West Baden Springs, Indiana probably doesn’t mean anything to you, does it? I bet French Lick might ring a bell though (if you don’t live under a rock). Over the weekend, my wife and I escaped from the confines of the city limits and headed to West Baden Springs and French Lick with a couple of friends. Let me tell you, we were surprised by the wonder that hides in the southern Indiana hills. And yes, there ARE hills in Indiana…you just have to get south of Indianapolis to find them.
We rolled into a sleepy little town that houses probably somewhere close to 200 people and before I knew it, I was instructed to turn right…right into a wonderland I didn’t know existed this side of a rabbit hole. Our carriage glided over an ancient brick roadway, under a beautiful arch welcoming us to the resort, and on up to the valet station.
Since we couldn’t check into our room until later in the afternoon, we wasted no time in our sightseeing endeavors. We immediately set foot into the resort for a grand tour led by our friends. (Not so recently, they were engaged at this very resort and have since taken several trips back, so they are pretty well versed in the history of the grounds.) We stepped through the dimly lit foyer into the massive expanse of the hotel’s inner atrium, and our breath was instantly taken away. The magnitude and beauty were unimagined before we witnessed the grandiosity of the enormous domed ceiling. [Click here for video evidence of the wonderment of the West Baden atrium.] Our friends took us over to the massive fireplace where logs up to 14 feet long can be burned on cold, Indiana winter nights. (Of course, since it is June, there were no fires. And of course that meant we climbed inside for a photo-op.) We walked around the inner perimeter of the historic landmark and checked out the library, gift shops, spa, pool, restaurants, and guest lounge before wandering back outside.
Exiting the resort, our friends took us down to the garden where natural springs were once exploited for mystical healing powers of all varieties. (It was eventually deemed unsafe to drink from the springs due to nickel in the water, so they were closed and filled in with concrete.) We were also informed that the Chicago White Sox, among other major league baseball teams, used the grounds for their spring training facilities in the early parts of the century. The field was placed in the middle of a wooden, two-story, enclosed race track. The bottom was used for horse racing and the top floor was a bicycle track. Unfortunately, the track was consumed in a fire many decades ago and the only remnants of the ballpark are a rusty backstop and a tiny portion of bleachers. I could go on and on about the history of the area, but I won’t. I will, however, strongly encourage you to check out some of the random distinctions (like the world’s largest free-standing dome (at one time), and being deemed the 8th wonder of the world.) And yes, you did just witness a set of parenthesis inside parenthesis!
From there, it was approaching lunch time, so we made our way to the French Lick Resort and Casino by way of a provided shuttle service. We walked past the sprawling plantation style front porch area into a beautiful foyer decorated with murals on the ceiling and elaborate crystal chandeliers. We ventured downwards into the abyss of the basement and found ourselves winding through a cave-like tunnel that connected the resort to its own bowling alley, bar, and pizzeria. We settled on scarfing down burgers at the Power Plant Bar, which at one time was the electrical room for the hotel and housed massive power switches and electrical breakers.
With full bellies, we made our way to the casino. I was happily greeted with a bank of slot machines housed underneath a shiny new Harley Davidson. I decided that I would like to win said motorcycle and proceeded to waste cold hard cash. Our friends have a tradition of betting on the roulette wheel during every visit. This time, they caught a bit of a lucky streak and walked out with a nice new bulge in their wallets. Afterwards, we briefly discussed Indiana gambling laws and how they clearly do not apply to French Lick. By Indiana law/statute/ordinance/whatever you want to call it, casinos in the state must be housed on water by way of a riverboat. The casino at French Lick clearly is a land-locked structure that closely resembles any regular building that you might find on soil anywhere else on the planet. We came to the conclusion as a group, that the area must indeed be a sovereign nation. Problem? Solved.
Then it was off to the Indiana Railway Museum where we had heard about a promising train ride experience. Some family had given me a heads up that they offer special rides that are held up and robbed by cowboys on horseback. That sounded awesome! None of our group had ever ridden a proper train, and we all bounded on board as soon as the conductor opened the doors. We grabbed seats in one of the closed, air-conditioned cars because the outside temperature was somewhere close to “Hell.” the problem there was that everyone else had the same idea. Soon, there was so much body heat radiating from every square inch of the passenger car, that the heat rivaled being outdoors…and being next to a window only made it worse. Eventually the train slowly crept away from the loading platform and made its way out-of-town and into the Hoosier National Forest. Unfortunately, the train never picked up any more speed beyond the “slowly creeping” stage from leaving the platform. The good news there though, is that we got a pretty good look at Larry Bird’s childhood home. Soon enough we were plunged into the darkness of a tunnel 100 feet below the surface. When we came out, we made our way to the hideout of the old west robbers. They approached the train on horseback, boarded way too easily, and walked right off with the strong-box. A well placed shot annihilated the lock, and the loot was theirs. Only to be interrupted by none other than the local sheriff (who oddly enough was wearing a U.S. Marshal’s badge). A shootout ensued. A lot of good men were lost out there. Amazingly, it all turned out to be a show, and afterwards everyone boarded the train for pictures.
Afterwards, it was finally time to check into our room. We grabbed our bags and sauntered into the amazingly beautiful lobby. We grabbed our room key and hopped on an elevator filled with windows offering a view to the inside of the atrium. We exited on the fifth floor, quickly located our room, flung the door open, whipped the window curtains to the side and admired the view…of a gigantic tree. Wha whaaaa. Disappointed, we turned back to focus on the room itself. While it offered nice, rich furniture and a king-sized bed, it was a bit on the small side and not very impressive. Fortunately, that’s when we discovered the bathroom. Holy mother of pearl! The bathroom was at least half the size of the bedroom with a full-sized shower adjacent to a full-sized bathtub. The toilet was located in its own little alcove, complete with a telephone on the wall. (Gross.)
The night was drawing to an end, so we donned our bathing suits and headed for the hot tub! It didn’t take long before the heat started sapping our energy. We decided to call it a night and pick things up in the morning. We woke up bright and early, got ready, packed our bags, checked out, and headed out on the town. French Lick, as I already mentioned, is a sleepy little town, and there wasn’t much activity on Sunday morning beyond the Denny’s that apparently everyone wanted to eat at that morning. We wandered around for a little while, found a nice little courtyard, came across a Harley shop (go figure), and snapped some pictures of a quaint, older-styled chapel.
As the clouds rolled in, we loaded up the car and rolled back out. My wife and I have already decided that West Baden will become a frequented resort when we need a weekend getaway. It was postcard picturesque and has so much to offer…we didn’t even get to tour the winery, check out the horse stables, stop by the indoor go-karts, OR the indoor water park! I can’t wait for next time!!
Links of interest:
While Indiana is a good sport about being the butt of many jokes, it really has so many hidden gems that most people are unaware of. Next time you find yourself bored with a weekend approaching, I implore you to go out and find something new and exciting. Leave a comment below about your favorite getaway location.
Thank you, that is all.