The Quarries

I’ve always had this weird, slightly perverted, attraction toward vacant buildings and abandoned remains of the past.

In the cold of winter, with all the trees wilted and bare, I couldn’t help but glimpse at the limestone blocks that have become exposed by the highway.  With most of the buildings constructed by limestone, and the end zone at the IU Memorial Stadium titled “the Quarry,” it’s no secret that the limestone businesses have long culturally influenced Bloomington’s history. Although most of them shut down during the sixties, the quarries they’ve left behind have become an unofficial local attraction explored by the few who know how to get there. Having heard the tales of the abandoned quarries, we decided to go on a quest to see it for ourselves.

We left on an early Saturday morning, the air still misty and cold. We dressed in camouflage attire, more for our own enjoyment than for any real purposes, and stuffed our backpacks full of bottled water and junk food. The sense of adventure was in the air, and I felt like a child on her way to a field trip. We drove south on Walnut Street for thirty minutes until nothing but vacant barns and crop fields surrounded us. Finally, we turned onto an unpaved narrow road, so discrete that it took a couple of u-turns to find. The houses we passed all looked like those from old black-and-white photos, its exterior paint peeling off and the lawns decorated with broken ceramic decorations.  We were still in Bloomington, yet it felt like we were nowhere near modernity.

We kept on until we got to the church that sat at the top of the hill, a building the size of a large warehouse with a bright blue roof. Surrounding it was a parking lot the size of a high school football field with nothing but a few vans and church buses parked at the corner. After I hid my car between the large vehicles, we started our journey to see the historic remains of what made this town what it is today.

A large field sat behind the church, with only half of it mowed and managed by the church staff. The rest of the field laid fallen trees and dead plants, until it led to a forest of such density you couldn’t imagine what was past it. We ran through the field, struggling through the thorn bushes, until we reached the woods. It took several tries to find a decent entrance, as the forest floor had become a mud swamp. We carefully used fallen trees to get deep into the woods, until we at last arrived at the first sign of what we came for. It was an enormous wall of six-feet-wide limestone blocks, piled up to at least two stories tall. The giant blocks, which must’ve weighed at least a couple tons, were so spontaneously placed it looked like they had fallen from the sky.

We climbed up the wall of blocks, the edges so sharp it sliced our hands. After we reached the top, we arrived at the trail. The ground was now flat and graveled, a sign that it might’ve been the transportation route. Stacks of limestone blocks piled up to at least three stories tall surrounded the sides of the trail. The blocks were spray painted with graffiti and stranger’s names. The words, “No Trespassing,” were sprayed on every corner, right next to scribbles of genitalia and swastikas. We continued on the trail in the eerie silence, overwhelmed by the surrealism.

The trail eventually led us to the quarry, which looked like a stadium-sized rectangular prism scooped out of the earth. Its immensity took our breath away. More limestone blocks were piled inside the quarry, which was filled up halfway with murky green water. An American flag and colorful mushrooms were painted on the side near the waterline, and we wondered how graffiti artists were able to reach it. Despite being able to hear cars passing at a nearby highway, the walls of the quarry were so high and covered with such thick trees that we still felt secluded.  My cell phone had no reception.

We walked around the edge of the quarry, finding residues of past adventurers scattered among the grass. There were remains of a fireplace and potato chip bags around it. I guess someone beat us to it.  On the other side of the quarry, a rusty metallic hut laid within the bushes, with broken chairs and shards of glass.

A long and thin piece of limestone hung over the quarry like a perfect diving board, as if made to tempt the young adventurers to jump into the opaque water. Rumor has it that terrible accidents have occurred here and people have drowned in the water after jumping off of the ledge. We decided against risking the same fate.

The air smelled cleaner there, perhaps stripped of urban worries. There was no reception, no strangers, just us and nature’s overtaking of what’s left of this part of industrial history. As we laid there, it felt like time stood still. The world beyond the quarry no longer existed.

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