Pear Tree Blossoms

Pear Blossom

We know for sure it's spring when our pear tree blossoms in April.  It may still be cold and windy, but spring is here for sure.  In years when the temperatures climb early, it often gets very cold again in March, this can kill off the buds that formed in the warm spell. This usually results in a very few pear blossoms. This was true last year, and we're always quite disappointed, and a bit concerned that the tree won't survive the winter. So far, it's always pulled through- even in years with no blossoms.

Pear Blossom Group

In a normal year, the branches of the tree are covered in white blossoms. The blossoms form in groups about the size of a baseball, and only last about a week.  Once they begin to drop off, the grass will be covered in small white petals, and it will for a time, look like snow.

Pear trees have a distinct fragrance, it's not appealing like crab apple trees, but it does remind me of springtime growing up -  my friend Ken had a huge pear tree in his backyard in Chicago.

Viburnum Buds

Viburnum Buds

Spring is finally here, even though some recent weather didn't feel very spring-like. Second only to our azaleas, the viburnum blossoms in late April, filling the yard with a sweet fragrance. While the soon to be blossoms are white/pink, the buds are vivid red. The group of buds here are about the size of a US half dollar coin, so each of the buds are quite small.

When looking at the image in full view, you can see the tiny hairs on the leaves - this explains why viburnum leaves stick to gloves and clothing.

The image here is a composite of seven individual photos, taken at slightly different focal distances. The idea is to achieve an image with all of the important elements in focus. This is impossible to achieve using a macro lens due to its shallow depth of field, so taking multiple photos of the same object at different distances allows one to stack the images together to obtain an image with the subject in focus.

A difficult thing about focus stacking is the mystery of the entire process. You don't know how things will look until you finish stacking; you can't double check things to make sure things are going to work out. However, that also creates a nice surprise when things work out.

Above Kintzle Ditch

Following Kintzle Ditch

Being one of my favorite places in the park, Kintzle Ditch has always intrigued me. Even though this area changes daily, I'm always looking for a different perspective for photography. The top of the dune is accessible without climbing up the loose sand, but the hard packed, well traveled trail is hidden from most, and requires a bit of hiking.

Once on top, the view of Lake Michigan is beautiful, and the Chicago skyline can be seen on clear days. The view down to the creek and beach is also perfect. From this perspective, the tannin in the creek water can be seen flowing into the lake, a dark trail of water flows with the current and the waves.

 Kintzle Ditch From Above

Unusual to almost anytime except the summer, were the three other people walking down by the creek. Even if the beach has quite a few visitors, this area is relatively out of the way and empty. The figures give some scale to the dunes, without them, it's difficult to determine just how tall they are.

The erosion of the dune is evident where the creek hits the beach. The dunes have collapsed over the last five years or so. The full grown trees have fallen into Lake Michigan as well, they can be seen down the shore a bit.

The Dunes Around Kintzle Ditch

Kintzle Ditch Panorama

A favorite spot of mine to visit along the Lake Michigan shore is the division between two beaches at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Between Central Beach and Mt. Baldy is a small stream known as Kintzle Ditch. This stream flows between two rather tall dunes and into Lake Michigan and like almost every other point on these beaches, it changes daily.

The wind and waves move the sands on the beach, often altering the direction the stream empties.  Sometimes it flows straight into the lake, and other times it takes a long, meandering path left or right - often hundreds of feet to either side of the path between the dunes.

The Beach at Kintzle Ditch

Over the past few years, the dunes here have been eroded by the high waters of Lake Michigan; they appear much different than they were just five years ago. The beach is submerged most of the time, and the waves hit the foot of the dunes quite often now, preventing the possibility of hiking the beach at times of high water.

Of course, this action also erodes the foot of the dunes, undercutting them, and causing large portions of the dune to collapse into the lake- trees and all. This is all the process of wind and waves, yet it's sometimes sad to see the forested dunes fall into the water over time.

Rugged Dune

Rugged Dune

Hiking through the dunes can be quite challenging if the trails are soft sand and up steep hills, but imagine walking through areas with no trails. The rolling sand and multitude of grasses and shrubs seen here, gives an indication of the terrain one would need to cross if wandering off trail.  While certainly not the most difficult obstacles, encountering these one after another for miles would certainly wear on the legs.

This vantage point is from a trail, because the Indiana Dunes National Park does not allow off-trial hiking, but I have decided to "bushwhack" in other parks that allow it.  It's a lot more difficult that it appears, especially when doing so in the wooded dunes. Downed trees, branches, and thorny vines are everywhere, either blocking your way, or grabbing your clothing, stopping you every 10 feet or so. Add the soft sand and hills, and you have a real workout on your hands. 

I remember attempting to follow a creek from a lake to a road I knew was 1/2 mile away.  Because of the steep bank along the creek, I had to climb up to the top of the dunes, and follow the creek from the top of the hills all the way back to the road.  The obstacles I spoke of earlier prevented me from making a quick trip - in fact, the 1/2 mile took me almost an hour, and cost me a jacket and a pair of pants because they were both ripped by the thorny vines that lined the forest floor.

While I actually prefer blazing my own trails in search of things relatively few bother to find, I do enjoy the maintained trails and paths along the Indiana Dunes.

Discovery of a Pond

Discovering the Pond

On our last hike before the covid-19 stay at home orders by the Illinois and Indiana governors, we happened upon a rather large interdunal pond.  I've been on this trail quite a few times over the years, and knew about the large pond, but never knew it could be seen from this side while staying on the trail system.

A couple hundred meters from the beach, the dunes change from bare sand, to marram grass covered, then to conifer forest. This area has one of the most expansive stands of Jack Pine forest in the park - at least publicly accessible. As we walked through the dimly lit path, the under-story plants changed quit a bit.  No longer marram grass, but plenty of moss, and a variety of small evergreen flowering plants that looked much like holly. I believe this is Oregon Grape, a plant that is not native to the area, but seems to thrive in the Jack Pine conifer stands here at the Indiana Dunes National Park. In spring, the plants display yellow flowers; I hope to get back in time to see them bloom.

Still very early in the Spring, we did however, see a few water birds in the area taking advantage of the still waters. I suspect this is about the time when the turtles and frogs emerge from their hibernation.