Indian Celina, Messmore Cliffs, Forest Service meeting – (Northern Indiana guidebook cover)

Spring Break is a time for travel in university towns like Bloomington, which at Natural Bloomington this past week meant a few drives down State Road 37 to diverse locales for the Hoosier National Forest book project.

The first, a scouting trip to three campgrounds near Tell City, produced what must be the last winter scenes of the year at the Indian Celina Recreation Area. The second, a return visit to Hemlock Cliffs, revealed the 75-foot Messmore Cliffs waterfall that rivals the 150-foot plunge for which the Special Place, in Forest Service parlance, is named. The third, an hour-long meeting with officials at the U.S. Forest Service office in Bedford, was helpful and insightful.

Along the way, I got a first peak at the Guide to Natural Areas of Northern Indiana book cover.

Indian Celina in winter

My March 12 scouting trip with photo partner Gary Morrison quickly turned into a race against the heat. Gary needed some winter scenes for a project he is working on, and a southwester had dropped a few inches of heavy, wet snow on our destinations: the Tipsaw Lake, Saddle Lake, and Indian Celina Recreation Areas in Perry County.

By the time we crossed the Crawford-Perry County line on 37, a distant winter sun pierced a glorious azure sky. But the temperature was rising, and the snow was falling from the trees—sometimes cascading. We stopped at Indian Celina, the northernmost of the three that was actually last on our itinerary, and caught what turned out to be the last of the day’s sunlight.

A freshly downed tree blocked the road to Tipsaw Lake and its campground. An icy road stopped us atop a steep descent to Saddle Lake.

Messmore Cliffs - Hemlock Cavern

On my Feb. 26 hike to Hemlock Cliffs, I met a couple waterfall-worshiping women from New Albany and Louisville who told me of a second falls on this Hoosier National Special Place. I was working on my hiking legs and bypassed a loop spur off the mile-long trail, in hopes the falls were still ahead. (Climbing out of the 150-foot sandstone box canyon was enough exercise for the year’s inaugural distance hike.)

The women and I reconnected in the parking lot after our hikes, and they told me that the falls, which I’ve come to learn are called Messmore Cliffs, are indeed located at the loop’s apex. The more enthusiastic of the pair showed me her phone photos from the day and said she liked them better.

After exploring the Messmore spur this past week, I have to agree. The falls are smaller than Hemlock Cliffs—and not quite as dramatic. But they are every bit as stunning, especially since the trail passes behind the falls and through the expansive but misnamed rock shelter Hemlock Cavern.

Indeed, this excursion was one of those “just-when-you-think-you’ve-seen-it-all” experiences.

Talking culture with the Forest Service

The last stop on the week’s southern journeys was an hour-long sit down with U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Chris Zimmer and Archaeologist Angie Doyle. The subject was the Rewilding Southern Indiana: The Hoosier National Forest book, with an emphasis on how to tell the tale while protecting sensitive cultural and ecological resources.

I reassured them we share the same mission: to protect and preserve the places that make places like Hemlock/Messmore Cliffs special.

Hoosier National Forest Photographs: Top, Messmore Falls; Center, Hemlock Cavern; Bottom, Indian Celina Recreation Area.


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