The Natural Bloomington Blog


Firearm season in the Hoosier National Forest kept brief a couple blaze-orange-required hikes along the German Ridge Trail in late November. The 24-mile backcountry path is the southernmost section of the Hoosier’s 260-mile trail system and rises and falls a couple miles north of a 90-degree bend in the Ohio River near the historic German Ridge Cemetery and riverside village of Rome, Ind., population 1,300.

Planned after precautionary deer-season discussions with Forest Service officials in Tell City, the day hikes marked a return to this remote section of Perry County backcountry last explored in March 2015. It was also the first stop in a six-month itinerary that resumes in earnest over the Christmas teaching vacation and will end with submission of the Rewilding Southern Indiana: The Hoosier National Forest coffee table book to IU Press next June.

Next stop on the Hoosier trail will be the most significant prehistoric site on the 204,000-acre national forest: a rock shelter frequented by prehistoric hunters and gatherers over thousands of years following the retreat of the last Ice Age glaciers some ten thousand years ago. This obscure, secretive site is recognized on the National Register of Historic Places, requires bushwhacking off-trail and has a limited window for access without special permission.


Nearly a dozen-and-a-half hearty Hoosier Sierrans spent an afternoon debating forest management – read clearcutting in the Monroe Lake Watershed – with Hoosier National Forest Supervisor Mike Chaveas on Nov. 10. The fourth annual Sierra Club Hike with Mike, this one in backwoods Jackson County on the Fork Ridge Trail, however, ended in tragedy when one fell and suffered head injuries on the way down the ridge.

Fork Ridge is an obscure, spectacular Hoosier National trail, around whose steep slopes Chaveas plans some 4,000 acres of logging near the Hickory Ridge Horsecamp, more than a thousand of them via even-aged management, a.k.a. clearcutting. Four hundred acres will be clearcut, during which all trees will be cut on large plots of land. Another 700 will be harvested using a method called shelterwood, a slow-motion clearcut in which all trees from a given plot are cut in two phases over a period of a few years.

Among the environmental groups on the hike that are challenging Chaveas’s Houston (house-ton) South cut were the Friends of Lake Monroe, Hoosier Environmental Council, Hoosier Hikers Council and the Hoosier Chapter Sierra Club.


Digitally capturing fall color was way down the mission list for last Sunday’s hike on the Hoosier National Forest’s Oriole Trail East. After all, Southern Indiana’s world-famous fall palette migrates from north to south, and the 6.5-mile spur-and-loop trail in northern Perry County is 70 miles south of Bloomington, where the annual autumn display had barely begun.

The primary goal was to explore a series of clearcuts, which the U.S. Forest Service refers to as “Restoring Balance” on an information signs, along the “trail.” I knew from YouTube research that the route followed a logging road, much of which was blanketed with discomforting rocks. Distance hiking therefore was not a priority, as well.

But I was maybe a hundred yards east of the State Road 66 parking lot when a brilliant blue sky conspired with a fiercely clear sun to illuminate a series of iridescent, trailside red hues. Together with deciduous greens transitioning to yellow and the few pines left retaining their evergreen hue, the Oriole East autumn exhibition surprisingly paled before none.


The juxtaposition of my last look at the Guide to Natural Areas of Northern Indiana with Donald Trump’s comments to 60 Minutes on climate change led to an out-of-character heading on a Facebook post on my personal page, which began: Trump is Right.

I began revisiting my Northern Indiana travels when IU Press sent the typeset version of the book for one last review this past week. The 429-page book, not counting the index, is in its final form and will be ready to print when we finish this last pass. It will be released next spring, just in time for hiking season.

The “Rock, Ice and Water” chapter on Northern Indiana’s natural history outlines more than 2.5 billion years of climate change and its impacts on the region’s life and landscape. And Trump couldn’t be any more correct when he acknowledged the climate is warming, but it may change back.


With the Eternal Summer of 2018 seemingly past, the Natural Bloomington focus has shifted, launching the final phase of the Rewilding the Hoosier National Forest coffee table book project—photographing the national forest’s far southern end. Perry County destinations, a few miles upstream from the Ohio River, include Oriole Trail West and East, Mogan Ridge Trail West and East, German Ridge Trail, Tipsaw Trail and others, not to mention as much bushwhacking as time will allow.

Due to this year’s extended heat-and-bug season, this final sprint has felt a long time coming, at least compared with the frenetic travel pace of the past four guidebook years. As newsletter subscribers will attest, Natural Bloomington was largely MIA during the months of August and September: just three Photo Albums, one of them on Sept. 30, and two blog posts, neither of them in September.

The 3.5-mile Fork Ridge Trail in Jackson County was too overgrown on Sept. 16 to be photographically productive, though it was a memorable grandpa experience with Vale. But the purpose of that day trip focused as much on bearing as it did on production. The Forest Service is planning some aggressive logging in the area east of the Hickory Ridge Horse Camp, and getting a feel for the area was also on the day’s agenda.


I’ll admit that, when Indianapolis filmmaker Katelyn Calhoun asked for an interview about the White River, I kind of shrugged. Image-wise, the White pales before the Wabash, in both officialdom and the imagination. Indeed, the White is considered a tributary of the official state river to the north. No songs that I know of have been written about the the White's slippery banks.

On first blush, it didn’t seem Indiana’s second-longest river had factored much into my Natural Bloomington work these past five years. I told Katelyn I’d be glad to talk but wasn’t sure I’d have much to offer. Then I prepped for the interview and reassessed my perception.
Meanwhile, the week just passed also included a morning trip to the 125-acre Haskins Tract in the Hoosier National Forest, celebrated by the U.S. Forest Service as a wildflower haven, with a stop at the Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest.


Check inside view of Brooks Cabin off the Rewilding Southern Indiana must-get photo list, thanks to the good folks down at the U.S. Forest Service; ditto soft light on Blackwell Pond. Last week they unlocked the 1870s-era log home, situated in the Charles C. Deam Wilderness on the edge of the pond, for a rainy Tuesday morning photo shoot.

Forest Service officials relocated the two-room-with-a-loft log cabin from the Little Blue River in Crawford County and rebuilt it at the Deam’s welcome center on its far western edge in Monroe County. Along with the Rickenbaugh House on Celina Lake in Perry County, Brooks represents the best examples of nineteenth-century architecture remaining on the 204,000-acre Hoosier National Forest.

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a brigade of local laborers hired by the Depression-era Works Progress Administration, built the pond in the 1930s after quarrying rock there to rebuild local roads, including Dutch Ridge Road (now State Road 446) and Tower Road (now Tower Ridge). In addition to constructing wildlife ponds and openings, replanting trees and building trails, the CCC also built the Hickory Ridge Lookout Tower, which is on the National Historic Lookout Register.


It took two trips last week to the Hickory Ridge Lookout Tower to capture a blue-skied, cloud-filled horizon shot for the natural history chapter of Rewilding Southern Indiana: The Hoosier National Forest. In between, grandson Vale and I embarked upon a journey south to the Boone Creek Barrens, which, at least in terms of book photos, was unproductive.

The first Hickory Ridge tower jaunt on Sunday produced a couple quick images of the historic Brooks Cabin and a reduced confidence in my weather radar skills. Instead of catching an expected break in the stormy afternoon weather, I spent a futile half hour in the car waiting for an abatement in the rain, which started literally the minute I arrived. The wait did generate an impressionistic wilderness-through-a-rainy-windshield image, reminiscent of Claude Monet’s "Weeping Willow Tree."

Our journey to Boone Creek Barrens on Tuesday was timed to an advertised color explosion from prairie plants that thrive on the thin, dry soils atop bedrock, including blazing stars, rattlesnake master, white wild indigo, hoary puccoon, and downy phlox. A fact sheet said these midsummer beauties were viewable from the road.


I’ve been writing Hoosier National history the past month – pioneer through today – and didn’t shoot a single nature image in June, save for the backyard fawn. Not that there weren’t subjects to shoot – like Carnes Mill and the Rickenbaugh House. A perfect nonstorm developed on Saturday, and granddaughter Raina and I headed to the mill on a bend in the Little Blue River in Crawford County. The 1874 sandstone house was Plan B.

I’m sure we reached the right parking lot for Carnes Mill, but there was no hint of a path through the undergrowth downhill to the river barely visible below. Conflicting GPS readings may have contributed, but I just think it’s a spring or fall hike. So we headed 15 minutes south to the Rickenbaugh House on the Indian-Celina Recreation Area in Perry County.

Here’s an excerpt from the first draft of the Rickenbaugh section of Rewilding Southern Indiana: the Hoosier National Forest. Next up: Brooks Cabin, which was built by Carnes Mill and now graces the visitor center at the Charles C. Deam Wilderness.


A copyedited manuscript in need of final review left no time for nature in the backwoods this past week. But nature’s mom literally brought the wild to my back step, which brought to mind one of the oldest and most emotional environmental issues I’ve ever written about – urban deer.

A mama doe has chosen my garden gate as a safe place for one of her newborn fawns to bed this year. On Thursday, a little speckled one spent 12 hours in a curl 15 feet from the back porch, while mama was off doing what she does in the panoply of deer delights that is the Bryan Park Neighborhood a half mile from Kirkwood Avenue.

That, in turn, afforded an all-day wildlife photo opp unlike any I’ve ever had. As the day progressed, the fawn’s response to a zoom lens-toting biped evolved from motionless ball to acceptance via eye contact, a consent to be photographed in a photog’s worldview. It also conjured up the phrase “rats with hooves.”


Subscribe to The Natural Bloomington Blog

Follow Us

Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Flickr icon
Pinterest icon
RSS icon

Copyright 2013. Site created by Ansette, LLC.   Back to Top

Back to Top