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Pretend It Has A Better Name

Indiana's Turkey Run State Park is beautiful. So why does it have such a hideous name?

Just try to come up with a worse name. It ain't easy. Maybe "Slug Slither State Park." Or perhaps "Wiggly Pig Forest." Nah... the Piggly Wiggly grocery chain might sue. How about "Grouse Gulch?"

How about anything other than Turkey Run?

Situated in Parke County, Turkey Run occupies both sides of a meandering stretch of Sugar Creek. It is thickly forested, and cut through with dramatic sandstone cliffs. It's a dramatic contrast to most of northern Indiana, a region distinguished mainly by a surfeit of corn and soybeans.

We were looking for a short, cheap vacation, not too far out of Chicago. Our original plan was to head up the western edge of Michigan, but the weather forecast was hideous. With that idea quashed, we opted for something cheaper. We crashed at my sister's place outside Lafayette, and took two days for playing tourist: one day at the wonderful Indianapolis Children's Museum, and one day at Turkey Run.

Let's pretend you wanted a short trip out of Chicago: you could head south on either Interstate 65, toward Indianapolis, or you could cruise the slower but less heavily-trafficked U.S. 41. Unfortunately, you'd need to steel yourself for some boredom: that drive across northern Indiana is dull, dull, dull. Maybe it seems particularly bad to me because I've travelled it so many times. No... that's not it. It really is just dull. It's flat, featureless, and monotonous.

Maybe that is part of what makes Turkey Run so nice. It's a shock: you get mile after mile of flat nothing, and then suddenly you're in the middle of rolling, forested hills, and dramatic stone ravines.

And here's the secret... shhhhh, don't tell too many people, or you'll spoil it for everyone... you have to know when to go. The wonders of nature are considerably less wonderful when you're surrounded by sullen adolescents, dysfunctional parents, and cranky oldsters who just want to get back to the RV. So go at the end of August. Most of Indiana seems to go back to school early, typically a couple weeks before Labor Day. That means that the week before Labor Day, Turkey Run is already deserted. The day we went - a Wednesday - we passed other hikers only rarely, perhaps once or twice an hour. It's not that I'm antisocial, but the beauty of nature is something that is best absorbed in peace and quiet. (OK, maybe it IS that I'm antisocial, but still, I stand by my sentiment.)

Other tips? Prepare to get wet. Some of the best trails run along and through small streambeds. (Actually, how small they are probably depends on how much it has been raining.) The best strategy would be to bring an extra pair of shoes, ideally an old crappy pair of sneakers. Take your socks off and just wear the old shoes on the wet trails; you'll be better able to wade through the creeks without giving a damn about how wet your feet are.

You might see a little wildlife here and there, although it may be mostly the slimy kind: we saw frogs, a couple tiny snakes, and a salamander, along with some cardinals and squirrels.

Granted, this is not quite as cool as coming across, say, a caribou or a black bear, but hey, this is Indiana, and you have to take what you can get. And if it is animals that you really want, you could always pony up a little cash for a short horseback ride through the park. I'm a cheap bastard, so we didn't do that, but it might be fun.

Although I've been to Turkey Run a few different times, I've always gone in the summer. It would definitely be a nice trip in the fall, however: take a look at the pictures here and try to imagine them awash in autumn colors. The park is open all year round, too, and it would be lovely in the snow, as well. That, however, would making hiking very, very difficult.

It's possible to rent cabins inside the park, and there is also a lodge that looks quite nice, complete with a swimming pool. If you were going to spend a couple days in Indiana, it might be a nice place to spend the night before heading over to Indiana's next really nifty, relatively unknown attraction: the Indianapolis Children's Museum.

Simply put, this museum rocks. A friend of mine, in fact, went even though she doesn't have any children. She loved it.

So did I. So did my wife, and so did our kids. We've been lots of museums, including a few specifically for children. This one blows the others away. It's six floors of smart, quirky fun: Dinosaur skeletons. Real mummies. Giant toy trains and dollhouses, playhouses, and a huge old amusement park carousel. Oversized legos and tinkertoys, a funhouse, a massive waterclock, and lots of hands-on activities.

It's clean, the staff is friendly, and the food court is reasonably priced. Admission is reasonable, too: when we went, it was $4 for children, $8 for seniors, and $9.50 for adults.

Child Magazine recently picked the Indianapolis Children's Museum as the best in the nation. They're not going to get any argument from me. It's at 3000 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46208-4716. The phone is 317-334-3322, and the museum's website is at http://www.childrensmuseum.org.

How would I summarize this vacation? Well, I would have rather gone to Asia again, but it would be kinda tough to get there and back for the eighty or ninety bucks that we spent while we were in Indiana. Sugar Creek ain't exactly the Mekong, but that's OK. It was a nice way to spend a couple days, and at no time were we chased by turkeys.

A few more photos can be seen in the Turkey Run section of this site's photo gallery.