Structure Revealed

Structure Revealed The rising winter sun reveals the structure of the Hennepin Canal's lock 11, the steel bridge, and even the trees. Following record cold weather, a few days of warm temperatures began to melt some of the snow, causing some minor flooding of fields, creeks, and parks. The towpath of the Hennepin Canal turned to ice after temperatures dropped once again, making it a bit hazardous to hike. After a tumble on the ice, we decided against hiking the distance between locks; instead, we opted to drive from lock to lock. The only casualty of the fall was discovered an hour later, when I decided to change lenses. As I removed the lens cap, pieces of glass fell to the ground. I immediately thought the front element of my 300mm lens was broken, rendering the lens useless. However, I discovered that only the UV filter was broken - the lens cap was driven into the filter, breaking it, but protecting the front element of the lens. This proves the inexpensive UV filters are worth their weight in gold. Make sure all of your lenses have a UV filter on them, if only to protect them against scratches and accidental breakage.

Ice "Locked"

Hennepin in Winter Lock 23 of the historic Hennepin Canal was still frozen solid, despite two days of weather near 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and a day of rain showers. Snowmobile tracks were the only sign of people; not a single footprint in the snow other than ours, as we hiked on the extremely slippery towpath. We don't really ever see many people anywhere on the canal, even in summer, but on this day, we didn't run into anyone else. Formerly called the Illinois and Mississippi Canal, the Hennepin Canal connects the Mississippi River and the Illinois River, two major waterways serving Illinois. Prior to railroads and good roads, canals such as these were the main method of transporting goods from one part of the country to another. The 33 lock Hennepin Canal is constructed of concrete -the first U.S. canal built using this new the technology. Construction began in 1892, and the first boat made the complete 104 mile voyage in 1907. At the same time this canal was being constructed, the locks on the Illinois River were widened to accommodate larger boats, making the Hennepin Canal obsolete before it was ever completed. Today, the canal and towpath are used for fishing, boating, hiking, biking, and snowmobiling.

As Far As the Eye Can See

As Far as the Eye Can See

The Michigan City East Pierhead is locked in ice - ice that extends as far as the eye can see, and covers over 60 percent of the surface of Lake Michigan. While this ice seems solid, it's made up of chunks of drift ice, pushed by the wind into the shelf ice on shore.  Snow and more ice filled in the gaps between the chunks, forming what appears to be a solid slab.

The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore can be seen on the horizon at the left of the image.  Locked in by mounds of ice on one side, and closed parking lot gates on the other, waiting for spring and thousands of visitors.  I prefer visiting in winter, when I'm usually the only person in sight, and the views are ever changing.

Indiana Dunes Shelf Ice

Indiana Dunes Shelf Ice

The sand dunes of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore seen from far offshore, beyond the shelf ice that lines the beach.  The space between the mounds of ice in the foreground, and the 125 foot tall sand dunes in the distance is Lake Michigan - frozen solid with shelf ice, and drift ice.  This winter, over 60 percent of Lake Michigan is covered in ice, and liquid water cannot be seen anywhere between shore and the horizon.

If you view this image full size, the ice along the shore is clearly visible;  mounded up by waves crashing in to the shore several weeks ago. This provides an example of the extent of the ice.

While this ice appear solid, it's actually floating on the surface of the lake, and moving slowly.  Extremely dangerous to walk on, the temptation is far too great for the people who ignore the danger signs and venture out onto the ice - a potentially deadly undertaking.

I was in a safe location while taking this photo, not on the shelf ice.

Bright Snowcovered Lake


Following a day of light snow, and weeks of below average temperatures, the ice on Lake Michigan is not only bright white, it's covering over 60 percent of the lake - more than we've seen in decades.  The sun made the 16 degree temperatures seem warm, as we made our way through knee high snow to the pier.  Once on the pier, we made certain to stay on the actual pier, and not walk on the thick shelf ice that was mounded next to and on to the pier.

The trek out was fairly easy considering all of the ice, but toward the end of the pier, as I made my way around the lighthouse, the surface was very slippery, and the mounds didn't make it any easier to stay upright either.

Going out onto the pier in winter, gives you a great view of the shelf ice - from off shore.  Photographs of that, coming soon.

Colored Ice

Colored Ice
As water flows over and through the sandstone canyon walls, it picks up minerals and particles, and deposits them on the canyon floor.  In winter, the minerals and particles freeze in the ice, creating interesting earthtone colored ice that matches the canyon walls.

The colored ice was almost disorienting in some places, as the perfectly smooth colored ice made people and items appear to float above the surface, as well as reflect the canyon walls.  Certainly an interesting thing to experience first hand.

Beyond Cedar Point

Beyond Cedar Point
Beyond Cedar Point lies a short, blind canyon containing two waterfalls each approximately 20 feet in height. In winter, the waterfalls freeze, often creating caves of ice between the frozen waterfall and the canyon walls. It's great fun exploring these caves; they evolve everyday, and are rarely the same two visits in a row.

Often very slippery to climb into, but well worth the effort; it's as if you're transported to the underworld when inside. Visually similar to rock caves, the ice formations take only a fraction of the time to create as their stone counterparts.

Entering the Ice Cave
The light penetrates the ice walls, creating mesmerizing works of art from floor to ceiling. Minerals, sand and soil intermix with the ice, resulting in varying colors of ice.

Cascading Ice

Cascading Ice

Lake Falls, a 30 - 40 foot tall waterfall, froze solid this winter following a string of cold spells, some down to 17 below zero Fahrenheit. Because of the spray from the falling water, it's often very difficult to photograph so close to this waterfall, but when it's frozen, it's not a problem.

Actuallly, the water is still flowing behind the ice.  The intricate formations create a type of  "ice pipeline," allowing the water to flow within.  As you approach the frozen falls, you can often hear the flowing water, and on this day, we heard the water making a squeaking sound behind the ice.

Unlike most of the other waterfalls in the area, this particular fall does not create large ice caves behind it. More on those in the coming days.

The Ascent

The Ascent

Generally a waterfall cascading 30 to 40 feet to the bottom of the canyon, this year's harsh winter has stopped it in it's tracks.  While completely frozen on the outside, water continues to fall behind this wall of ice.  Upon arrival, we could hear the water rushing inside, and as we got closer, we could see it through the holes in the ice.

We hiked through the canyon for about three hours- in 15 degree temperatures, stopping to view over six frozen waterfalls of different sizes. With the recent snowfall, many of the ice formations were covered, and not as impressive as past years.  In many places, we could hear and see the water of the stream flowing beneath our path - the frozen stream.

We'll head back in the next couple of weeks, to check on the progress of the frozen falls elsewhere in the area.

Approaching Ice

Approaching Ice

Ice drifts from Lake Michigan into the St. Joseph River, effectively blocking the waterway, as winter tightens her grip on the region.  Not yet quite as dramatic as last year, the ice is beginning to form on the pier and lighthouse

Never Do This

Shelf Ice and Dunes
With all the recent coverage of the polar vortex, and frozen lighthouses, a lot more people are making the trek to the shore of Lake Michigan this winter. The lakeshore in winter is amazing - like an arctic mountain range seen from above. For those people who want to get a better look at the frozen lake, this looks like the perfect way to do it. However, what these people don't consider before venturing out onto the ice, is that this is perhaps one of the most dangerous things to do on the shore of Lake Michigan in winter.

The frozen mounds rise 15 or 20 feet above the surrounding surfaces. This is created by waves crashing into the floating ice that collects along the shore called shelf ice. Like a shelf, is not attached to the ground - in this case, it's floating on the surface of Lake Michigan.  The ice certainly appears stable, and solid, yet this is deceiving.  Cracks, thin spots, faults and holes are often intermixed with the mounds, and covered by drifted snow.
Dangerous 2

The pounding water undercuts the edges of the ice, and the underside is not consistant, but riddled with air pockets. These defects can lead directly to the 33 degree water below the ice, with no way of climbing back up.  Not only is the water unbearably cold - It's difficult to breathe when your body is immersed in very cold water due to contracting muscles.  Even worse, you may instinctively inhale or gasp when you hit the icy water, and drown.  Once through the ice, it's completely dark, and chances are, you will be swept away from the hole by the moving water. Holes such as the one shown in the photo below, are often hidden by a thin layer of snow or ice.

On the Edge

Never Do This

The people shown in the photo above are probably 200 feet off shore on Lake Michigan, where the depth of the water could certainly exceed 8 feet.  If they were to fall through the ice, they would have little or no way to escape without rescue assistance. Even falling off the edge into the water could prove fatal.

Please, no matter how tempting, do not venture on the ice.

Winter Reflection

Winter Reflection Walking along the ice and snow covered pier across the river from the St. Joseph, Michigan lighthouse on a rather warm, winter afternoon. Even though the harbor was locked in by drift ice, the river was still liquid, providing a great surface for reflections of the lighthouse. It snowed for the next several days, I'll have to head back to check out how the lighthouse appears now.

Silver Beach Locked In

Silver Beach Locked In Ice collects along the shore of Silver Beach, the public beach in St. Joseph, Michigan. Dozens of people walked along the shore to view the icy lakefront, and many decided to venture out onto the ice - a very dangerous thing to do. What seems to be solid ice, is often riddled with holds and thin spots leading directly to the frigid water below. Some visitors also walked onto the snow covered piers to get a closer view of the lighthouses. Seen in the distance, they appear to walk on the water past the lighthouses.

Advancing Ice

On an unseasonably warm winter day, pancake ice and drift ice gather at the confluence of Lake Michigan and the St. Joseph River. While temperatures climbed high to melt the snow, the ice was thick enough to withstand a couple of days of warmth. Temperatures are expected to drop to near zero in the next day or two, helping the ice to grow once again. Dozens of people walked along the frozen beach and piers to get a view of frozen Lake Michigan; a few even ventured out on to the shelf ice. Luckily, nobody fell through the ice into the freezing water.

Merry Christmas

Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas!

Before the Snow

The Dunes Before the Snow A cold walk over the dunes of West Beach, before the arrival of the season's first snowfall. The conifer forest is still green, while all of the Marram grass and other ground plants have gone dormant, and turned a drab brown. This trail allows people to experience full dune progression in just one mile. From beach to bare foredunes, Marram grass covered dunes, to conifer forest, Oak Savanna to forested rear dunes. The trail is a bit easier than others, since the steep dunes have boardwalks and stairs. Still, with hundreds of stairs, it can be a strenuous climb for some. By now, this areas should be covered in about six to eight inches of snow; I'll need to check that out soon.

Winter's Arrival

Winter Arrived Winter weather arrived this week, with cold temperatures and the first measurable snowfall of the year; the perfect backdrop for an antique sled. I was asked by a friend of mine to photograph her beautifully decorated antique sled outside an historic home. Brings back memories of the sled we had when we were kids.

Backlit Blowout

Backlit Blowout The morning sun bathes the dunes in warm light, while the air temperatures were in the 40's. This dune has a rather large blowout in the center. A blowout is an area with no vegetation to hold the sand in place, so wind and weather erodes it. While I believe this is a natural process, the National Park service wants people to keep off of the dunes so they can recover. By the number of footprints in this blowout, it's not working. While I respect the "keep off" order, I have doubts about it. It seems that if the path to the top of a dune is blocked off, people simply walk around it, creating much more erosion as they stomp and kill the marram grass next to the path. Now the path is larger, and eroding more. For what it's worth, I think the existing paths should become trails, and people should be allowed to walk on them. Providing they stay on the path, erosion would be kept to a minimum. Instead, visitors will ignore the signs, and blaze new trails, further eroding the dunes.

Coming in Waves

Coming in Waves To get to this part of the beach, we enjoyed walking on the rocks placed there to prevent erosion. More of a rock climbing excursion than a walk on the beach. At times when the lake is just right, we've been able to walk in front of the rocks, without climbing, but that's usually when the wind is blowing offshore, pushing the water toward Wisconsin. Of course, we could have simply walked on the street to our left, but what fun would that be? As we rounded the curve of the shoreline, this was our view. Nothing special - due to the industry on the horizon - yet the manner in which the waves lined themselves up prior to pounding the shore attracted me. More like the ripples in drifting sand, or cultivated rows in a farmer's field, than water hitting the beach; perhaps hurdles between the start and the finish line. In this cold weather, definitely hurdles.

Crawling Out

Crawling Out A leaf, moments before a wave washed it off the beach by a large wave. Autumn this year arrived late, but ended quickly. The beaches of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore were covered in leaves from the Oak trees atop the dunes last weekend, many carried to Lake Michigan by wind, others by small streams. This particular leaf appears to be crawling out of the water like a crab or crayfish.