March is one of the toughest times of year for the Hoosier outdoors enthusiast. It’s too warm for ice fishing yet too cold for most other angling. Hunting season is just a memory in the rear-view mirror while hiking is a weather-dependant crap shoot. So what is a stir-crazy body to do?
One of the most common activities during March is pondering. With not much else happening outdoors, you will often find yourself indoors sitting in a chair, staring vacantly at the ceiling and thinking about all those adventures to come where the weather is perfect, the bugs nonexistent and the fish are always biting.
While conducting my own version of this annual March exercise, mentally compiling a list of activities for the coming year, it occurred to me that what we all need is an Indiana outdoor bucket list.
If you are unaware, the “bucket list” is an inventory of things you want to do before shuffling off this mortal coil. The concept of the bucket list has become a fairly hot idea in the publishing world and you can now find all kinds of books, magazine articles, videos and websites devoted to various lists of escapades that the authors think you should experience before all your lifetime subscriptions expire.
So, after hours of pondering over spirituous beverages, here is our decidedly incomplete record of unusual Hoosier adventures which forms our own Official Indiana Outdoor Bucket List:
1. Flying dry at Brookville- The tail waters of Brookville reservoir hold good numbers of brown trout. Your Hoosier angler portfolio is not complete until you’ve taken one on a dry fly.
2. Hike the Knobstone- The Knobstone trail in southern Indiana is the longest hiking trail in the state and is very popular with backpackers. However, even a day hiker can share in the incredible (by Indiana standards) vistas and secluded valleys traversed by this amazingly difficult trail.
3. Find a Fossil- Large parts of Indiana rests on a foundation of limestone, a sedimentary rock most commonly formed from the skeletons of ancient marine organisms. Any place you find exposed limestone, such as creek banks, road cuts or quarries, you will find small but abundant fossils. Make it a goal this year to find a really neat one!
4. Visit a wild cave- Southern Indiana has abundant caves and while the regular commercial tours are fascinating, in order to truly experience Indiana untamed you should take a “wild cave” tour. Many commercial caves and some conservation organizations offer such tours. One hint: don’t participate if allergic to fear or bat poop.
5. Witness a blooming wild orchid- Indiana is reputed to have more wild orchid species than Hawaii. Most are rather non-descript woodland plants but there are a few quite spectacular ones such as the Showy Lady’s Slipper or Yellow Lady’s Slipper. They are a serious challenge to find because knowledgeable experts would rather give out their bank password than the exact location of the endangered orchids.
6. Paddle the entire Wabash- Few people know that the Wabash River from Huntington Dam to the Ohio River is the longest stretch of un-dammed river east of the Rocky Mountains. It takes stamina, outside support and at least one week to paddle the entire 211-mile length.
7. Find an arrowhead- Indiana, hence the state name, was home to a huge number of both Native American and prehistoric cultures. That’s why a springtime walk in a plowed farm field (with permission!) frequently will turn up stone arrowheads, tomahawk blades and other stone tools.
8. See the rocks in the trees- A no-trail hike that isn’t for the faint-hearted, there are several trees in Yellowwood State Forest that have large rocks sitting high in the crown. Explanations range from jokesters to aliens but they are an oddity you must see, and find, for yourself.
9. Paddle the Blue River in Harrison County- there is no more unusual stream in the state than the Blue River. Home to hellbenders, a huge endangered salamander, and many springs, the river is great for fishing, canoeing and exploring.
10. Witness the Northern Lights- Truly a rare spectacle in Indiana, you can occasionally see the aurora borealis display on very cold, clear nights, typically in the early morning hours when the conditions are just right.
11. Visit a prairie in bloom- Much of northern Indiana was tallgrass prairie before the iron plow gave rise to wholesale agriculture. There are still some large pockets of this magical landscape such as the restored Kankakee Sands project near Willow Slough Fish & Wildlife Area; plan on a June visit.
12. Put down your “stuff” and go outdoors- don’t take a gun, rod or camera; just plan a trip that involves nothing more than watching nature. You’ll be surprised at what you see.
You might even find that stupid bucket.