Return to Cope Hollow - 30 years later

In the time it took to zip and lace my hiking pants and boots, Saturday’s sky transformed from a gleaming azure to a drizzling gray. But given that in the past three weeks I’ve performed just about every role I play except photographer – lecturer, author, carpenter, newsletter editor, blogger and, of course, grandpa – I was going to the woods, weather be damned, camera bag on the passenger-side floor.

As I approached Hunter’s Creek Road in northern Lawrence County south of the Monroe Lake causeway, beneath a black squall, I’d accepted the afternoon would entail a drive around the south end of the Charles C. Deam Wilderness Area and not a photo hike through it. Not ideal, but I’d never actually followed that route from State Road 446 to the Hickory Ridge Fire Tower, and the drive did not involve typing, reading or sawing.

Less than mile from the trailhead, on a road so narrow that one local stopped to allow me to pass (unnecessary but telling), I emerged from the forest canopy into a broad, bright valley and noticed a dollop of sky blue to the northwest. I turned around in the Hunter’s Creek Pentecostal Church lot, drove back to the trailhead, and by the time I finished my sesame sticks and fig bars, my windshield had stopped watering up.

About the time I reached the ridge top on the Hunter Creek Trail that ends at its junction with the Cope Hollow Trail a little less than a mile in, sunshine momentarily penetrated what few gaps there are in the treetops this time of year. The light didn’t last long. But I didn’t miss any images I encountered due to weather. Besides, this time of year, direct sun is a photographic obstacle, not an asset.

Cope Hollow is composed of a few thousand roadless acres in the southern third-plus of the Charles C. Deam Wilderness Area, just west of the Hickory Ridge Fire Tower, between Tower Ridge and Hunter’s Creek Roads. The Deam’s nearly 13,000 acres are the only in the state that are permanently protected from exploitation by federal law.

I've only photographed Cope Hollow once, and that was on a spring afternoon more than 30 years ago. I have a roll or two of Kodacrhome slides and vividly recall images of a small waterfall and a large, abandoned, 1920s-era car. The least accessible part of the Deam, it features almost eight miles of trail. At six miles, Cope Hollow Trail is the longest. Martin Hollow is a mile and a half. Hunter Creek, a 0.9-mile spur, is the only one of the three with a parking lot. The others cross Tower Ridge Road from more than a half mile to more than a mile from the nearest parking lot.

Fungus provides most of the color and form in the Southern Indiana woods in late summer, and the Hunter Creek Trail provided abundant specimens, from coal-black masses on the forest floor to pearly-white shelves 15 feet up the trunk of a towering hardwood.

Conjoined and separated trunks, shapely snags, shimmering leaves and a shotgun shell also found my viewfinder. Here’s a Photo Album.

Photographs: Cope Hollow, Charles C. Deam Wilderness Area, Hoosier National Forest.


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