The Natural Bloomington Blog


I had forgotten about Anne LaBastille, a.k.a. the wilderness woman. I discovered this pioneering, earth-hippie-era teacher, writer, and photographer in the mid-1970s in a magazine article about her life and work in the Adirondack Mountains.

Five years before receiving her doctorate in wildlife ecology from Cornell University in 1969, LaBastille built a cabin on Lake Twitchell deep in the Adirondacks, where she lived, led guided tours, advocated for wildness, and wrote sixteen books over four-plus decades before her death at 75 in 2011. Her signature work is the Woodswoman series: a four-volume set of memoirs of her life in the forest.

During a visit with daughter Jessica in Brooklyn last week, we spent three days driving and hiking to, through, and deep into the Adirondacks, landing some 20 miles east of LaBastille’s homesite. Our itinerary included a stop at the Adirondack Experience, the Museum on Blue Mountain, where an installation honoring the wilderness woman’s contributions features her cabin, which was painstakingly moved and reconstructed.


Explorer René-Robert Cavalier Sieur de La Salle was the first European to reach the Southern Indiana hill country, though his time here was limited to the eastern cusp of the deep V-shaped hills and valleys that today include the Hoosier National Forest.

LaSalle, a Frenchman seeking a water route from the Great Lakes to the Pacific Ocean, is credited as the first European to reach the Ohio River and Indiana soil in 1669. He led an expedition from Quebec to the river’s headwaters in Western Pennsylvania and then downriver to the Falls of the Ohio at present-day Clarksville. His crew abandoned him at the impassable shallows, leaving LaSalle to briefly explore the alien territory alone.

This deepest-at-the-time penetration into the North American midsection culminated about seventy river miles--thirty overland--east of the Hoosier’s Buzzard Roost Recreation Area.


Spring semester grades: submitted. Vegetable garden: planted. Hiking sweat: already flowed on a backcountry Hoosier National Forest path. College town summer has begun at Natural Bloomington, with the first photo foray to the Lost River in Martin County, three crow miles upstream from the White River, eight fish miles maybe.

On May Day, landscape photographer Gary Morrison and I explored two Lost riverbanks that flow through and past small, isolated tracts of the Hoosier National Forest between Bedford and Shoals, captured in a small photo album called Lost River, Paw Paw Marsh. The day trip was the latest map-driven excursion through the White River Valley sections of the Hoosier National’s far western reaches.

Paw Paw Marsh Restoration is a shallow wetland that skirts a muddy edge of the Lost River at a 90-degree northerly turn, featuring eroded stone outcrops, sort of liquid rockshelters. A small dam controls the marsh depth, which is maintained for wildlife and was significantly lower than it was during a photo hike in late April 2015 for the Guide to Natural Areas of Southern Indiana book project.


The Natural Bloomington path tracked southwest last week into the Lost River Watershed, where life on the Hoosier National Forest floor displayed a kaleidoscope of annual regeneration: mayapple greens, anemone whites, spring beauty whites with violet-stripes, phlox and violet blues, wood poppy yellows, larkspur purples.

Friday's half-day excursion followed backcountry roads—i.e. Old Vincennes Road—to the light-drenched, scenic Big Creek and Sam’s Creek Valleys along the Orange and Martin County line. Big lies about a mile inside Martin. Sam’s crisscrosses the county line from north to south. Both feed the Lost on its way to the White River East Fork a few miles to the southwest.

Access to both creeks also lie at the end of twisty, asphalt-county turned national-forest-gravel roads, which pose considerable potential for driving disasters. Passing another vehicle on the two-and-a-half-mile ridge-top road above Big Creek seemed a daunting task. The Sam's Creek exit included hitting bottom on a small stream crossing. Waze navigation spent more than a little time "waiting for network.


I was planning an afternoon jaunt to the Beaver Creek’s South Fork when Crystal asked last Saturday if I’d hang with my grandson Vale that night. The afternoon transformed into our first grandpa-grandson photo hike, with some fun photos to commemorate the occasion.

Beaver Creek is a White River East Fork tributary at the tri-county junction of Lawrence, Orange, and Martin Counties. The stretch we explored lies at the dead end of a backcountry road, in far northwest Orange County, in an isolated part of the Hoosier National Forest.

Vale is 5 and has enjoyed taking pictures around the house with a largely unused Lumix point-and-shoot and then seeing them on the computer. His questions about the tripod on the hourlong drive to Beaver Creek presaged a memorable bonding experience, not to mention which camera would sit atop the three-legged support the rest of the day – the Lumix.


One road trip is all that stands before the end of the prehistoric history phase of Rewilding Southern Indiana: The Hoosier National Forest. The Natural Bloomington version of life on Indiana’s largest chunk of public land from 350 million B.C. to 1650 A.D. has been written. A photo adventure to the most significant archaeology site on the 202,000-acre Hoosier, the last prehistory stop, is high on the itinerary.

The research / writing now shifts to the region’s recorded history, and road trips will highlight a series of national forest Special Places—such as Buzzard RoostHemlock Cliffs, and Wesley Chapel Gulf—which include several that are in fact historic sites. Also some lowercase special places—not officially designated—like the Beaver Creek Watershed down where Lawrence, Orange, and Martin Counties meet.

Superseding the archaeology hike, however, will be a time-sensitive return trip to Wesley Chapel. After days of rain, this eight-acre collapsed sinkhole will effectively be an upside-down waterfall, as an overflowing underground river system expels its liquid contents upward more than a hundred feet to the gulf’s rise pool.


Spring Break is a time for travel in university towns like Bloomington, which at Natural Bloomington this past week meant a few drives down State Road 37 to diverse locales for the Hoosier National Forest book project.

The first, a scouting trip to three campgrounds near Tell City, produced what must be the last winter scenes of the year at the Indian Celina Recreation Area. The second, a return visit to Hemlock Cliffs, revealed the 75-foot Messmore Cliffs waterfall that rivals the 150-foot overflow for which the Special Place, in Forest Service parlance, is named. The third, an hour-long meeting with officials at the U.S. Forest Service office in Bedford, was helpful and insightful.

Along the way, I got a first peak at the Guide to Natural Areas of Northern Indiana book cover.


Hemlock Cliffs

Hemlock Cliffs is arguably the most inspiring of the Hoosier National Forest’s self-declared Special Places. Encompassing a narrow, 150-foot-deep sandstone box canyon, this Crawford County natural sanctum supports towering hardwood trees and rare plants that thrive in its cool micro climes, including the namesake evergreen.

Wesley Chapel Gulf

A National Natural Landmark, Wesley Chapel Gulf offers a rare glimpse into the subterranean world of the Lost River Watershed in western Orange County. The 187-acre Special Place protects an exposed, peanut-shaped gulf created by the collapse of the limestone ceiling above an underground stream.


Our search for prehistoric life in the Hoosier National Forest began serendipitously on a sunny Feb. 12 morning in the U.S. Forest Service office in Bedford, where we inquired about archaeological sites near the Ohio River. The last stop there led to a wall-sized map of the Hoosier and a staffer providing detailed directions to that day’s destination—a wintry drive along King’s Ridge in southwest Lawrence County.

The Natural Bloomington to-do list has long included a formal sit down with Forest Service staff to discuss Rewilding Southern Indiana: The Hoosier National Forest book project. Among the topics would be a strategy for sensitive issues, such as at-risk plant and animal species and cultural sites. The to-meet list included Hoosier Archaeologist Angie Doyle.

Which is where serendipity made its appearance. As a staffer explained the Forest Service does not discuss archaeological sites, Angie walked by on the way to her car and a conference. We had a brief chat and agreed to meet soon.


A half billion years ago, the chunk of earth crust that now underlies the 202,000-acre Hoosier National Forest basked in the equatorial sun. During the Paleozoic Era, geologists say, the tectonic plate on which Southern Indiana rests—called the North American Plate—lolled about five hundred miles south of the equator, roughly where the Amazonian city of Manaus, Brazil, lies today.

Like the planet’s other twelve plates, the North American has since merged, diverged, and drifted for five hundred million years through a geologic process known as plate tectonics, momentarily settling some thirty-five-hundred miles to the north.

During the Paleozoic Era, which geologists say lasted from 570 million to 266 million years ago, the Hoosier’s rugged hill country occupied the floor of a shallow tropical sea that incessantly ebbed and flowed and changed depths. As time passed, sedimentary materials—which included skeletons, shells, bones, and other plant and animal remains—settled to the ocean floor and compressed and cemented into the bedrock that underlies Southern Indiana today.


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