Cure cabin fever
From caverning to ziplining, one 812 reporter explores what Southern Indiana offers to beat the winter blues.
If you're a native Hoosier or have only lived in Indiana for one year, you're no stranger to the harsh, temperamental Midwest winter that settles in by December. While most of us would like none other than to put on our warmest PJs and crawl up with a blanket and hot cocoa, there's nothing better than to shake cabin fever and go outside.
Dr. Sachiko Koyama, associate scientist in Indiana University's Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, says that light is important for maintaining physical and psychological health. During the winter, the amount of light people receive is much less, and therefore we must strive to stay active and be exposed to sunlight, she says. "Going out and doing some outdoor exercise will also raise the metabolic rate," says Koyama. "It may also work to turn on all the lights of the house during winter time, but going out will be a cheaper solution considering the electricity, isn't it?"
Sure, there's skiing at Perfect North or snowboarding at Paoli Peaks, but what about those outdoor activities you wouldn't expect during the cooler months? After talking with 812 residents and surfing the Internet, I came across three unexpected places that give visitors a chance to get out of the house and get in with nature.
If you've always wanted to try spelunking, zipping through the trees or camping in structures that pre-date the Civil War, Southern Indiana offers it all. After traveling more than 200 miles around the region, I discovered one-of-a-kind activities that will drive away those winter blues and keep you active through the spring.
Squire Boone Caverns & Village
The winding road to Squire Boone Caverns & Village was lined with grazing horses and dozing goats. Crossing a one-lane bridge, I was greeted by a quaint cottage that says "Welcome to Squire Boone Caverns." Driving up the hill, I passed a grist mill powered by water and was thrust back in time to the pioneer age.
Squire Boone, younger brother of the famous explorer Daniel, discovered the entrance to the cave in 1790 and eventually moved to the land in 1804. He built the original grist mill before passing away in 1815. In 1974, the village and cavern officially opened, and one year later, Squire's burial site was discovered. He is now laid to rest in the cave.
"The history draws a lot of people," says Ellen Dressman, park manager. "There are things to do for all ages. It's a lovely, laid-back atmosphere, just quaint and old-fashioned."
Located near historic Corydon, Squire Boone Caverns & Village offers visitors a chance to experience a 19th century way of life. The village itself is a smattering of eight log cabins, each an original structure from the time period. You can watch candle-dipping and soap-making demonstrations, hunt for precious stones in the gem mine and enjoy freshly made goodies from the bakery and candy shop.
"Everything's made here on the property," says Dottie, the candle maker, who's been working at the village for the past five years.
But the real draw of Squire Boone lies beneath the gift shop.
After exploring the village, I met Don, my tour guide, outside. He explained the rules - no drinking, eating, smoking or gum chewing - while two goats, Lizzie and Aubrey, pranced in their pen next to us. Don then took me through the gift shop to a door that led to a 73-step winding staircase. The man-made shaft spiraled down to a giant cavern, the sheer immensity of which made me whisper, "Wow!"
"You ain't seen nothin' yet," Don said.
After letting our eyes adjust to the dimness, he led us through several rooms of the cave, each with a different name, and pointed out formations using nicknames like "cave bacon," "fried eggs" and "soda straws."
My favorite part of the tour was when Don turned off all the lamps that illuminated the path through the cavern. Plunged into complete darkness, I couldn't even see my own hand in front of my face.
Though Don has only been giving tours for two years, his love of caves goes back to his childhood. "When I was growing up, as kids we'd be running in and out of wild caves all the time," he says. "It's nice to be back."
He added that one of his favorite things about them is that they are always changing. "I've done about 400 to 450 tours now," he says. "I'm still always seeing different things. Caves are just neat."
Besides being neat, the cave is also a great place to escape the bite of winter air. "It stays 54 degrees year-round," says Dressman. "So in the winter, if you're looking for something to do, it's always warm down there."
If exploring a natural wonder sounds appealing to you, Dressman shares her tips for coming to visit Squire Boone. "Give yourself an extra 15 minutes to make your tour time, because it's difficult to judge driving time," she says. "And wear tennis shoes. It's damp underground, and I've seen too many people slip and fall."
Finally, she adds, "Just come and don't be in a hurry. Just enjoy what's here."
100 Squire Boone Rd
Mauckport, IN 47142 812-732-4381
Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Cave Tours: $14.50 for adults, $8 for children 6-11, $12.50 for seniors; 10 a.m., 12 p.m., 2 p.m., and 4 p.m. daily
For more information visit squireboonecaverns.com
Dagaz Acres Leadership Center & Zipline Adventure Course
Walking into the registration cabin at Dagaz Acres, I knew I had found something special. Birds, bucks and other wildlife were mounted on the walls, and a stuffed wild turkey stood on the table. While I read the news clippings and awards put on display, I heard shouts and laughter from the distance. Looking up, a group of school kids was making its way out of the trees up the path to the entrance.
While their adventure had ended, mine was about to begin.
The first course of its kind in the region, Dagaz Acres is a matchless experience for people of all ages. Though the business offers a leadership and team-building low course, which is popular with corporations, I had signed on to do the zipline eco-adventure course. With 10 ziplines spanning 23 acres, I was about to soar over the rolling hills of Southern Indiana.
Dagaz Acres opened in 2007, after owner and co-founder Patrick Noonan bought and cleared up the property in 2005. "I had gone on a mini-cruise where in St. Martin's we went ziplining," he says. "I just loved it, and told my wife, 'We should do this.'"
Over four years, Patrick and his wife, Lori, have established a regular clientele with youth groups, schools, corporate teams, Scouts and families from Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky.
Though zipline peak season is during the summer, Noonan says they try to fill up the schedule early in March for the new workers who have finished training. "People also have cabin fever from being in their house all winter. It's nice to get out and run around, have a good time."
My group consisted of a family of four from Dayton, Ohio, three friends from Louisville, Ky., a couple from northern Indiana and an instructor at the Indiana School for the Deaf and his wife. It was a beautiful day, and we were all excited to head out.
First we were led to a pavilion where one guide Katie showed us how to put on our gear - a helmet, harness and gloves. Then, our second guide Joe, who is Patrick's son, demonstrated on a low rope tied between two trees the proper technique of ziplining. Finally, we were ready.
The first course didn't seem that daunting, just a stretch of cord that went over a small gully. And yet, even after watching Joe zip ahead of everyone, even after witnessing others from the group make it over safely, even after double-checking that my equipment was secure, I couldn't shake the knot of nerves in my stomach.
But I stepped up and watched Katie hook my gear onto the cord. Placing my right hand on top of the pulley and grasping the harness cord with my left, I trotted down the dirt runway before breaking into a run. Where the land dipped into the valley, I lifted my legs and felt a rush like no other as I zoomed through the trees, wind in my face. I touched the ground on the other side, an enormous grin on my face. Though my legs felt a little shaky, I couldn't wait to do it again.
Over the next two hours, Joe and Katie led us through seven regular ziplines, three canopy lines through the trees and two bridges. Patrick designed the course himself to keep his guests from getting bored. With lines such as "The Big Nasty" and "Stairway to Heaven," you're at a constant state of elevated adrenaline.
At the end of the course, our group walked out of the trees as the school kids who had gone before us did. After two hours, 13 strangers had become the best of friends, laughing and joking with each other.
"I named this place 'Dagaz' because it means 'transformational breakthrough change,' after a Nordic runes myth," Noonan explains. "I want to change people's outlook, get them out of their comfort zone and think out of the box."
1244 Antioch Rd
Rising Sun, IN 47040 812-594-2727
Open March 1 - November 27
General admission $70/person
For more information visit dagazacres.com
Forgotten Times Cabins
Just north of the Kentucky border lies Forgotten Times Cabins - two log cabins from the pre-Civil War era nestled in the Hoosier National Forest. Originally constructed in the 1850s, the Pioneer Cabin and the Woodland Cabin rest on a bluff overlooking Oil Creek and offer visitors a serene escape from their hectic day-to-day life.
Perhaps it was the history of the cabins that drew me to Forgotten Times. Or maybe it was the promise of immersing myself in the natural beauty of Southern Indiana. No matter the reason, driving down the gravel road and up to the two picturesque log cabins, I immediately recognized that Forgotten Times is a hidden gem tucked away in the woods.
A small lake lies next to the pair of cabins. Silver canoes sit side-by-side eager to be taken out on the water. Metal woodland creatures line the driveway, representatives of the wildlife just beyond the trees. A red well pump and outdoor bathrooms serve as a reminder of times prior to water lines and modern technology - something the owners wanted to give visitors.
"We wanted to keep with the 'forgotten times' like the cabins," says co-owner Mary Alexander. "I just kept thinking about the pioneers and things during their time."
Mary and her husband David founded Forgotten Times in 1989. "One of our friends found a log cabin in Dexter where Abraham Lincoln was supposed to have stayed," she says. "We thought we'd find one, too."
The couple discovered a cabin near the Perry County Airport and another in Bandon. They had bought the clearing on the bluff to clean the property in order to sell it, but then realized it was ideal for the two structures. And so, the cabins were reassembled, over the course of two years, where they stand today.
Walking into the Pioneer Cabin, the first the Alexanders put together, I was greeted with an overwhelming sense of comfort. The rich, warm wood, charming antique furniture and decor and sparkling Christmas tree provided a rustic and festive atmosphere. The cabin is complete with a gas fireplace, television, full kitchen, dining table and pull-out couch on the ground floor, while a queen-sized bed stands in the loft. Outside, visitors can cook on the gas grill, roast marshmallows in the fire pit or enjoy a cup of coffee on the deck that looks out onto Oil Creek.
The Woodland Cabin, though smaller than its companion, offers guests the same amenities and quaintness. Mary says she named the Pioneer Cabin after the settlers that came to this land, and she wanted a name for the other cabin referencing Native Americans to complement it. "It comes from the Woodland Indians, and the wood furniture," she says, pointing out a ladder resting overhead. "That's a sassafras ladder."
The cabins are not the only draw of Forgotten Times. Mary points out that nearby Huntingburg and Jasper have good antique shops and Paoli Peaks and Marengo Cave are close for skiers and explorers. The scenery also provides ample bird-watching, and numerous hiking trails are within walking or driving distance. The Alexanders are avid hikers themselves; in fact, they just covered 16 miles over the course of three days. Mary says she enjoys hiking during the colder months. "The best time of year for hiking is from October until tick season."
Over the years, Forgotten Times has developed regular clientele, including a family who rents the cabins the same time every year for Christmas. Mary says her favorite part of owning the cabins is meeting the people, with guests coming from several countries and almost every state. "There are people who came 20 years ago with their kids. Now their kids are coming, grown up, with their own kids."
These guests have become regular visitors, they say. "If we're not gonna be around, we hang the key on the door because we trust them," says David.
Besides being special to these guests, Forgotten Times holds a special place in the Alexanders' hearts. "It's just priceless to me," says Mary. "You can't find any other place like this in Indiana."
13304 North State Rd 66
Derby, IN 47525 812-836-2447
Two-night minimum/ $100 per night
For more information visit forgottentimescabins.com