Hiking to the Bunkers

Hiking to the Bunker

At nearly 30 square miles, Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie has plenty of grassy trails to explore.  Some of the most interesting wind through vast lines of abandoned bunkers.  These grassy mounds stand out from the flat, Illinois landscape, but blend in well from afar. Once used to store materials used to make explosives during World War II, the soil covered, concrete bunkers remain - too expensive and difficult to remove.

Midewin sits on the site of the former Joliet Arsenal which once employed over 10,000 workers, and produced 1 billion tons of TNT for the war effort. According to the USDA information, the site includes 373 ammunition bunkers, 429 structures, 78 miles of paved roads, and 110 miles of railroad. These are all slated for demolition and removal when money and time is available. The magnitude of the site is evident as one walks through the bunker fields - this place is huge. The bunkers were set hundreds of feet apart just in case an explosion occurred, other bunkers would not ignite. To pass all of the bunkers in a single trail would take hours.

Loop 63 Bunker

For now, a few of the bunkers are open for viewing. They are rather interesting to enter.  Only a single, heavy steel door leads in and out. No windows or emergency exits, the bunkers are dark, damp, and sounds inside have an unreal echo.

Inside the Bunker

Worth a trip just to view the WWII ammunition bunkers, but expect a long hike. Bring your hiking shoes, some water, and plenty of tick repellent!

Cicada Killer

Cicada Killer A cicada wasp drags home her large prey, which can take the better part of a day. Emerging in mid to late July, the cicada wasps relentlessly hunt the noisy cicada. Harmless to humans, the male cicada wasp cannot sting, and the female wasp is only interested in cicadas. You can find these wasps easily by their mounds of sand or soil. Mounds in lawns or gardens approximately 8 inches in diameter at this time of year are often signs of the burrows of the cicada wasp. The wasp digs these burrows, then hunts for a cicada. Once found, the wasp stings the cicada to paralyse it, then drags it to the burrow. Weighing twice as much as the wasp, this is often a difficult task, but eventually, the cicada is brought underground where it will lay alive for weeks. The wasp then lays an egg near the cicada - it will serve as food once the egg hatches. If you see a wasp measuring 1 1/2 to 2 inches in length flying around, don't worry - they're not interested in humans. They may fly around you to see what you are, but as long as you're not a cicada, there's nothing to worry about.

Heading Out

Heading Out The boys heading out into a flat calm Lake Michigan on a still summer morning. The weather has been pretty wet around the Midwest this year, and along with the moisture came plenty of storms. These storms really churned up the lake, creating high waves responsible for eroding the beaches along the Indiana shore. Here we were experiencing the calm between the storms, as more severe weather was predicted later in the day. It's hard to beleive they were walking into a lake that reaches 920 feet deep, and has some (if not THE) most powerful waves of all the world's fresh water lakes. Lake Michigan's length runs north and south, providing hundreds of miles of open water to build intense waves during storms.

Sculpted Dune

Sculpted Dune

The dunes along the Indiana shore of Lake Michigan take a pounding by the waves during windy days. In the last few years, this erosion seems to have accelerated; much of the flat beach is gone, and full sized trees that once stood on the dunes have been washed into Lake Michigan.

Once portions of the dune collapse, they are no longer covered in vegetation, and the sand is easily washed away by rain and wind.  Ever changing, the dunes are never the same twice, and on this early summer morning the patterns in the sand were striking.

Sand Sculptures

Looking like miniature versions of the buttes of the western United States, the complex patterns intrigued us as we hiked along the shore.

There's always something new and interesting to discover while hiking The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.