Sunday, October 17, 2004

Take it easy on the Indiana Turnpike

By Sandra Gurvis
Enquirer contributor

Pokagon State Park: 450 LN 100 Lake James, Angola, IN 46703; (260) 833-2012.
Wild Winds Buffalo Preserve: 6975 Ray Road, Fremont IN 46737; (260) 495-0137.
Satek Winery: 6208 N. Van Guilder Road, Fremont, IN 46737; (260) 495-9463; Web site. Open daily.
Shipshewana: Shipshewana/LaGrange County Convention and Visitors Bureau, (800) 254-8090; Web site.
Riegsecker Marketplace, Blue Gate Theater and Restaurant: 105 Middlebury St., Shipshewana, IN 46565; (888) 447-4725; Web site.
Menno-Hof: 510 S. Van Buren St., Shipshewana, IN 46565; (260) 768-4117; Web site.
Shipshewana Auction and Flea Market: 345 S. Van Buren St.. Shipshewana, IN 46565; (260) 768-4129; Web site.
Das Dutchman Essenhaus: 240 U.S. 20, Middlebury, IN 46540; (800) 455-9471; Web site.
Ruthmere: 302 E. Beardsley Ave., Elkhart, IN 46514; (888) 287-7696;
South Bend Chocolate Co.: 3300 W. Sample St., South Bend, IN 4660; (800) 301-4961; Web site.
College Football Hall of Fame: 111 S. St. Joseph St., South Bend, IN 46601; (800) 440-3263; Web site.
Yellow Brick Road: 109 E. Yellow Brick Road, Chesterton, IN 46304; (219) 926-7048; Web site.
Indiana Dunes: 1100 N. Mineral Springs Road, Porter, IN 46304; (219) 926-7561;
Horseshoe Casino: 777 Casino Center Drive, Hammond, IN 46320; (866) 711-7463; Web site. Open 24 hours.
A trek along the Indiana Turnpike, from northern Ohio to my daughter's apartment in Chicago, started with a buffalo preserve and ended with preserved buffalo - on some of the coins clanging through the cheap slots at a Lake Michigan casino.

My turnpike travels began about 160 miles east of Chicago in rural Steuben County, Ind., home of Pokagon State Park. This popular park on the banks of Lake James boasts a lodge, two beaches, horseback and hiking trails, cross-country skiing and 1,780-foot dual-lane toboggan slide where you can reach speeds of up to 40 miles per hour.

Just down the road is the Wild Winds Buffalo Preserve, a privately owned enterprise of nearly 200 American bison, a lodge and an extremely large selection of American Indian crafts and books, plus canned and frozen buffalo meat.

After touring the Satek Winery, I drove to nearby Shipshewana, Indiana's answer to Amish country. Unlike portions of Ohio where the roads seem clogged with buggies and tourists, the pace here is more understated.

Although I dined alone at the Blue Gate Restaurant and Theater, I felt comfortable. My server and I exchanged stories about hometowns. The show at the adjacent Blue Gate Theater, a Christian venue, was geared toward entertaining the audience rather than preaching the gospel.

Those looking for serious religious history can find it at Menno-Hof, the Mennonite-Amish Interpretive Center. Along with Bibles and artifacts from the early days of the Anabaptist movement - which eventually branched into the Amish, Mennonites and Hutterites - there are full-scale re-creations, such as a dungeon where believers were imprisoned during the Inquisition

The Riegsecker shops, Shipshewana Auction and Flea Market and other stores glimmered with retail promise, although my time was limited. I was fortunate to visit the flea market on a Friday, the day of the horse auction. Both Amish and English (non-Amish) farmers came in droves to the huge, barnlike building, swapping stable gear, saddles and tack, along with dogs, horses and other livestock. Part of the fun of out-of-the-way places is exploring the lifestyles of the rich and locally famous. So it was on to Ruthmere in Elkhart, about a third of the way to Chicago. The Beaux Arts estate was built by the Beardsley family in 1908.

Attractions in South Bend - besides Notre Dame University - include the South Bend Chocolate Co., offering tours, a museum and free samples, and the College Football Hall of Fame.

Next, it was off to find the Wizard at the Oz Fantasy Museum in Chesterton, about an hour from Chicago. Opened in 1978 by Jean Nelson to peddle dolls and accessories, the shop has transformed into a mothership for movie buffs.

Another phenomenon, this time a natural one, is the Indiana Dunes down the road in Porter. These 15,000 acres include nearly 25 miles of beaches along with bogs, wetlands and forests.

By now I was headed toward the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond. The floating Horseshoe has more than 2,000 slot machines, which quickly swallowed my stash of coins. I decided to finish the day at the casino's premier dining spot, Jack Binion's Steakhouse. I dined on steak and seafood amid plush booths and white-linen service.

Unlike Las Vegas, complimentary drinks are verboten here, although players can earn free meals and other perks.

I hardly fit that category, but it seemed an appropriate place to celebrate a pleasant meander that culminated later in the uneventful transfer of a set of dishes and glassware into my daughter's apartment.

Life leads us on many paths - some longer than others.

I hadn't seen my 26-year-old daughter in several months. Since I needed to bring her some housewares, I decided to drive to her apartment in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood. Normally, this would be a quick trip to Indianapolis and a straight shot up Interstate 65, with its neverending Middle American corn fields.

But I opted to take several days on the route less taken, along I-80/90, the Indiana turnpike, which skims the Hoosier state's northern border. To pick up the turnpike near Indiana's northeastern corner, I drove Interstate 75 north to Toledo.

The turnpike route adds about three hours of driving time (and tolls), but for those not in a hurry, the places of interest are many and contrasting: Amish stores, buffalo, the Indiana Dunes, Notre Dame's dome, and, finally, casinos amid the industrial badlands of Chicagoland.

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