A Treasure in the Middle of Indiana

My interest in the Canals of Indiana and Ohio have led me to Delphi, IN. This is the “home” of the Erie-Wabash Canal. It is the location of the Canal Park which is right on the canal. It is the only navigable part of the canal that is left.

The park features an interactive museum detailing the history of building and maintaining the canal from 1828 to the 1870’s. Also it describes life in the United States during this period. There are lots of exhibits about living along the canal, what was transported, the different kinds of boats, and the people who worked on them. The museum has a wealth of information, displays, and hands-on activities that kids (and some adults .. ahem) love.

Along with the museum there is a pioneer village that preserves several buildings that would be in a canal town. Alas, they are only open on weekends so I did not get inside, but peeking in the windows proved they are furnished to perfection. Also on weekends they have a real canal boat that you can take rides in.

My education was improved, especially pertaining to Fort Wayne, which is my home base. I’ve lived there for 35 years and I knew it ran through Fort Wayne, but I never knew that the groundbreaking for the Canal was there. And  the opening of it was also there, at the Settlers House, a Summit City landmark.

There are several walking trails along the canal and through Delphi which point out historical sites. They all interconnect to form a trail system of 10 miles. I went to Sunset Point where the Wabash River intersects with Deer Creek. The canal went over the creek here to bypass the river.

I find the lives of the people living on the canal and working on it to be fascinating. Like the fact that sometimes men would flag down a passing boat at suppertime, jump on, eat the meal, and then get off so they wouldn’t have to pay a full fare.  I have developed a “research itch” about canal life. And that can only mean there is  possibly will be  might be a book in the future.

One of the best things about the park is that they have a camping area. With free wifi – bonus! The camp hosts were wonderful. Told me all about the place, and even came over to tell me there would be someone coming in at 11 pm, so that I wouldn’t be worried since I was the only one there at the time.

So if you’re thinking that Indiana doesn’t have much, (besides corn  har har) think again. And go exploring!

 

 

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Underground

Underground in Mammoth Cave National Park

Today I spent two hours wandering through a cave. I have wanted to visit Mammoth Cave for- well forever I think. I remember learning about it in school and it’s been on  my list ever since.

The reason it’s called Mammoth is because it is the longest cave system in the world. 412 miles! Now, this doesn’t mean a looooooong tunnel. No, it’s got several layers of corridors that wind around like a river. Caves are formed by rivers, after all. My tour ( which is one of several different kinds) was two hours long, covering 2 miles. I chose the Historic Tour. Because…history, duh!

The entrance we went in at is the original one, used by tourists for almost 200 years.

You can’t use flash photos inside the cave so I didn’t get a lot of shots.

People wrote their names on the walls and ceilings back in the day. Of course, you can’t touch the walls now.

This was a tube that went up 3 stories. We also crossed a “bottomless” pit but I was concentrating on getting over the bridge so no picture!

Several parts were actually kind of fun. The section called Fat Man’s Misery was so narrow I had to walk sideways to get through. And even short little me had to stoop to get through a few areas.

Ranger Jenna was our guide and she was great. She is trained as a geologist, and told us lot about rock formations and such. But she also knew the history of the cave very well.

The cave was owned by several different private citizens until it became a national park in 1941. One used it for mining saltpeter for gunpowder during the War of 1812. Another was a doctor who built huts in the cave to see if the constant temperature  and air quality would cure tuberculosis. (It didn’t)

Finally the light at the end of the tunnel haha

The museum in the welcome center was fantastic. Lots of facts, history, and nature.

   

It took me over an hour just to go through it. Of course that may be because I’m that person who actually READS the information signs. LOL

Now if you’re thinking of seeing the caves, I would suggest you pick a tour that fits your capabilities. Some are very strenuous and go through hard to navigate areas. One is 4 hours long. They have one for kids wanting to know about spelunking, too. So, something for everybody.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is unique.  It’s a recent addition to the National Park System, 1970’s, and was created in an urban area. In fact, it feels more like a National Forest because there are villages and towns and county roads inside its borders.

Civilization intrudes in many ways, like Highway 271.

Many areas of the park are actually city parks in the Cleveland metropark system. The Cuyahoga Valley lies just south of Cleveland, Ohio. It features the Ohio-Erie Canal and has many museums and historic sites. The one on the history of the canal system is excellent.

Other attractions within the park include golf courses, ski resorts, sustainable farms, horse riding trails, and several inns.

The Visitor Center is an historic site itself. It is in the village of Boston Mills and was a tavern/rest stop for canal boats.

There are several nature centers, too. The one I visited is tucked away in the woods.

I did a little hiking, but as you can see, the weather was not cooperating.

All in all this national park is interesting. And, as a bonus, since it is made up of city parks, there is no entrance fee.

 

Canal Boats and Bicycles

Wandering again, through Ohio, I passed through the town of St. Mary’s. I usually go sailing by it on my way south, but this time I decided to stop and explore. St. Mary’s was one of the stops on the Miami-Erie Canal. The St. Mary’s River runs through the center of town and the canal runs right beside it. Both were used heavily in the 1800’s as trade routes.

The canal has locks in the center of the city and a lovely park has been created there with a history of the era.

      

Here’s how a canal boat looked with the mule pulling it via a long rope. I think you can go onto the boat, but the gate was closed when I was there.

The park also honors war veterans from the area. This bridge has names of vets and it crosses the river.

The canal itself is still in existence for miles through Ohio. Here’s the towpath along the canal where the mules walked. It’s now a scenic walking/biking trail.

       

Then I drove on down into New Bremen. Here I found a fantastic museum,. the Bicycle Museum of America. It has almost 100 bikes from the mid-1800’s to present day. The place is loaded with history and the man running it was extremely knowledgeable. Here are some highlights.

This is a precursor of today’s bicycle. Notice the horse head decoration. It has no pedals, you pushed it along with your feet and coasted.

Early bikes including high-wheelers. Apparently they were not as prevalent during the Victorian years as I thought, as they were very expensive.

This is a Minnie Mouse bike, with a comic strip on the wheels.

Look at the frame on this one.

This is one of the 7 actual bikes used in the movie “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.”

A military bike used in WWII. Complete with gun and ammo.

This one was made in Dayton, Ohio, my hometown. Dayton was an important part of bicycle manufacturing because several companies were headquartered there including Huffy and Schwinn.

As I’ve said before, small towns are wonderful for discovering little known museums. It’s why I use Google maps so much. You can find all kinds of places to explore.

 

 

Ohio Exploring

I often drive south down Highway 33 out of Fort Wayne to get to Interstate 75 to go visit family in Cincinnati. I always knew that 33 continued on past the exit onto the interstate, but I never knew where it went. This time I was going to find out.

It begins at Wapakoneta, OH where the Neil Armstrong museum is located. I didn’t see it this trip because I was there decades ago with a Girl Scout Troop of which I was a leader.

Eventually it goes through Wayne National Forest, the only National Forest in Ohio. Since I do love a good forest, I stopped for the night at a trailhead. It was great because it was the beginning of an OHV trail and had a restroom. I had to look up what OHV stood for. Turns out it’s Off Highway Vehicles, what I always called Off Road. ATV’s, Dune Buggies, Dirt Bikes, and the like. What I found annoying was that they ride at night. There I was trying to enjoy a movie on my DVD player at 1o:00 pm and in comes a trailer full of ATV’s. I finally fell asleep to the sound of racing motors. And they were gone in the morning, so I guess they got some sleep, too.

Stopped at Old Man’s Cave, which you can read about here.

Then I drove on to Athens, Ohio. It’s the home of Ohio University. Lovely little town. It has a bike trail that extends for miles along the Hocking River. And I visited the Kennedy Museum of Art on campus. That’s it at the top of this post. It was built in the mid 1800’s as an insane asylum and used as such until the early 1960’s. The history is that it is located on a farm and the residents were encouraged to do farm work as therapy. The doctors believed being outdoors in the sunshine was good medicine. I agree. Still is!

The main exhibit right now is Navajo blankets. There are about 50 dating from the 1800’s to the present. Some amazing images are woven into these blankets. I learned a lot, since I had no idea that landscapes and scenes of daily living can be hand- woven into a blanket.

  

Then I continued on down Hwy 33 til I got to the Ohio River. Apparently if goes on into West Virginia and ends up at Richmond, VA. I didn’t go that far. I wanted to travel the Scenic Byway roads again that I was on last spring. They follow the Ohio River across the entire state, and continue along the bottom border of Indiana.

I have an affinity for rivers. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like lakes, I enjoy the ocean, but rivers are special. I think it’s because they “travel”, like me. Or maybe it’s because I grew up in cities where rivers played a big part. In Dayton we lived close to the Stillwater River and often went to a park that run along it. And in Michigan I lived in Three Rivers, which had…3 rivers…one of which was a block from our house. I would go back in the woods by the Rocky River when I needed some alone time. And in Fort Wayne, when I had the apartment, I was right next to the St Joseph River and spent many hours wandering the Rivergreenway.

During this journey I experienced the Great American Eclipse. I sat on top of a hill in a wildlife area in another section of Wayne National Forest. I was on the top of a hill in the parking lot of a small country church. Didn’t get dark but the light changed, sort of like everything was pastel. And the wind suddenly stopped right at the moment of totality.  It felt like the temperature changed;  cooler even thought the thermometer didn’t show it. Just different enough to be eerie.

So now I’m heading back to civilization to go mooch off some family for awhile.

Getting My Kicks on Route 66

I had a picnic lunch here, a restored 1950’s gas station.

I recently spent most of a day driving along “The Mother Road.” That’ s what they call Route 66, a now defunct highway that is a legend of Americana.

Route 66 was created in 1926 as a direct route from Chicago to Los Angeles. It was heavily used until the interstates became the faster, more popular way to get across the country. But people who loved the Road still used it until 1985 when the last section was decommissioned by the government. It now is mainly a historical by-way that is not an actual numbered highway.  To drive the whole way you must use roads built later that run alongside the original road, now badly dilapidated and overgrown.  Also many sections are gone entirely and you need to go onto parts of the interstates that replaced it.

I went to a museum in Pontiac, IL that has several rooms full of information.  Exhibits contain items that come from places along the route, including Steak and Shake which began as a Route 66 roadside diner.

          

There are many people that are associated with Route 66. One guy, Bob Waldmire, was known as an advocate for the road. Bob actually grew up living on the route. His parents owned a diner in Springfield, IL. (Side fact: his father is credited as inventing corn dogs.) He watched the cars going off to faraway places  and decided he wanted the adventure, too. He traveled it for 20 years, working as an artist. Many route maps are illustrated by him. He drove a VW bus made into a camper van and was considered an old hippie. (yes, there are others besides me LOL)

Bob was the inspiration for the character “Fillmore”, the VW van,  in the Pixar movie CARS.  You do know that movie is about Route 66 and how the small towns were bypassed by the interstates, right?

I also learned about “walldogs.” These are the people who paint the giant advertisements on the sides of buildings. They worked along Route 66 a lot and, of course, all over the country. This is a fascinating subject that I am thinking about incorporating into the novel I’m writing. Being a walldog is an ideal job for one of the characters. More details will follow in a few days on my writing blog.  

Interestingly, there was nothing at this museum about the TV show, “Route 66, that was popular in the 1960’s. I thought it might be mentioned, but I guess they wanted only factual information. There are other museum along the road and maybe they have something on the show.

All in all, I drove about 80 miles north from Genoa, IL to Joliet. Route 66 actually begins/ends in Chicago, but I didn’t feel like driving in the city. I really want to drive the whole route, but for now, parts of it is all I can manage. But someday…

 

Mackinac Island

 Warning: A boatload of graphics in this post…pun intended.

Mackinac Island is a resort in the Straits of Mackinac, which is between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. It’s right beside (so to speak) the Mackinac Bridge.

The ferry I took went under the bridge before heading out to the island. This guy was going under it at the same time.

The village looks like a nice, quiet place,

      

but during the summer tourists invade by the thousands. I think I saw at least 3 different school groups.

The island has a ton of history. Father Marquette started a Mission for Native Americans. Then the fort was built during the revolutionary war, so there were soldiers living there along with many fur traders. The fur trade became so lucrative that John Jacob Astor built a business on the island. There was a battle during the French and Indiana War, and during the Civil War the fort served as a prison.  Then after the soldiers left for good in the 1890’s, it became a favorite resort. Many summer homes were built, some of which are bed and breakfasts now.

Today it has at least 20 hotels, 30 restaurants and bars, many, many t-shirt and souvenir shops, and several other attractions.

The fort itself is up on the ridge above the town. It is one giant museum. Here are impressions.

          

Every place on the island is beautiful. Even the miniature golf course!

There is a road around the island but no cars are allowed on the island. It’s a nine mile walk to go around it and the most popular mode of transportation is bicycles or horse drawn carriages.

      

I mentioned that the fort is above the town. The island is a huge hill rising out of the water with cliffs all around it. After eating lunch at the Tea Room over looking the harbor,

I walked across the island through the woods from the fort

to get to this, Arch Rock.

Then to get to the road you need to go down….

I didn’t walk all the way around, just enough to get a taste of the scenery.

        

One thing the island is famous for is fudge. However, since I’m on a budget I didn’t think spending $12.00 per pound for candy was a good idea. So I had a cone with ice cream with fudge in it on my way back to the ferry.

If you want a unique place to go on vacation, I suggest Mackinac Island. It is spectacular.