Last Sunday at Clifty Falls State Park in Madison, crowds were jamming into the lodge’s restaurant for the Mother’s Day buffet. Even more people, however, were slogging along the more than 14 miles of hiking trails. The Hoosier state is blessed with an abundance of excellent hiking trails, and Clifty Falls, with its canyons, cliffs, waterfalls, caves, and historic train tunnel is at the top of any list. My wife, Diane, and I took our two youngest grandchildren hiking there on Saturday, with promises they could go swimming afterward. There was still an awful lot of whining and complaining, but I couldn’t help it, I was afraid that I’d fall on my sore knee.
This park overlooking the Ohio River has 10 trails, and the one we took on Saturday was short, but rugged. In places, it was steep, rocky, and as slippery as owl’s spit. As usual, I was trailing behind. I don’t mind the rocks so much, but I hate all those tree roots that just wait there to trip you.
The views were quite spectacular, but there were a lot of people on the trail. I later learned that when two parties meet on a trail, the ones going uphill are supposed to have the right-of-way. The folks we met all were friendly and many of them had dogs with them. Since I was moving so slow, I had to let several people pass me by, which was a little embarrassing. I hate being showed up by a beagle.
In his 2014 dissertation, historian Silas Chamberlin from Lehigh University describes how the American hiking community grew exponentially after World War II. The war provided a surplus of camping equipment, new technologies, and taught many American outdoor survival skills. For most of American history, nature was seen as something to be feared and conquered. As industrialization began to take root, nature emerged as something to be celebrated as…