Odds and Ends | Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

After two exciting days in Chicago, we decided to play in a lower key today and stayed closer to home. After our morning rituals, we donned our biking gear and headed down the bicycle trails once again south. I kind of doubt that the entire industrial area up here is as biker-friendly as this park area, but they have obviously invested a lot of time and energy into promoting their bicycle paths. We learned at the visitor center that one of the main paths is maintained, at least sometimes, by the local power company. That makes a lot a sense since it appears to be a service road under the power lines. But most of the other trails are well maintained and safe for riding.

So we rode past the train station at least another mile to the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center. This is a combined operation, staffed by employees for the National Park Service as well as the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR). And it takes two government units to run this operation because it really is two different parks. We’ve seen this kind of dual operation before – Redwoods Park in Northern California is the one that comes to mind, but I seem to recall a couple others as well. I think its pretty cool when both the feds and the locals can come together like that to work towards a common conservation effort.

Indiana Dunes State Park was the first park in the area and occupies just a small portion of the beach area and the surrounding dunes and woodland. It is the most developed and has a large campground with electrical hookups. The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore came later and results from a collection of smaller parcels of land. As park battles go, this one was fairly intense pitting a ‘council’ of women against a powerful alliance of industrial interests. The women wanted to conserve the dune ecology, while industry titans, representing especially steel interests in Gary, Indiana, wanted to turn the beach area into industrial uses and build a ‘Port of Indiana’ to serve as a major shipping center. In the end, Senators from Indiana and Illinois were able to negotiate a fairly complex compromise that involved building scaled-back versions of both efforts. The port was indeed built, and occupies portions of the lakeshore right next to the park areas, but is somewhat smaller than originally desired. And the park now protects about 50 miles of sandy beaches as well as the dune areas south of those beaches in sometimes detached units along the rest of the beach stretching up to Michigan City.

We learned all of that at the visitor center, watching the film, talking to rangers, and reading some of the pamphlets we were given there. We’ve identified several promising hikes and also have a special event planned for Mother’s Day, thanks to the National Lakeshore. We are going to begin our explorations of this lakeshore tomorrow and mix it up with a couple more days in Chicago for a combined urban-and-beach experience for this stop – the longest one on our itinerary. So we are not done here yet, by any measure.

After a leisurely ride home, we relaxed for a while and made a lunch of turkey sandwiches and potato chips. And then did what we usually do when at home on an afternoon – took a nap. I think I’ve commented before that napping is one of the great pleasures of getting old. You can’t do that when you are younger, or people think you are lazy. But once you retire, it is kind of expected. I don’t know why it happens exactly, but when you retire, your body clock completely rearranges. I find it impossible to sleep much past six o’clock, and sometimes wake at 5:30 and, unable to go back to sleep, just get up and start the coffee service early. But, on the other end, we find it impossible to stay up much past 8:30. Ok, we might read until 10:00, but we certainly are in bed by 9:00. Why is that? Is it our normal rhythm to maintain those hours and we just muck up the works by maintaining working days that require less sleep? And even if we take a two hour nap in the afternoon, it doesn’t extend the evening hours by much of anything. I find that whole thing a little strange – just what is the ‘natural’ way of doing things?

Anyway, we didn’t wake up until 4:30, which surprised me a bit – guess it was a good nap. But we had groceries to get and so hurriedly dressed and fed the dogs, and headed south again, this time in the car, to the Jewel Osco for ice, firewood, and fresh vegetables. After all the heavy food we’ve eaten the last few days, both of us were hungry for a big heaping salad, full of fresh raw vegetables. So the dinner plan was to grill up some shrimp that we had brought from home, and pile them on top of a big salad.

While relaxing before dinner outside under the awning, an old geezer (older than us) stopped his car and got out to talk to us. He was wearing a DNR hat, and identified himself as a worker at the park. He had some wood for sale and was asking if we needed any. We told him we had just bought some at the grocery store, he said he sold his for a buck less, and so we told him to come back tomorrow and we’d buy some more. Instead of leaving, he managed to entertain us for another thirty minutes, which really messed up our dinner plans. He recounted most of his life story, I think, and used jokes as his vehicle. He was on his third marriage now (she is 18 years his junior). He said the first two died. Horribly, he recounted, his first wife died from eating poisoned mushrooms. We furrowed our brows and said ‘how awful’. But his second wife died from a skull fracture. Which sounded worse. ‘Yeah’ he said ‘she wouldn’t eat her mushrooms…’

Finally, he left and, getting dark, I didn’t have time to grill the shrimp, so I sautéed them in butter – they were good enough. But the salad tasted great – we sure needed some veggies!

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