South Haven Drama

South Haven Light The sky and sunlight changed as fast as the winds blew on this stormy February afternoon. Wind gusts over 50 MPH created plenty of drama in the sky as well as on the water, with waves crashing into the shelf ice, shore, and pier of South Haven, Michigan. Happening in mid winter when the shore is mostly lined with mounds of shelf ice, beach erosion is actually kept to a minimum because the shore is buffered by the ice formations. In warmer periods, a good portion of the beach can erode away in just one day. As the sun poked through the heavy clouds, it highlighted the ice, water, lighthouse, and splashes on the pier, providing a great contrast against the cold snow and ice. Drama in the Sky Stepping back to take in more of the pier, and using a wider lens, more of the dramatic sky could be seen behind the pier and lighthouse. The beach parking area was quite crowded with spectators out photographing the waves. Most did not venture out of their cars, but those who did, got to experience intense wind gusts exceeding 50 MPH. Sand, acting more like a light snow, was blown from the beach down the nearby streets where it collected along the curbs and in every place exposed - including my ears!

Relentless Waters

Relentless Waves Recent high winds created plenty of drama on Lake Michigan last weekend. Large splashes could be seen from far away, as the waves crashed into the end of the pier, engulfing the outer lighthouse in a shroud of water. While I've witnessed much larger splashes against this lighthouse over the years, this day was one of the windiest I've experienced on Lake Michigan. Only two other days I've seen would rival the winds on this day. Surge The gale blew most of the night, into the next day, churning up Lake Michigan with waves reported as high as 20 feet. This pushes the water toward the shore, and when it's this high, it pushes the water up the river, and over the pier. This relentless action has eroded the sand next to the pier, exposing utility conduits, and undercutting the concrete walkway. The couple of hours I spent on the shore were spent constantly wiping the water droplets from the camera lens - even when quite far away from the water. The rest of the night was spent cleaning sand from everything, including inside my ears. I'm sure I'll continue to find sand in every piece of gear for the next few weeks.

St. Joseph Gale

St. Joseph Gale The range lights marking the entrance to the St. Joseph River at Lake Michigan take a pounding by the high waves of the lake. Gusts exceeding 50mph churned up the water and pushed it inland and over the pier, washing away quite a bit of sand in the process. A good amount of the shelf ice along the shore either melted, or was washed away by the high waves. Waves Pounding the Outer Light The 35 foot tall, newly restored outer lighthouse still leans a bit, but continues to withstand the winter storms so common to this area. As the waves hit the end of the pier, they create dramatic splashes that engulf the lighthouse and wash over the pier. It's this precise action that often creates the thick layers of ice seen on the lighthouse and pier. The high winds and waves brought out dozens of people eager to witness the power of the wind and water; many of whom stayed in their cars to avoid the wind, cold spray, and blowing sand.

Winter Winds

Winter Winds Hearing the forecast of 60 mph wind gusts, I made plans to head out to the Michigan shore of Lake Michigan - hoping for high waves. When I arrived, I was not disappointed. While I can't say this was the windiest day I've seen on the lake, this was certainly one of the most dramatic days on Lake Michigan I've experienced. South Haven, Michigan still had quite a bit of shelf ice along the shore, and even large chunks of drift ice floating in the Black River. The high waves tossed the car-sized ice chunks up over the railings of the river walk. At times, it was difficult to walk and stand still because of the winds, and the sand being kicked up into your face. As usual, if you can make it close to the water, there is no sand to blow into your face, you only need to worry about the water spray on the camera lens. Arriving around 3:00 pm local time, the sky was mostly cloudy, but as I walked the beach, the sun began to peek through the clouds and illuminate the waves and spray. The scene takes on an entirely different look as the sun goes in and out, and it becomes more difficult to photograph each time the light changes. splashsm I suppose the spray will begin to freeze onto the lighthouse and catwalk surfaces if the winds continue through the night. The ice boulders have already deposited on the beach and pier, making the walk to the beginning of the pier difficult, and the walk to the end of the pier impossible - at least until the waves subside. Temperatures were in the low 30s but with the high winds, the "feel-like" temperatures were around 8 degrees. In very little time, exposed skin began to freeze, and even through gloves, my hands were numb in just ten minutes. If you've never experienced winds such as these by Lake Michigan, I encourage you to seek out days like these in the future; it's like nothing you've ever seen before.

Snow and Shadows

Snow and Shadow Freshly fallen snow combined with the sun shining at a low angle, highlight the subtle contours and textures of the landscape of the Indiana Dunes. Lake Michigan makes the perfect background, the blue contrasts the bright snow, but matches the colors of the shadows in the snow. Even this small amount of snow makes hiking more difficult- especially when the ground is frozen solid. The normally soft sand becomes a solid, icy surface beneath the slippery snow, making hills challenging to climb and descend. Light After the Shadows Regardless of the snow, we still kept pace and hiked a few miles though the rolling hills of the dunes. A new view greeted us around every turn, and over every dune. All the while, Lake Michigan kept us company, first next to us, then a distant object looming in the distance. We wandered in and out of sun and shadow, keeping watch on the warm tones the sun gave to the dormant grasses and trees. I certainly look forward to the spring, when the tones aren't the only things that are warm.

Distant Lighthouse

Remnant Ice The Michigan City, Indiana East Pierhead Lighthouse seen over the shelf ice on the Lake Michigan shore. This lighthouse is seen from Central Beach, Part of the new Indiana Dunes National Park, formerly the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The beach is showing signs of erosion, in fact, many of the trails on the dune ridges are long gone, they tumbled into the lake years ago. The shelf ice helps protect the dunes during the windy winter months, keeping the waves from washing away any more sand. Perhaps the park's new status will aid in beach restoration processes and these sand-starved beaches will once again become wide. Icy Lake Over the past few weeks, the ice on the lake has grown and melted. The weather over the next few weeks will determine how much the shore will change during the remaining weeks of winter.

Lake Michigan Shelf Ice

Checking Out the Ice MoundsEach winter, the waves of Lake Michigan crash onto the beach and freeze into large ice mounds. Some years, these mounds can reach a height of 15 feet or more, and extend into the lake as far as the eye can see. This year, the ice isn't that tall or that wide, but it's still impressive if you walk along the shore. Walking on this is can be deadly, and should never be done. Knowing this beach very well, and being able to read the shore and ice, I can tell the first ice mounds on the beach were actually on the shore and not over water. These mounds formed early, before any shelf ice formed into the lake, so the splashing water created mounds on the sand, a few feet from the water's edge. So, where we were standing in the photo above, was on the shore, and not over the water. If you're not familiar with the beach, don't even walk near this ice, the churning water can deposit sand and stones on the ice, making it appear as if you're walking on the sand, but in fact you're walking on the ice. Ice Mounds A close-up of one of the ice mounds gives a bit of information about how it was formed. It appears a lot like a volcano, and it's formed by similar physics. The water and ice splash up and begin to form a cone, and the cone grows in size until it becomes wider than the ice can be thrown by the water. At that time, the ice begins to build out into the lake. So these ice mounds form next to one another and extend far out into the lake. Ice and snow often cover these holes and cracks, making them difficult to see. One can easily step into them and fall through the thin ice, into the cone and into the freezing cold water below. There's really no way out. Ice Locked Shoreline At this time of the winter, the ice only extends about 100 feet into the lake. It appears it was a bit wider a few weeks back, judging by some of the lone ice chunks standing in the water past the shelf ice. If you visit the lakeshore in winter, please remember to stay off the ice at all times. It may be 10 or 15 feet thick, but there are so many cracks and holes you don't see that lead to the frigid water below

Indiana Dunes National PARK

Frozen Beach With the stroke of a pen, the President signed a bill yesterday, making The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore America's 61st National Park. The Indiana Dunes National Park is Indiana's first national park. The 24 square mile park - created in 1966 - preserves miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, dunes, rivers, wetlands, savannas, and woods. The last few years have seen plenty of new land become part of the park. Many private homes on or near the dunes were left empty for years, and they were recently razed to become part of the national park. I'm not exactly sure what changes will take place now that it has become a national park, but additional parking, year-round washrooms, restored beaches (replenish lost sand), restore prairies and savannas to a natural state, and perhaps offer better access to the dunes that have been off limits for a few years. Drift Ice I visit the Indiana Dunes almost every weekend of the year - maybe 45 or so - and winter is one of the most interesting to me. Not only are there very few visitors, but the snow and ice formations along the shore can be incredible. This year, the shelf ice is relatively unimpressive, but if you've never seen mounds of ice such as these, it's still worth a trip. The ice on the lake is washed in by the waves where it's piled up piece by piece until the mounds freeze and slowly build out into the lake. This ice can build hundreds or thousands of feet off shore - virtually to the visible horizon. But remember, never venture onto this ice, it's not solid, and falling through is likely. Falling through this ice is usually a recovery mission for the Coast Guard, not a rescue. Congratulations to The Indiana Dunes National Park.

Dwarfed By Ice

Tonti Canyon Ice Formations
Another view of the main ice fall in Starved Rock's Tonti Canyon. The frozen waterfall and canyon walls dwarf all who enter the canyon, including Ken, a fellow photographer standing on the snow covered mounds of soil washed from above.

With continuing cold weather, this ice fall will grow wider and wider until the outermost icicles touch the ground.  Once this happens, the ice is strong enough to support climbers. This is one of the ice falls in the part that is often attempted by ice climbers.

Fallen Ice

Just to my left as I captured the first image is the second waterfall of Tonti Canyon.  It's generally a bit smaller, but still impressive.  Once again, Ken is in the photo providing scale to the waterfall. If you notice, one of the large ice chunks fell from the top of the canyon and embedded itself into the ice mound on the canyon floor.  These huge chunks can injure or kill visitors wandering beneath the ice falls.

Visitors should always be aware of the dangers above, especially during times of thawing. Not only can the ice fall from above, but loose rocks can also fall onto the canyon floor.

Owl Canyon Ice

Frigid Canyon

Owl Canyon is not often on my short list of canyons to visit while at Starved Rock State Park, but that may change. Over the years, I've forgotten about this relatively small canyon, and only passed over the top of it to hike to other more "interesting" canyons.

On this trip, I decided to take a quick look into the Owl Canyon while I waited for others to climb down the dozens of stairs. I was pleasantly surprised to see a rather large formation of ice clinging to the rim of the canyon.

Icy Owl Canyon

Only a few of the canyons here have ice formations that allow you to walk easily and completely behind them, and this is one of them.  While the ice fall isn't wide and thin, creating an ice cave, it's still a unique perspective to view the ice "stalactite and stalagmite."

As a matter of fact, we visited this canyon twice that day, once on the way in and once on the way out. The second time, the canyon floor was filling up with water from the melting snow, making it a bit more difficult to reach the frozen waterfall, but not as difficult as some of the other canyons that afternoon.  Some were impassible with rapid water flowing across the trails.

Owl Canyon Ice

Snow on the Dunes

Drift Ice on Lake Michigan

The weekend brought a little reprieve from the bitter cold weather, actually a big reprieve. An almost 70F degree rise in temperatures encouraged us to take a hike on the beach!  The dunes along the beach to be exact.  One of my favorite times to walk on the shore of Lake Michigan - it's like another world. The mounds of shelf ice extend hundreds of feet off shore, the snow covered dunes, and the lack of other people make winter a great time to wander the shore.

A hike through the woods to the ridge, then along the ridge to the nearest blowout brought us to this view. The coniferous trees stand out against the bright snow, and the drift ice is beginning to flow off shore, pushed by the winds from the south.

Running Along The Dune

In several places, we were the first to walk through the snow-covered trails. While we are familiar with the trail, it's still difficult to see the narrow paths with several inches of snow on them. If you know what to look for, you can eventually begin to see the details that line the trail, and follow them.

Some of us had to run ahead to get to the beach faster, while others took their time.

Ice Spectacle

Out From the Shadows

The ice formations in the canyons of Starved Rock State Park are ever changing. Each day with temperatures dropping or raising, the ice increases or decreases, builds and falls, creating new forms everyday.  No matter what the weather, there always something new to see.

A 60 degree difference from just a few days prior, brought out scores of visitors to the state park. Many visitors were part of hiking clubs taking advantage of the 40 degree weather, while others were there strictly for the ice formations.

Ice Spectacle

As Illinois' second most visited attraction (Navy Pier in Chicago is #1), I'm rarely alone in these canyons, but during last week's zero degree temperatures, we only saw a few people the entire day.  In contrast, on this day we shared LaSalle canyon with dozens of people, each taking in the ice spectacle as they passed through.

Most of Starved Rock's canyons have some sort of waterfall - some have two, and they often remain frozen this time of year. During warm months, most waterfalls only flow after rains, so timing is crucial when trying to see them flowing.  With the cold weather, even a slow drip eventually forms a huge frozen waterfall, so there is almost always something beautiful to see in winter.

Tonti Canyon in Winter

Winter in Tonti Canyon

A 60 degree difference between last Wednesday and this Sunday allowed us to explore more of Starved Rock State Park's frozen waterfalls. Low temperatures of -24 F helped freeze the waterfalls solid in just a few days. Today's temperatures in the 40s began the melting process, but the cool canyons still retained most of their ice.

An unusual sight for me was the white frost on the walls of Tonti Canyon. I think it is due to the very cold temperatures a few days ago, then the warm temps yesterday and today. The warm air condensed on the cold canyon walls, and created frost. It certainly gave the canyons another layer of contrast.

Tonti Canyon Frost

In just a week's time, the main waterfall in Tonti Canyon completely froze from top to bottom. Take a look at this post to see what the waterfall looked like last week. I'd estimate the height of the waterfall at around 60 feet, and if the cold comes back soon, this icefall will continue to build in thickness and perhaps allow ice climbers a chance at tackling the difficult climb to the top.

Behind Tonti Falls

While being careful of the hanging icicles above, we wandered behind the icefall for a view of the backside.  Unlike the thinner ice columns of LaSalle Canyon, this ice isn't as transparent, but it does offer a look at the beautiful details and patterns in the ice.

Looking closely to the left of the ice column, you can spot the second icefall of Tonti, a bit smaller, and not yet connected from top to bottom.

The Tonti Canyon bridge has been closed for quite some time, forcing visitors to take a 15 minute detour back through LaSalle Canyon. It's never a bad thing to visit this canyon twice in an afternoon, but the longer hike takes some time away from exploring other canyons along the way. I'm not sure what the State is waiting for - the bridge can be repaired for very little money, and very little time. Unless the bridge isn't the problem, perhaps it's the trail itself which seems a bit narrow just before the bridge.  Either way, it's time something is done to improve a beautiful trail in Illinois' second largest attraction.

The Other Sister Waterfall

Behind the Falls

In the same canyon, and only a few meters away, this frozen waterfall is the second we visited and explored.  This one is a bit taller, and the stone overhang is deeper, so it's quite a bit easier to get into to explore.

The ice here is a bit thicker than some of the other falls we saw, so the light doesn't penetrate through quite as much, but it still casts a nice color to the ice.

Feather Icicle

Inside the cave, the moist, cold air created some fancy ice formations. On the stone walls and on the icicles, feather ice formed. This is not too unusual for the empty spaces inside frozen waterfalls, but it very delicate and usually doesn't last long when visitors wander around.

Feather Ice Detail

The white icefall contrasts against the dark sandstone canyon walls. Visiting these canyons in the warmer months pays off, you get to know how deep the creeks is and where you can safely walk just in case the ice is thinner than you thought.

The Other Sister Icefall