Bushwacking the Lost River Valley; springing life on Big Creek, Sam’s Creek

The Natural Bloomington path tracked southwest last week into the Lost River Watershed, where life on the Hoosier National Forest floor displayed a kaleidoscope of annual regeneration: mayapple greens, anemone whites, spring beauty whites with violet-stripes, phlox and violet blues, wood poppy yellows, larkspur purples.

Friday's half-day excursion followed backcountry roads—i.e. Old Vincennes Road—to the light-drenched, scenic Big Creek and Sam’s Creek Valleys along the Orange and Martin County line. Big lies about a mile inside Martin. Sam’s crisscrosses the county line from north to south. Both feed the Lost on its way to the White River East Fork a few miles to the southwest.

Access to both creeks also lie at the end of twisty, asphalt-county turned national-forest-gravel roads, which pose considerable potential for driving disasters. Passing another vehicle on the two-and-a-half-mile ridge-top road above Big Creek seemed a daunting task. The Sam's Creek exit included hitting bottom on a small stream crossing. Waze navigation spent more than a little time "waiting for network."

Big Creek is the more westerly of the pair that rise within a quarter mile of each other and diverge on their routes south to the Lost.

Along Koh Road 52, so called by Waze navigation, sprawls a cleared wildlife management plot for wild turkey, which can maintain a steady foot race for a couple hundred yards before exploiting their capacity for flight to leave a Camry Hybrid in the gravel dust.

The roadside Union Cemetery features marked and unmarked memorials for pioneer families, such as Rev. Wm. S. and Eliza A. Salmon, born 1845 and 1855, respectively. They share this backwoods God’s acre with descendants that include Louisa J., wife of J.F., Day, who died at 27 in 1892, and Emma, daughter of H.G. & T.C. Powell, who died in 1901, apparently at birth.

Trail-less from Co. Road 52 [Martin], the Big Creek Valley required a deep and rugged bushwhack descent from the ridge top to flowing water. In addition to mayapples, rue anemones, Dutchman’s breeches and occasional spring beauties flourishing on the hillsides, spicebush bud, and nascent greenbrier warn the topography will soon be impenetrable.

While Big Creek flows southwest, Sam’s Creek runs due south and does in fact sport an unofficial trail from the end of Co. Road 191, which parallels the creek a mile and a half north of U.S. 150. The warm, valley-floor trail boasted a wider range of spring wildflowers, including wood poppies, blue and cleft phlox, and violets of purple and yellow varieties, in addition to the breeches, anemones, and spring beauties.

The 87-mile Lost River converges with the White roughly five miles due southwest of its confluence with Big Creek just across the Dubois County line. Thirty or so miles to the east, the Lost sinks beneath the surface and flows 23 miles underground through the region’s karst topography, before resuming its surface flow a couple miles west of Orangeville.

The only location where the Lost’s subterranean flow is visible is at the Hoosier National-owned Wesley Chapel Gulf, an eight-acre, collapsed sinkhole where, over thousands of years, an estimated 720,000 cubic yards of limestone rock and debris fell, dissolved, and washed away, exposing a peanut-shaped opening some 95 feet below the surface.

Next on the itinerary: a couple Lost River stretches in the Hoosier at Paw Paw Marsh and near the western Martin County berg of Windom, which is listed on Wikipedia but not on the Census.

Hoosier National Forest photographs: Top and left, Big Creek Valley; right and bottom, Sam's Creek.


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