Snow Squalls

Winter Dunes

The beginning of our hike through the wooded dunes of the Indiana Dunes State Park on a cold, January morning.  We arrived before sunrise, around 6:45 am, and found ourselves on one of the longest trails of the park.

Snow showers moved in and out all morning, never amounting to much more than a dusting on top of the 1/2 inch of snow on the ground. As we hiked we decided to take additional trails up through the dunes, and realized we were on the "Three Dune Challenge," a hike up and down the three tallest dunes in the park. We found it funny because hiking over only three dunes isn't really a challenge for us, as we probably hike over 5 or 6 during our 12 mile hikes on a regular basis.

Running Through the Treetops

This park had quite a few joggers running the long, flat trails, and a few running up the steep dunes. I often thought these trails would be the greatest for cross country training, and I suspect the group of young men running yesterday thought the same.

Drifting Beach

Drifting Beach

Snow squalls periodically appeared during our early morning hike along the Lake Michigan dunes of Indiana. While only a small amount of snow fell, the high winds off of the lake drove the snow into drifts, mixing with the golden sand of the beach.

Temperatures were in the mid twenties, but winds made the walk on the beach very uncomfortable, especially when walking into the wind. The previous three hours were rather warm, as we hiked in the protected trails of the wooded dunes. Not unusual for this time of year, we encountered only a few other people, mostly joggers running on the winding, rolling trails of the Indiana Dunes State Park.

Crumbling Canyon

Buffalo Rock Face

Our first visits to Buffalo Rock State Park were rather uneventful -not much worth photographing really. This time, we focused on an area where the rock cliffs were exposed, and found things much more interesting.

The sandstone of the area was once quarried for the silica, and this particular area was created after the quarrying stopped.  The cliff walls were created by the quarrying process, yet they appear quite natural given the many canyons of the area.  Certainly, the rock is natural, but it's my guess the canyon itself was made much larger by the quarrying process.

Taking in the View

The area is relatively hidden from the main trail, but a few smaller trails lead to the edge.  Care must be taken not to slip into the canyon, the loose sandstone crumbles at times. Keeping a safe distance from the edge was key, especially with the icy conditions created by the recent freezing rain storms.

Looking up from the bottom of the canyon, rock climbing would certainly be something enjoyable here, but again, the crumbling stone prevents anyone with good sense from even trying.

In the Canyon

While much smaller than any of the canyons of nearby Starved Rock, this Buffalo Rock canyon is a bit more interesting than most of those. The colors of the canyon remind us of something in a western desert, and some areas of eroded stone look like the white sand beaches of Florida.

Crumbling Canyon

We also kept our distance from the rock walls most of the time.  Numerous boulders were laying on the canyon floor, and they appeared relatively fresh. This area had quite an avalanche in resent years, leaving a pile of boulders to explore.

Winter View From the Dune

From the Dune

10 degree weather and high winds are not necessarily ideal conditions from a walk on the beach, but it was certainly worth the mile hike to view the frozen lake. With the recent cold spell, Lake Michigan has begun to freeze.  Shelf ice extends about 100 feet from the shore, where it meets up with pancake and drift ice as far as the eye can see.

Walking on the beach, you can't really see the ice on the lake, you need to get above the mounds of shelf ice, and the perfect place for a great view is atop one of the dunes.  Most dunes in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore are off limits to visitors, leaving only a few open to foot traffic.  In fact, many dunes that were closed to foot traffic because of fear of human erosion, are now collapsed and in the lake due to the lake itself, not foot traffic.

Patches of Bright Sun

We walked about a mile down the frozen beach until we exited the National Lakeshore, where we climbed a wooded dune near the residential area. This area offers a great view of the lake, beach, surrounding dunes, and, in winter, the ice along the shore

While the ice is always interesting from this vantage point, to me, it's most interesting when the sun is shining.  The flat light of a cloudy day does not bring out the details and dimension of the ice, but the sun and shadow does.  This afternoon, the sky was partly cloudy, with lake-effect show showers just to the east, and the shadows from the clouds can be seen on the drift ice.  The shadows of the dunes of nearby Central Beach can also be seen on the ice.

Frozen Lake Michigan

A few more weeks of cold weather, and the ice will continue to grow as the wind and waves pile up the drift ice along the shore of Lake Michigan.

El Dorado

El Dorado

On the winter horizon at sunset, the city of Chicago shines like the golden city of El Dorado. The setting sun is reflected in the glass of the buildings approximately 40 miles across frozen Lake Michigan, giving the horizon a magical glow.

Following a day of walking on the frozen shores of Lake Michigan, we decided to capture the sunset and the golden light on the drift ice of the lake.  Upon arrival, we noticed the ice was in shadow, and not illuminated at all.  One glance up to the distant horizon and the glowing, golden city caught our attention.

The angle of the sun in relation to the city and us was in perfect alignment to create this golden glow.  I suppose just a mile down the shore, and the glow would not exist at that point.

As I've seen so many times before, plans often don't work out, but if you keep your eyes open, something always take the place of the original plan.

Tonti Canyon Freeze

Tonti Canyon in Winter
Starved Rock's Tonti Canyon has two waterfalls, and both usually freeze into dramatic ice formations. This season's first freeze began the icing, but the relatively warm weather of this day took a toll on the ice. The large hanging ice already fell from the canyon walls, leaving only piles of ice on the canyon floor, and the frozen mounds formed like stalagmites.

Fallen Ice in Tonti Canyon

The large chunks of ice weigh hundreds of pounds, so when they fall, they can do plenty of damage to anything underneath.  When visiting the frozen waterfalls, never walk under them - ever.

Tonti Canyon Freeze

The melting ice freezes once it lands on the ground, and in some cases, the canyon floor is glazed with shiny, slippery ice.

Tonti Canyon is a blind canyon, meaning it's a dead end, and only open on one end. Walking to the end of the canyon, one can climb onto the debris pile for a bird's eye view of the entire canyon.

End of the Canyon