Frozen Cascade

Frozen Cascade

The second stop on our trip to Matthiessen State Park was Cascade Falls.  Located in the lower dell portion of the park, it takes a bit of a hike to reach, even though you can view the area from the trail head.

Right after heavy rain or snow melt, the lower dells can be flooded, making it impossible to reach the canyon floor to view the caves and waterfall. But on this trip, we were able to make the full trip to the foot of the falls.

Behind the Ice Cascade As a matter of fact, we were also able to climb behind the frozen falls to view the ice from below, something that becomes increasingly more difficult as the ice increases in size. It's always interesting to see the ice illuminated from behind. Through the Cave Entrance Another feature of the lower dells are small caves. These caves are large enough to walk through, and some connect with each other via smaller passages. One cave opens up to the end of the canyon with a view of Cascade falls in the distance.

The First Frozen Icefalls of the Winter

Twins Beyond Cedar Point Over a week of frigid weather has turned the waterfalls of Matthiessen State Park into fantastic icefalls. Each winter, we make the trip out to Starved Rock and Matthiessen State Parks to view the canyons and especially the frozen waterfalls. The recent below zero temperatures turned the waterfalls into icefalls in a matter of days, and they're only going to get larger over the next several days.
  Ice Fall Approach
 Often, these frozen falls don't last very long, any warm weather can destroy the delicate formations; large chunks break off from above and crash into the canyon below, tearing up the intricate ice on it's way down. The forecast is for very cold weather to continue, so it appears the icefalls will last a few more weeks at least. Behind the Falls On many visits, the rock cut-outs are completely covered over by ice. Other times, such as today, the back of the ice was accessible, and we made our way behind the ice. Daylight filters through the ice, illuminating the formations from the back, and seemingly from within. The falls are continually growing, as water falls inside and around the ice formations, freezing, and adding layer upon layer of new ice. The area near the ice is always wet and slippery, so clothes and camera gear get splashed up - something you don't want in the winter. It can make the trip back pretty uncomfortable. The Falls From Above These two falls beyond Cedar Point are not often found by visitors of the park, and can go unnoticed. They're certainly worth the effort to find and reach them during the winter months when they're transformed into huge ice sculptures.

Sand Formations

Dune Sculptures Wind, sand, snow, and ice combined formed these interesting structures on the vast, rolling dunes of Silver Lake State Park, near Mears Michigan. Arriving at the top of the first dune, we readied ourselves for the long hike to Lake Michigan -it appears much closer than it really is. We then noticed mother nature's handiwork on the tops of the dunes. As the snow fell, and the wind blew, layers of snow and sand piled up over a foot tall in places. Then, some of the snow melted getting the sand wet, and the wet sand froze in some areas. The wind continued to blow away the loose sand, but the frozen sand stayed in place creating these formations. Sand Formations We didn't expect to see such patterns and formations, but they were a welcomed addition to our normally interesting hike through the dunes and forests of Silver Lake State Park. On this day, we had the entire park to ourselves, we didn't see another person all day; I suppose most people prefer the beach and dunes in the summer months. Our hike here usually includes a visit to some interdunal ponds, small bodies of water collecting between sets of dunes. These areas are vastly different than their surroundings, and they are home to many different plants and animals not found in the other areas of the park. Conifer forests often border these ponds, creating homes for birds and other wildlife. Interdunal Pond Now iced over, these small ponds blend in to their surroundings much more than in the warmer months. The conifer forests, however, were buzzing with birds gathering seeds in the cold winter air. They were such a different environment than the areas surrounding - like islands of life in the desert. The temperature was much warmer in these areas too, sheltered by the tall dunes on all sides, and buffered by the jack pine trees. This was a nice break from the cold wind found everywhere else in the park.

Waves of Sand

Expansive Dunes One of the most interesting areas of sand dunes along the eastern Lake Michigan lie within Silver Lake State Park near Mears, Michigan. Over 3,000 acres of rolling sand dune set between Lake Michigan and a smaller inland lake, Silver Lake. In addition to a huge expanse of bare, rolling sand dunes, there are countless interdunal ponds, grass prairies, and stands of conifer trees. Visitors can experience all these environments in a single hike. The hike, however, isn't going to be easy. The climb from the parking area is a steep walk up a loose sand dune, through a forest that is in the process of being buried by the ever-moving dunes. Once on top, the expanse of the park comes into view. Close to 1/2 mile of rolling sand separates you from the first stand of conifer trees, and they're not even half way to Lake Michigan. Taking Over the Forest Appearing more like an African desert than a Great Lakes field of dunes, Silver Lake State Park doesn't disappoint those who make the trek over the entire range of dunes to the lake. On this visit, we encountered something unusual on the dunes - patterns and waves of sand carved by the wind. While wind created patterns are nothing special here, these creations were unlike most. Following high winds, freezing temperatures, and snowfall, the sand and snow built up in thin layers, then, warmer weather began to melt some of the ice and snow. During this process, the layers of snow melted into water, wetting the sand which froze again. More winds eroded the sand that wasn't frozen, and these special formations appeared. Delicate Shapes on the Dune Some of these formations appeared like paper, thin layers of frozen sand, bent or stacked on top of one another. Others looked like turned vases, while others looked like a miniature canyon from the Western United States. I'll post many more photos of the interesting formations in the days to come.

A Winter Morning at Little Sable Point

Morning at Little Sable Point Following a long, early morning drive, we arrived at Silver Lake State Park, just south of Ludington, Michigan and began our hike. It wouldn't be a trip to this area without a visit to the Little Sable Point Light. The 107 foot tall brick tower was constructed in 1874, and has survived many cold winters on the shore of Lake Michigan. The lighthouse is open for tours during the warm months of the year, but today, we were the only two people in sight - the entire day. It seems, nobody enjoys the beach in the winter. Little Sable Point Lighthouse Ice has not yet formed along the shore of this area of Lake Michigan, usually this forms a bit later in the winter. Snow, however, was all around us, but it seems the sand retains heat a bit better than the surrounding surfaces, allowing the snow to melt from the dunes. Sitting directly in the sand of the beach, this lighthouse is one of the few on the southern shore of Lake Michigan not on a long pier marking a river or port. The lighthouse still has a third order Fresnel lens, and it's still operational - one of only 16 on the Great Lakes (70 in the United States).