From a Distance

From A Distance

I'm always intrigued when I see the skyline of Chicago from across Lake Michigan. It looks so peaceful from this distance, yet there are so many things going on in and around those buildings.  Certain atmospheric conditions allow us to see the skyline very clearly on certain days - I wonder if this is due to a cold front passing through, or the fact that there is less pollution in the sky due to the stay at home orders.

The buildings can be seen quite clearly, even though they have a purple haze to them due to the atmosphere. On this day, we could see the entire shore, not just the tall buildings.

This photo is from West Beach, so it's a bit closer to Chicago than Mt. Baldy- the furthest beach up the shoreline. I would estimate this is looking 25 miles across the lake (Mt. Baldy is 37 miles across the water).

West Beach Pond

West Beach Pond Just before reaching the beach from the parking area of the West Beach access, you encounter a small interdunal pond - a pond formed between dunes. This particular pond is just on the leeward side of the foredune, the first dune inland from the beach. In spring and summer, I've seen wading birds taking advantage of the easy pickings around this shallow body of water. Currently, it's still a bit too early to see them, but I did encounter my first snowy egret of the season yesterday.

 West Beach is a rather unique place. Part of the Indiana Dunes National Park, this access point allows visitors to see dune progression in it's entirety, in a very short space. Taking the mile long dune succession trail, takes you from beach, to marram grass covered foredune, to conifer forest, to oak savanna, and all of the stages in between.

 In the summer, this is a popular swimming destination with ample parking, a bathhouse with concessions and life guards. I generally visit in the cold months when I'm practically the only person in the park.

 It's hard to imagine that just 30 miles across Lake Michigan is one of the largest cities in the country. On clear days, you can see the Chicago skyline from almost any beach in the Indiana Dunes National Park, and even a better view if you're able to climb to the top of one of the dunes.

Calmness Near Chaos

Calmness Near Chaos Nature and wildlife continue without pause at this peaceful interdunal pond in Northwest Indiana. The Covid-19 pandemic is touching almost everyone in some way, yet nature here is as beautiful as ever, unaffected by the chaos just miles away. Illinois is under a "Shelter in place" order to prevent the spread of the virus. Many other states are too, as well as several countries hit hard by the corona virus. Even though a shelter in place order is in affect, people may venture out for necessities such as groceries, medication, hardware, and even take-out food. More importantly, people may go on walks and hikes, providing they do so in a safe manner - not in groups and keeping a safe distance from others. Without this, I think people would feel the stay home order considerably more. I feel hiking in nature is a necessity. I was very happy to discover the Indiana Dunes National Park was still open for hiking. I mean, why not? The buildings and restrooms are all locked, and the welcome center is closed as well. So we brought a few snacks and drinks and headed out for some fresh air and exercise. While I am accustomed to hiking these trails alone, sometimes never seeing another visitor on winter hikes, I was surprised to see about six other people on this trip. I generally say hello to everyone I encounter on my hikes, but this day was a bit different. I still said hello, but the interaction between people was much more friendly than usual. I think seeing another person made them feel a bit more normal in these times, and yes, there's another person with the same idea of getting out of the house while they still can! Who knows how long this virus will keep us from our normal activities, but I will certainly continue hiking safely until I'm ill, or until ordered not to.

Through the Trees

Through the Trees

Hiking through the Orland Grassland on a warm, late winter afternoon showed some small remnants of winter, but the hope of spring was in the air. The golden hues of the sunlight on the matted down tall grass of the prairie reminded me that spring is only a few short days away. Some of these oak trees still had leaves left over from last year - it's pretty common to see this, but it still surprises me every time I see it. Richer green colors should begin to appear once the weather warms up; I've already heard the calls of some spring birds that arrived early. The Sandhill Cranes can be heard flying high above this grassland on their way to spend a day or two in northern Indiana (a well known stop on their long migration). Thousands congregate in marshes and plowed farm fields each March, and I make certain to witness their displays of dancing each spring. I'm hoping for a big turnout when I visit over the next couple of weeks.

Thawing Pond

Thawing Pond

Some early spring-like weather came upon us on the first of March, perfect for a hike through the restored prairie. Following the removal of miles of clay drain tiles, this former farmland is returning to it's more natural state of a prairie and wetland. Small ponds dot the landscape, and they are just beginning to thaw in these warm temperatures.

The Orland Grassland has several miles of paved trails, and another few miles of mowed grass trails. I prefer the grass trails, but they are only open to hikers from October to May.  Once the ground nesting birds return, these trails are off limits.

The grass trails take you away from most man-made things, although because of the proximity to cities, you never quite get away from everything. At times you can't see any homes or electrical towers in the distance, but you always hear the nearby highways.  The grassland is almost two miles long by a mile wide, so plenty of green space, but you often see the reminders of civilization on the horizon.

Because of the recent thaw, the grass trails were quite wet and soggy, most likely the reason I was the only person on them. Suits me just fine.