Photobombed at Ritchey Woods; prehistory at Mounds State Park; eco-history at Davis-Purdue

Pitching my first tent in more than three decades will probably emerge over time as the most memorable experience from Summer 2017’s first overnight excursion last week. But there will be stiff competition from close encounters with two-, four-, and six-legged creatures; an old-growth forest too dense to penetrate; and a blockaded, razor-wired prison.

The two-day journey featured three permanently protected natural areas – Ritchey Woods Nature Preserve in Fishers, Mounds State Park just outside Anderson, the Davis-Purdue Agricultural Center Forest just outside of nowhere – and the Wilbur Wright Fish & Wildlife Area just outside the New Castle Correctional Facility.

At Ritchey I was photobombed by a pair of pink shoes. At the rest, I did the photobombing.

Skunk cabbage, photobomb at Ritchey

The photo take from Ritchey, a 55-acre Dedicated State Nature Preserve squeezed between the Interstate 69 highway and Indianapolis Metropolitan Airport northeast of Indianapolis, was a soft-light shot of a massive skunk cabbage.

Dominating the preserve’s wetland area along the Cheeney Creek (pronounced Chaney), this cabbage-like plant is a wildflower that blooms in late winter – February, according to Chief Naturalist Danesa Stolz. It smells like skunk when its leaves are crushed.

The Ritchey Woods preserve supports an old agricultural site that has regenerated and now sustains second-growth upland and bottomland forests along with the swamp. The Ritchey complex includes an additional 72 acres of restored prairie.

Of historical interest and photobomb memory is a trailside collection of glacial erratics, boulders deposited by retreating ice sheets more than 10,000 years ago and subsequently relocated by pioneer farmers. A preschool girl walking with her dad jumped on a boulder while I was shooting and mugged for my Nikon.

Wearing pink-and-gray sneakers, she’s the first human to ever photobomb me in the woods. I didn’t mind.

Prehistoric earthworks, critters and riparian wildflowers at Mounds

My campsite rhythm was bumpy at Mounds – a missed tent zipper gave a four-legged raccoon a chance to gnaw on my picnic basket, for example. But I was regaining the tempo by the time I left.

Indiana’s third smallest state park on the White River West Fork, Mounds features 10 of the best remaining examples of earthworks – structures built from earthen materials – constructed by the Adena-Hopewell people, hunter-gatherers who date to 1,000 B.C.

The parkland supports a diverse mix of landforms and ecosystems, including limestone bluffs, upland woods, floodplain woods, creek ravines, wet sedge meadows, fens, seeps, and caves. One fen is a Dedicated State Nature Preserve, whose location is not publicly available.

The underside of a six-legged, backlit spider in her web produced the first day’s best image. Other noteworthy subjects included the Miami mist and Dame’s rocket glowing along the riverbank, as well as the riverbank itself.

Eco history at Davis-Purdue

Fifty-two acres of old-growth oak-hickory forest at the Davis-Purdue Agricultural Center in Randolph County is a National Natural Landmark and “possibly one of the finest such forests in the eastern United States,” according to the U.S. Park Service.

Named after its original and current owners, the Davis-Purdue forest is part of a 703-acre university-owned site that includes three other forest stands and tillable land. Contributing to its landmark recognition is the fact that this stand, mapped in 1926 by Purdue forestry professor Burr N. Prentice, is the largest and oldest temperate deciduous forest mapped in North America​.

The forest supports exceptionally large specimens of red oak, white oak, swamp white oak, bur oak, ash, and walnut, as well as basswood and sugar maple. But while it is open to the public, the forest has no developed trails and was too overgrown to seriously explore on Tuesday.

A red-winged blackbird posed for / harassed me on the woods’ edge, and I did find some wild hyacinth and a couple towering hardwoods.

Big Blue River and razor wire at Wilbur Wright

I wasn’t expecting much photographically at the 1,070-acre Wilbur Wright Fish & Wildlife Area just north of New Castle. While its mature woodlands, old fields, prairie plantings and scattered wetlands support more than 200 animal species, I’ve never had much image luck at any Fish & Wildlife Area except Goose Pond.

The mission here was to shoot the Big Blue River, which forms the area’s western boundary on the eastern edge of a massive facility that was curiously undefined on Google and other maps. The razor wire atop the fence inside a gate blocked by massive concrete abutments screamed prison.

The ditch-like river featured a sheen, but I got the photo. I was tempted but didn’t shoot the prison.

Photographs: Top, Mounds State Park, Second, skunk cabbage, Ritchey Woods Nature Preserve; Third, White River West Fork, Mounds State Park; Fourth, red-winged blackbird; Davis-Purdue Agriculture Center Forest; Bottom, Ritchey Woods Nature Preserve


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