Monday, October 23, 2017

Sports Car Roads and Buzzard Roost

Nope, this isn't a weekday but rather a Sunday morning during prime camping season a week before Labor Day

Ahhh. Another dawn here at Blackwell Horse Camp, just waiting on the sun to appear over those trees.

It’s going to be another gorgeous day (Did I mention that I have enough bars here to pull up the WeatherBug app??) and there’s plenty of interesting looking trails nearby, in fact I’ve kind of got my eye on that Sycamore Trail just down the road.

But I just can’t do it.

I can’t sit here another day. (Notice that I already packed the tent the night before.)

Hurricane Harvey has been holding me hostage for three days now and isn’t done with me yet, but I need to do something to give myself the illusion of moving closer to home.

As far as trails go, Buzzard Roost doesn’t look like much on paper, though at 0.8 miles, the trail map shows it as being a full 3 tenths longer than shown here on the Hoosier National Forest Trails Guide, (All published by the same entity, but since it’s the USDA the fact that they can’t quite sync things up isn’t surprising.) but the story behind the name of this site right on the Ohio River drew me in anyway.

(My actual out and back GPS track was 1.24 miles so it seems neither number is correct. . .)

In the late 1800’s the Hatfield family (That’s Job Hatfield and I don’t know if they are related.) operated a smokehouse in Magnet, a couple miles further south along the river. They did all their own butchering and as you can imagine this produced scraps; well, scraps to them, gourmet to buzzards.

When full the buzzards would roost on the bluffs above a bend in the river about halfway between Magnet and the larger town of Alton. (I guess not many people wanted to live too close to a smokehouse operation so Alton got the people!)

To get from where I was to where I wanted to go, I took SR 37 south out of Bedford. In the pre-interstate days Indiana 37 used to be the highway, running from the southwest corner to the northeast corner of the state, with 110 miles of that being 4 lane-divided. Now the whole stretch from just south of Indianapolis to just north of Fort Wayne doesn’t exist anymore, buried beneath urban sprawl and I69. And it won’t be long before the segment from Martinsville down to Bloomington will also disappear under a new chunk of I69 that is already under construction.

Today my drive from Bedford down to Paoli is interesting, but not terribly spectacular or noteworthy. From Paoli south that changes though. Somewhere in the process of working its way through the streets of Paoli the flatish farmland is left behind and, while some farms do still exist, SR 37 is now snaking its way through the ridges and hollows of the Tell City Ranger District of Hoosier National Forest.

And snaking is the operative word here!

If the posted speed limit along here is 55 that means that there are going to be a whole mess of 45 MPH turns and curves to be negotiated, if the speed limit is 45 then the turns and curves  are down to 35. In either case, driving something as heavy and tall as The Van there’s just not enough time and distance between curves to get it up to the speed limit, (Especially with my light foot more suited to a grandmother than a ball-carrying member of the male subset. . .) though for sports car enthusiasts this must be a dream drive!

Twisting and turning, climbing and dipping, through the woods of southern Indiana with the windows, and maybe even the top down, with occasional roadside beverage stops along the way to keep everything lubed and cooled. Almost makes we wish I had one of those little Italian jobs to drive, but my luck, it would turn out to be a 30 year old, 30 MPH Vespa scooter. . .

At English (given the Amish population in the area perhaps this town was named for its preponderance of non-Amish inhabitants?) I leave 37 and switch over to SR 237, which, if anything, was even more twisty and turny and sports-car worthy (As long as you can get around that slow-ass van up there in front of you!!)

Eventually I come to my turn onto Onida Rd., which isn't all that well marked so it was a good thing I was keeping track of the mileage from that weird three-way intersection in Sulphur where SR 66 confuses the crap out of things by nearly doubling back on itself to head east one way and south the other. . .

When you’re in the woods you take every opportunity you can to suck up that solar!!

From what I had read about the popularity of Buzzard Roost as a picnic and family gathering spot nowadays I envisioned a fairly developed recreation area with picnic shelters, brick bathroom building and paved walkways.

Instead I find an overgrown wide spot in the single-lane access road that doubles for trailhead parking. But first, not recognizing it for what it is, I bypass that, thinking it must be an overflow area, and drive on into a tiny little 5 site campground with no water and a single construction style, plastic  portapotty perched at a cockeyed angle beside the loop at the end of the road.

Being a Sunday I'm also prepared to deal with crowds, but it's just me and the couple occupying the only camp in the campground.

As for the trail itself?  Well it clearly hasn’t seen a whole lot of traffic this season, but I don’t let that stop me.

Not too far in from the trailhead is an observation deck perched up there on the bluff with a couple bench seats nearby (Behind me) for those that find the couple-hundred foot stroll from the parking area taxing.  (OK. Yes. I used the benches, but only on my way back up from the river!)

The view is across the river to Willett's Bottom in Kentucky and I hang around a while to see if there is anything going on. (There isn’t, not even any traffic on the river.)

But the trail continues on, squeaking through between the campsites (See the tent of the only camp there to the right?) and the bad part of the bluff. You know, where gravity switches from keeping your feet planted on the ground to making you temporarily fly as you head towards the river below.

Past the campground, trees to the left of the trail try to give the illusion of security, but I still know the edge of the bluff is right there, just a couple steps away.

And there are a few points where the trail sort of tips over the edge, such as here where I’m pointing the camera pretty much straight down.

But as long as you can handle two stairs at a time, with one or two butt-slides or all-fours scrambles thrown in for good measure,

you’ll be able to make it all the way down the bluff to this rather grown-in bench on the banks of the river,

or, if you bypass that then a few steps later you can stand at the water’s edge and look up-river where Alton is hiding around the bend,

or downriver towards Magnet.

In fact, with enough zoom you can see some of the rental cabins, a canoe livery and river-side parks that make up Magnet today.

The main road, a county road called Dexter Magnet, crosses there between the buildings and the river and I’ll be going through there later when I leave here.

Assuming I can make it back up the bluff to The Van. . .



  1. I've never known Hwy 37 to head SW part of Indiana but I do know those twisting and winding road you speak of near Tell City and English. Southern Indiana is full of sports car roads, my Z4 loves them as much as my '93 LE Miata did. There have been a few times where I have had my right foot buried the the firewall of the car trying to get slowed in time for those 15mph turns. Pretty amazing that a campground like that is vacant on a weekend before Labor Day.

    1. I don't know if SR-37 went west from Tell City back in the day or not, but if it didn't, clearly the official history of the highway doesn't line up very well with geography (Maybe back in those days nothing west of Tell City counted??)

      My brother, ex race-car driver, used to have a bumper sticker that said "If you're not afraid you're not going fast enough!"
      Not my style! I think I'll stay back here and toddle along with the grandmothers if you don't mind!

      A NF ranger told me that in your part of the county the weekend before a holiday weekend, whatever it might be, always sees light usage of the campgrounds and recreation areas. Bad for the working-stiff that gets caught up in the holiday frenzy, good for us retired rats free to go play when we want.