Fern Cliff Nature Preserve: a 'floral paradise' in the Entrenched Valley

When The Nature Conservancy's (TNC) marketing director told me the Fern Cliff Nature Preserve is his favorite, I knew I was in for a stirring photo hike. It helped that he confirmed a trail does indeed wind through the 150-acre Putnam County site. The Indiana Division of Nature Preserve's website says there isn't one. TNC's website says only that a trail exists.

While the Dedicated State Nature Preserve would have been more inspiring were I a botanist -- TNC calls it a "floral paradise" -- this sandstone marvel proved worthy of both its National Natural Landmark (NNL) status and the focus demanded by its rugged landscape. The terrain is treacherously precipitous. A trailside sign warns of "dangerous cliffs."  

Botanically speaking, Fern Cliff's sheer sandstone cliffs and moist, upland and lowland forests are literally dripping with ferns, mosses and liverworts unique to this part of the planet. Like that of the nearby Big Walnut Preserve, its NNL status means the preserve has "outstanding biological and geological resources."

Photographically speaking, here's a Fern Cliff Photo Album from the trip.

Fern Cliff occupies the westernmost portion of the Central Till Plain Natural Region. The most expansive of the state's 12, this natural region sprawls from a short strip in Vigo and Vermillion Counties on the west to the middle half of the state's eastern border, from Franklin to Allen and Dekalb Counties. 

Distinct from the Central Till's other two Sections -- the Tipton Till Plain and Bluffton Till Plain -- the Entrenched Valley features deeply dissected valleys along the Wabash River, Sugar Creek, Big Walnut Creek and Big Pine Creek.

Fern Cliff is bordered by the Snake Creek, which feeds the Big Walnut a few miles southwest of Greencastle. Among its less-than-natural characteristics are a stark canyon and artifacts left behind by an early 20th-century quarry that mined sandstone and crushed it onsite for shipping to a bottle manufacturing plant in Terre Haute.

Photographs: Fern Cliff Nature Preserve

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