Checking the Progress of the Syrup

Boiling Maple sap in large kettles on open fires was the preferred method of producing maple sugar for years. Here, an Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore volunteer checks the progress of the boiling sap. Still thin and colorless means it had a long way to go before it became syrup. Around 80 percent of the liquid must be boiled off of the sap to produce a sweet syrup.

Maple Sugar Time

It's early March and time for gathering sap for maple sugar. At the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, the annual Maple Sugar Days allow visitors to see how maple sap was harvested and made into maple syrup by the native people of North America (east of the Mississippi River).

They also show how sap gathering and syrup making technologies changed over the years at different stations along the trail to the sugar shack built in the 1920s.

Visitors get a chance to tap trees and hang buckets on the taps to collect syrup.

Living Sand Dune

Mt. Baldy seen from the beach. You can't really tell from this view, but believe it or not, this dune is over 100 feet tall. It's one of the few "living dunes along Lake Michigan. It's called living because the wind is moving the sand from one side to the other. This dune is moving at the rate of four feet a year, and burying the woods on the other side.

Winter Mountain Range

Not really a mountain range, but mounds of shelf ice along the Indiana shore of Lake Michigan. These mounds are formed by the waves splashing onto the shore. They eventually build up to 15 to 20 feet tall, and then begin to extend into the lake hundreds of feet where they take on the look of a distant mountain range.

Up Through the Ice

The St. Joseph, Michigan range lights seen from the frozen shore of Tiscornia Park. The pier is completely obscured by the 15 to 20 foot tall mounds of shelf ice formed by the waves of Lake Michigan.

Winter Lakeshore

Kintzele Ditch flows into Lake Michigan within the confines of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The mouth of the stream often changes location due to wave action, and here in the winter, the shelf ice along the shore is undercut by the stream and continues to flow into Lake Michigan.
This photo was created by stitching 6 images together.

Icing Up Again After a Short Thaw

The outer light of the St. Joseph, Michigan lighthouses is ice free and visible after a week of relatively warm weather - at least for Febrary.

Today's colder temperatures and high winds are once again building ice on the catwalk leading to the lighthouse. The 15 to 20 foot thick mounds of shelf ice still engulf most of the pier and all of the lakeshore as far as the eye can see.

Today's walk to the outer light wasn't as dangerous as the last - this time there was exposed ground on the pier instead of solid ice. We'll see what tomorrow's weather brings.

Winter Well

I've been visiting this Artesian well for a while now, but only in the warm weather. The road next to the well is closed most of the winter, and not plowed. I was curious to see how the well looked in the middle of winter - is it mostly frozen? Does it have ice formations on it several feet thick?

So I parked about a mile away, and began my walk to the well. Half the walk was down a plowed road with about an inch of snow on it, but the other half was down the closed, unplowed road with up to a foot of snow on it.
Artesian Well in Winter
Once there, I found the well running, and very little ice around it. What was there was attractive, but not nearly as interesting as I thought it could be. Still, these wells interest me, they flow without any pumps because the ground water level is higher than the opening of the well.

And the water tasted as good as ever........

A February Stoll on the Beach

As a person who really doesn't like winter or cold weather, I find myself drawn to photography ice and snow - especially along the shoreline. Contrary to almost everyone else, I find a winter walk along the shore to be beautiful and inspiring. It's a totally different experience, almost alien. No sound of waves crashing, no other people, not much sand exposed, and no clear view of water, only mounds and mounds of ice and snow.

If you haven't been to the lakeshore in the winter, make sure to take a trip this month to experience it first hand. Just don't venture onto the mounds of shelf ice.

Exploring the Ice Cave

Entering the ice caves formed by the frozen waterfall and the canyon wall, the boys watch their step as they explore in the eerie light filtering through the sediment-stained ice.

This was a great place to spend an afternoon exploring.

Dual Waterfalls

An often overlooked branch of the canyon in Matthiessen State park has two waterfalls close to one another. In winter, it's very easy to cross the frozen stream and visit them. You can walk behind both waterfalls and enter the cave formed by the frozen water and the canyon walls.

The falls are around 20 feet high.

Out in the blizzard

The boys were out in the snow toward the end of the blizzard that dumped nearly 20 inches of snow in the area. 40 mph winds kicked up the snow creating near white-out conditions, stinging the face and making it almost impossible to see for small bits of time.

With all that wind, some grass is still visible in the park, making it look like only an inch or two fell - until you walk into the 5 foot drifts!

The Drive Home

The blizzard began around 2pm on Tuesday, and within minutes, it was apparent it was going to be a big storm. The drive home from work took around two hours and there was only about two inches of snow on the ground. The blowing snow limited visibility to about 1/4 mile.

I grabbed this photo as I was driving home - at about 20 mph.

Rolling Ice

Lake Michigan is beginning to freeze, and shelf ice is forming along the shoreline. Aside from being dangerous to walk on, it's performs a great service to the beach - it protects it from erosion. High winds during the winter often cause more damage than summer storms, so a nice thick rim of shelf ice is a helpful thing.

Shelf Ice

Winds blowing off shore moved the flow ice away from shore, leaving only the shelf ice along the southeastern shore of Lake Michigan. Following the climb up Mt. Baldy, I was rewarded with this view.

Taken from 125 feet above the water, the shelf ice looks tiny, but the mounds right at the shore are over 12 feet tall.

The usual easy walk down the dune to the beach was a lot more difficult due to the frozen sand and snow.

Into the Harbor

The Michigan City, Indiana east pierhead lighthouse stands guard over frozen Lake Michigan. Winds pushed the flow ice toward shore and into the harbor of Michigan City, Indiana.

In the foreground, shelf ice is building. Currently, it is about six feet in height, but if the waters and weather cooperate, they can reach heights exceeding 20 feet. These mounds appear very attractive to visitors, almost inviting to climb upon, but hidden beneath their frozen exterior lies danger. A 15 foot thick block of shelf ice may have portions only centimeters thick. These hidden thin areas are direct passages to the freezing cold lake waters below - with no way out. Wave action instantly pushes you away from the opening in the ice, but if you're lucky enough to find the shaft from which you've fallen, it's all but impossible to climb back up the icy walls. Perhaps you manage not to gasp and inhale water the instant you hit the lake, the shock of the cold water instantly zaps the energy from your body, making self rescue all but impossible.

When visiting the shore in winter, stay safely on solid ground.

Winter View of Kintzele Ditch

A sunny afternoon hike to the top of the dune overlooking a frozen Kintzele Ditch and Lake Michigan. The climb was made more difficult by the December storm that caused extensive beach erosion along the shore. Some of the windward portions of the dunes are now 8 to 20 foot steep cliffs of sand.

Look closely along the frozen stream, and you'll see a person walking - giving you an idea of the vastness of the shoreline.

In a little over a week, Lake Michigan changed from all liquid to flow ice almost as far as the eye can see. On the beach, one can only see flow ice beyond the growing shelf ice, but up 80 feet on the dune, you can see liquid water on the horizon. The prevailing winds pushed the flow ice against the southeast shore of the lake, creating a dramatic, winter vista.

Ice Forming Along Lake Michigan

Early January brings ice to the shore of Lake Michigan. Winds drive the floating pieces of flow ice toward the shore, while waves create mounds of shelf ice that will eventually reach over 15 feet tall.

Image requested for use on the South Shore Convention and Visitor's Agency web page.

Frost on Snow

A small stream leads into the Sag Quarry, providing just enough moisture to the air to produce a layer of hoar frost on the newly fallen snow.

The frost crystals appear to stand up like shag carpet, giving the snow an interesting texture.

The Falls at Matthiessen

Started off winter break by visiting some great outdoor places: The southeastern shore of Lake Michigan and Matthiessen State Park.

The late summer and fall were quite dry, dropping the water levels of small lakes, rivers and streams, virtually eliminating the waterfalls at Matthiessen and Starved Rock. I was surprised to see Lake Falls so full and frozen. My guess is that even a few trickles of water will freeze into the huge ice castle that greeted us early that morning.