For our final official South Bend adventure club trip, Kerry and I chose Turkey Run and Shades (in our opinion the best state parks in Indiana). Despite the warnings of thunderstorms, ten adventurers met up in town and headed to Indiana’s canyon country. A lot of people scoff at the idea of there being natural beauty and world class hiking trails in the Hoosier state. Those people have never been to Turkey Run and Shades.
We spent the weekend on the very rugged and very flooded trails. Although there were storms, ankle-deep muddy puddles and freezing river crossings, there was also a fancy lodge with free coffee, a warm chili dinner, a campfire, and good company. And by Sunday, the storm had passed and the warm sun was shining. Areas covered include Rocky Hollow, Falls Canyon, Boulder Canyon, Devil’s Backbone, Prophetstown Native American village, and a historic farm.
This trip was a good reminder to always ignore the forecast. Put on a poncho and get out there. Life is too much fun to wait for the storm to pass.
This weekend, as usual, we tested our endurance and explored more of Indiana. Our journey began Friday night when we drove to the town of Muncie. There was a frigidly cold rain that was expected to last all night, so we reassessed our plans to camp. Instead we ended up couch surfing at a historic house from 1890 with a couple of gracious hosts. If you still don’t know about the website couchsurfing, do yourself a favor; get on there right now and make an account. I’ve lost track of all of the great experiences I’ve had with couchsurfing and it can make trips way cheaper. We were given an entire bedroom with a king sized bed and a view (for free of course).
We woke up before the sunrise to drive to Mounds State Park and prepare for the DINO race we had come to do. DINO (Do INdiana Off-road) is a group that runs a series of trail races across the state. The registration money goes towards trail maintenance and it’s a fun way to stay in shape and see some parks. Due to the previously mentioned rain, the trails were muddy and messy, but we charged onward undaunted. Kerry ran the 15k (winning 1st in her age group despite losing her shoes six times!) while Tim and I ran the 5k. By the end of the race, the sun was out and the day was beautiful. We were joined by two more club members and went on a hike through Mounds State Park. The park gets its name from the large earthen hills that were built by Hopewell natives thousands of years ago. Their positions line up with the sunset during the summer and winter solstices, making them ideal for predicting the timing of seasonal changes. We saw several and they were pretty amazing. Evidently, many of these mounds could end up underwater by the proposed construction of a dam which you should be opposed to – see more details here. After our hike, we set up tents at the campground. That night we had a blazing fire on which we cooked a big batch of vegetarian chili. The night was cold, but survivable.
Sunday morning we packed up and headed to our final stop, Ouabache State Park. At Ouabache we went on a 3-mile hike. Highlights along the way included a 100-foot fire tower and grazing bison. Long ago bison were abundant in Indiana until they were exterminated by obnoxious European colonists. This small herd was introduced by park staff to re-establish the original grazing regime and give visitors a glimpse of the Indiana that once was. We had fun watching them munch on grass and wallow in the mud. Finally, satisfied with our explorations (and out of weekend) we returned to South Bend.
A day at the beach for fun in the sun may sound completely ridiculous this time of the year. But ice is a strange thing. It can be beautiful and create jaw-dropping formations. It can transform a place that you’ve visited a hundred times into an alien world. It’s certainly worth donning a jacket and driving an hour. So this Saturday, 17 people (and 1 husky) from the club got together for a day of ice-watching. We started out by driving to Tiscornia Park in St. Joseph, MI. Just across the river from Silver Beach, this park is usually less crowded and has access to the lighthouse pier. We walked out (careful not to slip) to the far lighthouse, which was completely covered in ice and looked like an monstrous creature rising from the frozen lake.
From there, we grabbed some sandwiches at Baguette de France, a cute little shop also in St. Joseph. The food was tasty, fast, and cheap.
Finally, we moved on to Grand Mere State Park. We hiked a 3.3-mile loop that took us out onto the beach and along a ridge line (part of a parabolic dune). The snow-covered trails were a challenge, but we plowed through.
It takes a bit more will power for most people to get outside these days, but its rewarding. And if all 17 of us did it, then so can you. There are sights to see that aren’t going to be there in the spring, so now is your chance. Take it.
Safety tip: It can be dangerous to walk out onto the frozen lake. It isn’t always as solid as you think and hills can have pockets of air that collapse from your weight. People die out there every single year. That isn’t a reason not to go, just stay safely on solid ground. Also bring hiking or skiing poles to avoid slipping.
The trails are still covered with snow. Cross-country skiing is pretty much the best way to pass the time while staying active through these cold, wintry days. We were able to get an impressive total of 18 people (not all at once, but people came and went throughout the day) out for a trip at Madeline Bertrand County Park this Saturday. We had a mix of experience levels, but it didn’t take too long for the newbies to catch up. We skied the green loop once and the yellow loop twice, while various sub-groups split off to ski more or fewer miles than the main group. Snow conditions were perfect and an unusual weekend warm front made the air temperature tolerable. Once we had our fill of the trails, we headed to Mango Cafe for a feast of delicious Venezuelan arepas, empanadas, fried yucca, plantains, and other various fried, cheese-filled creations.
The Madeline Bertrand/St. Joseph ski trails, which are accessible from either of those parks, are well groomed, pretty entertaining, and a very short drive from town. They rent out skis and have a cozy warming lodge with a fire place and bird-watching window.
Last week’s snow storm may have cut our Shakamak cabin party and hike short, but it brought with it opportunities for more fun. Madeline Bertrand County Park opened for night cross-country skiing (lit by tiki torches) on Wednesday. Victor couldn’t wait until the weekend and led a club trip that very night. Saturday morning we met up again to hit the trails at Love Creek County Park. Love Creek has some of the best cross-country skiing around including some nice hills and a comfy nature center. We had a group of 9 total with some beginners, so we took it slow for a while and let them get caught up. After a couple loops in the morning, we ate lunch in the nature center. We were psyched for some afternoon skiing, but found out the trails were closed on account of armed gunmen wandering in the park. We built a snowman while waiting for the police to arrival. An hour and a half later, the gunmen had been identified as teenagers illegally hunting and we were cleared to get back on the trails. We did another couple loops, including the most advanced section and headed back home as the park was closing. We pulled into town just in time for another night skiing event, also posted by Victor, at St. Patrick’s County Park. This consisted of a candle-lit trail to the Manion cabin, at which we were treated to a campfire, s’mores, and hotdogs. 15ish people from the club attended. Some of the group blazed their own trails in the dark into Madeline Bertrand trails (these parks are adjacent and accessible from each other). We left St. Pat’s as they were also closing at 9:30. To cap off the night, we went down to Paletería y Nevería for some elotes and yogurty treats.
Madeline Bertrand, St. Patrick’s, and Love Creek all rent skis and are great places to ski, even for complete beginners. Check out their websites for snow conditions, schedules, and prices. I recommend going when you have the chance and not putting it off. You would be surprised how fast a warm rain shower can come through and totally wreck the perfect conditions.
The frigid cold of mid-winter Michiana brings some different challenges for adventurers, but it also brings different opportunities. One of my favorite go-to winter activities is caving since temperatures underground stay at a comfortable 53 degrees year-round. After having taken a small group of experienced cavers to scout out Sullivan Cave a few weeks ago, we were ready to send in the whole gang. Friday night, 15 club members caravaned down to Shakamak State Park, our base of operations for the weekend. Another challenge of winter is that camping just plain sucks (in my opinion). In the past we’ve used couchsurfing.org to find free lodging, but our group has grown too big for that. Luckily, Shakamak has affordable 22-person cottages. We piled in and had a warm weekend of sleep for a reasonable $15 per person.
Saturday morning we drove to Sullivan Cave outside of Bedford. Exploring the cave went smoothly for the most part. We got in and immediately walked down the 2000 ft ‘back breaker’ passage, a walkway about 4 ft tall that requires you to hunch over in the most awkward way possible. Next it was a tight squeeze crawl to the Mountain Room, an impressive space that literally contains an underground mountain of collapsed rubble. We climbed to the top, then back down and continued. We took a long passage through a river (only up to our knees) to the Quarry Room. This room is full of bus-sized pieces of rock, fallen from the ceiling long ago and now available for us to climb on. At that point we turned back to begin our exit of the cave. On the way out, half of the party briefly got separated and lost, but were found pretty quickly. We spent about five hours total underground and had a pretty great time.
After making it back to the surface, we returned to the cabin and feasted on our potluck dinner, which included a cornucopia of amazing dishes. As our party heated up, things quickly progressed to playing rounds of the game dizzy bat, which quickly progressed to not playing dizzy bat when one person almost ended up vomiting. Later that night, we got word that a super massive snow storm was moving in and would probably make travel on Sunday impossible. About half of the group decided they couldn’t risk missing their work obligations, packed up, and headed back to town that night. The other half decided to ride out the storm and leave in the morning. Our Sunday hiking plans were cut short by weather, but everyone made it home safe.
This weekend a group of intrepid adventurers headed down to cave country in southern Indiana to explore yet another cave system. Caves are confusing and we are notorious for getting lost in them. In an attempt to be safer and more responsible trip leaders, we decided to take a small band of experienced cavers to scout it out. Five of us drove to Bloomington and met up with Andy, a friend from another adventure club. We couch surfed with Dave, another friend from a previous caving trip. The six of us squeezed onto the floor, happy to not be camping in sub-zero temperatures.
Saturday morning, after a pit stop at Crescent Donuts, we drove to the cave. There we met Joy and Dave, two experienced cavers that had been in Sullivans many times. They helped us navigate through the many twists, turns, and passages. Overall, there was less crawling than previous caves we’ve been to, but lots of awkward bending over and lots of water. We were in the cave for about five hours before we exited into the freezing open air, completely drenched. Satisfied with our mission, we headed out for other fun.
We went to the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center where we marveled at the ornate buildings and shrines and got a mini tour from one of the staff members. Feeling enightened, we went back into town to Turkuaz for delicious Turkish cuisine while sitting on a pile of lavish pillows fit only for a sultan. We crashed again at Dave’s house.
Sunday morning, we stopped at McCormick’s Creek State Park for some precarious hiking on the frozen river before finally heading back to South Bend.
This trip was in preparation for an upcoming trip, also to Sullivan’s Cave that will be open to beginners. If you’re interested in trying out caving, sign up on our facebook event.