Monday, April 6, 2015

Have you ever driven...

...on I-90, the Indiana Toll Road, through Wolf Lake, gazed at all the wind surfers and fishermen and thought to yourself, I'd like to check that out some day? Well, I have -- many times. And I finally got my chance on Saturday.

The lake, which a 1989 article in the Times called "industrial broth," straddles the state line of Illinois and Indiana:

It is not exactly Maui or Baja California or the Columbia River Gorge, all of which lure the bronzed faithful looking for the big ride. But here in the heart of the industrial Midwest, far from the big surf and cobalt-blue horizons of the coast, this is as close as it comes to the endless summer: 400 acres of shallow inland water sandwiched between the steel mills of south Chicago and the steel mills of Hammond. 

High-tension power lines droop from the metal towers skirting the lake. Railroad sidings run along the ragged shoreline, which is lined with chunks of broken concrete, weeds and old tires. 

There were no windsurfers on Saturday (temperatures were still in the fifties), but there were plenty of people fishing along the shore and even a few in boats out on the water. I didn't see as much of it as I would have liked, but I'm sure I'll return when the weather gets warmer.

Turns out I didn't get to Wolf Lake via I-90 as I had planned. (Even with a GPS I can get lost.) Instead, I took I-94 and got off at East 130th Street. South Torrence Avenue was closed so I had to take East 133th Street to the lake.

At first I thought I had wandered into some sort of Communist sanctuary on the Southeast Side. 

Even the grocery store was called -- not Jewel or Mariano's -- but just, generically, FOOD CENTER. Had I ended up through some mysterious time warp in a 1950s Eastern bloc country?

Nope. It was just Hegewisch. (That's pronounced "Hegg-wish" for all you out-of-towners.)

Although, from the looks of it, much hasn't changed since the Cold War:

Hard to believe, but this is still the city of Chicago.

Like a human ping-pong ball, I had gone on three consecutive Saturdays from Morgan Park on the Far Southwest Side, to Rogers Park on the Far North Side, to Hegewisch on the Far Southeast Side. (What's next?)

I finally made it to Wolf Lake and found myself walking at one point along some railroad tracks on one of the many isthmi (the plural of isthmus -- you can look it up) in the lake. (Not advisable.) I asked a fisherman if trains still ran on these tracks. "I don't know," he replied. "It's my first time here."

Oh, well. I managed to negotiate my way back to dry land -- while upsetting a noisy flock of seagulls congregating on the tracks in the process -- and wound up in a half-empty trailer park. (This is while everyone else in America was settling in to watch the Final Four.)

I came upon this ancient monument, dating back to 1946 (it looked like it was from 1846), dedicating the William W. Powers State Recreation Area. By this time, however, the park ranger was driving through and announcing that the facility would soon be closing. It was time for me to go home, but, as I said, I'll be sure to come back when the weather's nicer.

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