First Flowers on the Trail

First Flowers on the Trail 
While we've had some very warm days so far this Spring, flowers are only just beginning to appear in the woods around the Indiana Dunes National Park. The first two flowers I encountered this year are non native crocus (at least that's what I believe they are). It was interesting that these were the only dots of color on the still-brown landscape of the wooded dunes. 

 The Dune Ridge Trail is a short, half mile or so loop beginning at the Kemil Beach parking lot, that heads up to the ridge of a dune overlooking the Great Marsh. There are more trails that wind around the area below, they were once roads with homes on them, but now nature is taking them over. These are some of the areas I hope the park develops into marked trails - the locals know about these and hike them all the time. It's an interesting area of dune, marsh, and woods that has an old artesian well flowing next to a closed road.
  Woodland Flower 
 From this point forward, the park will come alive with so many different flowers and plants, it will change almost daily. One of the best locations for wildflowers in early spring is the heron rookery, I'll head there very soon.

Dune Views

View From The Dune Trail 
Walking through the rolling dune landscape in early Spring offers some views not normally seen when the trees green up with leaves. In this case, the lake is easily seen, and the matted, dry grasses allow you to see the trails through the dunes. 

This particular trail is a bit strenuous, only because of the loose sand and the constant change in elevation, but because it's up, down, level, up, down, you get a bit of a recovery period every few   minutes. If I were training for a run or on a cross country team, this is where I would train! 

Some dune progression can be seen here, beach, grassy foredune, conifers, then oak. But because of the ever changing nature of the dunes, there are breaks in this progression, making it anything but linear. Here, grasses are behind conifer sometimes, it's just the way the dune formed and changes every so often.
  The Other Side of the Dune 
Once around the tall dune, we are greeted with a view of the lake, and a relatively new living dune. It's called a living dune because the wind keeps pushing sand from the beach up and over it, preventing things from growing on it, and moving it inland at a slow pace. This dune has grown over the past few years, and while I can't tell by looking at it, it has moved inland a bit as well. 

If you look very closely along the beach, you'll see some visitors walking along - tiny dots on the sand. This area is much larger than it looks in photographs, only noticed when you look for a source for scale, or you experience it yourself. 

 The wet and warmer weather are quickly greening things up, soon early wildflowers will dot the grasses.

Nature's Sandcastles

Nature's Sandcastles 
I've seen this phenomenon many times at the Indiana Dunes National Park, miniature sand castles formed by dripping water. Every time I see this, I'm intrigued. I'm also brought back to my childhood vacations in Florida where a friend from Pennsylvania made sandcastles in an unusual way. He would begin by filling a bucket with sand and water, then he would take a handful of the saturated sand and let it drip out of his hand down onto the beach where it would form towers similar to these! Somehow, he must have learned this from someone who has witnessed this. 

I've been told sandcastles built this way are called "drip castles" and that certainly describes this method perfectly. People have simply taken the physics of water and sand, and used it to their advantage to create strong castles.
Judging by the state of these drip castles when I arrived at the beach, and then again when I made my way out, these take quite a long time to create. Not terribly long, but hours for sure if the water isn't dripping too rapidly. If the water drips too fast, I think the sand will simply wash away instead of stacking. I've also seen in the past, where the water dripped directly onto a rock and instead of the sand building up, it washed away the sand around the rock, but the sand directly under the rock was protected, so the rock was basically resting on a sand pedestal. 

 These are just another fleeting formation created by nature here at the Indiana Dunes National Park. Every visit is different, even if you walk the exact same path.
  Sand Layers 
To get an idea of how much change takes place each day, take a look at the photo above showing an area of beach that was washed away this winter. This "cliff" is three or four feet tall and shows layer after layer of sand, rock, and pebbles. You can look at these layers and read how the lake behaved at that time. Some harsh waves wash away the sand and expose rocks, while more gentle waves deposit the sand over the rocks. 

Every moment of every day, the waves and wind are working at changing the beach - it's a natural cycle that can't (and shouldn't) be stopped by human interference.

Green Up

Green Up 
It seems every year there is at least one warm up in February, this year there were a couple of days near 50 degrees, but once March arrived, we had our first 70 degree day of the year. Hiking along the dune ridges on this warm day sure felt summer-like (I can't wait). I think even the trees thought it was summer, judging by the deep green color of the coniferous trees. 

It doesn't take much rain or warm weather to get them to green up, especially in this environment. The sand seems to keep in the heat - I may be imagining this - but the vegetation here at the Indiana Dunes National Park responds just a bit different than those a few miles away. I would think the environment here is quite harsh in comparison; sand drains well, so moisture doesn't remain in the ground too long, the sand gets very hot, it doesn't have a lot of nutrients to sustain plants. This must by why the native species do so well here, while some other invasives don't - at least on these dunes. In addition to the plant life, some wildlife thrives in these areas and practically nowhere else in the area.
  Rolling Dune 
 A very small amount of snow is left over from the last winter storm, only in the shady spots and probably where the snow drifted into deeper piles. The snow looks more like a white cloth left on the ground - like the old television shows and movies where they simply piled some cotton cloth in the corners to represent snow. 

Of course, two days after the summer weather, it snowed a bit. The best thing about spring snow is the fact that it doesn't last more than a day or two! This area may not look expansive, but when you hike it, you would realize just how far it is from the place I'm standing to the distant trees. We didn't run into too many people so scale is difficult to represent in photos.

The Last of the Shelf Ice

Crumbling Ice Shelf 
It never lasts for long, but this year, shelf ice is disappearing early with the recent warm weather. Temperatures in the low 70s this past Saturday, melted almost every pile of snow and ice around, with the exception of the huge chunks of shelf ice created by the crashing waves of Lake Michigan a few months back. They're so large it's taking a bit longer for them to disappear. 

These remnants are relatively safe to explore now because they are completely on solid ground, some ten feet from the lake. The only danger would be if a chunk of ice broke off and fell to the ground, anyone underneath would be crushed. Without the waves undercutting the ice, the chunks should stay intact and simply melt.
  Between the Water and the Dunes 
Summer-like temperatures brought everyone outdoors this weekend, and many flocked to the Indiana Dunes National Park, perhaps to enjoy one last time visiting before the admission fees begin at the end of March. $45 for an annual pass, $15 for a weekly pass. I hope the fees go to creating more trails from the old roads and paths that wind behind the dunes. 

It's easy to see how someone who is unfamiliar with the area could mistaken the ice for solid ground. Sand and rocks are incorporated in the ice, so rocks are the size of softballs, so it would seem you're on solid ground when in actuality, you're on ice. The power of the waves picks up bricks and rocks and tosses them onto the ice where they become mixed with snow and ice.
  Edge of the Ice 
This is indeed the only time it's relatively safe to walk on the ice along the Lake Michigan shore. The ice is not floating on the water, so there is no way to fall through into cold water. It's very interesting to see the ice from the "other side", but a lot of fracturing and erosion has happened, so it's not quite as it was when the waves were forming it. Still, it's a different vantage point than the middle of the winter.

The Icy Canyon of Trail 3

Behind the Ice 
Trail 3 of Turkey Run State Park offers so many sights in every season, and winter is certainly one of the more dramatic times along this trail. While the park has some tall waterfalls that freeze in the cold weather, these canyons have countless large icefalls created from the water seeping out from the canyon walls, or overflowing from the ground above the canyons. These icicles create seemingly endless winter features that can't be ignored. Some of these icefalls are large enough to explore beneath or behind. This particular formation was about four feet tall, so we had to crawl into the overhang to view the ice. 
Not quite a difficult as some of our explorations into ice caves and canyon overhangs, but just as interesting to see how the ice clings to the rock. 

 These canyons are also home to some mosses and ferns that get completely covered in ice, yet stay green and appear as if they're still growing in winter. I'm sure they're laying dormant, and I assume they are specially adapted to this particular environment.
  In the Canyon 
 Here's a wider view of this portion of the canyon. Rock, moss, trees, logs, snow and ice give the eye so much to investigate. As with so many parks and natural places I explore, things change every time you visit - even if you visit everyday.

Breakup Begins on Lake Michigan

Pancake Ice Cove 
Things happen quickly at this time of year. Single digit temperatures at night, snowfall one day, 45 degrees the next day, and the cycle repeats over and over until Spring. The warmer temperatures and the high winds we've experienced last week have broken up most of the solid ice on Lake Michigan. 

Only the thicker chunks of shelf ice remain, along with a large amount of floe ice that is driven toward the shore with the waves. The breaking ice creates little coves in the shelf ice, and the floe ice chunks are then trapped inside, pushed around by the waves, they hit the edges of the ice and collide with each other. These collisions spin the ice slowly, and form disc-shapes called pancake ice. They do look a bit like pancakes. Almost every spring I can find pancake ice in these relatively small coves of ice at breakup. Pancake ice forms all winter, but mostly when the water is mostly liquid and the wind is pushing things along. Some of these pancakes can grow very large, sometimes larger than a car.
  Breakup Begins 
 Our hike took us up to a relatively secluded place along Lake Michigan; most of the trail used to be asphalt roads with homes on both sides. The houses and almost every sign of them are now gone, with the exception of some plants normally associated with home gardens, and the tell tail-flat spots on the dune where driveways used to be. 

Then the trail turns into a narrow path used mostly by deer (judging by the footprints) up to some dramatic dune blowouts and overlooks. It's from this point where you can obtain a panoramic view of Lake Michigan as well as the landscape for miles inland. there aren't too many places left at this park where you can get this view of the landscape - most have been closed for some poor excuse or another.

The Icy Canyon

Flowing Ice 
Nearing the end of our hike through the canyons of Turkey Run's trail 3, the canyon narrows once again. Though not as deep as other portions of the park, this area has many more areas where the water cascades slowly over the canyon walls. In warm weather, there would be evidence of moisture, and not much running water, but every drop of water now freezes and creates huge icicles on the rocky walls. 

Not spectacular waterfalls, yet these somehow overshadow some of the frozen falls here, because of their number and intricate details. The cascades line the canyon walls in this part of the park, creating an impressive and breathtaking environment for a winter hike.
  Cascading Ice 
Careful not to walk beneath any of the free-hanging ice for fear of portions falling down (these can weigh a ton or more), the view is spectacular from below. 

Most narrow canyons are relatively dark, but somehow the canyons of trail 3 have an unbelievably perfect light all year round. In warmer weather, the light is filtered through the green leaves of the trees above, casting a yellow-green light into the depths of the canyons. It's something everyone I've brought to the park notices.

  The Icy Canyon 

 As one exits this canyon, there's a desire to turn around and view it again from the opposite direction. Maybe we would have done that if portions of this hike weren't so difficult due to high water and icy conditions. Then again, what lies ahead on the trails we didn't get to see yet? A day isn't enough to soak in all that Turkey Run has to offer.... we'll be back!

Descending the Ladders

The Ladders of Trail 3 
About a mile after navigating the waterfall and narrow canyons with swift running water, we reached The Ladders. Quite literally, these are ladders built to assist hikers into Bear Hollow, a narrow canyon otherwise unreachable without climbing gear. 

There are three tiers of rock the ladders span, each about 15 feet tall, so not terribly high, but rather slippery. One summer, one of my sons slipped while waiting for others to climb down the ladder. I heard a scraping sound and then a splash, he slid down into a knee-deep pool of water about five or six feet below on a narrow ledge. Luckily he didn't fall all the way into the canyon below. At the time he was about six feet tall, so he found his way back up with little effort. One of the reasons it's become habit to stop and look before I move anywhere after taking a photo - even when I'm firmly on the ground.
  Narrow Canyon 
The canyon walls are filled with intricate cuts and textures, and can be seen from the vantage point of the ladders. It's interesting how may plants actually grow on these walls, and even in winter are snow and ice covered, but still green. 

Another trail intersects trail 3 at the ladders, you can see the boardwalk at the top of the image. Most trails between the ladders and other portions of the park are more wooded than canyon, with the exception of the trail through Bear Hollow, which continues all the way to Sugar Creek.
  Down the Ladder 
The ladders are rather deceiving in height, they are only about 15 or 20 feet per level, but when you actually look down to the floor of the canyon, it's quite a distance. You can see one person standing at the foot of the ladder on the canyon floor. This gives a bit of perspective of the height of this portion of the canyon. 

While it would be quite exciting to get down without the ladders, in winter, it's all but impossible without climbing gear. In fact, the ladders are difficult enough with 4o pounds of camera gear on your back, a camera on a strap, and worst of all, ice cleats on the boots!

The Icy Punch Bowl

Icy Punch Bowl 
Arriving at Turkey Run State Park, the sign near the visitor center stressed the importance of wearing ice cleats, and listed some trails as flooded and impassable. Portions of Trail 3 were on the list, specifically the Punch Bowl feature, a narrow slot canyon with a 15 foot waterfall at the end. The end of the canyon is round, and resembles a punch bowl, hence the name. 

High water was listed as the reason for the closure, and having hiked trail 3 many times before, I could understand why it would be difficult to reach this portion of the canyon. The trail heads up a small waterfall, and follows the stream for a couple hundred feet through the very narrow canyon, in dry parts of the summer, you can still get your feet wet. 

As we approached the waterfall, we noticed it would be a bit of a challenge to climb, but with ice cleats and some planning, we managed to get up the running waterfall without getting water over our boots. Once up the waterfall, the fast running water got deeper, with fewer and fewer areas to place our feet. We heard two younger men hiking toward us, splashing and yelling about getting wet. They didn't have ice cleats, in fact, they wore cowboy boots, and had to step into the knee-deep freezing water from time to time just to get through the trail.

  Capturing the Punch Bowl 

We waited on a block of ice for them to pass, and relayed to them what I thought was the safest route for negotiating the rest of the trail (the way we came). We proceeded to head upstream with the water flowing beneath us. I found the best way to walk was to place a foot on each side of the canyon, which at this point is about four feet wide. Trying not to get ourselves hemmed up, we carefully planned our route several steps ahead instead of step by step. This way, we could quickly execute each step with the next in mind, rather than taking a step then figuring out where to go. Often taking too much time to navigate each step will cause a slip or fall, or get you to a point where you can't move forward. At least the worst thing that could happen to us was to step into a foot or two of cold water, or perhaps slip into the water - a very uncomfortable walk back to the car.
  The Punch Bowl 
As we turned the corner of the canyon toward the Punch Bowl, the stream was bordered by ice, making the walk into the canyon much easier. We could have walked most of the way to the waterfall, but we would have certainly gotten wet. Besides, photographing the waterfall in the context of the entire punch bowl was more appealing. 

On our way out of the park, we crossed paths with a tour group. The ranger announced that it was too difficult to get to the punch bowl that day, and we mentioned to him that it was a difficult trek, but worth our attempt.

Gypsy Gulch in Winter

The Falls at Gypsy Gulch in Winter 
 Indiana's Turkey Run State Park protects some of central Indiana's most interesting natural features. These canyons, hollows, gulches, and ravines all give visitors a look at our geologic past, and are fascinating to explore in any season. 

Just a few hundred feet from Sugar Creek sits Gypsy Gulch, and boulder filled ravine with a periodic waterfall that freezes each winter into a solid column of ice. This icefall is approximately 35 feet tall, and cascades from an overhang, allowing hikers to walk behind it to view the ice from a most
interesting perspective.

  Translucent Falls 

This box ravine holds the most impressive icefall of the 2022 winter season, and quite possibly the most interesting in the park. The 35 foot tall column of ice has thousands of intricate tiny icicles all along it's height. At the base, spherical formations build where droplets of water splash repeatedly on the boulders and canyon floor. 

A moderate hike in the summertime, the trail leading to the gulch is very slippery in winter, and shouldn't be attempted by anyone without ice cleats, and excellent sure-footedness. We encountered a group of hikers without cleats, and they were having a very difficult time with the narrow, winding trail up, over, and around boulders. Some were sitting down to gently slide from place to place. Even wearing ice cleats doesn't ensure a non-slip hike; one of our group (an excellent skateboarder with great balance) slipped and fell on this trail.
  Entering Gypsy Gulch 
 In the image above, visitors can be seen along the far wall of the gulch hiking toward the frozen waterfall. The people give scale to the ravine, and to the column of ice. 

Not only do hikers need to watch for ice and slippery obstructions in the trails of Turkey Run, some of the trails on the canyon floor are actually waterfalls and narrow slot canyons with fast running water on the floors. Hikers are guaranteed to get wet boots and pants on these trails. Portions of Trail 3 were "closed due to high water" on our visit, but we managed to explore them all without getting too wet - other visitors were not as lucky, as they passed us wet to the knees. Our ice cleats gave us a bit of an advantage in these situations, but in others, ingenuity helped get us past some obstructions that would otherwise get people hemmed up.

The Living Dune: Mt. Baldy

Sunny Morning on Mt. Baldy 
 Sand dunes are the most unstable landforms on earth; they undergo constant change from forces such as wind, water, and gravity. Not every dune changes so quickly, once covered in grasses, shrubs or trees, they become more stable, but the ones called "living dunes" change constantly, and relatively quickly. 

 Mt. Baldy is an example of a living dune right here in the Indiana Dunes National Park. Formed of sands from the Lake Michigan shore, by wind, this dune is "walking" inland at quite a fast pace of and estimated four feet per year. Here, against the bright blue sky and the snow, the sands stand out. Warmed by the sun, the snow melts relatively quickly at the top of the dune, and some of the snow is also covered by sand blown from the windward side of the dune. There's a distinct snow line across the top, where the wind has prevented the snow from sticking, and the sun has warmed things up.
  Taking over the Road 
 At such a rate of movement, the Indiana Dunes National Park is experiencing an unusual situation. The dune has already claimed part of the woods, and has now moved onto the parking lot road, blocking it.

In the not so distant past, there was a flat, grassy area to the right of the road, and just behind the camera, were several parking spaces. They are now all buried under the dune, not to be exposed for a few hundred years. This is also the dune where a young boy was walking in a roped off area and he fell into a sinkhole, burying him for hours. Luckily, he survived. It turns out that the void in the sand under the surface was caused by an ancient buried tree that eventually rotted, then the sand finally caved in as he walked over the exact spot. The dune was closed after this incident for about two years, then opened once again but only for ranger guided tours a few times a year.
  Buried Forest 
 It's unfortunate the public is not allowed to explore the top of this dune as we once were prior to the cave-in, it had one of the most panoramic views of Lake Michigan and the surrounding countryside. Perhaps the park service will eventually find a way to mark the safe areas and once again allow people to walk in designated area. It seems people can't explore the namesake of the park at all. 

 To get an idea of how much this dune has moved, here is a composite of images I've taken over the years, showing the exact same spot of the dune. You can see the two individual trees get into deeper and deeper sand until you can no longer see them. The broken, dead branches behind the evergreen in the photo above, are the remnants of the trees pictured below.
  Mt. Blady Progression

Marshmallow Snow

Marshmallow Snow 
A bit of lake-effect snow fell overnight, and as we hiked the trail from the parking area to Mt. Baldy, the woods were a wonderland of fluffy white. Almost every branch of shub and tree had a clump of snow stuck to it. When the trail turned a bit and I looked back, this area had a huge amount of snow stuck to the branches and looks amazing. With each breeze, a few clumps of snow fell to the ground, this type of snow doesn't last long, sometimes only an hour or two before it all falls to the ground. 

The girl in the photo is from Thailand, and really hasn't had all that much experience with snow - especially when it covers the woods as this did. She was also very surprised to see the extent of the ice on Lake Michigan! I've seen this form decades, but it still amazes me, I can only imagine how it was for her to experience this.
  Snowy Trail 
 It isn't the same to look out the window at Winter, you have to get out and experience it all - the beauty and the extreme conditions. Like I always say, get out in the freezing cold and wind, it makes you appreciate Summer all that much more.

Ice Volcanoes Of Lake Michigan

Ice Volcanoes  
As I spent time on the beaches of Lake Michigan during the hard winter months, I began comparing the lakefront to the arctic, and at times, it looks as if you're standing on a high mountain overlooking a mountain range. I've also noticed the cone-shaped mounds look a lot like volcanoes, and after watching them over time, I've realized they are formed by very similar physics. While they're not formed by seismic activity and heat, the physics of liquid and chunks of debris being pushed upward with a lot of force, then landing around the opening from which they came, is exactly like a volcano. The waves provide the material and the force, gravity and the cold temperatures does the rest.

If it's windy when the weather turns cold, the shelf ice mounds up along the shore - often forming these conical formations. If it's relatively calm when the ice forms, the shelf ice is rather flat. If we look at the photos from this year, the beginning of the freeze up was relatively calm because the ice near the shore is flat; then some windy days occurred creating some 15 foot tall mounds a bit further away from shore. 

When the ice forms flat near the shore, it's a bit more hazardous for visitors who are unfamiliar with the beach and the lake. I met some first time visitors to the Indiana Dunes on Central Beach, and they casually asked if I knew where the water began. They pointed to the tall mounds thinking the water line began there. I informed them that the water line was about 20 feet from where they were standing. They were shocked, and most likely would have walked out over the flat shelf ice to the mounds thinking all the way that they were safely on the beach.
  Morning Shadows 
 In the photo above, we are standing on the mound of sand at the entrance of Central Beach. The first line of sand colored snow is the water line - it's in the shadow of the dunes at the bottom of the photo. The relatively flat ice looks as if it's just sand, but in reality, it's shelf ice over the water. I approximate the depth of the water midway between the shore and the tall mounds of ice at 10 feet - maybe more. Those mounds are a couple hundred feet off shore, and look so inviting to run onto. There are no signs on the beach warning of the danger, only a couple of small signs in the parking area mentioning the possibility of falling through the ice. The problem is, if visitors don't know where the ice begins, they could inadvertently walk out onto it thinking they are on solid ground.
  Lake Michigan Tundra 
I've referred to the view of Lake Michigan in winter as the "Indiana Arctic" and the image below sure looks like it could have been taken somewhere in the arctic. These ice mounds will only be around for a couple more weeks, and suddenly, they'll be gone. It's worth a trip to the dunes now before you miss these incredible formations.

The Growing Ice on Lake Michigan

Winter View of Lake Michigan 
A sunny morning for a long hike up the dunes to see the progress of the ice forming on Lake Michigan. From this point, you can see miles into the lake - well, actually in every direction because it's the highest point in the area. The view from the beach is often obstructed in winter, by the piles of shelf ice, so a gain in elevation is necessary to see the lake. 

The hike is half the fun, but watching the lake slowly reveal itself as you get higher and closer to the ridge of the dune is stunning. And this sunny morning was no exception. Bitter cold temperature and a stiff wind certainly wakes you up, but moments later when you head down the dune, the wind is blocked and you actually warm up quickly. I almost always need to open my coat or remove an outer coat on my return hike.
  From the Wooded Dune 
 Winter is a great time to see how the dunes were built, there are no leaves on the trees, and the snow highlights the topography, so the dunes can be seen clearly. 

It still amazes me that there were houses and a beach access with a road and parking are just to the left of the photo above. I remember a few of the homes, and walked the roads several times. Now, the roads are covered by sand and weeds. I hope the park service begins the process of marking these trails soon, they're asphalt, so nobody is going to hurt anything by walking on them.
  Ice on the Horizon 
From the highest point, there are terraces made out of old pipes, steel sheets, and cinder blocks, most likely someone's attempt to make the climb a bit easier when there were homes in this area. This would be a fantastic area for a trail up - even if the park service had to build a deck and stairway up to prevent people from walking all over the plant life. If constructed correctly, it wouldn't detract from the natural surroundings, and without a parking lot right at the foot of the area, people would need to walk quite a distance just to find the area. It's a win - win in my opinion.

Deep in French Canyon

Deep in French Canyon 
"Nobody can get into French Canyon in winter" said the park employee a few years ago. In fact, sometimes they have a sign at the entrance to the canyon informing visitors of the dangerous conditions that lie ahead, and recommending not to enter. I will admit, sometimes it is very difficult even while wearing ice cleats, but I've never turned back. 

This winter, it was relatively easy to walk up the slanted creek bed, I didn't need to place one foot on the right side of the canyon wall, and the other on the left canyon wall. And the variety of other visitors proved this as well. 

The waterfall at the end of the canyon has looked more interesting in the past, but this year it's quite iced up and full. Not a free-falling waterfall, this one cascades along the canyon wall, kind of like ice running down stairs. It is very impressive, especially when you look up inside this deep, narrow canyon. I used a wide lens to capture the waterfall and portions of the canyon and sky above.

  Into French Canyon 

Here the path into the canyon can be seen. The small waterfall in the center leads to a relatively deep pool, and would be the place a person would wind up if they slipped on the icy trail. Just past that portion where the trail narrows, is the are where generally you have to place your feet on either side of the creek - in summer you'll get wet, in winter you'll slip and fall. 

 Carefully navigating this slippery canyon can lead visitors into quite a remarkable environment.

KasKaskia's Frozen Waterfall

A Visit to Kaskaskia FallsOne of the smaller waterfalls and canyons of Starved Rock State Park is Kaskaskia. Located on a trail outside of the commonly visited area, it's grouped with two other interesting features of the park - Ottawa Canyon, and the Council Overhang. 

This trail is rather short, but packed with these three features all within a half mile, and it's one of the easiest to visit in winter. Of course, some of the trails are slippery, but it's generally not until you get next to or behind the frozen waterfalls that the ice becomes an issue. Admiring the falls from 20 or 30 feet away can be done safely by almost anyone. 

The trademark of this waterfall are the logs resting in the fall, they must have been deposited there by a flood, and have been there since I can remember. They offer a different look compared to most of the other waterfalls in the park, and tempt people to walk up the logs, but it's not as easy as it looks - especially in winter.
  From Inside the Cave 
 I was told by a friend a few years back, that he fell through the ice here, at the base of the waterfall. He thought the ice was thick enough, but it was weak in just one spot. The pool of water here (according to him) is about four feet deep, plenty deep to get you soaked and very cold. I always test the ice before walking on it, especially if I don't see any footprints. The only way to access the cave behind the waterfall is to walk on the ice, so I always take caution. 

 Once behind the fall, the cave is about 20 feet in diameter, and about four feet tall, so not very large, but enough to see the ice illuminated by the light filtering through the canyon. This column of ice is rather thick, so there aren't too many interesting colors to view, but nevertheless, it's always fun to explore the back of an icefall.
  Kaskaskia Falls 
 If anyone is interested in seeing some frozen waterfalls, but are concerned about icy trail conditions or long walks, this is the trail to explore. No steep inclines, not many stairs (maybe five or six), three interesting features with two very different icefalls, and a quick walk from the parking area.

The Ice Curtain

The Ice Curtain 
A smaller state park than Starved Rock, Matthiessen offers several frozen waterfalls to explore. One of my favorites is in a blind canyon just past Cedar Point. Visitors need to cross a creek to see this canyon, but in winter, it's usually frozen over, so it's easy. Last year it wasn't so easy. The creek was running high from melting snow and it wasn't frozen over, so we had to walk through knee-deep water in February. Funny how it was very cold at first, but after a half hour or so, we got used to the wet boots and it wasn't bad at all - until the last trail about 3 hours later when the cold began to reach our bones. 

 I mention this is one of my favorites because it's usually possible to venture behind the icefall. On this visit, the ice was almost blocking the path from right to left, but adventurous visitors could climb through the 16 inch opening to get into the cave. It's a bit difficult to do with camera gear!
  Into the Ice Cave 
There is one other icefall that's much easier to get into, but it's very small and the ice is quite thick, so the light does not penetrate through the ice quite so much. This ice curtain is approximately 25 feet wide, offering some fun exploration inside. 

The entrance to the ice cave is usually quite slippery, more so on the way down, and it's advisable to simply jump down the two or three feet to the canyon floor. Attempting to ease down seems to result in a slide down the rockface, or worse yet, a tumble onto the wet ice. This visitor found her way down the easy way.

The Slippery Canyon 
Nothing hurt but pride, the visitors kept on hiking to see the other waterfall in the canyon, and probably the other four spread out in the park as well.

The Frozen Waterfall of Ottawa Canyon

Visiting Ottawa Canyon 
 It's officially winter once the waterfalls of Starved Rock State Park freeze. We've had a couple of runs of very cold weather, and it only takes 32 degrees to begin freezing the trickling waterfalls of this part of the county.
Located in a blind canyon, the waterfall of Ottawa Canyon dramatically reveals itself as you walk down the canyon. This year was probably the most crowded I've ever experienced the canyons in winter. It was certainly a nice day for winter - temperatures in the 20's and sun - and it was a weekend. I generally visit these canyons on weekdays to avoid so many people, but it's really nice to see families visiting natural sites instead of looking at them on the internet.

  Behind Ottawa Falls 

I met a few visitors who said they were at the park for the very first time, while others mentioned it was their first winter visit. What a great day for this to be your first time at the park. All of the waterfalls were fully frozen, it wasn't too cold, and there were lots of people to ask questions if you were lost, and even take a family photo with your phone. 

 Ottawa canyon is one of the waterfalls you can walk behind in summer and winter. The ice cascades from an overhang, allowing plenty of room to explore the back of the falls. This fall is often the choice of climbers because it's an almost vertical shaft which is quite challenging to scale. We didn't see any climbers on this icefall today, but we did run into a few an another icefall.

  Under the Falls

This photo gives an idea of how much room there is behind the icefall. A few other falls allow you to walk behind, but in winter, the ice sometimes extends to the canyon wall making it difficult or impossible to walk behind. In many other cases, the ice hangs free from the canyon, and you wouldn't want to be anywhere beneath that in the event it lets go of the canyon wall and falls. Hundreds or even thousands of pounds of ice falling to the canyon floor would certainly cause serious damage. 

 Even though the weather has been cold for a while, I still don't trust walking on the ice around the falls. I do see plenty of footprints, so I can assume the ice can support the weight of people, but I have heard stories of people falling through the ice around some of these icefalls, and one in particular fell into a 4 foot deep pool. He said it was a long, cold walk back to the car, and a very uncomfortable drive home. 

Today I watched a couple walk down the center of the stream all the way out to the Illinois River where they kept walking for a bit. They were about 50 feet from the bank - I couldn't watch any longer, I hope they made it safely back to land. Falling through the ice in the creek is uncomfortable, falling through the river ice is a recovery - you fall through and the current takes you downstream with little hope of finding your way back to the small hole you fell through. 

 Plenty more photos to come from the trip to see seven frozen waterfalls.