Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Get Out of Town!

Prophetstown State Park
Prophetstown State Park. From my Flickr photostream.

Exploring the natural treasures of Indiana means more than just hitting the state parks. Though they're less tourist-oriented, state forests often host fine hiking trails. And though they may be smaller than some folks' yards, nature preserves protect stunning bits of what Indiana was before our predecessors began settling, farming, and paving the land.

My go-to source for information on Indiana's natural areas is Eric Thiel's Get Out of Town!, which collects all of Indiana's natural areas, providing first-hand reports of many of them. A clickable Indiana map makes it easy to narrow down your choices by county, and he also offers information broken down by property type (state forest, reservoir, nature preserve, etc.) and what sort of activities the intrepid adventurer is looking to engage in.

His profiles of natural areas are really valuable, and don't mince words. If a place is boring, tailored more for RV traffic than rugged adventure-seekers, he lets you know. Flora and fauna, quirks of local history, parking difficulties - Eric provides pertinent information about all the places he's visited. For many of those he hasn't, other folks have sent in their own reports.

Just as Eric is devoted to sharing those thankfully uncivilized parts of Indiana's landscape, his website is modeled after what the internet was like in the 90's. Devoid of animation, ads, and other flashy hoo-ha of the current web, it's a neat digital reflection of the experience of stepping onto a hiking trail and losing the trappings of modern life for a little while.

Hop on over to Get Out of Town, find some obscure scrap of scruffy Indiana nature to visit, and give Eric a big high-five for doing his thing. And if you head out to one of these spots, send a report to him about what you've seen.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Setting Up Shop

Three Lakes Trail
Morgan Monroe State Forest. By yours truly.

Welcome. Under Indiana is very much a work in progress. I've learned a lot over the last year or so of blogging at my dinosaur blog Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs. I'd like this site to be a valuable resource for curious Hoosiers of all ages and levels of science knowledge. When I was growing up in Northwest Indiana (a.k.a. "The Region" or "Chicagoland"), I visited natural areas in the state because they were all I had: I couldn't see the Smokies or the Rockies every year, so I went to the dunes. No ocean? Lake Michigan served the purpose. No breathtaking red rock canyonlands? Head down to Turkey Run one weekend.

After I'd grown up a bit, I learned to appreciate my home state on its own terms. I think it's a common experience for lovers of natural history: a deepening appreciation of the world that goes beyond the biggest, the splashiest, the most touristy. From the fossiliferous limestone of the south to the glaciated landscapes of the north, from the humblest crinoid fragment to Arcdotus simus, Hoosiers have plenty of natural history to be proud of, to share with the rest of the world, and to inspire new generations.

I'm in the process of figuring out a posting schedule and topics, as well as compiling and organizing the definitive list of links to help you learn about and explore Indiana's natural areas and its past. Thanks for stopping by, and if you're interested in pitching in, let me know.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Falls of the Ohio Fossil Fest

This weekend, I attended the Fossil Fest at Indiana's Falls of the Ohio state park. It's located in Clarksville, right across the river from Louisville, and has hosted the festival for sixteen years. This was my first. I was quite impressed with the dedication to natural history here; along with the Indiana State Museum, it's one of the only places in Indiana dedicated to interpreting the state's deep past. Volunteers were there in abundance to explain the ecology, the history of exploration of the site, and especially the fossils.

The Outer Bank

This photo shows the park's claim to fame. At this site, the Ohio River has exposed a nice stretch of Devonian limestone dating to about 380 million years ago (with limited exposures of the older Silurian and younger Mississippian). It was a good year to pick as my first visit, I was told: the river is low right now, meaning that the Indiana shore, on the interior of the dam you see in the background of the photo, is easily reachable on foot.

The shore is divided into an inner bank, the Indiana shore proper, and the outer bank, which sits just under the dam. The outer bank is home to the best fossils, and that was the destination of the hike I joined early in the morning. About two dozen folks joined in, all from varying backgrounds and levels of knowledge. The hike was led by volunteers with the park's Naturalist at Heart program who were generous with their knowledge and their time. I also hung out with a party from Kent State University's geology department. It was great to hang back and listen to them discuss what we were seeing, and fun to offer a couple tentative interpretations of some of the features. I was thrilled that I wasn't laughed off the bedrock!

Outer Bed Hike

The hike had a wet start, as we had to ford a small part of the river and make our way across the dam.

Fossil Coral

Once we reached the outer bank, the group separated out as individual fossils demanded our attention or the viewfinders of our cameras. There were so much fossil coral that it was very easy to imagine the floor of the shallow tropical sea where they originally grew, so many ages ago.

Fossil Coral

I just noticed the spider in the photo above, a reminder that fossils aren't just baubles for human enjoyment, but are still part of their living surroundings.

Horn Coral Fossil

The most common fossils in this spot are the horn corals, so named because early American settlers mistook them for fossilized bison horns.

Horn Coral Fossil

Petoskey Stone

Here's a Petoskey stone in its natural, unpolished state.

Fossil Coral

Fossil Bryozoan

Keen eyes could also spot the occasional bryozoan peering out from the limestone.

Stay tuned for more photos from the Fossil Fest and discussion of the event and the natural history of the area all this week.