View From the Indian Caves

The View from the Indian Caves

A spring snowfall highlights the walls of the canyon locals call "The Indian Caves".  This small canyon is riddled with holes and caves its entire length.  The elevation change is approximately 30 feet, with small waterfalls near the end of the canyon where the stream empties into the Kankakee River.

This cave was large enough to walk into, but only about 25 feet long; just deep enough for the walls and ceiling to create a dramatic frame for the snow covered woods on the other side of the stream.

Not the largest or most dramatic canyon in Illinois, it is, however, a very interesting place to visit and explore. Located in Bradley, Illinois, just a few meters away from the Kankakee River, and about a 3/4 mile hike from the nearest parking, one gets the feeling of being much farther away from town than they really are, even though the parking area is right in the business district of the town.

View From the Bluff

South Haven Overlook

With hardly any snow left around land, walking on the bluff overlooking Lake Michigan surprised us, as the lake was still in winter's icy grip. Signs of a warm up are evident if you know where to look: Plenty of sand on the ice piles; smooth, grey ice between the ice mounds (melt water frozen again); and little or no ice on the lighthouse.  Yet, it still appeared we were looking at an arctic seascape, littered with car-sized drift ice. and bordered by snow covered mountains.

Days like these are some of the best for visiting the lakeshore - especially for those who can't cope with the freezing weather often associated with winter along the Great Lakes. Not only is it very comfortable to walk the shore, but you can witness so many changes happening right before your eyes, as the ice begins to retreat.

Mysteries in Ice

They Came in Peace

The frozen Lake Michigan shore is always interesting, but as the ice begins to melt, even more interesting things can happen.  With a little imagination, the shore can create some fun stories.

 For instance, this ice mound takes on the appearance of an alien ship that landed on the shelf ice.  Here, people are carefully approaching the craft to investigate the landing craft.

Inverted Footprints

Just a few hundred feet away, negative footprints lead out onto the shelf ice.  Perhaps related to the alien ship in the photo above?  Most likely, these were hard-packed footprints in deep snow that filled with sand, blown in by the wind.  When the ice began to melt, the sand shielded the ice from the sun, and the packed ice melted slower than the surrounding ice, leaving these stepping stones on the frozen lake.

It's a bit early for April Fool's day, but fun none the less.

Ice Packed

Ice Packed

Even after many days of warm, spring temperatures, the ice remains on lake Michigan.  The lighthouse in South Haven, Michigan, still surrounded by ice, attracts dozens of visitors on this warm afternoon.  Temperatures near 50 degrees - a heatwave after months of below freezing temperatures - brought crowds of people to the beach, lighthouse and downtown shopping district.  With the exception of piles created by snow plows, snow was rather difficult to find anywhere else around town.  One look at Lake Michigan, and it seemed as though the area was still in a deep freeze.

Melt water seems to have filled much of the shelf ice between the shore and the ice mounds near the edge of the ice shelf. Refrozen, it creates a beautiful, abstract gray surface for seagulls to explore.

This is most likely one of the last weekends of the year for the frozen shore of southern Lake Michigan; don't let it slip past, get out and experience it first-hand.

Winter at the Beach

Winter at the Beach

Temperatures in the 40s attracted visitors to the Lake Michigan beaches over the weekend - even before the snow and ice had a chance to melt.

Walking and playing on the beach at this time of year has a very different look and feel than any other season. The mounds of ice just off shore block the view of the lake, but suggest a view of a different environment, one of the arctic.  From the beach, the mounds of ice look like a mountain range viewed from a great distance, eventhough they are only about 15 feet tall and a few hundred feet away.

These icy views will only last a few more days, so get out there and enjoy them before they melt away.

The Shack in the Sugar Bush

The Sugar Shack

Early farming in the northern United States often included Maple Sugar production.  If you were lucky enough to have plenty of Maple trees on your property, you didn't have to purchase cane sugar or molasses from the southern states. This was a matter of Northern pride during the Civil War.

Walking through the sugar bush (a wooded area which includes trees for sap collection), you'd often find buckets hanging from spiles pounded into trees.  The sap runs when temperatures fluctuate above and below freezing, and it drips into the buckets where it collects, ready for farmers to gather up.  Farmers then boiled the sap to reduce it into maple sugar or syrup.

To protect the workers and equipment from the elements, a sugar shack was built.  This housed supplies as well as the wood-fired stove and evaporator used to boil the sap. The sugar shack pictured above, is part of the historic Chellberg Farm, located within the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

The Sugar Shack

The Maple Sugar Shack

It's that time of year again!  Warm days and freezing nights - the perfect weather for Maple sap to begin running.  The fluctuations in temperature expands and contracts the fibers in the tree, allowing the sap to flow.  Tapping the trees, and collecting the sap is just the first step in making Maple sugar.

Warming the Syrup Jug

Maple Sugar Time at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is the perfect place to learn how maple sugar was processed throughout history.  Found only in the northern United States and Canada, maple sugar production is unique to our continent. Native Americans collected the sap in wood bowls, then added hot rocks to the sap to get the liquid to boil.  Later, European settlers to the area used large kettles to boil the sap over open fires, increasing production.  In the early 1900's, shallow metal evaporators were placed over wood stoves to heat more sap much faster.  The operation was housed inside a small building called a "sugar shack."

All of these methods are demonstrated by volunteers and park rangers at the historic Chellberg Farm, located within the national Park.  Children can also try their hand a tapping  a tree, and carrying buckets of sap hung from a yoke.

Maple Sugar Time takes place annually, on the first two (full) weekends of March.

Build Up

Ice Build Up

Viewed from the windward side, the shelf ice along the Michigan City, Indiana lighthouse and pier, virtually takes over the structure.  Rising at least 15 feet above the water's surface, one can touch the catwalk, and at some points, climb right up.

Here, the thickness and size of the ice is evident due to the hole in the ice seen in the foreground. Following some snow and wind, this hole could be completely covered over by a thin layer of snow and ice.  A person can unknowingly walk on that thin ice and plunge to the icy water below.

Here, we were safely over the concrete pier, and in no danger of falling through the shelf ice.



It's been said, you need to focus on the task at hand.  That's perfectly true, however, it also pays to take your eye off of that task and look around.  That's what happened here, as I focused all of my attention on photographing the ice covered lighthouse in St. Joseph, Michigan.

It was early morning, and as the sun began to illuminate the beach, I focused on the subject at hand, the reason I drove 100 miles, and woke up at 4 am - the frozen lighthouse. Moving from place to place along the beach, I kept my back toward the dunes, and hoped for the rising sun to illuminate the white ice against the dark clouds in the sky. It did.  But what was more interesting, and almost overlooked, was the eastern sky, moments before the sunrise.

As I changed location, I glanced back to see the red light of the rising sun playing in the clouds, with the dunes and trees silhouetted in front.

I only wish I was off shore, and able to capture this magical sunrise behind the frozen lighthouse. Maybe next time.