RoadTrip America

Routes, Planning, & Inspiration for Your North American Road Trip

A Native's Guide to Northwest Indiana, by Mark Skertic & John J. Watkins

Northwest Indiana
When I first saw A Native's Guide to Northwest Indiana on a publisher's book list a few weeks ago, I was intrigued and looked forward to receiving a copy. In my mind's eye, northwest Indiana evoked memories of a fall walk in the Indiana Sand Dunes. I will never forget that color of the sand - almost like brown sugar - on the edge of Lake Michigan, the nearly deserted streets of downtown Gary, and the hustle-bustle of traffic on Interstate 90 just east of Chicago's urban sprawl. The author, Mark Skertic, grew up in Hammond, Indiana, which is a stone's throw from the Illinois border. Some people would consider his home town to be merely a suburb of Chicago, but as I was about to discover -- and I hope you will as well -- this northwest section of Indiana is a treasure trove of cultural and scenic beauty that is worthy of a dedicated road trip to the area.

Skertic, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, defines northwest Indiana as the counties of Lake, Porter, and LaPorte, all of which hug the southern tip of Lake Michigan. For each county, he provides a simple map and some pertinent facts about the naming and establishment of the county and some general information about what can be found there. But the real meat of this book is in the detail he presents about the primary towns and cities in each of the three counties. In succinct fashion, he lists the incorporation dates, population, median age, land area, and nickname for each of the towns. He also provides information about local attractions, events, and restaurants that have a real "insiders" feel.

Throughout the book, Skertic weaves in fascinating historical detail. I didn't know that John Lloyd Wright, son of the more famous Frank, was also an architect who designed buildings in Long Beach, or that he was the inventor of Lincoln Log toys. Places that I want to visit after reading this book would certainly include Rodizio's restaurant, which is located at the famous Meyer's Castle in Dyer. I'd also enjoy the International Culture Festival held every September in Hammond which, according to the author, is a perfect way to experience the rich cultural diversity of the region. Munster, Indiana, would be another "must-stop" for me, in part for the free blues festival held in July, but also for a savory meal at Café Elise, a tiny restaurant in a small shopping center that has earned a reputation as being one of the finest gourmet eateries in the area.

Whiting, also known as "Little City on the Lake," is home to the Hoosier Theatre, a classic movie house that opened in 1924 and still boasts crystal chandeliers, a thirty-two foot screen, and a pipe organ that "thunders before shows." Whiting is also home to the Pierogi Festival where a local boy dresses up each year as a giant Polish dumpling. I am not overly fond of the Wizard of Oz , but there is an event each September that I may have to go see after reading Skertic's descriptions. The "Oz Fantasy Festival" is held in Chesterton, and some 50,000 Oz fans attend. In particular, I would like to see the "Monkey Drop," a variation of the ever popular rubber duck races. In this case, stuffed monkeys are dropped from a hot air balloon onto a yellow brick road where Dorothy's ruby slippers sit. The winner is the person whose monkey lands closest to the slippers.

Skertic also provides detailed information about specialty interests reflected in northwest Indiana. These include recommendations for the best antique stores, the nicest golf courses, the best places to walk on the sand dunes, unique shopping centers, and a rather complete list of live theater and local media outlets. It really is a fun and useful guide, and I heartily recommend it the next time your road trips include travel to the southern end of Lake Michigan.

Mark Sedenquist

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