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.