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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Indiana Dunes State Park

"Connie, look, the sun!" said Carol as she got up. I had already noted the sunshine and my mood quickly improved. It had been the first sun since being here. I had a hike planned at Indiana Dunes State Park, a 2000-acre park along Lake Michigan that provides the one natural haven between steel mills and power plants. I hike here everytime I come back to this area. The cold blue skies and calm winds meant my hike would be a good one.

A good, but still very cold one. The winter gear I had bought this past summer on-line proved invaluable: my Kayland mountaineer boots, my OR snowboarding pants and my Mammut men's small ski jacket all kept me comfortably warm. Only my nose was cold.

My hike started shortly after 11am after a short visit to the park's old beach house, built early in the 20th century when this part of Indiana was a playground for the Gilded Age. The building's facade is looking worn, and the paint inside is peeling off, but the building still stands as a memory of what this place was surely like when eastern European immigrants, like my paternal grandfather, were lured to the nearby steel mills for decent jobs.
I walked toward the shoreline but a thick layer of iced slush pervented me from reaching the waterline, where white-capped waves splashed ashore. It was best to keep my distance as I wanted to keep my feet dry.

The park road was slick driving in. It had been plowed but not salted. One large, older-model sedan was already stuck over a side rail, victim of a reckless and very embarrassed male driver. There is no admission here in the winter (otherwise I would have started this hike on the park's far eastern perimeter) and I drove to the trail head near the Nature Center, along a short boardwalk where trail #10 begins.

Other cars were already parked here, and two young women got out ahead of me to start a late morning jog. I didn't see any one else along the trail until I got back to near the trail head again.

I hiked mostly trails 10 and 9. Trail #10 is also the "Indian Portage Trail" which follows eastward along the bogs, then turns toward the lake two miles into the trail. It's a very diverse trail and also the longest one in the park. The lakefront was slushy and further up the beach the sand was even iced over. One lone seagull flew nearby and the few people I saw were a few miles west on the beach, perhaps near the old beach house.

I could see the distant Chicago skyline. I climbed up over a sand dune, rested a bit, then continued downhill on Trail #9 back to the trail head, completing a six-mile loop through the forest. I was back at the van at 2. The thermometer registered 28F.

I drove on to Michigan City, photographed the lighthouse, then drove back to Valparaiso. A quick stop at Target to get new windshield wipers proved to take longer than expected as everyone was at Target. I rested an hour at the Barnes and Noble across the street, downloaded my hike photos, and then Erin called. We had arranged a dinner date and chose the TGI Friday's next door.

That proved to be a disappointment. I had a chicken Parmesan pasta dish that was too oily. We sat at a corner table near the bathrooms and I had to flag down a server for soda refills. The bill was a whopping $34 and most of that was for the sodas we had. I am still tempted to fill out the on-line survey to let the chain know I wasn't happy with the food. With all the great locally-owned restaurants in the Region, there is no excuse to eat at a national chain again.

It had dropped down to 18F once we left the restaurant. I stayed overnight at Erin's place, chatting briefly with Kristin who came over with her white German shepherd dog Buddy. I took lots of photos again before Kristin left and Ethan went to bed. Erin's cat chewed on my watchband all night long.

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