunes State Park
Note to self- whenever possible, avoid I-80 around Chicago. Face it, the Chicago area, which includes that portion of Indiana bordering the Lake Michigan shoreline, is one of the largest population centers in the country and so....all of the roads are heavily traveled by trucks and cars whizzing by despite lanes narrowed by construction. And, it really doesn’t matter what time of day you travel because we avoid rush hour times and it is STILL a hassle. That said, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which includes Indiana Dunes State Park is really a spot that should not be missed. Because of the shape of Lake Michigan and the location of Indiana Dunes, the wind, waves and currents are particularly fierce and while we were there, this was definitely the case. It was easy to see how the winds could create dunes that approach 200 feet high. But, unlike the dunes in the mountains out west and along the coastlines, these dunes are covered by a hardwood forest with steep sides covered by a thick understory. The trees are just starting to turn red, gold and orange; a nice welcome home. When we were there, the winds were about 40 mph and it was cold and a little rainy. The rain held off enough for us to take the 3 Dune Challenge that involved a circular hike up the three highest dunes; Jackson, Tom and Holden. It doesn’t sound like anything strenuous because, after all, the dunes are only 173, 192 and 180 feet high respectively. Of course, you do have to go up and then down and then up again but what was so demanding and strenuous was the fact that each dune had a slope incline of up to 43 degrees. To put that in perspective, picture driving a mountain highway in Colorado with a long incline or decline. We have been up and down many of these highways and the highest incline or decline on any of them was 13 degrees. I’m sure there are others out there with greater degree of slope but frankly, I doubt there are any US highways even close to 43 degrees. So, the hike was step after step after step up and then down and up again, step after step! Mt. Tom has wooden stairs going up the mountain though Roadie preferred the sand route up. He was in his glory, leaping and burrowing in the dunes with ears back and at full speed. It was fun to watch him frolic. Thankfully, it was cold and windy because we were both sweating by the end of the hike. We also walked out to the Lake Michigan beach; about ½ mile from the campground, where we braved the 40 mph winds that were scouring the shoreline and whipping sand in our faces. The waves rivaled any we have seen on any coast, including the Pacific and Chicago seemed to float above the frothing waves and under the gloomy skies like Atlantis rising. Really cool and moody and breathtaking. And seriously impressive.
Indiana Dunes State Park is also a great place to camp. The sites all have concrete pads for the RV and are paved double-wide to accommodate the vehicle as well. Not all are long enough for us but most were and our site, 008, was clear enough to get satellite TV reception. Water and a dump station were available but there was no water or sewer hookup at the site. Still, a really nice campground and we would definitely go again though I would like to check out the National Lakeshore campground because we would get a discount with our Senior Access National Parks pass. And, while we are at the “coming back” part, we would definitely go back to the Northside Diner in Chesterton, Indiana, a lovely old railroad town. The diner was immaculate, beautifully decorated in rock and roll memorabilia and the food was awesome. We had breakfast and their biscuits and gravy was amazing and, the service was awesome as well. Needless to say, biscuits and gravy are causing an increase in my waistline but, worth it! The diner was small and located about as close to the railroad tracks as possible without touching and every few minutes another freight train raced by; sometimes one in each direction. After going to the Bailey railyard in Nebraska, we had a greater appreciation of what it takes to direct so many trains to so many locations and the kind of freight traffic we have seen across the west and Midwest is something we don’t see in Doylestown. The folks in these towns don’t even hear the trains anymore because they are so ingrained into the daily life.
So, if you are heading west along I-80, go north a little onto I-94 and visit Indiana Dunes.