The View from the Summit

Moments Before the Summit

The last few meters of our hike were the most challenging. The loose sand toward the top of the dune was a bit difficult to climb - with each step, we sank into the sand, and slid backwards a little. The angle of the dune also became steeper toward the top.

Once we reached the top, we turned south to view the landscape toward the center of Michigan. Up this high, we were above the treetops and could see for miles around us.

The View South

We had a perfect view of South Lake, one of the small lakes within the park.  From this distance we could see several swans on the water, and plenty of other water foul.  I suspect in a few weeks, many migratory birds may call this area home.

Turning around toward the stiff wind off of Lake Michigan, we finally saw why this wooded dune had a bare sand summit- we were at the living edge of a blowout.  A blowout is a portion of the dune that is devoid of vegetation, and because of this, erodes by the wind.  The sand is blown to the top of the dune, where it falls on the leeward side, burying everything in its path. Here, the sand covered the fallen leaves and small trees near the summit.

The View North

A cold Lake Michigan came into view, along with the maze of smaller fore dunes. We hiked down to the beach and discovered a large amount of objects washed up by the series of storms in the area. Trees, wood from docks, and parts of boats littered the beach. Nothing unusual following a wind winter on the Great Lakes,

Our hike continued inland.

Eyeing the Summit

Eyeing the Summit

While hiking the meandering paths of the dunes at Grand Mere State Park, Chris noticed the sandy summit of a distant, wooded dune. Bare sand seems unusual on the top of a wooded dune, so he decided we should attempt to find a way up.

What appears to be a few meters away, is almost always a long trek - especially when we want to keep on the trails and not walk across the marram grass.  We followed the winding paths over several dunes until we managed to get closer to the foot of the dune we identified as having the sandy summit.

Rolling Dunes

Following the trail through the wooded dune valley, we spotted a steep trail up to the top of the dune. Having never been on this trail before, we pondered the reason for the sandy summit. Was it a blowout? A living dune? Or was it something created by visitors or the park service?

The Last Few Meters

Only a few more steps up the loose, sandy trail will reveal what's on top, and beyond.

A Hike to Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan Comes into View

On a gloomy, early spring morning, we set off to hike to Lake Michigan through the trails of  Grand Mere State Park. From the parking area, the trail is flat and paved - not the kind of tail I enjoy. I prefer something more natural and rugged, but in this case, I assumed the pavement would lead to natural trails.  After about a half mile, the pavement ended with a climb up a loose sand dune into the landscape seen in these photos.

The Beaten Path

Always mindful of trampling Marram grass and other plants, we stayed on the beaten paths that meandered up and around the dunes. The views from the dune ridges were beautiful in most every direction - Lake Michigan, wooded dunes, grassy dunes, and the three, small inland lakes.

Similar to Warren Dunes, once over the first ridge, and expansive area of rolling dunes is all one can see, giving hikers a real sense of hiking far away from busy cities.

Grand Mere State Park is located in Stevensville, Michigan, only a few miles from St. Joseph. A recreation passport is required to access the park, although in busy times, visitors can pay an attendent for one day access.

Hiking Gypsy Gulch

Hiking Gypsy Gulch

Turkey Run State Park's trail 2 is a one mile, rugged hike that meanders around cliff faces, over hills, and through canyons. One of the more interesting parts of the trail is Gypsy Gulch, a path filled with boulders that have broken away from the cliff walls. Morning fog partially obscured the view of Sugar Creek, seen through the trees in the photo above.

While not necessarily a strenuous trail, it is rugged, forcing hikers to climb over and around boulders to continue on.  A small waterfall drips in Gypsy Gulch, and hikers must walk behind it, under the overhanging rock walls.

Rugged Trail

The old growth trees in this park are beautiful, even in late winter. The Hemlock remain green all year, and are found in the damp canyons of trail 3, but the largest are the Yellow Poplar, also called  Tulip Trees. These straight, tall trees reach a height of 100 feet, with no branches on the bottom 60 feet. Seen in the background in the photo below, the Yellow Poplar towers above the trail, It appears huge even though it's a hundred feet away from the hiker.

Dwarfed by the Landscape

Trail 2 merges with trail 1, which leads to one of Parke County's historic covered bridges, the Narrows Covered Bridge.

Wedge Rock

Atop Wedge Rock

Rugged trail number 3 at Turkey Run State Park in west-central Indiana, is home to a rock formation known as Wedge Rock.  While not really a formation, the feature is the result of a rock fall centuries ago, where this rock refused to roll flat, and remained in this upright position.  The angle is gentle enough to allow safe climbing to the top for a great view of the canyon.

Beneath Wedge Rock

Beneath Wedge Rock, hikers get an idea of just how large this rock is, and a sense of how powerful the event that shook it loose from the canyon wall must have been. The small stream running through the canyon no doubt had some effect on the fall.

Clinging to Wedge Rock

Over time, trees have taken root on the rocky surface. With no soil to speak of, the roots have fastened themselves to the small cracks in the rock, and wandered around to the moist ground below. The trees in this particular part of the canyon are coniferous, and with the neon green moss covering most surfaces, it feels more like a hike in the Pacific Northwest.

Behind Wedge Rock

The backside of Wedge Rock is another interesting place to explore. Lines in the rock seem to have been scoured in, yet are most likely the result of the formation of the rock itself. Fitting to the name of the wedge-shaped rock, hikers must wedge themselves through the small gap between the rocks to explore the backside of this portion of trail 3.

Entering Ancient Indiana

Entering Ancient Indiana

About 60 miles west of Indianapolis, Indiana lies scenic Parke County, home to over 30 covered bridges, and plenty of rolling country.  In the midst of this county is Turkey Run State Park, a natural preserve where visitors can experience Indiana's ancient landscape.

Several canyons dot the park, some with waterfalls, others filled with boulders and trees. One trail in particular, trail 3, brings visitors into a canyon where nature's forces worked over 300 million years to shape what is seen today.  This trail, marked "very rugged" by the park service, is just that, a rugged walk through the canyon.  While not too strenuous, the rugged nature of the trail allows visitors to hike in a more natural setting.  Boardwalks and stairs are in places where necessary, and wooden ladders are necessary to scale portions of the canyons.

Just outside of the narrow entrance to the canyon, along Sugar Creek, the temperature drops substantially.  The colder air of the canyon is well below the temperature of the surrounding area; we could see our breath, and the outside temperature was in the mid 60s.

Hiking Turkey Run

In addition to the cold air, we also noticed the plant life was instantly different.  The park has plenty of old growth trees, some of the tallest I've seen in the region, but the trees here were all old conifers.  Thick, green moss covered the rocks, and fallen trees, while ferns clung to the canyon walls.  Much different than most other parts of the park.

Our six hour hike brought us through most of the canyons, but some fading sunlight forced us to postpone the rest for another day.

The Sap is Running

The Sap is Running

Each spring, The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore presents an event highlighting the maple sugar production methods of the region. Maple Sugar Days runs the first two weekends of March at the Chellberg Farm, part of the National Lakeshore.

Rangers and volunteers demonstrate the traditional methods of maple syrup collection and production, ranging from the Native American methods to relatively modern methods used on the farm back in the 1930's.

With the warm weather we've experienced, the sap was flowing - slowly dripping from the spiles into the covered buckets. The sap needs the warm days and freezing nights to begin to move up the tree, and the spiles channel the sap from the small hole drilled in the tree, to the buckets. This process only lasts a few weeks. Once the weather is warm enough, the tree begins to gain nourishment from photosynthesis instead of the sap, and the sap becomes bitter.

Collecting Sap

The covers on the buckets keep snow and water from getting into the collected sap, as well as critters that may wander into the bucket for a drink.

Once collected, the sap is taken to the sugar shack where it is boiled down into syrup.