The Natural Bloomington Blog


Any time you feel Southern Indiana's lack of mountains, oceans, ancient forests or major rivers relegates it to second-class status in the cosmos of natural beauty, take a hike on Nebo Ridge. Or, better yet, show someone from a far-off destination that boasts all those natural wonders some of ours. You'll gain perspective.

I had the opportunity to do both in the past week and posted photo albums from each on the Natural Bloomington Photo Album page.


When I interviewed former Hoosier National Forest Supervisor Claude Ferguson back in the mid-1980s, I left with one of the most memorable quotes I ever gathered. The subject was the 1985 U.S. Forest Service plan to clearcut 81 percent of the state’s only national forest. Under that forest-management vision, plots up to 30 acres in size would be routinely stripped bare of all vegetation into the 22nd century.

I sat with Claude on the porch of his Bedford home as an environmental reporter for the Bloomington Herald-Telephone covering the 1985 plan and as a grad student writing my final masters project about it for the IU School of Journalism. Clearcutting, he told me, essentially required little more expertise than drawing lines on a map.

“It makes it easy to go for coffee,” he said. “But it’s not forestry.”


In any given March, Miller Ridge in Brown County is remote, high, relatively dry and, like forestlands across Southern Indiana, displays the first signs of re-awakening woodland life -- greenbriar, lichens and wildflowers, for starters. Towering 300 feet above the Crooked and Panther Creek Valleys, it's also a good workout.

This March, Miller was the perfect place to experiment with my new photo system. I used Saturday's three-hour trek along the Tecumseh Trail on the 900-foot elevation ridge as an opportunity to shoot closeups with my macro lens. The blossoming toothworts, phlox and beauties of spring that spot the warming forest floor, on both the ridge tops and the valley floors, served as the experimental subjects.


Washington County's Cave River Valley is among Southern Indiana's secret natural gems. Situated on a stretch of cave-riddled karst between Mitchell and Salem, this 300-acre State Natural Area includes a 63-acre Dedicated State Nature Preserve that protects  two significant cave environments -- Endless Cave, which has been surveyed at nearly 7,000 feet, and River Cave, which features one of the world's longest straight-cave passages. 

I wrote the book on Southern Indiana natural areas and hadn't heard of Cave River until my friend Gary Morrison invited me on a photo shoot there last Friday. But then, Cave River -- home to three endangered species -- should be kept underground. Endless, a.k.a. Dry Clifty Cave, hosts one of the state's largest concentrations of hibernating, federally endangered Indiana bats. River, a.k.a. Wet Clifty Cave, provides habitat for the state-endangered northern blind cavefish and blind crayfish.


Unpredictable weather forced a change in plans announced last week to hike on Nebo Ridge in southeast Brown County. After 12 hours of fallacious forecasts of cloud breaks, I opted instead to continue my closer-to-home photo exploration of the Deam Wilderness. And after days of nonstop rain, I chose to stay on the high ground, specifically the Terrill Ridge Trail that leads north from the Hickory Ridge Lookout Tower.

The trail follows a ridge top road to the 19th-century Terrill Cemetery and features two wildlife ponds where I knew, at a minimum, I'd find reflections of the sort I wrote about last week. The road is maintained for family access to the cemetery and, while soggy, was still easily traversed. Along the way I encountered a backpacker who told me of another water hole east of the trail on "county line road," a now overgrown roadway that delineates the boundary between Monroe and Brown Counties. I counted off the 400 paces he advised and found a campsite but no water.


Hoosier National Forest - Nebo Ridge TrailNebo Ridge in Southeast Brown County occupies a special place in my creative history. I shot one of my first artistic photos and my very first reflection on a Hoosier National Forest wildlife pond there a little more than 40 years ago. The Indiana Public Interest Research Group (InPIRG) had just proposed the 30,000-acre Nebo Ridge Wilderness Area for inclusion in the National Wilderness System, and a couple friends, my ex Judy and I headed east from Bloomington for a little exploration.

I had no idea where we were, other than Nebo, just down the road a piece from Story. That was as deep as I'd ever been in the Southern Indiana wilds at the time. I vaguely remember a gravel road, a steep climb and a trail along the ridge top to the small water hole. I vividly recall shooting some bare trees reflected on the pond. Four years later, when I typed up my very first serious piece of environmental writing -- on the Hoosier -- I learned the pond was probably built some 40 years prior by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a.k.a. FDR's "tree army." 



The past month has been anything but enjoyable (or creative). I've fought a viral bug that I thought had disappeared eight days ago, before last week's five-mile trek along the Grubb Ridge Trail wore me out physically. By the time Sunday night music rolled around, I was coughing, running a fever and otherwise unable to participate in the weekly activities at Dave's place.

Fortunately, my Honda trunk lid was the only witness to my disagreeable disposition while running unavoidable errands on a cold, gray, blowy Wednesday morning last week. The sun never did show. But an email from IU Press that afternoon saying a copy of A Guide to Natural Areas of Southern Indiana awaited me at their front desk served as a mood-altering bolt.


I knew when we headed west from the Blackwell Horse Camp on the Grubb Ridge Trail Saturday that any photo ops would most likely be nearly 2.5 miles from the trailhead, in the creek valley, where Grubb meets the Hayes Trail.

I wasn't interested in stopping on the first three quarters of a mile or so, which parallels Tower Ridge Road and State Road 446, both of which were humming with traffic on a sunny, 70-degree February day. The sound of rubber on the road isn't my idea of a wilderness experience. And in February, there's just not much color or life in the Southern Indiana woods, except in the seasonal creeks.

I am pleased to announce that Natural Bloomington is moving into the video age. I've newly revived the Natural Bloomington YouTube Channel and posted an admittedly rookie EcoVid effort from my Jan. 29 hike in the Deam Wilderness. Indeed, it looks like video will be an increasingly prominent tool of creative expression around here, at least for awhile.

This 3-minute video from the Deam’s Cope Hollow Trail isn't truly a rookie effort. I've shot, edited and produced digital movie projects before, and my students create slide shows and short videos. Hell, I've even been paid for it. But shooting and producing moving pictures has never really captured my imagination – until now.

The Cope Hollow EcoVid is an experiment in every way. It's the first I've shot in motion on the trail, the first captured with my new Nikon D600 body and the first ever edited with Premier Pro. I deleted four worthy minutes of scenery that didn’t pass the experimental tests – blurred images, lens noise, etc.


Walking within a half mile of the Buffalo Trace on the Springs Valley Trail a couple weeks ago reminded me that I’ve never quite known when (or if) I’ve walked or driven on the actual ground that massive herds of bison trod through Southern Indiana in pre-White Man days.

Native Americans and white settlers for centuries followed the path blazed from New Albany to Vincennes by thousands of bison living between the grasslands and salt licks of Northern Kentucky and the prairies of Western Indiana and Illinois. By 1819, according to U.S. Forest Service, more than 5,000 settlers traversed the trace on their ways west. Explorers Lewis and Clark and Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Harrison are known to have traveled on it.

I’m pretty sure I have driven on the trace. The mile I drove from State Road 37 in Orange County to the Lick Creek Trailhead on Valeene Road for my upcoming Guide to Southern Indiana Natural Areas is included in the 142-mile Buffalo Trace Loop of roadways designated as an Indiana Historic Pathway. But I am almost certain that I have not walked on it.


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