The Natural Bloomington Blog


Check inside view of Brooks Cabin off the Rewilding Southern Indiana must-get photo list, thanks to the good folks down at the U.S. Forest Service; ditto soft light on Blackwell Pond. Last week they unlocked the 1870s-era log home, situated in the Charles C. Deam Wilderness on the edge of the pond, for a rainy Tuesday morning photo shoot.

Forest Service officials relocated the two-room-with-a-loft log cabin from the Little Blue River in Crawford County and rebuilt it at the Deam’s welcome center on its far western edge in Monroe County. Along with the Rickenbaugh House on Celina Lake in Perry County, Brooks represents the best examples of nineteenth-century architecture remaining on the 204,000-acre Hoosier National Forest.

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a brigade of local laborers hired by the Depression-era Works Progress Administration, built the pond in the 1930s after quarrying rock there to rebuild local roads, including Dutch Ridge Road (now State Road 446) and Tower Road (now Tower Ridge). In addition to constructing wildlife ponds and openings, replanting trees and building trails, the CCC also built the Hickory Ridge Lookout Tower, which is on the National Historic Lookout Register.


It took two trips last week to the Hickory Ridge Lookout Tower to capture a blue-skied, cloud-filled horizon shot for the natural history chapter of Rewilding Southern Indiana: The Hoosier National Forest. In between, grandson Vale and I embarked upon a journey south to the Boone Creek Barrens, which, at least in terms of book photos, was unproductive.

The first Hickory Ridge tower jaunt on Sunday produced a couple quick images of the historic Brooks Cabin and a reduced confidence in my weather radar skills. Instead of catching an expected break in the stormy afternoon weather, I spent a futile half hour in the car waiting for an abatement in the rain, which started literally the minute I arrived. The wait did generate an impressionistic wilderness-through-a-rainy-windshield image, reminiscent of Claude Monet’s "Weeping Willow Tree."

Our journey to Boone Creek Barrens on Tuesday was timed to an advertised color explosion from prairie plants that thrive on the thin, dry soils atop bedrock, including blazing stars, rattlesnake master, white wild indigo, hoary puccoon, and downy phlox. A fact sheet said these midsummer beauties were viewable from the road.


I’ve been writing Hoosier National history the past month – pioneer through today – and didn’t shoot a single nature image in June, save for the backyard fawn. Not that there weren’t subjects to shoot – like Carnes Mill and the Rickenbaugh House. A perfect nonstorm developed on Saturday, and granddaughter Raina and I headed to the mill on a bend in the Little Blue River in Crawford County. The 1874 sandstone house was Plan B.

I’m sure we reached the right parking lot for Carnes Mill, but there was no hint of a path through the undergrowth downhill to the river barely visible below. Conflicting GPS readings may have contributed, but I just think it’s a spring or fall hike. So we headed 15 minutes south to the Rickenbaugh House on the Indian-Celina Recreation Area in Perry County.

Here’s an excerpt from the first draft of the Rickenbaugh section of Rewilding Southern Indiana: the Hoosier National Forest. Next up: Brooks Cabin, which was built by Carnes Mill and now graces the visitor center at the Charles C. Deam Wilderness.


A copyedited manuscript in need of final review left no time for nature in the backwoods this past week. But nature’s mom literally brought the wild to my back step, which brought to mind one of the oldest and most emotional environmental issues I’ve ever written about – urban deer.

A mama doe has chosen my garden gate as a safe place for one of her newborn fawns to bed this year. On Thursday, a little speckled one spent 12 hours in a curl 15 feet from the back porch, while mama was off doing what she does in the panoply of deer delights that is the Bryan Park Neighborhood a half mile from Kirkwood Avenue.

That, in turn, afforded an all-day wildlife photo opp unlike any I’ve ever had. As the day progressed, the fawn’s response to a zoom lens-toting biped evolved from motionless ball to acceptance via eye contact, a consent to be photographed in a photog’s worldview. It also conjured up the phrase “rats with hooves.”


I had forgotten about Anne LaBastille, a.k.a. the wilderness woman. I discovered this pioneering, earth-hippie-era teacher, writer, and photographer in the mid-1970s in a magazine article about her life and work in the Adirondack Mountains.

Five years before receiving her doctorate in wildlife ecology from Cornell University in 1969, LaBastille built a cabin on Lake Twitchell deep in the Adirondacks, where she lived, led guided tours, advocated for wildness, and wrote sixteen books over four-plus decades before her death at 75 in 2011. Her signature work is the Woodswoman series: a four-volume set of memoirs of her life in the forest.

During a visit with daughter Jessica in Brooklyn last week, we spent three days driving and hiking to, through, and deep into the Adirondacks, landing some 20 miles east of LaBastille’s homesite. Our itinerary included a stop at the Adirondack Experience, the Museum on Blue Mountain, where an installation honoring the wilderness woman’s contributions features her cabin, which was painstakingly moved and reconstructed.


Explorer René-Robert Cavalier Sieur de La Salle was the first European to reach the Southern Indiana hill country, though his time here was limited to the eastern cusp of the deep V-shaped hills and valleys that today include the Hoosier National Forest.

LaSalle, a Frenchman seeking a water route from the Great Lakes to the Pacific Ocean, is credited as the first European to reach the Ohio River and Indiana soil in 1669. He led an expedition from Quebec to the river’s headwaters in Western Pennsylvania and then downriver to the Falls of the Ohio at present-day Clarksville. His crew abandoned him at the impassable shallows, leaving LaSalle to briefly explore the alien territory alone.

This deepest-at-the-time penetration into the North American midsection culminated about seventy river miles--thirty overland--east of the Hoosier’s Buzzard Roost Recreation Area.


Spring semester grades: submitted. Vegetable garden: planted. Hiking sweat: already flowed on a backcountry Hoosier National Forest path. College town summer has begun at Natural Bloomington, with the first photo foray to the Lost River in Martin County, three crow miles upstream from the White River, eight fish miles maybe.

On May Day, landscape photographer Gary Morrison and I explored two Lost riverbanks that flow through and past small, isolated tracts of the Hoosier National Forest between Bedford and Shoals, captured in a small photo album called Lost River, Paw Paw Marsh. The day trip was the latest map-driven excursion through the White River Valley sections of the Hoosier National’s far western reaches.

Paw Paw Marsh Restoration is a shallow wetland that skirts a muddy edge of the Lost River at a 90-degree northerly turn, featuring eroded stone outcrops, sort of liquid rockshelters. A small dam controls the marsh depth, which is maintained for wildlife and was significantly lower than it was during a photo hike in late April 2015 for the Guide to Natural Areas of Southern Indiana book project.


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.


I was planning an afternoon jaunt to the Beaver Creek’s South Fork when Crystal asked last Saturday if I’d hang with my grandson Vale that night. The afternoon transformed into our first grandpa-grandson photo hike, with some fun photos to commemorate the occasion.

Beaver Creek is a White River East Fork tributary at the tri-county junction of Lawrence, Orange, and Martin Counties. The stretch we explored lies at the dead end of a backcountry road, in far northwest Orange County, in an isolated part of the Hoosier National Forest.

Vale is 5 and has enjoyed taking pictures around the house with a largely unused Lumix point-and-shoot and then seeing them on the computer. His questions about the tripod on the hourlong drive to Beaver Creek presaged a memorable bonding experience, not to mention which camera would sit atop the three-legged support the rest of the day – the Lumix.


One road trip is all that stands before the end of the prehistoric history phase of Rewilding Southern Indiana: The Hoosier National Forest. The Natural Bloomington version of life on Indiana’s largest chunk of public land from 350 million B.C. to 1650 A.D. has been written. A photo adventure to the most significant archaeology site on the 202,000-acre Hoosier, the last prehistory stop, is high on the itinerary.

The research / writing now shifts to the region’s recorded history, and road trips will highlight a series of national forest Special Places—such as Buzzard RoostHemlock Cliffs, and Wesley Chapel Gulf—which include several that are in fact historic sites. Also some lowercase special places—not officially designated—like the Beaver Creek Watershed down where Lawrence, Orange, and Martin Counties meet.

Superseding the archaeology hike, however, will be a time-sensitive return trip to Wesley Chapel. After days of rain, this eight-acre collapsed sinkhole will effectively be an upside-down waterfall, as an overflowing underground river system expels its liquid contents upward more than a hundred feet to the gulf’s rise pool.


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