Category Archives: Indiana

In Indiana, Brown County is Very Green

brown county state park

There’s not much provided in the form of activities in the Johnson County area of Indiana. You could “just be” like my mother says they were back in the days growing up in the county. They would bowl with their leagues, go swimming and boating on the lake, and read. During the weekends they would drive up to Indianapolis to go dancing and follow the local bands from hotel lounge to hotel lounge. Of course there are local fairs and festivals, but a trip can’t really be planned around those. Fast-forward to the present and not much has changed, the same bowling alley Hi-Way Lanes still stands. There is Rascals, the local go-kart racetrack that is pretty popular, but my mom says that didn’t exist while she grew up. However, about 30 minutes away, depending on traffic, an active paradise can be found at Indiana’s largest state park in Brown County, which opened in 1929.

The park’s rugged hills and hollows are said to resemble the Smoky Mountains and gained the nickname “the little smokies”. There are two entrances into the nearly 16,000 acre park: the North Gatehouse and the West Gatehouse. I recommend the north entrance off highway IND 135 & 46 because you get to pass through a covered brige, which crosses over Salt Creek. A lot of covered bridges are hard to see these days, being torn down or replaced with modern bridges that are more structurally safe.

the covered bridge to the north entrance to the park

The park entrance fee is $5 for in-state visitors and $7 for those out-of-state. Visitors can find plenty of camping and picnic areas around the hills and among the trees that cover the park. For those just exploring the park for the day or afternoon, there are vistas that offer breath-taking views, playgrounds for children and the Nature Center.

The best activities one can do inside the Brown County State Park are hiking and mountain biking. The park offers eight different types of mountain biking trails (which are noted as alphabetical letters on the park map) that range from easy to more difficult, most difficult and extremely difficult. You can connect with the other trails in certain instances. Their length vary from 1.2 miles to 4.1 miles, such as the Schooner Trace. As for hiking, there are about 12 trails (represented by numbers on the park map) ranging from easy to moderate or rugged. None is longer than three miles, unless you combine them just like you can with the mountain bike trails. Some trails can connect with each other like the one my parents and I hiked around Ogle Lake in the Ogle Hollow Nature Preserve.

the giant trees that stand over you

The Preserve is home to a special species of tree. The Yellowwood are rare all across Indiana but seem to prosper in Ogle Hollow, which was dedicated in 1970 as a preserve. It is classified as a mesic upland forest because of its medium moisture of soil, which is drier on the slopes and wetter in the hollows.

We started on Trail 4, which is a moderate 1.25 mile path that descends through bush and a forest of all sorts of trees with thick and thin trunks. Their branches reach out at all angles interweaving with each other to create a green canopy overhead. This creates a cool atmosphere with plenty of shade. A haziness brought about by a mixture of humidity and patches of sunlight breaking through the clusters of leaves make you feel like your in a whole other realm.

The trail ends with a view of the lake but we continued forward and met the start of Trail 7, which is a 1.5 mile hike that loops around Ogle Lake at a moderate level. It takes you over slopes, across wooden plank bridges, and up and down wooden stairs over ravines.

ogle lake

People are allowed to fish in the designated areas off the trail. After you circle the lake, the trail re-connects with Trail 4, eventually turning into the rugged Trail 5. There are two steep climbs on stairs that will get your heart racing and lungs pumping, but should be expected to get you back up the hill you descended earlier. When you make your way out of the lush forest you’ll realize you made a complete 3.5 mile circle from your starting point.

the fire tower

We finished our visit to Brown County State Park with a climb to the top of one of the few remaining Fire Towers for a panoramic view of the park. The actual cabin at the top was locked and we were unable to get in, but the view from the highest point was still worth the scary climb up the steps that got smaller and smaller with each turn.

Overall, Brown County is a popular spot for tourists, especially the shopping village in Nashville, Indiana, but the vastness of the State Park will make you feel as if you are getting to see a remote and untouched part of Indiana.

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Ditch the main road, the backcountry is where it’s at

a water tower

Roughly 25 miles south of Indianapolis is the small city of Franklin where my mom spent her childhood. State Highway 135 passes through Greenwood, where my Grandma lives, and Whiteland, where my Aunt and her family live right inside the city limits, before entering Franklin.

The welcome sign is located directly across from my aunt’s neighborhood on the 135, which is the one main road that all three cities reside along. Within 10 minutes of driving along the highway, you’ve pretty much visited all three of these little cities.

the road to my mother's childhood home

It’s not until you turn off the major interstate and get on the backcountry roads that you see the vast expanse of farmlands that are signature to the central and southern regions of Indiana. The northern portion is more industrial with factories and production plants. The green hills seem to roll on forever until the corn fields pop up in shades of green, brown and yellow, depending on the time of season. Clusters of assorted trees such as oak, pine and willow are interspersed among the farms and houses. They reach taller than the houses and silos.

the house where my mother grew up

Every mile or so a farm or house will appear within a hundred feet of the bumpy, country road. My mom’s old house is located on farmland surrounded by fields. It used to have white aluminum siding but has since been painted a yellow that is lighter than harvested golden corn. Her dad rented the house for only $65 a month from an artist across the street who owned all the farming property.

A little farther down, the street curves and crosses a creek. We wanted to explore the area and pulled into the parking lot of a country corner store that is still open for businesses since the days when my mom would stop in to buy wax bottles filled with juice for no more than 10 cents. She would bite off the top and chew the bottle because the juice would seep into the wax. She said kids would chew it until the flavor was gone, just like gum. My dad and I bought a package of sunflower seeds and asked if we could climb down to the creek.

the corner country store

The man at the register warned us to watch out for rat snakes, but our sense of adventure drowned out any concern of danger. We slipped and slid down the brushy hill and reached the water with no snakebites.

My dad kept insisting I watch out for poison ivy, but I haven’t been itching yet.

exploring the creek

I walked in up to my calves and it was cool enough to be refreshing from the heat and humidity. A couple of stray dogs heard us and started barking, eventually strutting toward us from the backyard of a nearby home. After a quick sniff they left us alone. A pair of kayakers paddled on by while we relaxed.

The sun began beating down on us so we climbed back up the hill toward the car where we immediately turned on the air-conditioning and regretfully headed back into the hustle-and-bustle of the town.

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Hand-sized Hamburgers & Super-sized Sunsets

Once your lungs get used to the thick, humid air and your ears get used to the buzzing sound of cicadas in trees, you can start to enjoy all that Indiana has to offer the casual traveler.

The Hoosier State’s capital city of Indianapolis

is known as the “Crossroads of America.”

My first day of this trip was spent eating at the places “you must eat at” when in the Mid-West and traveling back through my mother’s memories. There are restaurants and fast-food places that don’t exist on the Western part of the country such as Hardees (think Carls Jr.) , Steak N Shake and Bob Evans. However, the most discussed by everyone who grew up here or, in my case, whose mom grew up in Indiana is a little well-known place called White Castle.

It is a U.S. fast-food chain that was the   first to focus on the production of hamburgers. It’s reputation grew larger than the size of its hamburgers, which are smaller than the palm of your hand and can be eaten in two to three bites.

The ingredients are basic:

100% beef patty

Diced, tasty onions

Soft, white bread buns

Dill pickle slice

The menu is basic, using the number system for a meal that comes complete with a side of fries and a drink. An individual hamburger costs less than $0.50. Most of the meals come with either four hamburgers or two, depending on the type, such as beef, chicken or pulled pork.

For the really big fans, they can order the bagged or boxed set of a large quantity of White Castle, and don’t be ashamed if you’re one of them. They are quite the popular food item. My mom actually ordered a box the night she flew back to Arizona and they were still warm off the airplane and scarfed down on the drive home by an eager husband and kids from what I recall some years back. White Castle truly becomes a tradition for families whether it is a weekly visit or at least eaten at once during a trip.

Later that evening, while driving down the one road that goes through downtown Franklin and into farm country, where my mother’s childhood house still stands right off the rugged, bumpy pavement, the sun began setting. Our windows were rolled down to let the chill, sticky air play with our hair during the orchestra of buzzing performed by the cicadas and the trees became silhouettes against a backdrop of bright orange and pink haze.

The Mid-West’s landscape can be more appreciated at night because its industrious appearance is taken back to its earlier days. The roads are empty except for the occasional headlights seen far off down the path before you. Individual lights shine brightly in the front windows of homes barricaded by large trees and fireflies are taken for a ride on the cool, breeze over cornfields.

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