Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown trail before me leading wherever I choose.
? Walt Whitman
Lights on! Steps up! Vents closed! Antennas down! Pumps off! And Dania?s finally aboard! Set the odometer to zero! And as the Willie Nelson song says: ?We?re on the road again.? Our plan is a six month journey across the Canadian Prairies to Manitoba and then south to Indiana where we have scheduled a two-day appointment at the Newmar Factory Service Center in Nappanee, Indiana, on Wednesday, September 20th, 2000. We will take the opportunity to visit Amish Country and go on to Kentucky before making our way back home in March.
Leaving Edmonton on September 8, we drove east on Yellowhead Route (Highway 16) to Elk Island National Park and through Vegreville and Vermillion to Lloydminister and into Saskatchewan and the Battlefords (383 km/238 miles). The city of North Battleford and its neighbour, the town of Battleford, are linked by the longest bridge in the province, which spans the North Saskatchewan River. Battleford was the original seat of government for the Northwest Territories from 1876 to 1882 and Fort Battleford National Historic Site, located adjacent to Eiling Kramer Campground where we spent the night, is an old North West Mounted Police post, which was very active in the 1885 North West Rebellion. Interpretive staff describe daily life of those early Mounties and the post?s role during that time period. The Fort is open daily between Victoria Day and Labor Day.
We drove southeast on Yellowhead Route to Saskatoon, south on Highway 11 to Regina, and east on the Trans-Canada Highway to Moosomin (617 km/383 miles) with a strong wind from the northwest gusting to 60 km/h, blowing us along. Most Saskatchewan highways have gravel shoulders and are in fair to very poor condition. At times we slowed to 35 mph, to avoid being shaken apart.
At Moosomin, Saskatchewan, just west of the Manitoba border, we stayed at Fieldstone Campground and RV Park, a picturesque park in aspen woodlands, featuring a man-made lake with a sandy beach.
Then it was east on the Trans-Canada Highway into Manitoba and through Virden, Brandon and Portage la Prairie to Winnipeg (375km/233 miles). Again our gas mileage was improved by the strong, gusty winds blowing us along (10 miles/16 km to the imperial gallon). Manitoba highways are, at best, a slight improvement over those in its neighbouring province to the west. We stayed two nights at Travelers RV Resort, a Coast-to-Coast-membership park, off the Perimeter Highway several miles southeast of Winnipeg.
The Royal Canadian Mint in Winnipeg is considered one of the world?s most modern. It produces both Canadian and foreign coins with a capacity of three billion coins a year! Daily business in Bangladesh, Panama, Ghana, the Bahamas, the Philippines, and Thailand, to name a few, is conducted with coins produced at this plant. Guided tours are conducted only from May through August ($2 per person) but we took a free self-guided version from a viewing gallery where we watched the blanking, rimming, annealing, washing, and coining steps. Coining is the stage in which the blank becomes a recognizable coin.
We spent the rest of the day at the place where Winnipeg?s history began ? The Forks, at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. The rivers were shipping routes for furs, trade goods, and pemmican and the Forks was a strategic ?meeting place? where Aboriginal groups camped to exchange goods and stories. The booming fur trade fostered both friction and cooperation among the Aboriginal hunters, Scottish traders, French entrepreneurs, and Metis. Two rival fur-trading companies, the Hudson Bay Company and the North West Company, built forts here. As the west developed, river travel by canoe and wooden paddle was supplanted by steel rails and steam engines as the major means of transportation and the site eventually became home to the Canadian National Railway service and maintenance shops. As they have for over 6,000 years, people still meet today at the The Forks, now a national historic site occupied by a public market, a sports hall of fame, a children?s museum, and riverside walkways. We took the unique Splash Dash Water Bus, a half-hour water taxi tour along the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, which runs every 10 minutes from May to October, 11 a.m. to sunset ($7 per person, seniors $6).
The next day we entered the US and drove south on I-29 (very good highway) to Grand Forks and Fargo, South Dakota, then over the Red River into Minnesota and east on US10 (mostly fair to good highway) to Perham in the Detroit Lakes area, smack dab in the middle of some of Minnesota?s best scenery (483 km/300 miles). In the midst of Minnesota?s 10,000 beautiful lakes, the Detroit Lakes area encompasses 412 crystal clear, blue lakes within a 25-mile radius. To the northeast are Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge and Itasca State Park, with the headwaters of the Mississippi River. To the west is Buffalo River State Park, with one of the largest tracts of native prairie in the state. Colourful Maplewood State Park and the picturesque country roads of Otter Tail Scenic Byway lie to the south. This state-designated byway includes 150 miles of paved county and state highways with 19 sites and four side trips as it zigzags throughout Otter Tail County, clearly marked with roadside signs that feature an otter popping out of a lake.
To help visitors enjoy the fall foliage, the Detroit Lakes tourism bureau has a fall colour tour brochure, which outlines three routes through the Tamarac refuge and Itasca and Maplewood state parks. With the sumac, birch, ash, and maple starting to change colours, the rainbow of fall foliage was just a week or two away.
We camped at Golden Eagle Vacationland, a Coast to Coast and Resorts Park International (RPI) membership campground, located on Big Pine Lake 25 miles (40 km) southeast of Detroit Lakes. The next day we drove to Mille Lacs Island Resort, a Coast to Coast, RPI, and Adventure Outdoor Resorts (AOR) membership park on Lake Mille Lacs, 90 miles (145 km) northwest of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul. We stayed two nights at the resort ? 50-amp electrical service, swimming pool and protected marina and beach with a dock, canoes and rowboats. Seventeen miles west of the RV park is Mille Lacs Kathio State Park (day-use fee $4, good for 2 days) with 42 miles of trails through a colourful forest of white and black ash, red (Norway) and white pine, tamarack, black spruce, aspen, elm, black cherry, birch, red maple, and oak. Both the Dakota and Obijwa used the supple white ash for making bows, snowshoes, and toboggans and it has also become famous as the wood used to make ?Louisville Slugger? baseball bats. The park?s 100-foot observation tower offers a spectacular view of the entire area and there is a half mile Touch the Earth self-guided loop trail.
The rolling hills of this area are part of a large terminal moraine formed approximately 10,000 years ago when a major glacier stopped its advance south. Much of the park?s natural and cultural history is presented at the Visitor Center in the picnic area.
On Day 8 of our trip we got a taste of cool, sweet Canadian air as winds from the north gust to 30 mph (48 km/h). We drove south on U.S. 169 (good road) to Elk River; east on U.S. 10 to Anoka and Coon Rapids; south on I-35W; east on I-649 (Minneapolis-St. Paul ring road); east on I-94 (rough in places) to the Wisconsin state line and through Menomonie, Eau Claire, Wisconsin Dells, and Baraboo (330 miles/530 km). Then we drove south on U.S. 12 (very rough road) to Sauk City, Middleton, and Madison; and then south on I-39 to Janesville, Beloit, and the Illinois state line. We took the Northwest Tollway ($2 toll) to Rockford; went south on I-39 (very rough in places) to La Salle; and then east on I-80 (recently resurfaced) to Ottawa and Marseilles (218 miles/350 km) where we stayed at Glenwood RV Resort (a Coast to Coast, AOR, and RPI membership campground). This place did not meet our expectations!
On Day 11 we drove east on I-80 to Joliet and the Indiana state line, then through Gary and Chesterton, south on US49 to Valparaiso; east on US30 to Plymouth; north on US31; and east on US6 to Bremen (170 miles/324 km ? all on rough roads), and arrived in Nappanee on September 19. From Edmonton to Nappanee we had traveled 3,203 km/1990 miles. At the Country Table in Nappanee, one of the few restaurants open past 3 p.m., I enjoyed the best pork chops I?ve had in over 40 years.
That was our base for the next few days while we had warranty work done on our MountainAire motorhome, at the Newmar Service Center. Each day our motorhome was taken into the Newmar Service Centre at 6 a.m. and returned to us at 2:30 p.m. This is the standard workday in Amish Country and we took advantage of the time to explore this fascinating area.
Exploring Amish Country
Clip-clop, clip-clop, clip, clop. It?s was a soothing sound, this steady beat of horse hooves on asphalt. And it?s a sound heard often in Amish Country.
Nappanee, in Elkhart County, Indiana, was our homebase and we had questions.
How did Elkhart County become the ?RV Capital of the World?? In 1933, Wilbur Schult went to the World?s Fair and saw a home-made trailer fashioned by Ray Gilkison of Terre Haute. Intrigued by the design and determined to improve it, Schult started his own business in 1935, employing 20 carpenters. The factory produced one trailer per day, and each trailer sold for $198. In 1936, Schult expanded his operation and produced 1,000 trailers that year. Over the years, many additional manufactures sprang up in and around Elkhart County. Today, approximately half of the $10 billion worth of recreational vehicles manufactured in the United States comes from this area.
The Indiana counties of Elkhart and adjacent Lagrange are home to the second largest Amish settlement in the United States. The communities strike what seems to be a reasonable balance between tourism (which provides the Amish with added income through the sale of locally produced crafts, including finely made furniture and quilts) and friendly ? yet separate ? coexistence with the non-Amish society. In our ten-day stay we passed hundreds of farmhouses dotted over the countryside, selling honey, rabbits, antiques, quilts and quilting frames, popcorn, peanut brittle, plants, crafts, oak furniture, baked goods, jam, relish, apples, kitchen cabinets, nuts, egg noodles, cockatiels and lovebirds, and brown eggs. Quite an assortment!
We followed the Heritage Trail through the backroads to Nappanee, Goshen, Middlebury, Shipshewana, and Millersburg, each with its own distinct personality and charm. Sharing the roads with Amish buggies, we marveled at these quiet people of faith who choose to live a simple, uncluttered lifestyle. The carriage protests the fads and fashions of modern transportation and symbolizes the essence of Amish identity: separation, simplicity, frugality, tradition, equality, and humility.
The Amish tradition of separation reaches back as far as 1525 with a Protestant sect known as the Anabaptists in Zurich, Switzerland. Severely persecuted for their strict belief in a church free from state control, Anabaptists withdrew from society at large. Today, Anabaptist is a general term that includes both Old Order Amish (who maintain a separate lifestyle from ?the English?) and Mennonites (their more liberal ?cousins? who follow similar religious traditions, yet often mix freely in contemporary society).
Throughout the area are bakeries and restaurants that serve the wonderful Amish food. Amish Country is also famous for its variety of skilled artisans: furniture making and quilting are widely acclaimed crafts ? and rightly so. The hand-sewn quilts found here are destined to become heirlooms.
Nappanee is a small community with a quaint rural atmosphere. Tourism centres around the large numbers of Old Order Amish who live in the outlying countryside. Just north of town is Borkholder Dutch Village, touted as the nation?s largest antiques and craft mall with over 500 booths of arts, crafts, antiques, gifts, collectibles, and quilts. A weekly antique auction is held every Tuesday.
Amish Acres, Nappanee?s prime attraction, feature an 80-acre Old Order Amish homestead listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can tour the homestead on a buggy ride, or walk the pastoral grounds and explore the various buildings. Amish Acres is also well known for its Round Barn Theatre and adjoining historic barns. A small audio-visual theatre offers two documentary films exploring the history of the Amish. Ask anyone who?s enjoyed a Thresher?s Dinner and they?re bound to groan in both pleasure and pain. The food ? a selection of meats, salads, vegetables, and desserts prepared in the Amish tradition ? is served family style, which basically means huge platters are set on the table in portions meant to feed hungry farmhands.
Goshen is a large college town with an architecturally interesting town square, lorded over by a photogenic Greek Revival-style courthouse. It?s known as the ?Maple City? because great maple trees create lush shade in summer and a spectacular show in autumn. The small octagonal ?police booth? in Courthouse Square has an interesting origin. During the 1920s, gangsters like John Dillinger frightened much of the Midwest. The reign of terror came to an abrupt end in the early 1930s and, by the end of that decade, a new wave of optimism swept the country as recovery from the Great Depression began. In 1939, the Goshen authorities decided to build a fortified structure to protect the two banks at that intersection. It can be said that the Goshen police booth was outdated before it was built, but it stands as a historic monument.
A stop at the Old Bag Factory in Goshen leaves Dania wishing for more hours to shop, shop, shop! The historic Old Bag Factory, built in 1896 as the Cosmo Buttermilk Soap Company, was renovated in 1910 to become the Chase Bag Factory and among the many items produced were mesh bags for onions and potatoes and the tiny strips of paper found in Hershey Kisses. It is now home to artists, specialty shops, and a caf?-bakery. We found quilts, pottery, antiques, stained glass windows, metal sculptures, furniture, clothing, candles, gemstone jewelery, toys, children?s books, herbs and dried flowers, hand-woven textiles, artwork, and gourmet chocolates. And we had the opportunity to communicate with the individual artists and see original works being created.
Middlebury is one of the least tourist-oriented Amish towns, but it is home to Das Dutchman Essenhaus, an Amish-style inn and restaurant complex the size of an airplane hangar with all-you-can-eat fried chicken dinners and large tenderloin sandwiches, plus 25 varieties of pie. It?s an excellent choice for Amish family style cooking. (Cost of dinner is $12.95.) Further information may be obtained at: www.essenhaus.com.
The Deutsch Kase Haus (the Cheese House) located between Middlebury and Shipshewana on County Road 16, is a specialty shop offering home-made cheeses: Colby, Colby Jack, Monterey Jack, Pepper Jack, Yoghurt, Garlic, Horseradish, Swiss, and Amish Swiss. In the mornings you can watch as the cheese is made. This just may be the best cheese I?ve ever tasted!
Shipshewana, home to one of the largest Amish communities in the world, is a charming little town with nearly 75 craft shops. Many items are handcrafted by local artisans. The high-end Riegsecker Marketplace sprawls over two blocks and its 22,000-square-foot Farm House is packed with collectibles, fine crafts, and hardwood furniture, as well as a candy shop, a restaurant, and you can even take a buggy ride. The Shipshewana Craft Barn is filled with more affordable country-themed crafts. The Shipshewana Flea Market and Auction is the largest weekly outdoor flea market in the Midwest. No admission charge and free parking. Check it out at: www.tradingplaceamerica.com.
While in Shipshewana we visited Yoder?s Shopping Centre, a department store, hardware store and grocery store that has expanded from Ora and Grace Yoder?s 1945 dry goods business to a 50,000 square feet trade centre for the Amish and Mennonite populations, as well as other local residents and visitors. We also visited Menno-Hof, the Mennonite-Amish Visitors Centre erected by local Amish and Mennonite builders and volunteers. The structure uses mammoth rough-sawn oak beams fastened together only by knee braces and wooden pegs. This museum uses multi-image presentations that take you on a journey inside the world of the Amish and Mennonite people, and provides a foundation for understanding these people of faith.
An important point to remember when traveling on back-roads in Amish Country: you may find yourself following a buggy. Think of it as an opportunity to slow your pace and enjoy the calm of the country. If you must pass, do so cautiously. On major highways, the Amish drive their buggies on an extra lane on the side of the road, where they also frequently ride bikes. Again, pass cautiously.
The Michiana Mennonite Relief Sale and quilt auction is a yearly event held the fourth Saturday of September at the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds. Three large auctions feature more than 300 quilts, antiques, and new and used items, with proceeds going to the worldwide relief efforts of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). Proceeds from the weekend?s sale raised $572,083 for MCC programs. The quilt auction, always the main attraction of the annual sale, accounted for $167,525. The wonderful smorgasbord of food is always a big draw at the Relief Sale. Our delicious pork tenderloin sandwich was a unique Hoosier snack that?s little known outside the state.
While the carpet was being laid in our motorhome, Newmar put us up in the Victorian Guest House, a bed-and-breakfast housed in a majestic 110-year-old-home built in the Queen Anne style by renowned cabinetmaker Frank Coppes and listed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks. The Victorian Guest House offers six period-decorated guest rooms, each with its own private or semiprivate bath.
For more information on northern Indiana?s Amish Country, contact Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau toll free at (800) 262-8161 or visit their website at www.amishcountry.org.
Finally, our motorhome was ready to go and we were off on the next stage of our trip ? Kentucky and Bluegrass Country.