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.