The Natural Bloomington Blog


I’ve lived long enough to recognize epic sea change in real time. And even though I’ve seen this fork in the flow coming for a year or more, its imminence didn’t strike with full force until I turned south on Washington on Monday en route to the Ohio River at Buzzard Roost. I realized this would be the last road trip of my six-year, three-book exploration of natural Indiana.

I also know such pivotal moments are fraught with danger and ripe with possibility. So I took it slow and savored every one of the 208.2 road and 2 trail miles. Signs of peril manifested themselves in a mysteriously cracked lens filter (not cracked the night before) and a sign at the Buzzard Roost Trail warning the path to the river is “steep, rocky and slippery.” Signs of creative hope revealed themselves in a rare combination [in my experience] of sky and clouds above the beautiful river, as the Iroquois Indians called the Ohio.

Monday’s Buzzard Roost-Mano Point-German Ridge trip produced the last digital images for Rewilding Southern Indiana: The Hoosier National Forest, a coffee-table book scheduled for release in Fall 2020. The manuscript is formatted for submission. The Natural Bloomington book phase has reached its coda.


Copies haven’t hit the bookstores yet, but A Guide to Natural Areas of Northern Indiana was released by IU Press on April 1. I don’t have my complimentaries yet, but a reliable source says they will be in stock at Bloomington’s bookstore (yes, the Book Corner is the only one) on Tuesday, April 9.

Signed copies can be ordered from the Natural Bloomington Nature Books website.

Meanwhile, I spent that same April Fools’ Day exploring the Hoosier National Forest’s Hickory Ridge Trail Section 19 in Jackson County, unsuccessfully seeking a path to the elusive Bret Kimberlin Lake. While the 2.5-mile trek's primary mission failed, it did produce the first signs of life in the Southern Indiana backwoods and perhaps one image worthy of my upcoming Rewilding Southern Indiana: The Hoosier National Forest.


Thankfully, Saturday afternoon’s short hike on the Hoosier National Forest’s Fork Ridge Trail was far less dramatic than our first trek last November, when sandhill cranes serenaded from above and a friend had to be transported via helicopter to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. This weekend’s exploration was part of an afternoon adventure to rural Jackson County, via Brown County, in pursuit of backwoods spring renewal.

The Fork Ridge walk constituted the second Hoosier National outing during a 10-day spring break from teaching duties. The first, a scouting drive to the national forest’s southernmost point – Tate’s Hollow just north of the Ohio River in backcountry Perry County—a week earlier was more eventful, albeit not tragic.

Both excursions produced substantial reassurance that spring has at last sidled north into Southern Indiana. A patch of crocuses alongside Perry’s aptly named High Water Road, which bisects the Hoosier south of German Ridge Recreation Area, offered reticent glimpses of their spring whites. On Fork Ridge, the greenbriar sprouts leaf.


Natural Bloomington’s winterlong hibernation ended this week with multiple book alarms blowing up simultaneously – In particular word that A Guide to Natural Areas of Northern Indiana hits warehouses next week and the Natural Bloomington office days after that. So, with the website updated accordingly, advance orders are now available.

The guidebook news arrived coincident with the finish of a nine-week minimarathon we campus dwellers brave the beginning of each year. A 10-day spring break from teaching duties marks the start of a three-month final sprint on Natural Bloomington’s third book project, the Rewilding Southern Indiana: the Hoosier National Forest coffee table book, which is due June 1.

Early next week, photo pal Gary Morrison and I will stretch our souls at the Hoosier National’s southernmost point, three miles upriver from Tobinsport, in an area so remote a Forest Service friend in Tell City asked for a report and photos. In two weeks, we’ll be photographing wildflowers.


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.


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