NBN goes to Indiana

NBN goes to Indiana

For 25 hours, we escaped. For a little over a single day, Caroline and Tanner had the chance to leave Evanston and head to the lakeshores of Indiana, making our way by train. Our journey took many twists and turns, including walking in darkness to the wrong campground and ending up miles from where we planned on going. But that never slowed us down. Below, we share our experience, through words, sounds, images, and video.

This project was made possible by the NBN Alumni Special Features Grant*, which was funded by the generous donations of NBN alumni.

Our trip by the hours

Planning your trip to the dunes: a guide

Caroline Levy and Tanner Howard

“Out of sight, out of mind.” This is the perfect guide to test the truth of that idiom. If Northwestern has been making you stressed, maybe a relaxing or exhilarating off-campus – even out-of-state – adventure is just what you need to ease your mind. Or maybe your life is stress-free and you just want a change of scenery. Well, this guide can help: suburban Indiana certainly looks different than Evanston!

We talk about the Northwestern bubble. The idea of the bubble is trite. The reality is: getting out of Evanston, Chicago, even Illinois, is totally feasible and fun. Ogden Dunes, just three hours away via public transportation, is a great destination. We went there for 25 hours this spring and camped under the stars, chatted with a park ranger, explored a historic neighborhood and relaxed on a few beaches.

Though we flew by the seat of our pants (we picked up bread, peanut butter, and jelly a minute before the only gas station in sight closed), some people may want to plan a few more things in advance. And we can help you do that now! No better time to write a guide for a trip than after the fact. Check out our tips for a successful trip:


You need not look further than Norris Outdoors for equipment. You can reserve items online (keep in mind they prefer if you do so at least five days before your trip) and pick them up in Norris Underground. Even for a short trip, hiking backpacks are your best friends – better to throw everything in there than have loose ends, especially when “trekking” from train stops to beaches. Here’s what we suggest for a getaway for you and a pal:

  • One two person tent ($9/day)
  • Two backpacks ($8 each/day)
  • Two sleeping bags ($13 each/day)
  • Two sleeping pads ($1 each/day)
  • Two flashlights ($1 each/day) 
  • One lantern ($3.50/day) 

Surprisingly, it’s possible to make it all the way to the Indiana Dunes entirely via public transportation. Not only is this option incredibly inexpensive, but more convenient than having to worry about getting a car. All you have to do is take the Purple Line from Noyes, Foster, or Davis. Transfer to the Red Line at Howard (unless you can catch a Purple Line Express) and get off at State and Lake (or Randolph and Wabash). From there, walk a block east to Michigan, where you’ll head into the Metra Station. From the Metra station, take the South Shore line towards South Bend. The Indiana Dunes are served by three stations: Ogden Dunes, Dune Park and Beverly Shores. Altogether, the trip took approximately three hours, plenty of time to kick back on the train, read or just enjoy watching the time pass by. Best of all? A ticket to Beverly Shores was just $8.25 per person.


If you’re planning on spending the night while adventuring in the Dunes, it’s incredibly easy to manage. Directly off of the Beverly Shores stop is the National Park Service-run campground. While we had to camp in a drive-in spot, as the walk-in spots were all temporarily closed, the campsite offers 25 walk-in spots for those coming from the train, all available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Camping is $20 per night.

What to do

Watch the sunrise from a beach

There’s nothing better than seeing the sun rise over Lake Michigan. If you camp at the National Park campground, it’s only about a mile walk to make it to the beach. Set an alarm, resist the temptation to hit the snooze and enjoy seeing the sunrise the way it’s meant to be seen, as opposed to after staying up all night to finish a paper.

Chat with a park ranger

Not only are they incredibly friendly, but you can learn a lot about the Dunes from any person working for the National Park Service. We spoke with park host Bill Heeter, who has spent nearly ten years serving as a camp host at Yosemite and the Indiana Dunes.

Go swimming!

Sure, you can swim in the same Lake Michigan while on campus. But isn’t it that much more exciting to hop in the frigid lake in another state? Bring your swimsuit, ignore reason, and enjoy a dip in that ocean-sized lake of ours.

Go to the Dunes.

The Indiana Dunes National Park is spread out across the three train stations mentioned above. While camping is best off of the Beverly Shores stop, Dune Park is closest to the park headquarters.

A break in time: reflecting on the dunes

Tanner Howard

Sleeping in a tent smaller than my own bed made complaining about having a small room seem trivial. Pitching that tent at 11:30 on a Saturday night while everyone else was busy getting drunk back on campus made me realize that sometimes college life is kind of absurd.

I don’t mean to seem preachy, or to seem like one night of camping suddenly changed everything about how I viewed the world. But the chance to get away from Northwestern for one day was not something I wouldn't normally do otherwise. I’m not going to kid myself and pretend that I was “escaping everything” by running away to go camping in Indiana. At any time, Caroline and I were within about two miles of a train that could take us back to Chicago and our normal lives at any moment we wanted.

More egregiously, I never once lost cell phone service, and constantly found myself referring to Google Maps to see how close we were to our next destination. Best of all, the convenience store we stopped at was playing Chance the Rapper’s “Juice.” Implausibly, even suburban Indiana is bumping our Dillo daytime headliner, making it feel like I never actually left campus.

I had always romanticized the notion of camping as this primal, escapist pursuit, but the reality is was that my idealized dream was essentially a fantasy. And yet, that doesn’t mean that the 25 hours I spent on this journey, of which about a fourth was spent on a train, wasn’t valuable. As we were about to leave, Caroline said we’d be different people the next night after we returned. I laughed and halfheartedly agreed, not really believing it was possible. I’m not going to say I’ve changed dramatically, but this trip made me stop and think about my experiences at Northwestern thus far.

I had always romanticized the notion of camping as this primal, escapist pursuit, but the reality is was that my idealized dream was essentially a fantasy.

One way this trip got me thinking was simply by putting me in a different context. One reason I chose Northwestern and still one of my favorite reasons I’m here is Chicago. Every single time I’m in the city, I remind myself that while campus is (temporarily) home to me, there’s this vast, wonderful world waiting to be explored one Purple Line trip away.

But I wasn’t prepared to end up in Ogden Dunes, Indiana, a town of 1,110 just off of our train. We got off at the stop thinking we could access a riverwalk run by the National Parks Service, which the map seemed to indicate. We soon learned that it wasn’t accessible on foot, and instead we chose to walk through the town to see if we could make our way towards the lake.

One of the first sights during our stay in Ogden Dunes was a kid’s soccer game, held in a pastoral public park just inside the city limits. On Mother’s Day, dozens of families had gathered together, enjoying the balmy weather, trying to yell words of encouragement to their children without coming across as too aggressive.

There's this vast, wonderful world waiting to be explored one Purple Line trip away.

When I envisioned our trip, I certainly never expected this to be a stop along the way. And yet, it seemed perfectly fitting: for all my efforts to find some form of physical “escape,” I instead seemed to find a temporal shift. For just a few hours, I felt suddenly thrown into some older, more idyllic era, the platonic suburb that never really existed.

I always think of Chicago as the dream recontextualizer, suddenly putting me in the environment that I hope to find myself soon after graduation. It makes my stay on campus more meaningful and the thought of leaving it more invigorating; it makes me appreciate what I have now, while knowing that what’s to come will be even greater.

But, in its own way, Ogden Dunes also made me rethink my life at Northwestern and my future plans. While I constantly dream of moving to the big city, somehow “finding myself” and growing into adulthood among the millions of others around me, for others life is so different. To those we met in Ogden Dunes, life was a child’s soccer game on a pleasant Sunday afternoon, something so simple but so utterly perfect. There was no need for a big city, no grand plans for self-actualization, no worries about the future. And, for one day, I had nothing wrong with that. As I leave freshman year and look to the future, there’s a lot to look forward to. As I consider what mattered to me about the incredible year I’ve had at Northwestern, it’ll be hard to capture all the little moments that added up to make things so special.

Thankfully, I know this experience will forever stand out. If you ever get the chance, shake the ties of campus for one weekend and head the wilderness. You may not escape technology, and you may not even want to. But there’s something special about getting to leave Northwestern even for a little while, taking the chance to forget about homework and midterms and enjoy this unique moment in our lives.

25 hours, infinite stories

Caroline Levy

“So you have the backpacks,” said a man next to us on the South Shore line heading west from Chicago. “I have to ask where you’re going.” We told him that we were going to Chesterton, Indiana. We said we’re student journalists writing a story about the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, about planning an affordable out- of-state weekend adventure, about the people we’d meet. About, well, we weren’t exactly sure yet. But we were two hours away from Indiana with a tent, two sleeping bags, a lantern, no food, some cash, a tripod, a lav mic and a couple cameras. And we were excited. “Be safe,” he said.

The first thing we did in Indiana was walk to the wrong campground. Tanner and I did finally navigate to the correct campground and find a spot to pitch our tent. Yet the couple hours when we didn’t know where we’d spend the night were some of my favorite of the trip. Our failure to plan in advance and reserve a campground yielded an exciting adventure: Trekking down the main road in the dark, our backpacks tight around our shoulders; sitting on our sleeping bag in the train station while we waited for the 10:50 p.m. train to the next campground, finally arriving and struggling to set up our tent in the dark. These were some of the most exhilarating moments of the trip. Our lack of planning created a real campground-searching adventure.

But we were two hours away from Indiana with a tent, two sleeping bags, a lantern, no food, some cash, a tripod, a lav mic and a couple cameras. And we were excited.

Another spontaneous moment was our interview with park ranger Bill Heeter. We were leaving the campground when Heeder walked out from the campground office. Tanner and I turned around, introduced ourselves and explained our project. The conversation that resulted was another of my favorite moments of our 25-hour trip. I admire the “almost 80-year-old” (as he answered for when I asked for his age) park ranger’s nomadic lifestyle. He and his wife spent much of their lives traveling around the U.S. and lived in their RV for 11 years. His wife has since passed away, and Heeder lives at the campground for part of the year, volunteering his time as a park ranger. “Will you be here next year?” I asked Heeder before we left the campground. “I don’t know yet,” he replied. “I’m taking it one year at a time.”

I am inspired by Heeder’s nomadic lifestyle and will to live as he desires, improvising along the way. I want to avoid ‘settling down’ physically or mentally. I won’t necessarily travel in an RV or become a park ranger, but whatever I do later in life, I hope to maintain the youthful spirit I saw in Heeder. As he did, I want to discover what makes me happy and realize that there is value in pursuing that lifestyle – value in the form of, say, inspiring a stranger like myself.

As I discovered on this trip, spontaneity and uncertainty can yield thrilling adventures.

I don’t know all the details of the lifestyle I want – that’d be frightening, and anyway, I’m sure once I decide what I really want, it’ll change. But I know I want spontaneity. As I discovered on this trip, spontaneity and uncertainty can yield thrilling adventures.

That idea definitely resonates with our trip to Indiana. Now, to be clear, Tanner and my spontaneity was only somewhat intentional. The trip mostly just crept up on us before we had time to sit down and even try to plan anything. But I’m glad for our on-a-whim style.

Anybody could pick up and go to Indiana for 25 hours with some cameras and curiosity. That’s what Tanner and I did, and it was one of the most reinvigorating experiences I’ve had all year. I hope you enjoy the people, neighborhoods, and beaches that we discovered.

Bill Heeter

For the last nine years, Bill Heeter has served as a campground host in at the Indiana Dunes national campground, as well as at Yosemite National Park. Before that, Heeter spent years traveling the country via RV with his late wife, visiting as many national parks as possible during their retirement. For someone who's spent a significant amount of his life outdoors, you'd be surprised to find out that Heeter wasn't a Boy Scout as a child, nor did he camp until after he was married. Nevertheless, his passion for the outdoors shows that it's never too late to realize one's biggest passions. Heeter spoke about his introduction to camping, his roots, and why camping became his full-time pursuit.

Homes of tomorrow exhibition

Tanner Howard

Perched above the Indiana lakeshore, five homes gaze out towards Chicago, which lingers in outline form on the horizon. 80 years ago, these same five houses played a central part in Chicago’s history, on display at the 1933 World’s Fair.

The five homes, included in “The Homes of Tomorrow Exhibition," part of the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, are now a fixture of the Indiana shore. Now under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, they’re a remnant of a long-forgotten era, when technology like air conditioning was still a novelty.

Held between 1933 and 1934, the Century of Progress International Exhibition marked Chicago’s 100th anniversary. With an emphasis on technological progress, visitors were treated to a variety of innovations that were a welcome sight during the Great Depression. With the unofficial motto, “Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Conforms,” the fair was a reminder to visitors of the bright future waiting for them.

With this theme, the Homes of Tomorrow Exhibition was one of the prime sights for visitors, promising great changes in living standards and evidence that the Great Depression could be fought with the right technology. 12 homes were shown during the fair, featuring far-flung amenities like a helicopter pad on one home.

So how did five of these homes migrate down the banks of Lake Michigan and end up in Beverley Shores, Indiana? At the close of the fair, real estate agent Robert Bartlett bought several of the properties, hoping to use them to sell new properties in Beverley Shores. Incredibly, these five home were floated via barge down the lakeshore, until they were raised up and placed in their current locations.

Today, these five homes still stand, relics of days gone by. While over 80 years of Lake Michigan winters have left the homes in disrepair, the National Park Service has paired with private tenets to repair them. They are:

Wiebolt-Rostone House


Demonstrating the inventive nature of the fair, the Wiebolt-Rostone House was created using an experimental material known as Rostone. Made of shale, limestone, and alkali, the creators promised the home would never need repairs, although the original material only lasted until 1950 before damage became apparent.

Florida Tropical House

It’s a standard sight visiting any suburban Florida retirement community today, but in 1933 the design of the Florida Tropical House was unheard of. Clad in bright pink stucco, the design aimed to balance the indoor and outdoor, featuring a balcony facing the lake and open terraces on the roof.

House of Tomorrow

The darkness of the Great Depression and the dreams of moving on from it may have gotten to the House of Tomorrow’s architects. Aiming for the skies in their design (literally), the architects included an airplane garage on the first floor, mistakenly assuming future families would all own airplanes. In spite of the sky-high expectations contained in the design, the House of Tomorrow included innovative elements that would be widely embraced. Most notably, it introduced the concept of air conditioning to millions, quickly becoming an important element of architectural designs everywhere.

Armco-Ferro House

In many ways, the Armco-Ferro House had the most enduring impact on architecture after the close of the fair. Designed to be easily reproducible, the home was created using corrugated-steel bolted together. The cookie-cutter nature of the home would come to define post-World War II architecture, with the Baby Boom generation leading to rapid suburban development and mass-produced home designs.

Cypress Log Cabin

Built with cypress logs, as the name suggests, this home was designed to demonstrate the architectural possibilities of cypress. At the original World’s Fair location, the architect surrounded the home with wood carvings of mythical creatures and reptiles, giving the home an almost fantasy-like quality. While they weren't retained when brought to the Indiana lakeshore, the home's old-fashioned atmosphere helped it stand out among the many futuristic designs of the other homes.