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National Park State Park travel

The Indiana Dunes

The Indiana Dunes, formed by ancient glaciers, has long been a popular summer hangout spot for Northwest Indiana, Chicago, and beyond. Sitting on Lake Michigan’s southern tip, the State Park and nearby recently formed National Park covers miles of lakefront and land inland. Located in Northwest Indiana, the Indiana Dunes stands in stark contrast to the majority of Indiana. The sandy environment and the Dunes’ unique ecosystems differ significantly from the plains, prairies, and the rolling hills of Indiana. It has been a state park for almost a hundred years, and just a few years ago, it became a National Park. Conveniently, there is a train station just down the road from the entry point of the Park. The South Shore Train line runs from Chicago to South Bend. The South Shore stop in Chesterton: The Dune Park Station, is connected to the Park by a trail. It’s a bit of a walk, but it might be convenient for those arriving from Chicago or further east in Indiana. Although it is not far from cities, it still feels like you are removed enough from the rest of the world to relax. It is best known for its long beaches that stretch out into the horizon, and its tall sand dunes that rise behind the beach, although the Park goes way beyond the miles of beachfront.

I had a chance to go to The Indiana Dunes recently. I realized I had forgotten how fun it was to explore the beach and trails. There is a great visitor’s center just down the road from the beach. I stopped there on my way to the Park. It is a good idea to stop there to get a map for the many trails if you plan on hiking. Going down the road, heading to the main gate, you are surrounded on both sides by a thick sea of trees. I followed the road and roundabout to the main parking lot for the Park. It gives you access to the bathhouse, the beach, as well as some trails. On my trip, I was surprised to see how far some people came by their out of state license plates.

The Beach

The beach is what most people think of when they think of The Dunes, and it sees the most visitors by far, with Porter Beach being its best known. The beach and Lake Michigan’s size can easily give the illusion of being at the ocean, as the sand stretches into the horizon and the water disappears out of view. When facing the water, you can see the hazy mirage of skyscrapers rising out of the water to your left. There are several beaches in the area open to visitors. Beyond the beaches are the massive sand dunes, which offer a great vantage point above the beach and into Lake Michigan. The great thing about the beach is how much space there is; it should be easy to find room even on the busy days just by walking down it.

The Dunes and Beyond

The rest of the Park is made up of steep sand dunes, wetlands, and forests. Trees cover much of the Park. It plays host to a diverse range of plant life. There are also a variety of interconnected trails that wind through the sand dunes. There is a sizeable shaded campground on the other side of the Dunes from the beach, making it perfect for RVers. The great thing about the trails is how accessible they are to both the beach and the campground. Much of the trails are sandy hills, giving a great workout, although there are easy-going ones as well. The great thing about how the trails are organized is that you can make a path shorter or longer, depending on which ones you follow. The trails range from just under a mile to over five miles, with varying levels of difficulty. The way the trails loop makes it possible to make your own trail. There are several “mountains” in the area, which are hills over 120 feet tall, including the famous Mount Baldy, known for moving slightly every year. 

Another great spot to see wildlife, or just have a great view is the Dunes Birding Platform. It can be reached by following the roundabout near the Park entrance to the West Parking Lot. Depending on the season, many different species of birds can be seen; however, that is just one benefit of the Platform. It offers a great view of the beach and lake, and on the other side of the Platform has an excellent view of the rolling, grassy hills that dominate that area. There is also the Indiana Dunes Nature Center, just down the road from the beach, and still within the Park.

The Experience

With so much to do, the Indiana Dunes does not have to be a strictly summer trip. Of course, the beach is fun, and the lake offers plenty of boating opportunities, but If you don’t mind the cold, there is stuff to do year-round. When I went, it was too cold to swim, but plenty of people had come to walk the beach, hike the trails, and bring their RVs to camp. If you have your own skis, there are cross-country skiing trails when the snow hits. It is fun to explore around the Park and see what is beyond that hill or down that trail; chances are there will be something for you. For the latest updates about openings, closings, and hours, please visit the official website here before you go: https://www.nps.gov/indu/index.htm.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Museum

It is hard to understate the impact the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and its signature race: The Indianapolis 500, has had on Indiana. It has ingrained itself into Indiana culture as no other event has. For over 100 years, it has held a wide range of events, from hot air balloon races to the iconic Indianapolis […]

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cars museum travel

The Early Ford V-8 Foundation Museum

One of Auburn, Indiana’s great car museums is the Early Ford V-8 Foundation Museum. This museum was my third and final car museum stop of the day, having already been to the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum and the National Automotive and Truck Museum back in town. It is dedicated to Ford Flathead V-8s and the vehicles that were powered by them. It is incredibly well set up; its displays are far beyond what is often seen at a typical car museum. Being a car museum in Auburn, Indiana means there is stiff competition, however, The Early Ford V-8 Foundation Museum holds its own. Early Ford V-8 Foundation Museum is located just outside of Auburn, on the other side of the expressway that hosts the Auburn Fall Classic Collector Car Auction. Part of the building itself is made to look like a set of gears and is a replica of the “Ford Rotunda” used at the 1933 Worlds’ Fair. The Ford Rotunda was a gear-shaped building that held the Ford exhibit at the World’s Fair. On the inside of it, there stood a giant globe showcasing Ford factories and resources around the world. It is not far from RM Auctions, which hosts the famous collector car auction in Auburn.

    The Cars

The beginning of the Museum features some of the many cars powered by the flathead V-8 through the years. They even have a cutaway engine on display. Although it is a slight deviation from the V-8, there is also an impressive Lincoln V-12 on display. What surprised me about the Flathead Ford V-8s was just how long they were made. I had always associated them with the 1930s, but they were used in Fords in the U.S. from 1932 until 1953. For perspective, that is the year the Chevy Corvette debuted, and just two years out from the Ford Thunderbird. Although well before the Flathead V-8, there is even a 1904 Ford Model B there. One of the most elegant cars on display is undoubtedly the burgundy V-12-powered 1937 Lincoln Zephyr coupe.

The 1936 Ford Dealership.

A large section of the Museum is dedicated to a replica of a 1936 Ford dealership, complete with every model of car (and pickup) that Ford offered in 1936. A fact that shocked me was that in 1936 the only engine available in Fords was the Flathead V-8. It speaks to how well it was designed, providing both performance and economy, with fuel economy being critical to potential buyers as the depression dragged on. There is even a stainless steel 1936 Ford there. It was the result of a collaboration between Ford and Allegheny Steel. The car was one of several stainless steel concept Fords made over the years. There is a striking contrast between the classic 30s body style and the shine of stainless steel. Unlike the famous stainless steel sports car the DeLorean, the body of the Ford has a chrome-like shine to it. For one year of cars there is a lot of variety, such as the woodie station wagon and the delivery van. To top it all off, there is a period-correct cash register.

The Speed Shop

On the other side of the building is The Speed Shop. It includes a replica of a vintage Indy Car complete with a seat for a riding mechanic (once required for the Indianapolis 500), a hot rod, an early stock car, and some other unique vehicles. There is even a Turbine-powered Ford tractor. There is a large selection of period-correct aftermarket parts for Flatheads and high-performance Flatheads on display. Since so many Flathead V-8s were made, it naturally found its way into hot rods and race cars, which meant there was a strong demand for performance parts.

The Experience

Although The Early Ford V-8 Foundation Museum is one of several car museums in Auburn, Indiana. It takes its narrow focus and does it incredibly well, from showroom stock on one end to heavy-specialized race cars on the other end. It does not take long to get through, but it is easy to be drawn in, especially at The Speed Shop. It leaves you with an appreciation for the longevity of and how widespread the Flathead V-8 was, from passenger cars to race cars. It is a name synonymous with V-8s, well before the 426 Hemi or the 350 Chevy Small-block. The Flathead V-8 no doubt influenced engines and helped shape the American car culture for years to come. You can check out their website at fordv8foundation.org. You can check out my blogs about two other great car museums here: Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum and the National Automotive and Truck Museum. Have you been to the Museum, or know a car museum or event I should go to next? Let me know in the comments!

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cars museum travel

The National Automotive and Truck Museum

The National Automotive and Truck Museum, an impressive collection of cars and trucks, is located in Auburn, Indiana. It is an unassuming building neatly tucked away behind the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum. It could easily be missed if you were not paying attention. However, not going to The National Automotive and Truck Museum would be doing yourself a major disservice if you are already at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum. It is a separate building, although you can get a Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum/National Automotive and Truck Museum combo ticket if you want. It also includes one of the most valuable American vehicles ever made, but more on that later.

Dodge Tomahawk
The Dodge Tomahawk concept bike. Note the VIper V-10.

Pre-war classics and a unique “barn” find.

Once you get your ticket and leave the gift shop, you’ll come across a room chock-full of die-cast cars representing countless brands and models and a collection of pedal cars. Some of these antique pedal cars are nearly identical to their full-sized counterparts, many of which can be found in the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum across the parking lot. Just pass that room; you will find yourself in a large section filled with early 20th century cars. These cars include a 1935 Cord that goes far beyond what would be considered a typical “barn find.” It was buried for years and only dug up in the 1980s. Despite the effects of about 50 years, pressure, dirt, and water, the body is surprisingly intact, given the circumstances.

A picture of a rare painted DeLorean.
A rare red DeLorean. It was part of a factory test to see how paint would work on the stainless steel body.

The Car Room

Exiting that room, you come upon the main room for the car section. It is filled with an incredible amount of variety, from the massive, iconic GM Futurliner, to the diminutive pre-war Austin 7. There’s the replica of the Essex Wire Shelby Cobra race car. There are also some interesting stories behind some of the cars. The 1981 DeLorean with a red paint job? As per the Museum, it was part of a test to see if the paint would work on the unconventional body. The red stands out as almost every DeLorean is the same unpainted stainless steel. The unassuming 1995 Ford Crown Victoria? It belonged to Hollywood Icon Katherine Hepburn. There’s also the legendary concept bike/quad, the Dodge Tomahawk. It is essentially a four-tire motorcycle powered by a Viper V-10 engine. As of writing, I’ve been to this Museum three times, and they keep the cars in rotation.

A picture of a Futurliner.
The Futurliner, notice the central position of the driver.

The Futurliner

At the far edge of the room sits a 1953 GM Futurliner, one of just a handful made. These trucks, which look like an RV mixed with a semi truck toured the country showcasing new-for-the-time technology. They are roughly the size of a full-size RV or a city bus, and the fact that they don’t have side windows them look even larger. One side of the Futurliner opens to show the display, and lights extend up out of the roof, forming a sort of wordless marque. Interestingly, the driver sits in the middle and very high up. When looking up at the Futurliner from the front, it makes you appreciate just how high up the driver is. The engine sits forward, under the driver. Surprisingly, for a vehicle of that size, it does not have two rear axles common in modern city buses and RVs. Instead, it has eight wheels, two at each corner. The front bumpers follow the round front and back of the Futurliner and blend seamlessly into the sides of it. They also have a display example of the type of straight-6 that powered it. One of these sold at an auction for 4.1 million dollars. For a while, this was the most expensive American vehicle ever sold at an auction. You can learn more about the Futurliner on the website Futurliner.org.

A horse drawn fuel tanker.
A horse drawn fuel tanker.

The Truck Room

The basement floor is the truck section, and it takes up almost every bit of space that the ground-floor car level does. It features over 100 years of personal and commercial trucks and even a land-speed record holder semi-truck that did well north of 200 mph. One of the things that immediately catch your attention is the row of fuel-haulers, in ascending order by age, starting with a horse-drawn one. The horse-drawn fuel-hauler is a perfect wordless metaphor for the transitional era of the early 20th century. Walking through the trucks, I was impressed by just how many early 20th century trucks there were, a chain final drive in place of a driveshaft is not an uncommon sight there. A cool thing about the trucks is that some of them come from the area. There is even a bus that was made in Auburn called a McIntyre. The 1911 model they have is far removed from what would constitute a modern bus: Three rows of seats and not a roof or window in sight, but it did what was made to do. Like the car floor above it, the truck section goes way beyond the Big Three, featuring brands like Studebaker and highlighting early examples of familiar truck brands like International.

An antique truck.

The Experience

One of the great things about The National Automotive and Truck Museum is that you can take as much or as little time as you want. The Museum is divided up into several large rooms, and you don’t have to walk far to see it all, despite the size of the collection. However, time permitting, you may feel like digging deeper, reading the stories of the cars and trucks on their plaques, and checking out more of the extensive Futurliner exhibit. If you find yourself at The Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, the trip across the parking lot to this Museum is a worthwhile one. The Museum truly is a companion to the ACD Museum, as opposed to an afterthought. You can check out the Museum online at natmus.org. Also, you can view my blog about the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum here: https://carsandadventures.wordpress.com/2020/07/10/the-auburn-cord-duesenberg-museum/. I’ll be writing another blog about the final car museum I visited that day: The Early Ford V-8 Foundation Museum. Have you been to The National Automotive and Truck Museum? Let me know in the comments! As always, thanks for checking out my blog!

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cars travel

The Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum

I got the chance to go to the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum in Auburn, Indiana again.  It is one of the most impressive car museums I have visited. The Museum represents Duesenberg, Auburn, and Cord, high-end early 20th-century car brands, who eventually came under the ownership of the same company. It is rare to find a car museum that houses so many cars worth hundreds of thousands, if not millions, but here it is the norm.

The first road going Duesenberg ever made.
A 1921 Duesenburg. It features a custom body designed to accommodate it’s 7 foot tall original owner.

Auburn, Indiana, is a small college town (city to be exact) in the northeast corner of Indiana (almost to Ohio.) Its connection to cars is strong; its nickname is “Home of the Classics” due to the number of car brands it produced. It also plays host to a massive collector car auction held at a designated site just outside of town. Auburn also features several car museums besides the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum. These museums include the National Automotive & Truck Museum, the Early Ford V-8 Foundation Museum, and the International Monster Truck Museum and Hall of Fame.

Auburn car on display at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum.
An Auburn convertible.

The Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum is housed in the company’s original three-story headquarters, which came complete with an Art Deco style showroom. Just standing in the showroom takes you back to the jazz age. There is even period-correct music playing. The showroom features over twenty Auburns, Cords, and Duesenbergs from different times in the company’s history. Although the company did not last long, thanks in part due to the Great Depression, they created some of the most elegant cars of the period, complete with technological innovations that would take decades to reappear. These included superchargers, hideaway headlights, and front-wheel drive. The Duesenbergs stand out in their variety, for not only color but bodies as well. A Duesenberg was bought from the manufacturer as just a motor, a frame, and not much else. A coach-building company was then hired to complete the car. This lead to some astonishing variety. Duesenberg’s are also known for their impressive even by today’s standards performance. A Duesenberg naturally aspirated straight-8 motor produced 265 horsepower, while the supercharged variant put out well over 300. Their performance is a reflection of their history. The Dusenberg race cars did very well on the track. These cars were well received by celebrities. Famed pilot Amelia Earhart owned a Cord, and actor Gary Cooper owned a Duesenberg.

1948 TASCO car.
The Tasco. Note the t-tops.

Aside from the three brands on display in the showroom, there was an exhibit on cars of that era with a large number of cylinders, V-12s, and V-16s. I was particularly impressed by a beautiful V-16 Cadillac on display. Although the large cylinder era did not last long (the exhibit mentioned the increasing performance of the V-8 and lighter-weight cars made them unnecessary), the American V-12 has an interesting, if obscure, footnote in pop culture. In the original version of the icon rockabilly song “Hot Rod Lincoln,” the titular car is powered by a V-12, and not a V-8 like in later versions.

A 1911 Metallurique. An early sports car.
A 1911 Metallurique. This one was used in the 1965 comedy “The Great Race.”

Just past the main hall is a smaller room that features some interesting, non-A.C.D. cars. These included some iconic 50’s cars, a 1911 Metallurique that was featured in the 1965 movie “The Great Race,” and a 1933 Checker Cab. The second level is accessible from the grand staircase in the showroom. It would not look out of place in a historic mansion. The second level features an automotive-themed art gallery and a foot-tall version of the “Spirit of Ecstasy,” the famous hood ornament found on Rolls-Royces.

A replica of an Auburn on display at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum.
A replica of the 1929 Auburn Cabin Speedster. The original was destroyed in the 1929 LA Auto Show fire.

The third floor features more collections of cars and Company offices that look as though they did 80 years ago. There are also miniature clay-mockups of some of Cords. There was a special exhibit on this floor relating to infamous Indiana bank robber John Dillinger, which includes one of his Tommy Guns. There was also an exhibit on cars made in Indiana. In the early 20th century, during the dawn of the car, there were quite a few from Indiana. The 3rd floor also featured one of the most unique one-off cars of the ’40s: the Tasco. What makes this one-off sports car so interesting is not just the aviation-inspired interior and exterior, but its use of a t-top. Roughly 20 years before it appeared on a Corvette.

V-16 Cadillac, part of an exhibit on V-12 and V-16 cars.
A V-16 Cadillac.

This was my third trip to the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, and each time there has been something new. Because of the other car museums nearby, I was able to go to three in one day: The National Automotive and Truck Museum (which is on the property) and the Early Ford V-8 Foundation Museum (which is just across town.) I will be covering both of those museums in upcoming posts. This is the first of three articles I will be writing about car museums in Auburn. If you have been to the Museum or have anything to add, please let me know in the comments! You can visit their website at www.automobilemuseum.org.  

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travel

Elvis Presley’s Graceland

Earlier this year, on my way back to Louisiana, I got a chance to stop at Graceland, the fabled home of Elvis Presley. Located in Memphis, Tennessee, it has inspired more than one hit song and has been a tourist attraction for around 40 years. The area around it was a lot more remote when it was built in the ’30s. Not only have businesses like restaurants grown up around Graceland, but a neighborhood has as well.

The front of Elvis' Graceland, as viewed from the side.
The front of Graceland, still decorated for Christmas.

After getting my ticket and being handed my iPad and earphones that I would use for the tour across the street, I rode the shuttle through the gates and up the massive, circular driveway. The house itself rests on a hill, adding to its mystic. The front of the house has elegant Roman columns. If you thought the driveway looked like it would make a good go-kart track, you aren’t alone. The iPad (with parts of the tour narrated by John Stamos) told us that Elvis used it as such. The house itself is good-sized, especially for the time period it was built, but the rooms themselves are more average-sized. The decoration of the rooms can only be described as extravagant. I went in January, so the front yard and house were still decorated for Christmas. The entrance was lined on both sides with Christmas trees. One of the rooms in the house had a beautiful white Christmas tree, which was very trendy during the 1970s. The dining room looked as if it was set for a Christmas dinner, the table was adorned with plates, and another Christmas tree sat at the far end. The tree was covered in ornaments and draped in tinsel. It had a stocking that read “Elvis.” The 2nd floor is off-limits, out of respect for Elvis and his family’s privacy. The first floor is where he received guests. The tour takes you through gorgeous rooms and into the very finished basement complete with three TVs, and eventually through the legendary jungle room. Like its namesake, the Jungle Room features large amounts of green, both on the ground and ceiling, plus plenty of plants. It is even mentioned by name in the hit song “Walking in Memphis.” In the large, hilly backyard horses graze, the same as when Elvis lived there. The last part of the tour is the small cemetery where Elvis and his parents are buried. It was very beautiful and peaceful. It is fitting that a celebrity who was so accessible to his fans, signing countless autographs, would have hundreds of thousands of visitors to his final resting place decades after his passing. After getting on the bus back to the visitor’s center, I felt like I knew Elvis, like he had me over to his house.

Graceland's dining room table, set for a Christmas dinner, complete with a Christmas tree.
The Dining room, set for a Christmas dinner.

The whole Graceland attraction is massive, besides the house itself. There is a huge museum that goes beyond Elvis, a bar, a steakhouse, an ice cream shop and, a concert arena that frequently plays host to big-name acts. There is a lot to see and do just across the street. Many of Elvis’ cars, boats, motorcycles, and planes are on display as well. The cars alone take up multiple rooms. The planes were impressive to walk through, although you need to buy a separate ticket for it. I had never been in an airplane quite like his 1958 Convair 880 jet. It was interesting to be in an airliner-sized plane that was so personalized. There are many other displays about Elvis, including a detailed exhibit about his time in the military. There was a fascinating display about Sun Records, the groundbreaking record company Elvis was signed to early in his career. The Elvis satellite radio channel also broadcasts from Graceland. There was also an exhibit about celebrities who had been inspired by Elvis and features their clothes or costumes. The extensive list included, among others, Johnny Cash, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and the band KISS. There is a lot to see and do, and it is definitely worth checking out, especially for fans of Elvis.