From Beanblossom Bottoms to the St. Joseph Rivers

Awakening to sunshine on Thursday morning, I vowed to close the laptop early and hit the Beanblossom Bottoms trail that afternoon for some frigid, telephoto perspective on Winter 2016. I’d spent the past week, through the gloom, researching and writing the “Rock, Ice and Water” section of the Northern Indiana Landscape chapter for the guidebook. And honestly, I wasn’t quite sure when I’d see the solar fireball again.

The cloud cover may have lifted more than once in the three weeks since I returned from Roberts Camera in Indy with my new 80-400mm, but I’ve only shot one blue sky with it. I was past due for some solitude, exercise and silence. [I’d awakened at 5-something that morning to the impact of an accident a block away and the subsequent comings and goings of five emergency vehicles and a tow truck.]

Despite winter gloves and liners, my right-hand fingers began icing up, and I didn’t reach the second platform overlook as planned. And there’s not a lot of color or any activity in a frozen bottomland forest, aside from a distant call of a crow. But the trail was clear of any two-legged tracks, so I could make the most of the snow, ice and frozen water that is the Beanblossom Bottoms Nature Preserve this time of year.

Beanblossom Bottoms is a 337-acre Sycamore Land Trust property in Northwest Monroe County off Bottom and Woodall Roads.

Exploring historic Northern Indiana rivers

Headwise, I’ve been roaming far Northern Indiana’s two Great Lakes watersheds, researching and writing about the Maumee and St. Joseph Rivers. The first drains to Lake Erie, the second to Lake Michigan.

That’s St. Joseph Rivers, actually. There are two, which rise within a couple miles of each other in Michigan just north of the Indiana-Ohio-Michigan junction.

The smaller of the two flows 75 miles southwest to Fort Wayne, where it meets the northwesterly flowing St. Mary’s. Together they form the Maumee, which abruptly reverses direction toward Lake Erie at Toledo. The 90-mile St. Mary’s originates in the flatlands near New Bremen, Ohio.

The larger, stronger of the St. Joseph pair follows every direction but east, generally heading south and west to the Indiana State Line. A 42-mile westerly stretch turns 90 degrees north at South Bend and re-crosses the state line on its way to the city of St. Joseph and  Lake Michigan.

Both St. Joes played critical roles in the nation’s earliest history.

While it is possible that another Frenchman set foot in Indiana before Rene-Robert Cavalier Sieur de La Salle, he is the first European known to have done so – in 1679. He and a group of men canoed down the St. Joseph River from Lake Michigan to the river’s southernmost bend, in what is now downtown South Bend.

The juncture of the three rivers at Fort Wayne was a strategic chokepoint in the territorial struggles between the Indians, French, British and Americans throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries. An easy, nine-mile portage from the Maumee to the Wabash Watershed, via the Little River, created the most direct route between Quebec and New Orleans.

All four rivers, and the entire Indiana landscape for that matter, formed after the last Ice Age glacier receded from the state some 13,600 years ago, when Lake Erie’s predecessor, Glacial Lake Maumee, extended southwest to Fort Wayne.

When La Salle and the French traders arrived in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, the early glacial lakes had shrunk to the present configuration of Great Lakes, and the Maumee had evolved into the Great Black Swamp. The French initially called the waterway the Miami, which was later changed to Maumee due to the other Miami River in Ohio.


Up next, the Kankakee River, which drains to the Mississippi, via the Illinois River, and the Wabash, which drains the rest of Northern Indiana and 85 percent of the entire state of indiana.

And, ideally, some sun.

Photographs: Beanblossom Bottoms Nature Preserve


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