My wife, our 6-year-old daughter and I all kept exclaiming "Wow!" last month as we rolled into Brown County State Park near Nashville, Ind., for the first time.
Our road-weary eyes were greeted by the sight of heavily forested hills and wide-open vistas that were often unmarred by buildings, a landscape that would be our home for two nights during a stay at the state park's Abe Martin Lodge.
We had planned to try one of the many rustic cabins that are tucked away in the surrounding woods, but ended up opting to stay within the lodge. This move put us close to one of our main destinations - the lodge's 12,000-square-foot indoor water park.
After settling into our room for the night, we spent much of the following day swooshing down the water slide and floating on foam swimming noodles in the "lazy river" water channel. This channel also offers a not-so-lazy workout if you swim against the current.
Swimmers can move from the slide, to the channel, to a children's wading pool with splashing fountains, to a deeper pool with volleyball and basketball nets all without leaving the water. There is also an adjacent whirlpool spa.
That night, we relaxed alongside other guests around the campfire pit on the lodge's sloping backyard. Our 9-month-old son was mesmerized as he sat on our laps and watched the flickering flames of his first campfire.
I later went exploring within the lodge's original 1932 building and its annex, which house a total of 84 rooms. I found a well-stocked game room, an exhibit about the history of the lodge and Brown County State Park and an exhibit about the lodge's namesake.
Abe Martin is a comic strip character that artist/writer Kin Hubbard created from 1905 to 1930 for The Indianapolis News, and for many other newspapers via syndication. This rustic character made his common-sense quips from a setting in Brown County.
The interior of the lodge is decorated with images of home-spun Abe Martin. The surrounding cabins are named after his comic strip friends, such as Stew Nugent, Tawney Apple, Pinkey Kerr and Constable Newt Plum.
We started our final morning at Abe Martin's lodge with a breakfast buffet at the site's Little Gem Restaurant, which serves up breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.
This restaurant is a great place to recharge during a busy vacation, especially when accompanied by relaxing visits to the lodge's adjacent inner courtyard or the nearby outdoor veranda.
Before departing the lodge, we stopped by the Miss Fern Moots Gift Shop, named after one of Abe Martin's other friends. There, we purchased several souvenirs from among the shop's stock of Indiana-made crafts and outdoor-related merchandise.
With our purchases in tow, we took a scenic drive on the winding roads of 15,776-acre Brown County State Park, the largest state park in Indiana. This park, which opened in 1929, is home to two lakes and more than 100 miles of walking, mountain biking and horse-riding trails.
One of our first stops was the West Lookout Tower, built along with many other structures at the state park by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. This two-story tower is made of logs and stone, and includes a picnic site upstairs.
At the insistence of our daughter, we then visited the park's 100-foot-tall fire watch tower. This structure sits on Weed Patch Hill at an elevation of 1,058 feet, the second highest elevation in Indiana.
My wife and daughter bravely climbed to the top of the tower's progressively narrowing staircase - a staircase that at its pinnacle will hold one to two people. I'm not a fan of heights, so I elected to stay with our baby and cheer them on from ground level.
On the way out through the state park's north entrance, we drove through a double covered bridge that is the only one of its kind in Indiana. This bridge was built in 1804 and moved to Brown County in 1838, making it the oldest covered bridge in the state.
We reluctantly left while carrying our souvenirs, good memories and some future road trip ideas with us.
The staff at Abe Martin Lodge was kind enough to let us tour one of the site's furnished family cabins, which sleep up to eight and have full kitchens. The family cabins, like the lodge itself, are open year round.
These cabins often require booking up to a year in advance, especially if one wishes to stay there when fall foliage is at its most colorful.
We soon brainstormed about staying in a family cabin during a future trip that might include hiking, guided horse riding, zip lining at a nearby destination and another visit to the indoor water park. Our first visit to Brown County State Park and the lodge will likely not be our last.
This column and previous entries in the series can also be read at www.facebook.com/RobStroud.DayTripper.
Rob Stroud is a staff writer for the JG-TC. Contact him at email@example.com or 238-6861.