Scaling Mt. Carmel; following Woodland Indians; hiking with Hoosier National Supervisor Mike Chaveas

If the past couple of weeks are any indication, the Natural Bloomington compass has resumed its natural southern pull. Three new photo albums posted in the past couple weeks document two hikes through Hoosier National Forest’s backcountry and brushes with Forest Supervisor Mike Chaveas and prehistoric Native Americans who lived in the woods 700 or so years ago.

On Sept. 16, I led an intrepid group of wilderness champions on our third annual Sierra Club hike with Hoosier Supervisor Mike Chaveas. This year’s trek took us a couple miles into Nebo Ridge, one of the Hoosier’s most rugged and remote areas in southeast Brown County, and the same two miles back out.

Eight days earlier, I bushwhacked through the Charles C. Deam Wilderness with an ad hoc cadre of rock lovers along the Mt. Carmel Fault just south of Monroe Lake. The next day, en route to a marching band competition in Salem, we took a short stroll along the Lick Creek in the Hoosier, past the remains of a walled, 14th century Indian village.

Hike with Mike

Chaveas is in his fourth year as the head of the state’s largest public land holding – 202,000 wooded acres that span large portions of South-central Indiana from Monroe Lake to the Ohio River. At the beginning and end of our hike, he reiterated his intention to keep the now three-year tradition alive.

This year’s Hike with Mike had by far the largest turnout and included healthy doses of Hoosier National history and experience with the Indiana Forest Alliance’s Jeff Stant and the Hoosier Environmental Council’s Tim Maloney who tagged along. Both have been lifelong advocates for the Hoosier and played determinative roles in establishing the Deam in 1982 and in beating back a plan introduced by the U.S. Forest Service in 1985 to clearcut 81 percent of the Hoosier National Forest.

Along for their third Mike hikes each were Hoosier Chapter Sierra Club Director Bowden Quinn and Heartland Group (Indy) Sierra Club Chair Jesse Kirkham (both of whom also climbed the afore- and post-mentioned fault).

Editor’s note: Shortly after arriving in 2013, Mike sat down in his office in Bedford for an extended interview on his personal background and vision of the Hoosier’s future. Videos of our chat are available on the Natural Bloomington YouTube Channel. (Changes made to the website reset the number of views a few months ago.)

Mt. Carmel geology

Forest activist and wilderness hiker extraordinaire Dave Simcox arranged the Deam hike, with special guest Walter Hassenmeuler, a geologist who retired from a career at the Indiana Geological Survey a few months ago. Dave is active in a number of groups, including the Friends of Lake Monroe.

On that forested ramble, the route (not trail) carried us over Frog Pond Ridge and across the Saddle Creek Valley to a rare exposure of the fault – a crack in the earth’s crust that runs some 50 miles from Washington County, through the Hoosier and the Deam, to Morgan County.

While much of the view was obscured by plant growth, the fault was evident. The climb out was steep.

The Indians' creek

The only signs of the Late Woodland Period (500-1500 A.D.) Indian village on the Lick Creek are an interpretive sign and an earthen embankment that, I have on the best authority, is only noticeable when leaves cover the ground and is best observed via a drone, in the right light.

Still, IU archaeologists excavated the Cox Woods site in the early 1990s and discovered about 100 Native Americans occupied the Oliver Phase village on the creek’s southern bank. They lived in houses encircling a common area, all surrounded by a double earthen-wall enclosure. They farmed the surrounding creek valley.

The site is adjacent to the Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest off U.S. 150 southeast of Paoil.

Like the Mt. Carmel Fault, the Lick Creek Village is overwhelmed by nature, in this case hardwood forest that has reclaimed the land. And while I'm not knowledgeable enough to know for certain, I’m going to say that, seven centuries ago, Late Woodland grandpas and grandsons tooled around the same shoreline my grandson Vale and I explored last week.

Hoosier National Forest Photographs: Top, Forest Supervisor Mike Chaveas, and second, Nebo Ridge; Third, Walter Hassenmueller, Mt. Carmel Fault, Charles C. Deam Wilderness; Fourth and Bottom, Lick Creek.


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