First look at Hoosier National Forest’s Hayes Hollow; no Patton Cave yet

Approaching the Burgoon Church Road sign last week for the several-hundred-and-fifteenth time, I vowed to follow through on the same number of historic commitments to see what lies at the end, besides the church. It’s the first road east after the 446 causeway, so I knew it led to the Charles C. Deam Wilderness and Monroe Lake shoreline. But I’d never made the turn. Until last Sunday.
A too-brief glance at the map gave rise to the notion that the road turned into a path beneath a wooded canopy into Hayes Hollow and the Saddle Creek, which I canoed and camped on with a buddy back in the 70s. Patton Cave, with its geode-laden walls, is located on the creek. I figured the paved road that disappeared on Google Maps into a mass of forest green was an old road bed.
A few steps into the forest confirmed most of my preconceptions. But the afternoon’s focus immediately shifted from the re-exploration of an old stomping ground to wildflowers. Near the crest of the steepest hill I can recall traversing without switchbacks, much of the old roadway was impossible to walk on without stepping on spring beauties or cutleaf toothworts.

Delicate petaled beauties weren’t quite as pervasive creek side as they were on the ridge. But I did add cleft phlox, hepatica, common blue violet and star chickweed, to my collection of Spring 17 wildflowers, along with another bloodroot and a comma butterfly, I think.
An inlet on the lake is visible from the valley floor, though the bottomland vegetation is thick, and it doesn’t seem like the water is accessible. A trail across the easily forded creek appeared destined for the shoreline. But since the cave is inland, I didn’t follow it.
The whole scene didn’t look right from the beginning, and I knew it wasn’t Saddle Creek when the trickling stream began to meander. I clearly recall canoeing straight in and hiking straight up the ridge to Patton. A closer look at the map when I got home revealed Saddle is another ridge to the east.
The descent from ridge to Hayes Hollow demands every step be watched to avoid lost footing. The ascent required five breath stops. Five. I’m a little out of shape, but I usually force myself to stop, unless something image-worthy materializes.
Now that I am better oriented, Patton Cave is on my to-hike list.

Photographs: Charles C. Deam Wilderness, Hoosier National Forest, Hayes Hollow -- Top, star chickweed; Center, common blue violet; Bottom, cleft phlox

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