Elkhart Area Heritage Trail
First – Happy Birthday Ken!
Elkhart, Indiana and several surrounding communities have put together a tour guide designed to get people to visit the area. Pretty cool. There is a map of the tour with blow up maps of each town/village. the map shows places of interest, local merchants (more in a bit), artisans, historical spots, etc. The really cool part is that the entire trail is guided on a two disk audio guide that is given free to all who are interested. The trail is about 90 miles long. The audio gives multiple instructions for every turn and is timed so that if one goes the speed limit the instructions are right on time. Between route instructions is a running informational narrative about sites seen, culture (more in a bit), and history. The narrative is also perfectly timed to location. Instructions are also given to where to pause for side trips.
The Trail travels on many small county roads through the largest area of Amish communities in Indiana. Sharing the road with buggies and bicycles is the norm.
Parking lots include hitching rails and bike racks. Amish people everywhere. In stores as merchants, employees, and customers. Dressed alike in typical Amish garb. Women and girls in simple, long dresses in various muted colors. Hair in a bun and covered by white cap thing. Men and boys in dark pants and long sleeved shirts, usually white. Heads covered by hats or, in the case of many boys, gray stocking caps. All are very friendly and easy to speak with. Amish work in stores side by side with “Englanders” and often an Amish farm may be next to that of a contemporary ‘modern’ farm. Sue says it is easy to tell an Amish farm. They are neat and clean. There are no old farm implements, travel trailers, deserted barns, weathered farm houses, etc.
Farming is done by hand and horse. We saw hay being mowed by horse drawn mower. Unlike Newcastle and Granite Bay, when you see horses here in pastures and corrals you know that every one of them is a working horse. They just have a feel and look. They are also all very fit and well cared for.
Sharing roads with buggies can be interesting. Unlike Disneyland there is cleaning up after horses so droppings are a part of road navigation. The buggies try to stay as far right as possible but often one has to patiently follow a buggy for a while until it is safe to pass. We had a unique (for us) experience of driving up to an intersection just as a funeral procession was turning on to the road. One buggy is not difficult to pass. Twenty in a row is a different matter. We followed a while and eventually the road widened to where they all could move over for cars to pass. Roads in Amish country have a unique characteristic. The horses are all shod with metal shoes and the constant buggy travel creates an interesting wear pattern. The right hand third of each lane is worn rough.
The Heritage Trail has a number of quilt gardens and murals along the way. Viewing these was the original primary thing that drew us to this area. (Anything quilt has to be checked out) A quilt garden is flowers of different colors planted in a way to resemble a quilt block. A quilt mural is a quilt block painted on a wall.
While finding a quilt garden located a block off the main road behind an old brick building we stumbled across a very unique and tasty shop located in a corner of a building that looks like it has seen much better days. (Probably very cheap rent. The Amish are known for their thrift.) An ice cream shop unlike any we had ever seen or any of you may ever see. Your ice cream is made to order right in front of your eyes and in less time than it takes to get a hamburger at McDonalds. Their standard menu has over thirty types/blends but you can design your own. The ice cream mix and other ingredients (berries, choc. chips, bananas, cookie dough, …, and flavors) are put in a stainless steel bowl. Everything is mixed together and then quick frozen with liquid nitrogen. The result is smooth, fresh, creamy, and void of any preservative/stabilizer items. Really good!. Do a web search on ‘Rocket Science Ice Cream’.