Tuesday, June 21, 2011

#26. Take a Dip in a Quarry Hole

Indiana is known for a number of things including: corn, basketball, James Dean, racing, limestone, and... that's about it. The lattermost item on this list is the one that is most relevant to this post. Indiana limestone, a  calcium carbonate rock, was formed by the accumulation of marine fossils. Yes, that's right--marine fossils in Indiana. Some 300 millions years ago, a shallow inland sea covered much of the Midwest. These crustacean deposits compacts for millions of years and eventually created the very distinct and beautiful Indiana limestone. 

James Dean. Sigh.
At the height of its popularity, limestone was used in buildings nationwide. The Empire State Building, Pentagon, and Washington National Cathedral are just some of the well known buildings that were constructed with Indiana limestone. Due to its high demand and price, quarries are relatively common in the southern part of the state.

Okay, so Indiana limestone is beautiful, popular, provides jobs, and stimulates the state economy. Great! But what happens to the quarry once it is empty? Is southern Indiana riddled with monstrously empty holes in the ground? The answer, thankfully, is no. Once the cutting company is finished with a quarry, the equipment is removed and pumps, used to remove spring water, are turned off. Due natural rainfall and the absence of pumps, the quarry fills with water and voila! a natural swimming pool is created. 

There are many abandoned quarries around the state, but according to the "Indianapolis Monthly" article, many of them lie on private property. The article suggested visiting the swimming quarry located in Logansport's France Park. After checking out Google Maps and realizing that it was nearly two hours away, I decided to search for closer options. I came across White Rock Park in St. Paul. The drive was just over an hour and the park boasted infinitely cooler attractions. This quarry is more than just a swimming hole--it is practically a mini waterpark. There is a 10 meter jumping platform (aka 32ish feet for those uncomfortable with the metric system), two lower platforms, rope swing, zip line, and large area for lounging on rafts. I was sold.

Upon entering, White Rock strategically accosts their visitors with a slew of handpainted wooden signs bearing the rules of the park, among other things. The signs ranged from warnings like "SWIM AT OWN RISK" and "SAFETY FIRST!" to rules like "NO GLASS BOTTLES!" and "UNDERAGE DRINKING WILL NOT BE TOLERATED!!" These are common enough, but the number of these signs was a little excessive. I stopped counting after 24. It wasn't an especially warm introduction.

Luckily things soon turned around. A worker came up to our car and welcomed us like old friends. After paying the $10 admission fee, we explored a bit of the park. After checking out the trails and Flat Rock Creek, we could no longer resist the quarry. My much braver friends opted for the two highest platforms while I lounged in the raft area.

White Rock jumping platform
When my friends returned from the jumps, they were in pain. As novices, they did not know that experienced jumpers wear shoes. This is done so that the shoes, not the body, take the brunt of the impact. I must admit that I am glad that I did not learn this through experience.

To get a taste of what the jumps are like, watch this video. Don't mind the crappy "hardcore" music and note the jumpers' shoes.

In spite of the discomfort, my friends were not discouraged and convinced me to try the zip line. I refused to go first, but after seeing my friend successfully complete the zipline, I was ready to try it. At least I thought so. Once I grabbed the handles and was about to jump off, I froze. Most of my fear stemmed from the unsturdy conditions. Because I am somewhat short I could not reach the handle without a boost. The park's solution was to cut off the bottom of a large plastic barrel that could be stood on when the height-challenged feel the urge to zipline. After about five hesitatant attempts, I said a quick prayer and pushed off.

It was exhilarating yet strangely peaceful. Gliding suspended through the warm humidity made me forget my initial fear. I was so thankful for my friends' encouragement and my jump. Before the experience turned transcendental, it was time to let go. I relaxed my grip, plugged my nose, and fell into the turquoise water below. Coming to the surface, I was beaming. I swam over to the edge, climbed the steps, and did it again.

Watch this video to see a man do the "ziploc" for all his "bitches and hoes"

Completing the zipline gave me the confidence that I  desperately needed. After this, jumping off the (lowest) platform  was not much of a problem. Soon I was on my way to the second highest platform when a staffer informed me that the quarry was closing and I could not jump. I was disappointed but knew that nothing would likely top the zipline.

I am so glad that I gave White Rock a chance. The first impression was not great, but I plan on returning soon with more friends. Maybe they will be brave enough to try the rope swing, because I definitely am not.

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