The Melting

The Melting Begins
Winter finally begins to release its grip on Lake Michigan, as the ice begins to melt.  Still extending to the visible horizon, the ice is giving way to a bit of water, creating some interesting formations along the shore.

Full sun, and temperatures reaching 50 degrees Fahrenheit made the walk on the beach comfortable - after 4 months of dashing through frigid weather. The St. Joseph, Michigan pier was swarming with people, walking, biking, and fishing; probably the first outings for most this year. It felt great to walk in sand again, rather than ice and snow.

Icy Expanse

Icy Expance
Looking more like a scene from the Great Salt Lake, or a volcanic vent, the shore of Lake Michigan is in a thawing state.  The mounds of shelf ice a few hundred feet off shore appear like mountains in the distance, while the melting ice at the shore has the look of mineral deposits, with jagged edges leading to cavernous spaces beneath the water.

The melting ice near the shore created some beautiful patterns on the edges; looking rather delicate, it could support my weight.  This melting just began, and we only noticed it in a small area of the beach.  Each day, will change this "landscape" drastically, until the ice is gone.

As cold as the water was, I felt the need to wade in just to experience the floating ice highlighted by the sun and shadows. Ultimately, I resisted.  I do, however, wish to bring along a kayak next time, to paddle in the water next to and between the mounds of ice.

Dune Patterns

Dune Patterns

Partially obscured by high clouds, and the dunes, the early morning sun highlights the wind-blown patterns in the freshly fallen snow.  Our first steps onto the beach after walking a few miles from the nearest parking area, and between these two dunes, were into the thigh-deep snow.  Solid in places, we'd fall through every few steps, making the hike a bit of a chore.

We walked as fast as possible to get to a legal place to climb the dunes before the distant clouds rolled in. As it turned out, after a long while on the top of the ridge, the clouds disappeared for the rest of the day, making the waters of Lake Michigan deep blue, and the drift ice bright white.

Horizontal Bands

Horizontal Bands
The deep blue waters of Lake Michigan, drift ice, shelf ice, sand, and snow create interesting bands of color and texture along the beach.  A relatively warm day allowed some of the ice on the lake to melt, a sure sign of Spring.  The snow will disappear soon as well, but the 15 foot tall mounds of shelf ice can take weeks to melt.

As much as I dislike cold weather, winter is a magical time on the Great Lakes.  After hiking miles to reach locations for photographs, I often remain, soaking in the atmosphere - quiet solitude.  I'm almost always the only person in sight, and from some vantage points, I can see for miles.

Once summer arrives, I'm rarely the only person in sight - unless I seek some of the relatively unknown places at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which I often do.

The Break Up, From the Ridge

The Break Up from the Ridge

This winter, most of the lakefront access areas I frequent, were closed, preventing me from viewing the frozen lake.  The main issue with the closings, was parking- there was nowhere close to park.  Having been to these beaches every winter for years, I was determined not to break the streak, so we found  the nearest parking area, and hiked in about three miles one way.

It was a relatively warm morning, with stiff winds blowing in, and fading sunshine.  We managed to climb the snow covered dune safely (and legally), and were greeted by this view.

Previously, ice covered Lake Michigan as far as the eye could see, but with the recent warm temperatures and high winds, the ice began to break up. The shelf ice, however, isn't going anywhere for some time.  From approximately 80 feet above the beach, we could see the extent of the 15 to 20 foot tall shelf ice mounds, and the deep blue, open water.

Well worth the hike and the climb, we experienced the beach in winter - one of my favorite times to visit - with no other people in sight for miles.  After capturing photographs, we remained on the ridge for some time, just to soak in the experience.

On to the next place, it was only 8:00 am....

Inside the Sugar Shack

Another Log on the Fire

The historic boiler inside the Chelberg sugar shack is wood fueled.  A worker quickly opened the doors to add another log to keep the sap boiling. After a moment, he closed the doors and a sound very similar to a jet engine emanated from the boiler, as the oxygen was sucked in from other places. The heat and steam generated by this process makes this cold weather work, rather comfortable, if you don't mind a bit of rain dripping on your head from the condensed steam. A Sweet Job Here, a worker describes the maple sugaring process to park visitors. The glass jug suspended over the evaporator is being tempered by they steam, in preparation for filling with hot maple syrup. The jug must be warmed prior to filling, or the hot syrup would shatter the cold glass. Ounce for ounce, maple sugar sweetens the same as cane sugar, but has less of an impact on glucose levels. I learn something every time I visit.

Maple Sugar Time

The Sugar Shack
Following a winter with plenty of days below zero, the sap isn't quite ready to run.  Days need to be above freezing, and nights need to dip below freezing for the sap to start running enough to collect.  We have had a few days above freezing, so the staff and volunteers at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore were able to collect a bit of sap for Maple Sugar Days, two weekends of Maple sugaring demonstrations.

The sugar shack houses a wood fired evaporator to boil off the majority of the water from the maple sap. With the cold weather, the sugar shack is the most comfortable portion of the maple sugaring process, inside a building with a large fire burning, and plenty of steam.  So much steam, in fact, that it "rains" inside the building as the steam hits the cold steel roof, and condensates.

Checking the Evaporator