Hotspots for Hanging Out: A Guide to Bloomington’s Subculture for the Non-Native


Most photographs taken by Autumn Van Overberghe, a sophomore biology student at IU.

GRIFFY LAKE – By the rocks on a sunny, autumn afternoon, the sight of Griffy Lake fades in the distance. Tall, Indiana hills lined with trees—black and red oaks, sugar maples and hickories—surround the mouth of the lake. It sheds an overcasting shadow, where cool breezes and bushels of bluegill find their nesting.

The view of the lake—from its long and winding entrance to the sounds of geese yelling at a man floating aimlessly in a blue canoe—feels in one word, warm.

Along the outskirts of the water sits stones for a beach. Poking out from the rocky shore, a thin branch stands from an outstretched tree. One lone leaf stranded by itself hangs two-feet above the water.

A breeze sweeps in from the North creating endless ripples in the water. The ripples multiply and carry step-by-step, trotting the shores where the leaf sits—drifting in the wind.

An art student at IU stands along the beach of rocks holding a palette knife, while she crafts a painting at the lake. Meanwhile, she listens to folk music on her iPhone for inspiration.

“The colors are really vivid this time of year,” she said. “There’s a million different colors to choose from.”

An assignment for her landscaping class included the topic of natural reflections. She saw Griffy Lake as a perfect destination to capture the theme.

“The blue sky’s reflection on the water this time of year mixes with the color changes of the season,” she said. In her opinion, it helped express the intended mirroring concept in the painting.

All of the sudden, a pickup-truck full of teenagers whirls by. The kids are ready for a scenic trip through their day—where they may wander through miles of hiking trails or simply kick back, studying the view.

NIGHT RIDGE SPACE OBSERVATORY – For avid fans of horror movies, you should hop in the car for a short road-trip to a church off Lampkin’s Ridge Road.

An abandoned lookout finds itself wedged in the woods—alone and rotting. It’s called the Night Ridge Space Observatory.

The entrance to the empty building looks something straight out of a Stephen King novel—surrounded by barbed wire and a sea of barren trees. About a 50-yard walk into the forest, the vacant structure proves as a perfect Halloween-season adventure.

Walking up to the observatory through the sound of crackling leaves—each step growing more and more sentient in the tips of your toes—you see the rusty dome and faded red-brick lined with a colorful array of graffiti.

Almost instantly, the building commands a presence and leads the mind down its natural inclination to the ideas of mystery and wonder.

Scattered leaves, cigarette butts and even more vivid graffiti crave your fleeting attention.

Following the steps leading to the observatory, you discover the structure is caved in—either due to a lightning strike or regular iron rusting. Thus, the structure opens its mouth to the forest.

The floorboards are sunken in below—revealing a ten-foot-deep glimpse into the concrete beneath you.

You turn to face the trees towering over the structure.

A ray of sun peaks out above the trees and shines brightly into the open-observatory.

Directly in the sunlight, the words of a graffiti artist appear plainly visible. It reads, “Praise the SUN.”

LOWER CASCADE PARK – Off the Old Highway 37, a little man-made waterfall sits tucked away in a surprisingly secluded area. Although the highway traffic is loud enough for the ear to pick up, you can’t beat the short drive. Located only about a half-mile from Memorial Stadium, it’s an easy hike or quick Uber-ride for most students.

At sundown, the cascades are tranquil and consistent—the water  begins to fall from a construction site, travels down a stream for about a half-mile and then dead ends.

The sun’s rays poke through the trees and reflect off the water entering through the eyes of a visitor. Waves of amber sink through the visitor’s memory as they wind down from the woes of the workday.

You can only hear the sounds of automobiles passing in the distance and the soothing noise of the flowing water up close.

After a hike through the rest of the scenic park filled with a larger-than-life playground, swing sets and volleyball nets, it’s time to return home.

Then you continue the adventure that is your life.