It’s the time of year when autumn colors pop against the bright blue sky–a sky striped with crisp, thin cirrus clouds fading into space.
Though many leaves have fallen, it is not too late to go on a delightful autumn walk and be showered with golden leaves as they waltz on the wind with their inextricable dance partner, gravity.
A hike starts with approaching a trailhead: a portal to another world. On one end, is the practical character of a parking area. Our mechanical means of conveyance are lined up and orderly like piano keys. But once you cross the trailhead’s threshold, you are ushered into a dreamlike state saturated in the sensory explosion of wilderness.
The ground is carpeted with leaves that give a satisfying crunch under footfalls. The air smells earthy with the perpetual dampness of fallen logs. Rustling branches, punctuated by the staccato of birdsong, sound like an orchestra tuning before a performance.
East central Indiana boasts many places for an autumn hike that leaves you vibrating with pleasure. Here are three suggestions from your friends at Red-tail Land Conservancy.
Fall Creek Woods
Located a few minutes south of Middletown, Fall Creek Woods is a glowing showcase of the season. It is brimming with sugar maples whose leaves are nearly neon in a crimson-colored rainbow. The narrow, earthen trail is a ½ mile loop that cascades down a bluff. That incline is the ghost of glaciers that once made up our landscape.
Visitors can trace their eyes over the dark scaly bark of black cherry trees. Peeking through the neutral hues of leaves having already fallen are soft green ferns whose delicate fronds curl inward in a soft grasp.
The parking area at Fall Creek Woods is nearly swallowed by a golden prairie whose tall grasses ripple like ocean waves in the wind, except for when the tops are frozen in time by rime after a chilly night.
Standing steadfast on the border of Muncie and Yorktown is Dutro-Ernst Woods. This nature preserve’s trail meanders through a prairie before reaching the woodland. The forest canopy creates a cathedral ceiling of lemon-yellow leaves. Dotted along the trails are pin oaks with their sharp vermillion leaves cast upon drooping branches.
Dutro-Ernst Woods’ trail is made of loops, totaling one mile. The crushed gravel path is wide and flat. Near the parking area is a Brobdingnagian-sized nest made of massive cottonwood logs filled with a scattering of rocks. It compels one to leap from rock to rock, log to log. Touching the ground shatters the illusion of lava lurking below.
McVey Memorial Forest
Winding through the magical woodland of McVey Memorial Forest is the Mississinewa River. Walking in a straight line from the trailhead off W 750 N, visitors will reach a breathtaking vista. Stately sycamore trees’ branches lean across the river in a pirouette frozen in time. Their leaves tumble downward in the breeze to perform the gentlest of belly flops on the slow-moving water.
McVey Memorial Forest has a total of 3 miles of trail through myriad habitats off three trailheads. From W 700 N, visitors can walk through a towering hardwood forest abounding in hickory trees whose shaggy bark curtsies down the trunk. They will appreciate the prairie’s kaleidoscope of ochre and maroons at the parking area off Hwy 1. Off the trailhead at W 750 N, the dignified Mississinewa River itself, lined with resolute chinkapin oaks, is a natural backdrop to the hopes and dreams that reveal themselves during a walk in the woods.
Destination information on these Red-tail Land Conservancy nature preserves is on their website www.ForTheLand.org. November is a fine month for a hike, but it is best not to wait too long! The dreamy, wild dance of autumn will eventually fade into the deliberate and delicious stillness of winter.
Kelley V. Phillips is the Communications & Outreach Manager for Red-tail Land Conservancy. She strives to cultivate wonder in nature and action to protect it.