Howl with wolves, explore caves and see Santa year-round on Indiana’s back roads

CLARKSDALE, Ind. — Taking back roads through Hoosier country yields the kind of real treasures and quirky curiosities you'll only find off the beaten path.

At the very spot where Meriwether Lewis and William Clark first met with a handshake signaling the start of a historic expedition sits a Clarksville, Ind., natural wonder: 400-million-year-old fossils at the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center.

“We are among the world’s largest exposed fossil beds in the Devonian Period,” Brad Kessans, Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, said. “Our fossils predate dinosaurs by about 200 million years.”

Go underground  southeast of French Lick to see another Hoosier curiosity: Marengo Cave. Guides make sure you don’t get lost in the cavernous 5-mile-long cave first discovered September 6, 1883.

Steer southward to reach the North Pole at Santa Claus, IN, where it feels like Christmas 365 days a year. There’s Santa with his bag of toys, at the post office and even at the lodge. A visit to Santa Claus is always a thrill for the little ones who flock to Santa’s own amusement parks Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari.

See the tallest residential entry door in the country at Madison’s Shrewsbury Windle House, a national historic landmark. It's one of many unlikely discoveries you’ll make on our quirky adventure.

But brace yourself for a surprise in Henryville, the birthplace of Colonel Harland Sanders. Turns out the father of Kentucky Fried chicken was actually a native Hoosier.

In Rising Sun, Ind., wildlife biologist Paul Strasser speaks the language of wolves and other canines. When he calls - they answer. Strasser will drive you across his nearly 500-acre Red Wolf Sanctuary, a nonprofit refuge for animals who often arrive in distress.

“We have Bobcats here. We have a blind bobcat back there sprayed by a skunk,” Strasser said.

The highlight of your visit — by appointment only — is when you meet the Gray wolves. It’s an unforgettable encounter that’ll give you goose bumps.

It’s also the 200th anniversary of the famous Mary Shelley horror story Frankenstein. See a rare first edition free of charge at Indiana University’s Lilly Library. There you can learn the story of how Shelley wrote her ground-breaking novel at the age of 18.

See the library’s mechanical puzzles, said to be the largest collection in the world. And try your hand at these devilish contraptions that’ll push you to the breaking point.

Moving on, find heavenly consolation springing from the southwest Indiana prairie. Visitors are often drawn to a Romanesque dome crowning the Monastery of the Immaculate Conception in the town of Ferdinand. The friendly sisters of St. Benedict welcome you to their serene gardens and shrines, offering comfortable accommodations for overnight stays and group events.

And you’re a short drive from the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial, where the future president grew from youth to manhood.

Since 1900, it’s been the sweetest of Columbus traditions: Zaharakos, Ice Cream, Candy & Soda. For decades it was operated by a Greek immigrant family. The original experience is delighting visitors to this day. See an astonishing museum of rare items from the 1800’s, like marble soda fountains and vintage Mechanical Music Players. The throwback atmosphere gives you the ultimate sugar rush.

“We don’t know of anything else in the country that would be this authentic as far as a 1900 soda fountain,” said Debra Slone, Zaharakos.

In Peru, visit a national historic landmark at the old circus winter quarters.There, the greatest circus personalities of all time are enshrined at the International Circus Hall of Fame. From legendary clowns to rare, 100-year-old circus wagons, experience the magic of the big top on your quirky Hoosier adventure.