I almost didn't choose this park as it was almost two hours away - a little long drive for an unknown park. I'm glad I made the trip.
I picked up a map at the entrance and checked it out. I started adding up trail mileage to make a decent loop and before I was done I'd added up to over 10 miles. That was just what I was looking for. Unfortunately, since I didn't expect to find such a long trail, I was totally unprepared. I didn't have enough water having only 1 liter. I didn't have any food. I wouldn't have made a good boy scout. I settled for a shorter there-and-back along one of the longer trails called the Hardwood Trail, also known by the less poetic trail #5.
The map provided at the entrance was surprisingly accurate. Trail #5 is a dirt (i.e. mud) and grass trail that winds up and down ridges through thick oak forest. To add a little variety I took a spur, unimaginatively named trail #5A, that left the forest and skirted two large grassy meadows before connecting back to #5. Once again, while hiking near a meadow, I was bombarded by grasshoppers.
These trails hadn't been used in a while. On the way out I was constantly running into spiderwebs stretching across the trail. It was very irritating at times.
At this point I would like to apologize to all the spiders whose webs I destroyed. I'd like to think it was just as bad for me as it was for you, especially when I destroyed your webs using my face.
I didn't destroy all the webs with my face though. I did have the foresight to have my walking stick with me and I became quite skilled at the less well known martial art of Stick-Fu. Hii-Yah!
Along with the webs, the trail was overgrown in some areas. I can't really blame the park service. In California it rained so infrequently that plant growth was stunted and trails stayed relatively clear. Here in Nebraska the rain promotes wild growth and I'm surprised the trails are as clear as they are.
The trail gave me a workout. My goal was 6 miles. It turned out to be tougher than I expected. Not having hiked very much for the last three or four months seems to have effected my endurance. The humidity didn't help much either. My shirt was soaked in sweat by the two mile mark. I was getting near the turnaround point when I came upon a shelter. It wasn't time to turn around yet but I decided I'd had enough and I stopped at the shelter to rest. The shelter was a raised platform with three walls and a sturdy roof. The floor of the shelter was covered in bird droppings and what I think was bat guano.
I broke into my first bottle of water at the shelter downing most of the half liter. As rested I had to fight off an aggressive butterfly that kept landing on me and a caterpillar that thought my leg was a tree or something.
After a few minutes of resting and cooling off in the slight breeze, I started back towards the trailhead. I didn't see any animals (besides insects and spiders) on the hike. Tracks in the mud showed that there were a lot of deer in the area but I didn't see any from the trail. I also saw some prints that I thought were some sort of small cat since initially I didn't see any claw marks (cats retract their claws) but further down the trails I saw some indication of claws. I imagine they were either coyote or domestic dog.
For those who want to see the pictures, I will have to disappoint since I took very few pictures on this hike, none worth posting. It was very beautiful and the sun filtering through the trees made for interesting views but these things usually don't photograph well. Also it's like photographing the Mona Lisa 100 times. Is the 100th photo any better the the first? Probably not.
This hike was a good introduction to the Indian Cave State Park trails. There is quite a bit of the 3,399 acre park, including the location of the now defunct town of St. Deroin and the actual Indian Caves that gave the park its name, that I haven't visited. I'm pretty sure I will be back to tackle more of the trails and to learn more of the history of the area.
Total miles was 5.83 with 545 feet of vertical (done several times as there were several ridges).