The Natural Bloomington Blog

May
05

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.

Apr
21

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.

Apr
14

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.

Apr
01

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.

Mar
17

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.

Mar
10

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.

Feb
17

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.

Jan
27

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.

Jan
20

The first three weeks of 2018 – especially the three days spent with zoom lenses and hand warmers in the Hoosier National Forest – have been tantamount to a homecoming, an icy outdoor celebration of sorts.

Since IU Press now has all the permissions needed to publish A Guide to Natural Areas of Northern Indiana, the guidebook is out of hand. Included were much-appreciated consents from ACRES Land Trust Executive Director Jason Kissel to publish the foreword he penned and from photographer friend Jaime Sweany to use her author photo on the jacket again.

Since New Year’s Day, the Natural Bloomington compass has reassumed its homier, southerly inclination, marked by subfreezing photo explorations of the Hoosier’s Elkinsville/Middle Fork Salt Creek area in southern Brown County, the Charles C. Deam Wilderness and McPike Pond areas in northeast Lawrence County and the Kings Ridge area in southwest Lawrence.

Jan
06

All that remains of Elkinsville is a pioneer cemetery and a roadside monument memorializing 18 families that lost their homes to Monroe Lake. Named after its inaugural resident William Elkins, who arrived about the time Indiana achieved statehood in 1816, their Southern Brown County community was submerged when the lake was created between 1962 and 1964.

Today, Elkinsville Road dead ends at Combs Road, which dead ends on a rusty iron bridge over the Middle Fork Salt Creek about 4.5 miles past Story at the foot of Browning Hill, one of the 928-foot peak’s multiple monikers. The roadside monument says of the town: “Bathed in the shadow of Browning Mountain, a wonder in itself.”

On the second day of 2018, the Elkinsville area smacked of the Antarctic, with white-tail deer and frigid photographers blithely tracking on the Middle Fork. Smooth and snow-covered, with stark, blue-black arboreal shadows, the creek could have been mistaken for a backwoods road disappearing into its Hoosier National Forest neighbor to the south.

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