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A Blooming good time in Bloomington, USA

Updated: Oct 18, 2019

When I arrived at the immigration desk in Detroit the immigration officer asked where I was heading to.

'Bloomington', I replied. He looked straight at me, his face free of expression, or was it disbelief?

'Yo got family there?'

'Yes, My son'

You go have a good time now' he waved me through.

I wondered if he thinks there is no other reason to go to Bloomington, how wrong could he be.

Yes, my son and his wife live and work in Bloomington and yes, they were the main reason for going there, but when I got back home and people asked me what I had been doing there

'Hiking, eating and drinking' just about sums it up.

Bloomington City is home to Indiana University who's campus is well maintained and provides a pleasant stroll on a first day, to get over the 17 hour journey and 6 hour time difference.

A small cute dog and pretty flowers
Alfie making his mark near the main entrance to Indiana University Campus. We are looking through the gates towards downtown Bloomington

But then there are the woods, from a 10 acre preserved wood right in the centre of town to the Yellowwood State Forest with over 23,000 acres to the West and the Morgan Munroe State Forest to the North with over 24,000 acres. Not to mention the many other small forests, parks and nature reserves or the 203,000 acres of the Hoosier National Forest. With 260 miles of trails that's a lot of exploring to do.

The state looks after the forest for both humans and wildlife, the area is so vast there is plenty of room for both. From a hiking point of view the trails are well marked with 'blazes' white paint on the trees along the trail. The trails are thus blazed, presumably the person with the paintbrush who marked the trail is the trailblazer. The woodland is mostly young, self set, taking over abandoned farmland. Here and there are remains of the settlements, but nature has done a pretty good job of taking back what was hers.

Navigating, the maps downloaded from the Hoosier Forest website aren't as good as the OS maps we use in the UK, but the forest is so dense that it's difficult to walk away from a trail, so as long as you know you are roughly travelling in the right direction and can identify ridges and valleys from contour lines, you'll be OK.

Visiting in the second week of October meant that the fall was on its way. The trees were starting to change colour but hadn't reached their full glory. Very pretty all the same.

We started with a longish trail, partly following the shoreline of Lake Monroe, we saw a turtle close to the shore, but it disappeared before I could get the camera out.

A reflection of trees in water
A very still Lake Monroe, just the beginning of autumn colours.

That evening we sampled beer in one of Bloomington's any eateries, this one serving its own craft beers, although not actually brewed in Bloomington. There was the option to taste before buying. The beer and the food was good, too good and there was no room for their signature pudding, a Pizookie, and that remains on the to do list.

Next day the early morning hike took us back to Lake Munroe. This is an artificial lake with the waters held back by a large dam. Underneath the water is redundant farmland but the shape of the lake is determined by ridges, which were the hill tops, before the flooding. This was an out and back, early morning walk along one such ridge. the dew still lay heavy on the ground and cobwebs, and mist was rising from the lake surface.

The early start meant we were back in Bloomington in time for Lunch. Cajun style food at the Uptown Cafe. Great food, this time I remembered not to finish my main course, getting half of it 'boxed' to take home, leaving room for the special pudding. Creme Brulee. An afternoon at rest then out for 'A Mexican' at Viva Mas, a brightly (very brightly) coloured fast food restaurant. Spicy food washed down with a Marguerita.

Final day of proper walking started with a short tour of Latimer woods. A small 10 acre site right in the middle of town, in sight of the shopping mall, surrounded by roads and residential complexes. It was left to the city by the Latimer family who had an 80 acre farm of which 10 acres was this wood. Most of the native woodland was cleared for farming so this is a very special collection of trees many of them the exceptionally tall Tulip Poplar.

lookingup the trunk of a very tall tree

Following a short drive out of town we took the Rock Shelter trail. We started out on the Tecumsah Trail before following a smaller path. The woodland was lovely then the trail suddenly dropped down a deep gully and turned a corner to reveal a large, striped limestone overhang, left behind when the creek found softer ground and moved away. Not only was the stone fantastic and beautiful but deep in the valley the silence was amazing, apart from the scuttling noises of squirrels and chipmunks, not to mention the birds out of sight in the tree tops, but no man made noise at all.

After we finished the trail we walked out to a cemetery, one which was left over from when the area was farmed. We were surprised to see that one of the graves was very recent, from June this year. What a peaceful place to be buried.

This evening was home cooked food, preceded by cocktails at the Cardinal Spirits Distillery, . I loved their 'Spirit Guide' and the fact that the different flavours of alcohol were all made with Indiana produce, on the premises. If you get there at the right time you can have a guided tour of the distillery. We made do with lots of free tasting samples.

Then it rained and I read a book and walked around the town a while. Even in the residential area there are ponds with wildlife and I saw loads of turtles and a muskrat under the water. Ugly black vultures perched in the trees overhead. We drove out of town to the Story Inn for lunch. A glimpse of what the area would have looked like when it was farmed. The town of Story was abandoned when Lake Monroe was flooded, it was bought in the 1970s and gradually restored. The inn is in the old Store, tin clad. They have just started a brewery here and host a wine festival in the summer. You can even stay here in one of the restored houses.

Pre evening meal drinks were at the Switchyard Brewery. Again right in the centre of town, but this time the brewery was on the premises. . Thai take out for a late supper.

My final morning was very cold but sunny again. Brunch at the Scenic View Restaurant, Well named for its amazing view over the forest to Lake Monroe. Two huge Blueberry pancakes and a hot chocolate, (one of the pancakes was boxed) then a drive out on 6 miles of dirt road, deep into the forest to climb the Hickory Ridge fire tower. This really showed the extent of the Forest....

a view over the top of the forest.
Trees, as far as the eye can see.

Back in the UK, asked what I had been up to I was able to sum it up in 3 words, Hiking, Eating and Drinking. Can't wait to go back and do some more.

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