South-Central Indiana Road Trip
Route Details Length: About 120 miles, plus side trips. When to go: Pleasant year-round. Nearby attractions: Yellowwood State Forest, with
Length: About 120 miles, plus side trips.
When to go: Pleasant year-round.
Nearby attractions: Yellowwood State Forest, with camping and swimming, west of Nashville off Rte. 46. Wyandotte Woods, a large park with views of the Ohio River, southwest of Corydon via Rte. 62.
Words to the wise: If you are planning to visit in autumn, expect crowds and be sure to make reservations for lodgings.
Further information: Indiana Department of Tourism Development, 1 North Capitol, Suite 700, Indianapolis, IN 46204; tel. 888-365-6946, www.in.gov/enjoyindiana/.
Tree-lined avenues with a wide selection of shops and restaurants crisscross Bloomington, a pretty town known for its limestone buildings. The downtown historic district features such stately gems as the 1906 Monroe County Courthouse, an ornate structure crowned with a cupola.
The town’s centerpiece, though, must surely be its college, Indiana University. The campus boasts ivy-draped halls and dormitories, and many trees grow on its grounds. Of note too are the Auditorium Hall of Murals, with paintings by Thomas Hart Benton, and the Indiana University Art Museum, which displays works by Picasso, Rodin, Warhol, and other artists.
An artistry of another stripe is required for the Little 500, a bicycle race that takes place each April at Indiana University. In the grueling event, riders work as teams, substituting for one another as they race around an oval track. Or try the Annual Hilly Hundred Weekend, a three-day classic for bicycle tourists with more than 5,500 riders.
After sampling Bloomington’s attractions, including Indiana’s oldest winery—the Bloomington Oliver Winery on Rte. 36—follow Rte. 46 east as it dips and bobs through the hills and hollows of rural Brown County. At Belmont, turn onto T. C. Steele Road, a country lane winding through hickory and oak groves and meadows colored with patches of sun-flecked goldenrod.
2. T. C. Steele State Historic Site
The painter Theodore Clement Steele purchased 171 acres here in 1907. His home, known as the House of the Singing Wind, holds an abundance of fine furniture and decorative objects; the nearby barn, which Steele built for use as a studio, displays his colorful paintings. Visitors can walk along trails to see the woods and fields that inspired him and wander to Selma N. Steele State Nature Preserve, named for the artist’s wife. Riotous drifts of summer wildflowers in the preserve contrast with the carefully cultivated beauty of daffodils and irises found in other areas of the Historic Site’s property.
Just to the south lies Monroe Lake, a large reservoir that extends its watery tentacles between forest-clad hills. Hardin Ridge, a popular spot for enjoying the lake, is situated in Hoosier National Forest and offers swimming, camping, and boat launches. Bald eagles, their nests high up in the trees, are fairly common here.
The folksy charm of Gnaw Bone, Bean Blossom, and other rural communities is a Brown County stock in trade. But when people mention local color, they are probably referring to the hillsides, where showtime takes place every spring and fall. First onstage are dogwood and redbud trees costumed in white and pink. Then comes a rainbow of wildflowers that slowly fades as autumn ushers in the finale: a blazing display of maples and oaks glowing like embers at the edge of winter.
The town of Nashville complements all this natural beauty. A gathering place for artists, it has antique shops, art galleries, and craft stores. Taste the famous fried biscuits at Nashville House, listen to the spinners of tall tales on Liar’s Bench outside the old courthouse, or, in June, attend the Bill Monroe Memorial Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival, the oldest festival in the world dedicated to Monroe’s “high lonesome” bluegrass songs.
A few miles east of town, Rte. 46 leads to Brown County State Park. Once across the covered bridge at its entrance, visitors can explore nearly 16,000 acres of pristine woodland. Lakes and streams are plentiful here, and you can always find a place to paddle a canoe, hike a shady trail, or catch a glimpse of migrating teal or other waterfowl.
The drive turns southward on Rte. 135, following a twisting course lined with thick stands of trees and daisy-dotted meadows. Soon you will come to the resurrected ghost town of Story, founded in 1851. Riders in horse-drawn carts once stopped at Story to buy supplies and swap tales. Now visitors come to take in the old-time ambience of the village and its Story Inn, an early country store that has been converted into a gourmet restaurant—call for reservations.
5. Starve Hollow State Recreation Area
Wild turkeys, ruffed grouse, deer, and raccoons are among the denizens of this recreation area. To learn about the animals, stop at the Driftwood Nature Center; then you might spot some of them in the wild as you walk along the nature trails. Starve Hollow Lake, the area’s centerpiece, is stocked with catfish, bluegills, and bass, while dozens of prime campsites nestle along the shores. Back on Rte. 135, the drive curves past small fields and hills decked with oak, poplar, maple, and hickory trees. Along the way, it passes through Salem, a quiet town with a public square and historic courthouse.
When Indiana became a state in 1816, the tiny town of Corydon was made its first capital. Here the constitutional convention drew up a blueprint for government in the limestone capitol, which still stands near the town square. Nearby are the 1817 Thomas Posey House and the oldest building in Corydon, the 1800 Branham Tavern, which is constructed of logs. Other must-see stops in Corydon include Turtle Run Winery, glassmaking artisans, Cave Country Canoes, Corydon Jamboree—a favorite for devotees of country and gospel music—and Wyandotte Caves off Rte 62 about eight miles outside of town; reach the caves by taking exit 105 on I-64.
To the south the Battle of Corydon Memorial Park honors yet another era. Indiana’s only Civil War battle took place at the site, where the state’s home guard surrendered to a much larger force of Confederate soldiers after a brief skirmish. The occupation did not last long: the Southern army commandeered all the fresh horses they could find, then marched off to their next encounter.
7. Squire Boone Caverns
The drive continues southward on Rte. 135 as it heads for the access road to Squire Boone Caverns. A brother of the famed frontiersman, Squire Boone built a log house and a gristmill here in 1804. Years earlier he had eluded pursuing Indians by taking shelter in a nearby cavern—a stroke of good fortune that inspired him to return and settle in the region with his family.
Today visitors find on the site a small theme park with pioneer-era buildings, hayrides, and other bucolic amusements. The caverns, a complex of rooms and passageways hollowed into the limestone by underground streams, can be seen on guided tours. The distinctly cool, dark realm contains milky rimstone dams, impressive stalactites and stalagmites, and limpid pools populated by blind crayfish—their eyes unneeded in a world without light.
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