Gus and I packed up on Wednesday afternoon and headed down I-94 to the Indiana Dunes. I had a family reunion in Ohio scheduled for the weekend and wanted to get past Chicago.
Loading my truck took longer than I expected. I’ve been living out of a hotel room for 2 months. My life is organized into clear Rubbermaid tubs with fliptops, making transport easy if bulky. 9 tubs, 1 mighty squirrel hunter, camping equipment and 11 cases of beer… well, almost 11 cases of beer. I ran out of room. Fortunately, a group of guys and girls in front of the hotel were grilling and graciously helped me relieve myself of a case of beer.
I hit the road for the Dunes at around 4:30, which was the worst possible time. That put me in Milwaukee rush hour towards Racine. I cleared that traffic in time to make Chicago’s late rush hour. What should’ve been a 2 1/2 hour drive took 4 1/2.
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is located in the North part of Indiana along the coast of Lake Michigan. There are several parts of the park, but camping is limited to the Dunewood Campground.
I typically like camping in national parks because they design the layout of camping sites to be in harmony with the surrounding areas. The result are campsites that retain privacy from neighboring sites.
The layout at the Dunewood Campground is no different, and at $15/night ($7 for National Park pass holders) are a bargain. My campsite was setback from the road and backed into a forest. I was able to get my tent setup in low light, and then headed to the neighboring area for dinner.
I took a brief detour to the neighboring lakeshore and took a few shots of a beautiful sunset. I saw tall buildings in the distance, but I’m not certain if they were from Gary or Chicago. Chicago is a pretty fair distance from the area.
I stopped in a gas station to pickup some water and firewood, and to get an idea of where I could find food for dinner. I did checkout the options in the gas station, but wasn’t desperate enough to eat the 2 year old burritos in the frozen case. The clerk told me there was a restaurant a few miles down the road, so I hopped back in the truck and headed East.
I believe you can tell a lot about an area by its billboards, houses, bumper stickers, and the layouts and offerings in the local grocery stores. Local grocery stores have an incredible understanding of the local clientele. The grocery store I visit in Brookfield doesn’t carry Coke Zero, has old fluorescent lights, much older clerks, and more traditional selections of vegetables. It’s definitely not where you go if you are a gourmet, or under the age of 40 (it’s close to me, that about it), but I’ll bet they have at least 4 different digestive fiber aids.
The first telling sign to me about the Indiana Dunes was the surrounding area. Most vacation locales have restaurants and hotels near where the tourists stay. The story nobody talks about is that the housing for the workers, often low-paid, is frequently Spartan at best, and run-down at worst. Look no further than the housing in many parts of Orlando to see how the thousands of housekeepers, groundskeepers, and kitchen staffs at resorts live.
The community surrounding the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore features billboards advertising teen pregnancy, completing high school equivalencies, and other lofty objectives. Beer signs advertise Busch Light 12 packs on sale.
What surprised me was that there were no nearby hotels or restaurants. I arrived at the suggested restaurant. The sign out front read, “Lounge,” in cursive script. One car sat out front in a gravel parking lot. I got the feeling that the Indiana Dunes was a park that was frequented mainly by locals, or people that wouldn’t need to go to a nearby restaurant or stay at a local hotel.
I passed on the lounge cuisine and picked up a container of Jiffy Pop from the gas station on my way back to my site. i remember Jiffy Pop from when I was a kid. We’d use it when we camped and had a great litle snack. I was counting on Jiffy Pop being my dinner for the night, both for Gus and I. In the earlier mentioning packing, I had packed all of MSH’s items in the bottom center part of the bed.
We arrived back at the campsite and I quickly got the fire going. There was an almost mystical sense of the fire, as it rose through the single clearing in the tree canopy. Gus curiously watched as sparks spiraled upward towards the clear, star filled skies. We sat their appreciating the fire for at least 30 minutes before we tried to cook our popcorn. Astute readers caught that I said ‘tried’. To be fair, Jiffy Pop clearly states on the package that you shouldn’t try to cook it over an open campfire. Still, I remember camping with Jiffy Pop.
I removed the paper and held it over the fire with an amazingly short metal handle. My hand started getting extremely hot, but nothing was happening with the popcorn. I held it closer and the oil started to boil inside, but so did the blood in my knuckles.
I finally rigged it so it wasn’t in direct flame, but was propped up so I didn’t have to hold it. At the point where I thought I had it fixed, a hole formed in the bottom of the aluminum and boiling oil shot into the fire, furthering fueling the flame.
I never did get the popcorn to pop, so Gus and I just watched the fire for the night.
My neighbors were quiet that night, but the campsite sits near both a highway and railroad line. I heard trucks and trains roaring by throughout the night. I’m a heavy sleeper, but Gus stayed up the entire night barking at any new sound. I got to sleep around midnight, and was awakened by heavy traffic at 6:30. We packed and were on the road before 7:00.
The park makes an okay overnight campground if you’re driving through the area. It’s certainly better than many places I’ve stayed and a bargain at $15/night. I wouldn’t recommend it for people that are looking for a multiday vacation.