The Horizon

The clouds never moved away during our hike through the trails of Van Buren State Park in southwest Michigan. The horizon was sometimes indistinguishable over Lake Michigan, creating an eerie view from the rolling dunes, and at times giving us no point of reference.

From the top of the dune, we could see the South Haven lighthouse on the distant horizon. The park is approximately five miles south of the lighthouse, and we were surprised we could see it on this type of day.

A Hole in the Sky

For just a few moments, a small hole in the clouds appeared, as we were walking south. The trees on top of the dune were silhouetted against the bright spot in the sky. The threat of rain subsided a bit, allowing us to plan for some additional miles of hiking at Van Buren State Park, and later at Grand Mere State Park, where we would see if we could spot the famous black bear seen near the park last year.

Crumbling Dunes

Crumbling Dunes

Warm for a late December morning -almost 46 degrees - and very calm along the beaches of southern Lake Michigan, make my annual first day of vacation hike to the lake very comfortable. Usually I photograph the ice build up on the lighthouses of the area, but this year it was too warm for such things.

Lake Michigan built the dunes along the shore over the past few thousand years, and now as part of the natural process, she is reclaiming part of them. Wave action hits the dunes and undercuts them, causing small sand slides. When these happen frequently enough, the side of the dune falls to the beach, bringing with it whatever is growing on top. Entire mature trees can be found uprooted laying on the beach. In this area, there were dozens of trees littering the beach.

Beach Erratics

In addition to trees and plants, I've seen parts of old buildings exposed and laying on the beach after this type of erosion, kind of an opening of a time capsule. Some of the logs exposed look almost petrified, taking on the minerals of the sand that surrounded them for hundreds or thousands of years.

This particular dune was hiding a 5 or 6 foot long boulder. While not up on the dune, this was most likely pushed to this spot by the glaciers that created the Great Lakes. It was then buried by the blowing sands under the dune. Recent erosion exposed it - just another glacial erratic in the midwest.

Reclaiming the Dunes

The beach has narrowed quite a bit, to the point where the waves constantly hit the dunes, and visitors will certainly get their feet wet when it's windy. There's not much if anything people can do to stop the erosion, we'll just have to realize that nature changes and we need to adapt to those changes.

Orland Wetland

Orland Wetland

Once farmland, probably destined to become housing subdivisions in the Cook County housing boom of the early 1990's, these 960 acres between Orland Park and Mokena, Illinois were saved by local nature lovers. Set aside to prevent development, this grassland is also one of Illinois' newest restored prairies.

The grassland has over six miles of paved and grass trails for visitors to enjoy. In the Spring and Summer, the grass trails are off limits in an attempt to save ground nesting birds, but in the colder months, these trails provide a great way to reach the inner portions of the grassland.

The grassland is in the path of numerous migrating birds, offering birdwatchers a chance at viewing plenty of species.

Frozen Pond

The grass trails have begun to freeze, so we didn't sink into the soft mud as we meandered through the inner grassland. The shallow ponds in the lower areas of the prairie have also begun to freeze, a sure sign winter is on the way.