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Sandstone Cliffs of Indiana and the Hike from Hell
by Stormy on July 24, 2007

Hemlock Cliffs is an area rich in history, ranging from ancient Indian habitation to modern murder and intrigue. Needless to say, the caves there are a fascinating place to visit.

An opportunity came up today for me to join in on a trip to Hemlock (Messamore) Cliffs to see the sandstone caves in the Hoosier National Forest. It was billed as a series of fun short caves where you could see a lot of stuff in little time and quickly turned into the caving trip from hell. Based on GPS coordinates for the caves, we chose to park on the opposite side of the forest from the suggested parking. This was probably the only good decision we made all day as it shaved a third of a mile off a very tough hike. Entering the forest we headed up a creek bed. It just so happened that the creek was not dry. The water was a lesser concern, though. A more serious one was the dense growth of plants of all kinds. It was like wandering through a jungle. Intertwined branches and thorn laden vines only made the trip more miserable. What made it nearly impossible was the number of spiders and thick cobwebs what covered the area. It was literally impossible to go a single step without having to brush cobwebs out of our way. And then there were bees, gnats, flies, mosquitoes, ticks... Overcoming a mile of hardships was tough. Then we discovered that the coordinates we had for the caves were about 800 feet off target. Getting to the right place was quite a challenge and we honestly stumbled down one of the legs of the Hidden Arch by sheer accident. We were surprised when we reached the bottom of the canyon that two of the three entrances to the cave were literally to the right and left of us. By default, Hidden Arch was our first cave for the day. It has two huge gaping openings that connect under a natural bridge and a side passage that goes into the cliff, turns and exits through another huge opening further down the canyon. The next cave we reached was Sentinel Rock Cave. We had a debate as to which cave it was that we stumbled across. The way we solved that was by exploring the cave and matching it to a map. Sentinel Rock isn't as exciting a cave as Hidden Arch. In fact, it's much smaller. Much more cramped and it's one of the drainages for water flowing through the area. It's a messy cave. It did have one interesting feature, though. There were a lot of cobwebs on the ceiling and due to environmental conditions moisture condensed on the threads of the webs, making large balls (or bowls) of water. The spiders sat on the rock above the web, for some reason thinking that they can catch bugs in a bowl of water. Having established two points of reference, the next cave we identified in this direction was Room Cave. It was noted as being a hard to find crack in the bottom of a sink, leading to a fairly large room. There was one sink that we found that perfectly matched the described site, but it looked like there were a lot of storms that went through the area and may have covered over the gap we were searching for. We did find a shelter cave we had no description for and logged that. We proceeded then to the next cave, the Little Indian Cave. "Little" is just a name. It was a gaping opening in the cliff face with breakdown along one side and a passage leading past it. It narrowed down fast and continued for quite some distance in wet sand. The next cave was Indian Cave. If the Little Indian Cave had a huge entrance, Indian Cave had a phenomenally large entrance. The cave got smaller after a while, but the floor was covered with fine sand that made for a very comfortable crawl. We then tried to find Arrowhead Arch, but simply could not locate it after an hour of searching. We did, in that time, locate several other shelter caves that were not referenced on the maps and one awesome looking waterfall that cascaded in multiple drops over a shelter cave. The hike, the caving and the nature-seeing were great! It was a hard trip, though, full of obstacles. We hiked back out of the forest and drove back to the NSS site. Our original plan was to visit the Hemlock Cliffs in the morning, do the Cave Rescue Seminar over a long lunch and hit one of the commercial caves in the area. As things turned out, we spent the vast majority of the day visiting the sandstone caves. It was a day well spent.

The start of the trail up to Hemlock Cliffs. The stream route looked beautiful in the beginning, but it got hairy fast!
(taken by Jennifer on July 24, 2007)
Water cascading over limestone in the creek.
(taken by Jennifer on July 24, 2007)
A cobweb in the forest, well over a yard across. This size cobweb was the rule, not the exception.
(taken by Jennifer on July 24, 2007)
A rock at Hidden Arch, decorated by visitors over the decades. Is it art or vandalism?
(taken by Jennifer on July 24, 2007)
A caver inside Hidden Arch Cave.
(taken by Jennifer on July 24, 2007)
The view out of Sentinel Rock Cave.
(taken by Max on July 24, 2007)
A water gathering cobweb at Sentinel Rock Cave.
(taken by Max on July 24, 2007)
A caver at the gaping entrance to Indian Cave.
(taken by Max on July 24, 2007)
A turtle in one of the creeks below Hemlock Cliffs.
(taken by Jennifer on July 24, 2007)

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