This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Rise of the Lost River

After a week of fun in NOLA, I did not come back to Rensselaer, but spent most of the next week in French Lick, Indiana, a very interesting little town in cave country. A bit north of French Lick flows the Lost River. It is called the Lost River because for about 23 of its 85 miles it flows underground.

One part of the Lost River system was mentioned in some of the material that the hotel provided, and we set out to find it. Even though I knew where it was on the map, I initially drove right by it and had to turn around and try again. What I found was this small river that looks very much like the Iroquois River. You might notice that there is a road that crosses the river, but you would be wrong to assume that if you go up to that road, you will see the river on the other side. There is no river on the other side of the road.
This is the Orangeville Rise of the Lost River, which is misnamed because this is not actually the Lost River but a tributary to it. The Lost River is so confusing that people did not know what was the river and what was tributary. The water surges up along the cliff, coming through underground passageways (caves) that drain about thirty square miles.
At one time the Nature Conservancy owned the three acres that surround this strange start of the river, but now it is owned by another group, the Indiana Karst Conservancy. (Rensselaer has plenty of limestone but no caves. Why? Because we had glaciers. Southern Indiana did not.)
There is also a plaque to inform visitors of the strangeness of the place.
(The plaque reads: "Rise at Orangeville has been designated a registered natural landmark. This site possesses exceptional value as an illustration of the nation's natural heritage and contributes to a better understanding of man's environment. 1973 National Park Service United States Department of the Interior."

Orangeville is about the size of McCoysburg.

After we got back to French Lick, we learned that we had missed a second interesting feature of the Lost River drainage that was only a couple miles away from Orangeville, the Wesley Chapel Gulf. Fortunately, visiting it on our way back to Indianapolis would not add miles to our travel, so on Friday we set out to find it. I missed the turn on the first try, backtracked, and found the Wesley Chapel, which, as its name suggests, is a small Methodist Church. However, we could not see our intended destination from the Chapel. A phone call to a local took us about 400 yards to the south, where fortunately we found this sign, or else I doubt if we would have found it.
Notice the small dog. It was quite happy to lead us to where it knew we wanted to go. The Wesley Chapel Gulf is a large (about eight acres) sinkhole formed when the roof of one of the caverns carved out by the Lost River collapsed. Following the guide dog, we got down to the floor of the sink hole and found a pool of water at its lowest level.
There were water channels and erosion suggesting that at times there was rapid flow of water here. Since there was no visible outlet for the water, it must find its way into parts of the cave system in which the roof has not yet collapsed.
Leaving the Wesley Chapel Gulf and heading east toward Orleans, we passed an Amish farmer plowing his field with the aid of two horses. Unfortunately, I did not have my camera ready and missed the picture.

Southern Indiana is a lot different from Northern Indiana. If you ever get down to French Lick, see if you can find these two interesting natural places.

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