A Pocketful of Gems
The Midwest. Everybody knows it’s flat here. You can see for miles and miles and miles in any direction. Except for July through October when the corn blocks the view of the horizon…and anything else for that matter. In the last Ice Age, the glaciers swooped down to the mid-latitudes in this middle region of the US, crushing the ground beneath it as they advanced, and leaving flatlands and rich, fertile soil in their wakes as they retreated. What once used to be woodlands, wetlands, and prairie lands are now corn and soybean fields for growing fuel, fillers, and animal feed. There is still beauty in these lands, to be sure. In the cornstalks blowing in the breeze and the old red barns that harken back to the days of family farms and simpler times, of quiet country roads and one-stop-sign towns, where the big oaks and maples still reign alongside cobblestone streets and over town squares with lush green grass and summer concerts in gazebos. But it is still flat, and for those of us who like to hike, it isn’t as simple as just heading out the door to the nearest trail. There are, however, in the midst of all these cornfields, natural gems that exist in pockets around the region.
One of these gems is less than an hour and a half from my hometown (like I said, you can’t just walk out your door or drive to the outskirts of town…these hikes are a destination worthy of a day trip). It’s a bit across the border into Indiana, off a small state highway. You know you’re close when the road begins to curve and to rise and fall over hills and the trees envelope you. When you cross Sugar Creek, you’ll likely see canoers and kayakers making their way down the river. There are several outlets here for renting canoes and kayaks, and the river is a fun one to run. Most of the time, it flows smoothly with a few spots that provide a bit of excitement. After heavy rains, however, they will often limit the age of riders to 16 and over. During these times, there is quite a bit more excitement. And sometimes they have to close the river altogether. The name “Creek” can be quite misleading.
Entering Turkey Run, you can park at the lodge or further down by the nature center. The park has eleven trails ranging from 0.5 to 2.0 miles, and they can all be strung together to make any length of hike you want. There are four trails south of the river and the rest on the north side. The trees have all greened up now, and this is the first chance I’ve had to make it this way since coming home. The weather has been unpredictable, wet, and chilly. And in this park, there is a lot of water and the trails can become a muddy mess quickly, sucking your boots into the muck with every step. I was looking forward to this hike, but curious as to what I would think of it after so many amazing hikes over this past fall. Trails in Custer State Park, along the Enchanted Circle, Medicine Bow, Capitol Reef, Zion, the Redwoods, and coastal Oregon. So many trails in such a short time. Would Turkey Run still hold up?
Leaving the lodge, I walked the trail along the river to reach the suspension bridge that takes you over to the north side trails. The current bridge is new, and it sits a couple of stories above the water, as did the previous bridge. But the previous bridge had been wiped out by a raging flooded river a few years ago. Standing on the new bridge looking down, I marvel at the thought of the river rising up high enough and taking trees large enough with it to wipe out a bridge sitting up this far above the water. This day, though, the muddy river flows smoothly under my gaze and on down through rocky cliffsides. You don’t get the clear, see-to-the-bottom rivers around here. They’re all brown from the soil and silt that wash into the rivers or get stirred up from the riverbeds. Even so, the contrasts of water, rock, and the green, green trees are striking.
After losing myself in the movement of the water for a few moments, I make my way to the other side where I discover one of the trails I’d intended to hike was at least partially closed for trail repairs. Looking at the long planks of 2 x 4s, I assumed that bridges and wooden walkways over an eco-sensitive section of this trail had washed out. This trail is one of three where sections of the trail pass through moss and fern-lined canyons with streams running through them. I delighted in these trails as a child. What an adventure to be able to splash through running water and call it a trail! To climb over fallen trees or try your skills at balancing along the entire length of said tree instead. To clamber up or down the ladders on Trail 5 taking you up to the ridge or down to the canyon bottoms.
Okay. I still do this. I still delight in these very activities.
The allure of this area is in these canyons. At least in my opinion. They are so different from anything else in the surrounding areas. And in the heat of the summer, the canyons provide a welcome reprieve from the heat, as the canyons can be a good ten degrees cooler. I was looking for that reprieve, with temperatures in the mid-80s and humidity somewhere in the range of 500%. The steep narrow passages and cliffs lined with lush forests are also mystical. They feel prehistoric, and you wouldn’t be surprised if a dinosaur comes crashing through the foliage. Any Land of the Lost fans out there? Kinda like that.
Lucky for me, Trail 5 is still open. I take a route that strings together three separate trails, including said Trail 5, which is the ladder trail and probably the most fun of the canyon hikes. The humidity is brutal, but I also break a sweat from the climbing. While not the same as hiking up Medicine Bow Peak, there are plenty of steep inclines (one of which includes 140 steps) to get the heart rate up. The scenery is just as I remembered, and, yes, it does hold up. It doesn’t compare to my fall hikes, but then they don’t really compare with one another either. They are each special places, and they each have their own magic about them. You can’t compare apples to oranges, and you can’t compare Turkey Run to Zion. The sound of thunder rumbling loud and long forces a shorter route and a quickened pace back to my car. But I don’t mind. I’ll be back soon.
The Midwest is flat. It is dressed in corn and soybean fields, with wide horizons and Tree City towns. But it is also carrying a pocketful of gems. And one of these gems is Turkey Run State Park. So, if you’re ever passing through central Indiana, do yourself a favor and spend a day or two here. You’ll leave feeling richer than when you arrived.