Painting at a safe distance with pastels on an 8 x 10″ Ampersand pastelboard.
During my painting events in state parks this year, visitors kept recommending that I visit Cataract Falls State Recreational Area, an easy drive from Indianapolis on I-70 near Cloverdale, Indiana. Whenever I mentioned my love of painting water in its many forms, the answer was often, “Oh then, you need to paint Cataract Falls. They’re the best in Indiana!” After my visit earlier this month on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon, I can tell you that those claims aren’t exaggerated.
A robust Mill Creek feeds the upper and lower sets of waterfalls which run over two ridges of pre-glacial bedrock, boasting the greatest volume of water (and sound) of any waterfall in the state. Both upper and lower falls provide plenty of good views for painting, but I settled on a spot at the edge of the ravine below the upper falls, apart from the viewing platforms and steady stream of foot traffic. There is also a historic red covered bridge that crosses the creek nearby, featuring a unique lattice-pattern truss system. I hope to paint it and the lower falls when I return.
The irony is that my family and I used to live just up the road years ago, and never knew about this hidden treasure. Now that we have been captured by its charms, we will definitely come back to Cataract Falls in the future.
Me, my easel and the notorious little red table I travel with.
Pastel painting in progress at the shady end of Turkey Run’s suspension bridge.
Kids of all ages can use these waterbrushes without making a mess.
Traveling light is best when painting along rugged trails.
This puts the depth of these glacial formations into perspective.
Heavenly rays with a bit of a hologram at the bottom.
July’s painting event at Turkey Run State Park featured all the best of a summer day: beautiful weather, an afternoon thunderstorm, an ice-cream social, and a mystical time inside those famous hollows used by pioneers to corral wild turkeys for hunting, hence the name for one of the busiest state parks in Indiana.
The second park to be established in Indiana’s state park system, Turkey Run’s sandstone bedrock was carved into canyons and formations by the glaciers that brought boulders and plant life only seen in northern areas of Michigan and Canada. The hemlock groves and canyon ecosystems are found nowhere else in Indiana. This park is also the final resting spot for Col. Richard Lieber, father of Indiana State Parks, and home to the 19th Century Lusk Home, the Lieber Cabin built with virgin timber in the 1840s, and the Log Church built in 1871. There is also a covered bridge over Sugar Creek and a suspension bridge that leads to the sandstone canyons and rugged trails.
I set up at the suspension bridge in the morning, and used pastels to capture the steps and concrete base with a glimpse of the creek as many visitors strolled by on a beautiful Sunday. I had some great conversations about what I was doing throughout the morning, meeting many who were creative artists in their own way including a blacksmith and a quilter. I saw over 140 visitors for the day, my most successful event yet.
My watercolor activity at the Nature Center around noon was also a big hit, with over 25 kids and adults trying out waterbrushes and field kits despite the afternoon thunderstorm that cut my time short. After a brief stop for the 100th birthday celebration with cake and ice cream at the Inn, I descended with only my paintbox and a camp chair to the entrance of Turkey Run Hollow where the cool creek water and saturated air from the thunderstorm met to form the most beautiful mists and light rays that cut through the dampness. Hikers paused to chat by my chair before attempting the trail’s precarious water crossing.
There’s so much to see at Turkey Run that I’m sure I’ll return soon to paint its wonderful covered bridge or the waterfalls in hidden canyons full of dense green ferns and moss. Until then, I’ll treasure the memories of a perfect summer day and the glimpses of a mystical world brought by glaciers.
Touch ups to the wetlands at Pokagon State Park.
Seems like Indiana’s March came in like a lamb, but it’s going out like a very grumpy feline. After a beautiful Easter weekend, I’ve been stuck inside touching up plein air paintings from previous visits to the parks, while reading up on techniques and painting equipment. As rain lashes my apartment windows, I turn up the volume on YouTube videos describing the outdoor adventures of artists in kinder climates.
Oh, the irony. Spring will come in her own time, I suppose. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the comforts and convenience of dry quarters and digital photography to recreate the great outdoors. After all, nothing puts a damper on plein air painting better than rain.