Bison are featured prominently on the Indiana state seal, but they haven’t actually roamed here in almost 200 years. That changed this fall, when the Nature Conservancy introduced a 23-member herd to its Kankakee Sands Nature Preserve in Newton County. The bison aren’t exactly wild, since they’re enclosed in the preserve, but they live off the land without being fed by humans. Interestingly enough, they’re actually part of a larger prairie restoration project – since the grasslands they eat tend to drive out other plants, officials hope that the bison’s natural activity will make way for the eventual return of other species, including wildflowers, birds and amphibians. Of course, the bison are also an attraction in and of themselves, and the Nature Conservancy has built a small viewing area overlooking the bison habitat that’s free and open to the public.
Stalking animals with my camera is one of my favorite things, so early one Saturday last month, I cued up my favorite solo road trip music (Miranda Lambert, of course), headed north up Interstate 65 and arrived at Kankakee Sands just in time to catch a beautiful Indiana sunrise.
(Yup, that’s my car in the photo above. I’m not exaggerating when I say I had the place completely to myself.)
The bison weren’t right near the viewing area (these photos were taken with my 250mm telephoto lens) but they were close enough that I could see their breath condensing in the cold air, and I could tell they heard the clicking of my shutter. There was a good-sized crowd of them too – it seemed like the whole herd was hanging out together.
Bison don’t move around or strike cute poses quite as much as bears or elephants so I won’t bore you with endless photos that are all very similar. But I’m glad I made the trip up here, both so I could learn more about this interesting project and so I could see the bison in person, especially while Indiana is still celebrating our “bison-tennial” with themed artwork on display everywhere. Kankakee Sands is only about 10 miles off I-65, and I highly recommend making a quick detour here if you’re traveling between Chicago and Indianapolis on that highway.