Between the Dunes

Morning at the Interdunal Pond

It's been an unusually warm and dry winter so far, and this is evident when visiting the Indiana Dunes National Park. One way to see we're lacking a bit in moisture is the level of this interdunal pond; it's quite low. Usually, the pond extends to the taller grasses by the foot of the surrounding dunes, but now, only a fraction of the water is in place. This isn't extemely unusual, the water levels often fluctuate, but I'm so used to seeing this pond larger.

An interdunal pond is a small body of water that forms between dunes. There is really no escape for the water that ddrains into this area, other than evaporation or absorption, so it collects into a pond. These type of ponds are havens for all sorts of animal life including birds, frogs, turtles, lizards, insects, and small mammals. The dunes can get quite dry in the summer months, and these interdunal ponds can provide support for these creatures. Of course, this particular dune is just a few hundred feet from Lake Michigan, but some of these small animals will never travel that far.

A View of the Pond

As with so many other views in this national park, this view looks as if it comes from a totally different region, something more often found in the western United States. The conifer trees here around this pond, and throughout the park mark the farthest southern reach of Jack Pine in the country. These glacier leftovers were able to remain behind when most others died off due to the change in climate after the last ice age thousands of years ago. The Indiana Dunes National Park boasts the fourth most diverse variety of plants of any US National Park. A total of 1130 native species of flowering plants call this area home - and you thought the Indiana Dunes National Park was just a beach with hills.

Between the Dunes

This photo better illustrates the location of this interdunal pond, it is completely surrounded by dunes. It's a shame one can't explore all the sides of this pond, but I imagine venturing around this pond could disturb quite a few living things that rely on this unique environment for their survival.

Michigan City East Pierhead Lighthouse in Winter

Michigan City Lighthouse

A winter visit to Lake Michigan would not be complete without a visit to some lighthouses. While the Michigan City East Pierhead lighthouse is rarely covered in dramatic ice, it's always beautiful nonetheless. A lot of the Michigan lighthouses are covered annually by thick layers of interesting ice created by high waves and wind, but the MC lighthouse is surrounded by boulders in the water that break up high waves and prevent powerful splashes. These splashes and sprays are what eventually cause the thick ice coatings on the lighthouses and the piers. Here, they only cover a bit of the catwalk uprights and the pier surface.

Just a few hours before this photo was taken, Trail Creek was full of pancake ice. Here, the winds blew the ice far out into Lake Michigan, leaving only a small amount trapped in the bend of the pier. This ice can be mesmerizing to watch as it rises and falls with the waves. The pier can be very hazardous when it's covered in ice. The surface is sloped to water washes off easily, so this incline can be very slippery in winter, and falling could result in a slide right into the water. Even though you can see how dangerous this could be, families with small children were walking on this ice to get closer to the lighthouse.

East Pierhead in Winter

The view from the shore was dramatic as well in the early afternoon sun. The ice was brilliant white against the blue water and sky. What took only a week to create in the cold weather, is probably gone already after three days of warmer weather.

The Blowout


The Blowout

Once up the dune ridge trail, we made our way to the lake side of the dune. From this vantage point, the blowout could be seen, the area of the dune that was eroded from wind. Dunes are the most unstable landforms, and seeing a blowout reinforces this. No matter how much vegetation is on a dune, something can upset the balance and create a bare spot creating a blowout. Once established, a blowout will tend to increase in size as the edges erode further and further. The loose sand of the blowout will fall to the bottom of the dune, or can be blown over the top of the dune by high winds. Once the sand begins to blow over the dune, it is deposited on the leeward side, building the dune on that side. This is called a living dune, as the dune seems to move inland by itself.

The View From the Blowout

The view of Lake Michigan from the top of almost any dune is spectacular, combined with sun and floating ice, it becomes even more special. This year, there is very little ice on the lake (so far) so any is a sight to behold. The beach in the photo above is about 80 feet below, and its about 700 feet north to the water. It doesn't look that high or distant until you begin to climb up, or walk to the water. A few trails can be seen if you look closely. On clear days, the Chicago skyline can be seen from this vantage point; the city is approximately 30 miles across Lake Michigan as the crow flies.

Dotted With Conifers

As dunes form and evolve, different vegetation begins to take hold. Here, conifer trees can be seen dotting the marram grass. They're generally the first wood to take hold, and seem to be declining in numbers here at the Indiana Dunes National Park, at least in my estimation. There are a few places where they seem to thrive, West Beach is one area, and it's very special to hike through these conifer micro-forests. The sights and odors are so different from the surrounding area.

Hiking The Ridge Trail


The Warm Colors of Winter 
I love bringing people to areas they've never seen, and this hike was even more special. My brother John came along for a winter hike through the winding, hilly trails of what I call the Ridge Trail. This is not the official name of the trail, it's a nickname I've given it - I honestly don't know the "real" name of this trail, and don't particularly care either. This trail starts out on the Lake Michigan beach, heads off into the grassy dunes, then through the wooded dunes to the ridge where it meanders for a half a mile or so around savannas, woods, and blowouts, until it comes back to the beach. It's a quick hike for a cold or hot day, and a great place to introduce someone to the Dunes.
Hiking The Ridge

Of course, John has been to the dunes before, but not to this particular area, and although I like to use this relatively short trail to introduce people to the dunes, he could hike for hours non stop, and we did continue after this trail.
One thing I like to do is to keep people looking ahead as they hike, then stop in certain places and ask them to look back. Here, John was hiking, and a few moments after this photo, I told him to look behind him. The view of the rolling dunes, conifers, and partially frozen lake are a relative surprise when you turn around. You don't realize the expanse of the area until you stop and take it all in.

The Path Ahead

Just ahead is a large dune with a winding trail up to the top. This is the backside of a large blowout - an area of a dune that has been eroded by wind and/or waves. The area looks like a large, bare depression in the dune, it's quite striking, but from the backside, everything looks normal. As we hiked further up, we would encounter the blowout, and the way down from the tall dune.

The Gelid Shore

Ice Fault

So many weeks of warm weather finally turned cold enough to form ice on the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Unlike most previous winters, the shelf ice only extends a few meters out, and it's only about half a meter in height. Bitter cold temperatures combined with high winds create the "best" shelf ice and mounds on the shoreline. On this day, the ice was being pushed off shore by southern winds. Looking closely at the ice on the lake, you can see it out in the middle of the lake.

Gelid Shore

Visitors to the lake in winter often see these tall mounds of ice and figure they're thick and solid enough to walk on. This day proves that shelf ice is not attached to the bottom of the lake - in fact, it's floating with the exception the first few meters where the waves break. Here, it's thick enough to touch the bottom, but that doesn't mean it's safe. 

The large mounds of ice seen here now away from the shore, were once attached to the ice near the shore. The winds blowing off shore moved them slowly to their positions now. Imagine, venturing onto these mounds when they suddenly break off and begin floating out!

Ice Line

At the times of high winds, the ice mounds up often 10 or 15 feet tall. In times of low winds, the ice simply forms on the surface of the water. These jumbles of floe ice seen in the image above will form after the mounds and freeze together into this boulder-like texture on the water's surface. Then, if winds come again, mounds will form on the outer side of these flat areas, as the ice builds up. It can often extend 100 meters into the lake. At times, the floe ice covers all of the water that can be seen from shore, perhaps a mile or two out.

First Flowers on the Trail

First Flowers on the Trail 
While we've had some very warm days so far this Spring, flowers are only just beginning to appear in the woods around the Indiana Dunes National Park. The first two flowers I encountered this year are non native crocus (at least that's what I believe they are). It was interesting that these were the only dots of color on the still-brown landscape of the wooded dunes. 

 The Dune Ridge Trail is a short, half mile or so loop beginning at the Kemil Beach parking lot, that heads up to the ridge of a dune overlooking the Great Marsh. There are more trails that wind around the area below, they were once roads with homes on them, but now nature is taking them over. These are some of the areas I hope the park develops into marked trails - the locals know about these and hike them all the time. It's an interesting area of dune, marsh, and woods that has an old artesian well flowing next to a closed road.
  Woodland Flower 
 From this point forward, the park will come alive with so many different flowers and plants, it will change almost daily. One of the best locations for wildflowers in early spring is the heron rookery, I'll head there very soon.

Dune Views

View From The Dune Trail 
Walking through the rolling dune landscape in early Spring offers some views not normally seen when the trees green up with leaves. In this case, the lake is easily seen, and the matted, dry grasses allow you to see the trails through the dunes. 

This particular trail is a bit strenuous, only because of the loose sand and the constant change in elevation, but because it's up, down, level, up, down, you get a bit of a recovery period every few   minutes. If I were training for a run or on a cross country team, this is where I would train! 

Some dune progression can be seen here, beach, grassy foredune, conifers, then oak. But because of the ever changing nature of the dunes, there are breaks in this progression, making it anything but linear. Here, grasses are behind conifer sometimes, it's just the way the dune formed and changes every so often.
  The Other Side of the Dune 
Once around the tall dune, we are greeted with a view of the lake, and a relatively new living dune. It's called a living dune because the wind keeps pushing sand from the beach up and over it, preventing things from growing on it, and moving it inland at a slow pace. This dune has grown over the past few years, and while I can't tell by looking at it, it has moved inland a bit as well. 

If you look very closely along the beach, you'll see some visitors walking along - tiny dots on the sand. This area is much larger than it looks in photographs, only noticed when you look for a source for scale, or you experience it yourself. 

 The wet and warmer weather are quickly greening things up, soon early wildflowers will dot the grasses.

Nature's Sandcastles

Nature's Sandcastles 
I've seen this phenomenon many times at the Indiana Dunes National Park, miniature sand castles formed by dripping water. Every time I see this, I'm intrigued. I'm also brought back to my childhood vacations in Florida where a friend from Pennsylvania made sandcastles in an unusual way. He would begin by filling a bucket with sand and water, then he would take a handful of the saturated sand and let it drip out of his hand down onto the beach where it would form towers similar to these! Somehow, he must have learned this from someone who has witnessed this. 

I've been told sandcastles built this way are called "drip castles" and that certainly describes this method perfectly. People have simply taken the physics of water and sand, and used it to their advantage to create strong castles.
Judging by the state of these drip castles when I arrived at the beach, and then again when I made my way out, these take quite a long time to create. Not terribly long, but hours for sure if the water isn't dripping too rapidly. If the water drips too fast, I think the sand will simply wash away instead of stacking. I've also seen in the past, where the water dripped directly onto a rock and instead of the sand building up, it washed away the sand around the rock, but the sand directly under the rock was protected, so the rock was basically resting on a sand pedestal. 

 These are just another fleeting formation created by nature here at the Indiana Dunes National Park. Every visit is different, even if you walk the exact same path.
  Sand Layers 
To get an idea of how much change takes place each day, take a look at the photo above showing an area of beach that was washed away this winter. This "cliff" is three or four feet tall and shows layer after layer of sand, rock, and pebbles. You can look at these layers and read how the lake behaved at that time. Some harsh waves wash away the sand and expose rocks, while more gentle waves deposit the sand over the rocks. 

Every moment of every day, the waves and wind are working at changing the beach - it's a natural cycle that can't (and shouldn't) be stopped by human interference.

Green Up

Green Up 
It seems every year there is at least one warm up in February, this year there were a couple of days near 50 degrees, but once March arrived, we had our first 70 degree day of the year. Hiking along the dune ridges on this warm day sure felt summer-like (I can't wait). I think even the trees thought it was summer, judging by the deep green color of the coniferous trees. 

It doesn't take much rain or warm weather to get them to green up, especially in this environment. The sand seems to keep in the heat - I may be imagining this - but the vegetation here at the Indiana Dunes National Park responds just a bit different than those a few miles away. I would think the environment here is quite harsh in comparison; sand drains well, so moisture doesn't remain in the ground too long, the sand gets very hot, it doesn't have a lot of nutrients to sustain plants. This must by why the native species do so well here, while some other invasives don't - at least on these dunes. In addition to the plant life, some wildlife thrives in these areas and practically nowhere else in the area.
  Rolling Dune 
 A very small amount of snow is left over from the last winter storm, only in the shady spots and probably where the snow drifted into deeper piles. The snow looks more like a white cloth left on the ground - like the old television shows and movies where they simply piled some cotton cloth in the corners to represent snow. 

Of course, two days after the summer weather, it snowed a bit. The best thing about spring snow is the fact that it doesn't last more than a day or two! This area may not look expansive, but when you hike it, you would realize just how far it is from the place I'm standing to the distant trees. We didn't run into too many people so scale is difficult to represent in photos.

The Last of the Shelf Ice

Crumbling Ice Shelf 
It never lasts for long, but this year, shelf ice is disappearing early with the recent warm weather. Temperatures in the low 70s this past Saturday, melted almost every pile of snow and ice around, with the exception of the huge chunks of shelf ice created by the crashing waves of Lake Michigan a few months back. They're so large it's taking a bit longer for them to disappear. 

These remnants are relatively safe to explore now because they are completely on solid ground, some ten feet from the lake. The only danger would be if a chunk of ice broke off and fell to the ground, anyone underneath would be crushed. Without the waves undercutting the ice, the chunks should stay intact and simply melt.
  Between the Water and the Dunes 
Summer-like temperatures brought everyone outdoors this weekend, and many flocked to the Indiana Dunes National Park, perhaps to enjoy one last time visiting before the admission fees begin at the end of March. $45 for an annual pass, $15 for a weekly pass. I hope the fees go to creating more trails from the old roads and paths that wind behind the dunes. 

It's easy to see how someone who is unfamiliar with the area could mistaken the ice for solid ground. Sand and rocks are incorporated in the ice, so rocks are the size of softballs, so it would seem you're on solid ground when in actuality, you're on ice. The power of the waves picks up bricks and rocks and tosses them onto the ice where they become mixed with snow and ice.
  Edge of the Ice 
This is indeed the only time it's relatively safe to walk on the ice along the Lake Michigan shore. The ice is not floating on the water, so there is no way to fall through into cold water. It's very interesting to see the ice from the "other side", but a lot of fracturing and erosion has happened, so it's not quite as it was when the waves were forming it. Still, it's a different vantage point than the middle of the winter.

The Icy Canyon of Trail 3

Behind the Ice 
Trail 3 of Turkey Run State Park offers so many sights in every season, and winter is certainly one of the more dramatic times along this trail. While the park has some tall waterfalls that freeze in the cold weather, these canyons have countless large icefalls created from the water seeping out from the canyon walls, or overflowing from the ground above the canyons. These icicles create seemingly endless winter features that can't be ignored. Some of these icefalls are large enough to explore beneath or behind. This particular formation was about four feet tall, so we had to crawl into the overhang to view the ice. 
Not quite a difficult as some of our explorations into ice caves and canyon overhangs, but just as interesting to see how the ice clings to the rock. 

 These canyons are also home to some mosses and ferns that get completely covered in ice, yet stay green and appear as if they're still growing in winter. I'm sure they're laying dormant, and I assume they are specially adapted to this particular environment.
  In the Canyon 
 Here's a wider view of this portion of the canyon. Rock, moss, trees, logs, snow and ice give the eye so much to investigate. As with so many parks and natural places I explore, things change every time you visit - even if you visit everyday.

Breakup Begins on Lake Michigan

Pancake Ice Cove 
Things happen quickly at this time of year. Single digit temperatures at night, snowfall one day, 45 degrees the next day, and the cycle repeats over and over until Spring. The warmer temperatures and the high winds we've experienced last week have broken up most of the solid ice on Lake Michigan. 

Only the thicker chunks of shelf ice remain, along with a large amount of floe ice that is driven toward the shore with the waves. The breaking ice creates little coves in the shelf ice, and the floe ice chunks are then trapped inside, pushed around by the waves, they hit the edges of the ice and collide with each other. These collisions spin the ice slowly, and form disc-shapes called pancake ice. They do look a bit like pancakes. Almost every spring I can find pancake ice in these relatively small coves of ice at breakup. Pancake ice forms all winter, but mostly when the water is mostly liquid and the wind is pushing things along. Some of these pancakes can grow very large, sometimes larger than a car.
  Breakup Begins 
 Our hike took us up to a relatively secluded place along Lake Michigan; most of the trail used to be asphalt roads with homes on both sides. The houses and almost every sign of them are now gone, with the exception of some plants normally associated with home gardens, and the tell tail-flat spots on the dune where driveways used to be. 

Then the trail turns into a narrow path used mostly by deer (judging by the footprints) up to some dramatic dune blowouts and overlooks. It's from this point where you can obtain a panoramic view of Lake Michigan as well as the landscape for miles inland. there aren't too many places left at this park where you can get this view of the landscape - most have been closed for some poor excuse or another.

The Icy Canyon

Flowing Ice 
Nearing the end of our hike through the canyons of Turkey Run's trail 3, the canyon narrows once again. Though not as deep as other portions of the park, this area has many more areas where the water cascades slowly over the canyon walls. In warm weather, there would be evidence of moisture, and not much running water, but every drop of water now freezes and creates huge icicles on the rocky walls. 

Not spectacular waterfalls, yet these somehow overshadow some of the frozen falls here, because of their number and intricate details. The cascades line the canyon walls in this part of the park, creating an impressive and breathtaking environment for a winter hike.
  Cascading Ice 
Careful not to walk beneath any of the free-hanging ice for fear of portions falling down (these can weigh a ton or more), the view is spectacular from below. 

Most narrow canyons are relatively dark, but somehow the canyons of trail 3 have an unbelievably perfect light all year round. In warmer weather, the light is filtered through the green leaves of the trees above, casting a yellow-green light into the depths of the canyons. It's something everyone I've brought to the park notices.

  The Icy Canyon 

 As one exits this canyon, there's a desire to turn around and view it again from the opposite direction. Maybe we would have done that if portions of this hike weren't so difficult due to high water and icy conditions. Then again, what lies ahead on the trails we didn't get to see yet? A day isn't enough to soak in all that Turkey Run has to offer.... we'll be back!

Descending the Ladders

The Ladders of Trail 3 
About a mile after navigating the waterfall and narrow canyons with swift running water, we reached The Ladders. Quite literally, these are ladders built to assist hikers into Bear Hollow, a narrow canyon otherwise unreachable without climbing gear. 

There are three tiers of rock the ladders span, each about 15 feet tall, so not terribly high, but rather slippery. One summer, one of my sons slipped while waiting for others to climb down the ladder. I heard a scraping sound and then a splash, he slid down into a knee-deep pool of water about five or six feet below on a narrow ledge. Luckily he didn't fall all the way into the canyon below. At the time he was about six feet tall, so he found his way back up with little effort. One of the reasons it's become habit to stop and look before I move anywhere after taking a photo - even when I'm firmly on the ground.
  Narrow Canyon 
The canyon walls are filled with intricate cuts and textures, and can be seen from the vantage point of the ladders. It's interesting how may plants actually grow on these walls, and even in winter are snow and ice covered, but still green. 

Another trail intersects trail 3 at the ladders, you can see the boardwalk at the top of the image. Most trails between the ladders and other portions of the park are more wooded than canyon, with the exception of the trail through Bear Hollow, which continues all the way to Sugar Creek.
  Down the Ladder 
The ladders are rather deceiving in height, they are only about 15 or 20 feet per level, but when you actually look down to the floor of the canyon, it's quite a distance. You can see one person standing at the foot of the ladder on the canyon floor. This gives a bit of perspective of the height of this portion of the canyon. 

While it would be quite exciting to get down without the ladders, in winter, it's all but impossible without climbing gear. In fact, the ladders are difficult enough with 4o pounds of camera gear on your back, a camera on a strap, and worst of all, ice cleats on the boots!

The Icy Punch Bowl

Icy Punch Bowl 
Arriving at Turkey Run State Park, the sign near the visitor center stressed the importance of wearing ice cleats, and listed some trails as flooded and impassable. Portions of Trail 3 were on the list, specifically the Punch Bowl feature, a narrow slot canyon with a 15 foot waterfall at the end. The end of the canyon is round, and resembles a punch bowl, hence the name. 

High water was listed as the reason for the closure, and having hiked trail 3 many times before, I could understand why it would be difficult to reach this portion of the canyon. The trail heads up a small waterfall, and follows the stream for a couple hundred feet through the very narrow canyon, in dry parts of the summer, you can still get your feet wet. 

As we approached the waterfall, we noticed it would be a bit of a challenge to climb, but with ice cleats and some planning, we managed to get up the running waterfall without getting water over our boots. Once up the waterfall, the fast running water got deeper, with fewer and fewer areas to place our feet. We heard two younger men hiking toward us, splashing and yelling about getting wet. They didn't have ice cleats, in fact, they wore cowboy boots, and had to step into the knee-deep freezing water from time to time just to get through the trail.

  Capturing the Punch Bowl 

We waited on a block of ice for them to pass, and relayed to them what I thought was the safest route for negotiating the rest of the trail (the way we came). We proceeded to head upstream with the water flowing beneath us. I found the best way to walk was to place a foot on each side of the canyon, which at this point is about four feet wide. Trying not to get ourselves hemmed up, we carefully planned our route several steps ahead instead of step by step. This way, we could quickly execute each step with the next in mind, rather than taking a step then figuring out where to go. Often taking too much time to navigate each step will cause a slip or fall, or get you to a point where you can't move forward. At least the worst thing that could happen to us was to step into a foot or two of cold water, or perhaps slip into the water - a very uncomfortable walk back to the car.
  The Punch Bowl 
As we turned the corner of the canyon toward the Punch Bowl, the stream was bordered by ice, making the walk into the canyon much easier. We could have walked most of the way to the waterfall, but we would have certainly gotten wet. Besides, photographing the waterfall in the context of the entire punch bowl was more appealing. 

On our way out of the park, we crossed paths with a tour group. The ranger announced that it was too difficult to get to the punch bowl that day, and we mentioned to him that it was a difficult trek, but worth our attempt.

Gypsy Gulch in Winter

The Falls at Gypsy Gulch in Winter 
 Indiana's Turkey Run State Park protects some of central Indiana's most interesting natural features. These canyons, hollows, gulches, and ravines all give visitors a look at our geologic past, and are fascinating to explore in any season. 

Just a few hundred feet from Sugar Creek sits Gypsy Gulch, and boulder filled ravine with a periodic waterfall that freezes each winter into a solid column of ice. This icefall is approximately 35 feet tall, and cascades from an overhang, allowing hikers to walk behind it to view the ice from a most
interesting perspective.

  Translucent Falls 

This box ravine holds the most impressive icefall of the 2022 winter season, and quite possibly the most interesting in the park. The 35 foot tall column of ice has thousands of intricate tiny icicles all along it's height. At the base, spherical formations build where droplets of water splash repeatedly on the boulders and canyon floor. 

A moderate hike in the summertime, the trail leading to the gulch is very slippery in winter, and shouldn't be attempted by anyone without ice cleats, and excellent sure-footedness. We encountered a group of hikers without cleats, and they were having a very difficult time with the narrow, winding trail up, over, and around boulders. Some were sitting down to gently slide from place to place. Even wearing ice cleats doesn't ensure a non-slip hike; one of our group (an excellent skateboarder with great balance) slipped and fell on this trail.
  Entering Gypsy Gulch 
 In the image above, visitors can be seen along the far wall of the gulch hiking toward the frozen waterfall. The people give scale to the ravine, and to the column of ice. 

Not only do hikers need to watch for ice and slippery obstructions in the trails of Turkey Run, some of the trails on the canyon floor are actually waterfalls and narrow slot canyons with fast running water on the floors. Hikers are guaranteed to get wet boots and pants on these trails. Portions of Trail 3 were "closed due to high water" on our visit, but we managed to explore them all without getting too wet - other visitors were not as lucky, as they passed us wet to the knees. Our ice cleats gave us a bit of an advantage in these situations, but in others, ingenuity helped get us past some obstructions that would otherwise get people hemmed up.

The Living Dune: Mt. Baldy

Sunny Morning on Mt. Baldy 
 Sand dunes are the most unstable landforms on earth; they undergo constant change from forces such as wind, water, and gravity. Not every dune changes so quickly, once covered in grasses, shrubs or trees, they become more stable, but the ones called "living dunes" change constantly, and relatively quickly. 

 Mt. Baldy is an example of a living dune right here in the Indiana Dunes National Park. Formed of sands from the Lake Michigan shore, by wind, this dune is "walking" inland at quite a fast pace of and estimated four feet per year. Here, against the bright blue sky and the snow, the sands stand out. Warmed by the sun, the snow melts relatively quickly at the top of the dune, and some of the snow is also covered by sand blown from the windward side of the dune. There's a distinct snow line across the top, where the wind has prevented the snow from sticking, and the sun has warmed things up.
  Taking over the Road 
 At such a rate of movement, the Indiana Dunes National Park is experiencing an unusual situation. The dune has already claimed part of the woods, and has now moved onto the parking lot road, blocking it.

In the not so distant past, there was a flat, grassy area to the right of the road, and just behind the camera, were several parking spaces. They are now all buried under the dune, not to be exposed for a few hundred years. This is also the dune where a young boy was walking in a roped off area and he fell into a sinkhole, burying him for hours. Luckily, he survived. It turns out that the void in the sand under the surface was caused by an ancient buried tree that eventually rotted, then the sand finally caved in as he walked over the exact spot. The dune was closed after this incident for about two years, then opened once again but only for ranger guided tours a few times a year.
  Buried Forest 
 It's unfortunate the public is not allowed to explore the top of this dune as we once were prior to the cave-in, it had one of the most panoramic views of Lake Michigan and the surrounding countryside. Perhaps the park service will eventually find a way to mark the safe areas and once again allow people to walk in designated area. It seems people can't explore the namesake of the park at all. 

 To get an idea of how much this dune has moved, here is a composite of images I've taken over the years, showing the exact same spot of the dune. You can see the two individual trees get into deeper and deeper sand until you can no longer see them. The broken, dead branches behind the evergreen in the photo above, are the remnants of the trees pictured below.
  Mt. Blady Progression

Marshmallow Snow

Marshmallow Snow 
A bit of lake-effect snow fell overnight, and as we hiked the trail from the parking area to Mt. Baldy, the woods were a wonderland of fluffy white. Almost every branch of shub and tree had a clump of snow stuck to it. When the trail turned a bit and I looked back, this area had a huge amount of snow stuck to the branches and looks amazing. With each breeze, a few clumps of snow fell to the ground, this type of snow doesn't last long, sometimes only an hour or two before it all falls to the ground. 

The girl in the photo is from Thailand, and really hasn't had all that much experience with snow - especially when it covers the woods as this did. She was also very surprised to see the extent of the ice on Lake Michigan! I've seen this form decades, but it still amazes me, I can only imagine how it was for her to experience this.
  Snowy Trail 
 It isn't the same to look out the window at Winter, you have to get out and experience it all - the beauty and the extreme conditions. Like I always say, get out in the freezing cold and wind, it makes you appreciate Summer all that much more.

Ice Volcanoes Of Lake Michigan

Ice Volcanoes  
As I spent time on the beaches of Lake Michigan during the hard winter months, I began comparing the lakefront to the arctic, and at times, it looks as if you're standing on a high mountain overlooking a mountain range. I've also noticed the cone-shaped mounds look a lot like volcanoes, and after watching them over time, I've realized they are formed by very similar physics. While they're not formed by seismic activity and heat, the physics of liquid and chunks of debris being pushed upward with a lot of force, then landing around the opening from which they came, is exactly like a volcano. The waves provide the material and the force, gravity and the cold temperatures does the rest.

If it's windy when the weather turns cold, the shelf ice mounds up along the shore - often forming these conical formations. If it's relatively calm when the ice forms, the shelf ice is rather flat. If we look at the photos from this year, the beginning of the freeze up was relatively calm because the ice near the shore is flat; then some windy days occurred creating some 15 foot tall mounds a bit further away from shore. 

When the ice forms flat near the shore, it's a bit more hazardous for visitors who are unfamiliar with the beach and the lake. I met some first time visitors to the Indiana Dunes on Central Beach, and they casually asked if I knew where the water began. They pointed to the tall mounds thinking the water line began there. I informed them that the water line was about 20 feet from where they were standing. They were shocked, and most likely would have walked out over the flat shelf ice to the mounds thinking all the way that they were safely on the beach.
  Morning Shadows 
 In the photo above, we are standing on the mound of sand at the entrance of Central Beach. The first line of sand colored snow is the water line - it's in the shadow of the dunes at the bottom of the photo. The relatively flat ice looks as if it's just sand, but in reality, it's shelf ice over the water. I approximate the depth of the water midway between the shore and the tall mounds of ice at 10 feet - maybe more. Those mounds are a couple hundred feet off shore, and look so inviting to run onto. There are no signs on the beach warning of the danger, only a couple of small signs in the parking area mentioning the possibility of falling through the ice. The problem is, if visitors don't know where the ice begins, they could inadvertently walk out onto it thinking they are on solid ground.
  Lake Michigan Tundra 
I've referred to the view of Lake Michigan in winter as the "Indiana Arctic" and the image below sure looks like it could have been taken somewhere in the arctic. These ice mounds will only be around for a couple more weeks, and suddenly, they'll be gone. It's worth a trip to the dunes now before you miss these incredible formations.