Friday, October 29, 2010

Hidden Gem: Pine Hills Nature Preserve

I consider myself well traveled in the state of Indiana. From the Indiana Dunes to the Falls of the Ohio, from Hoosier Hill’s “dizzying” 1,257 feet to the lowlands of Posey County, I thought I’d covered the bases in the Hoosier State. Five minutes into my first hike into Pine Hills Nature Preserve I knew I had missed one of the most remarkable scenic wonders Indiana has to offer.

I’ve been to the popular Shades State Park dozens of times. How could I have missed the equally interesting geographic features of Pine Hills right next door?

For one thing Pine Hills has only been a nature preserve since 1969. While 41 years sounds like a long time, it takes generations of visitation for a park to really become part of people’s collective consciousness. Another factor is the tucked away Pine Hills is overshadowed by the sheer popularity of the nearby Shades and Turkey Run State Parks.

Pine Hills is a quick hike (maybe an hour, possibly two if you really take in the scenery) with breathtaking views around every corner. The big feature of the nature preserve is the Devil’s Backbone. This is the one trail that is somewhat challenging and if you’re scared of heights it could be intimidating.

Overall I rate Pine Hills as one of Indiana’s best-kept secrets and definitely worth a visit. As a bonus there’s also no entry fee, a good thing in these challenging economic times.

The Slide is a steeply banked wall of rock carved out over many thousands of years by the creek below. Check out the pine tree growing on just a thin crust of dirt covering the rock. That’s one thing that constantly amazed me about Pine Hills, trees growing on seemingly next to no topsoil at all.

The Devil’s Backbone seen from below. The unique ridge was formed by two creeks on either side that formed an extremely narrow and steep plateau.

It almost looks man made, but it’s not. Looking out to the Devil’s Backbone. Walking the narrow ledge with 75-100 feet on either side is not for the faint of heart, but the view from the top is worth the effort.

Honeycomb Rock’s scenic overhang with pine trees clinging to the edge. One of the many wonders of Pine Hills Nature Preserve.

One side of the Devil’s Backbone. Note the small pine tree growing on just the smallest of overhangs. You wonder how large that tree will actually get on such a small footing.

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