St Joseph Range Lights

St. Joseph Range Lights

A beautiful, sunny morning on Tiscornia Beach.  The sun illuminates the two lighthouses that comprise the St. Joseph range lights.

Range lights - also known as leading lights- help ships find the harbor entrance from a distance, especially at night.  In this case, the two lighthouses are set in line, a few hundred feet apart on a single pier.  The inner lighthouse is taller, so it can be seen over the outer lighthouse.  As ships approach the harbor, they steer so the two range lights are vertically in line, the inner light directly above the outer light.  Keeping these lights in vertical alignment, the helmsman is able to head directly toward them, and into the harbor in times of low visibility.

Range lights also assist ships in determining their position, even if they're not heading to port. Finding a bow or beam bearing may prove difficult using only one distant light or object, since the ship needs to be at an exact angle to take a sucessful bearing.  By lining up the two range lights, the navigator knows the ship is in line with the marker, and the bearing is accurate.

Even in these days of modern navigation systems, it's reassuring to see these sister lighthouses on the horizon, guiding ships to safe harbor.

High and Dry

High and Dry

While not as intense as a day previous, the waves at the St. Joseph, Michigan lighthouse were high enough to crash onto the pier, keeping visitors off - well, most of them.

Racing the Waves

Not to pass up an opportunity for fun, we walked out to the end of the railed off section of the pier - this is quite a bit safer than the rest of the pier. Although, on this day, if I were alone, I probably would have ventured out to the lighthouses, keeping my eye on the approaching waves, and clinging to the catwalk supports if the waves crashed.  The waves weren't high enough to wash me into the lake, and it's only water, and not cold enough to keep me away.

The boys managed to jump onto the supports as the pier filled with water, making a game out of it. The only danger they faced was the possibility of wet shoes.

Avoiding the Splash

Soon, cold temperatures will bring ice, and walking on the pier could be treacherous, and games such as these will be off limits.

All Washed Up

All Washed Up

"The gales of November came early" - a day early, on Halloween, and caused quite a mess on area beaches.  This pile of debris was pushed ashore on West Beach, part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and pushed up quite a distance from the usual waterline.  The debris included kayaks, sailboat pieces, logs (some 30 inches in diameter), surfboards, and all of the items generally found aboard small vessels.

Not only did beaches receive piles of debris, they also lost plenty of sand.  Many of the dunes close to the beaches were undercut, and partially collapsed into the lake. A natural process that deposits sand down the beach, but alarming to some because the dune appears damaged.

And so it goes, Fall, on the shore of Lake Michigan.


Relentless Waves

Relentless Lake Michigan waves crash into the St. Joseph, Michigan outer lighthouse, on a windy, Fall afternoon. It's amazing how much stress these structures can endure. For over 100 years, high winds, pounding surf, and tons of ice, have battered this lighthouse, and yet it remains standing.

This is one in a series of 16 of my recent photographs featured on the Weather Channel's site:
Lighthouse Battered by 20-Foot Waves

Not only do the photos show the waves the lighthouses often experience, but also the process of how they become covered in ice in winter months.  It's this wave action combined with freezing temperatures that produces the interesting ice formation on the lighthouses.

Last year, the Weather Channel featured 28 of my iced lighthouses in a gallery entitled,
Breathtaking Frozen Lighthouses

They also produced a video of my images during the polar vortex:
Beautiful Icy Lighthouse Art

Soon the temperatures will drop low enough for the ice to form once again, and only time will tell if the formations will be as captivating as in past years.

Grosse Point Light Through the Trees

Grosse Point Through the Trees

Plenty of colorful trees surround the tower of the Grosse Point lighthouse in Evanston, Illinois. Just a few short minutes from the Chicago lakefront, the noise and pace of the big city disappear as you walk the shady grounds of this historic lighthouse.  One of only five lighthouses on the Great Lakes to receive a second order Fresnel lens - the largest order on any lighthouse of the Great Lakes.

Lighthouse from the Shadows

A major restoration of the lighthouse and keeper's house took place in 2013, giving new life to this historic structure.

Autumn at Grosse Point

Color at the Grosse Point Light

Set amidst old maple trees, and well-maintained gardens, the Grosse Point lighthouse is located in a beautiful, park-like setting on the shore of Lake Michigan.  Add the colors of Fall, and the proximity to the lake, the grounds become magical.  Built in 1873, the 112 foot tall concrete and brick tower rises above other homes in suburban Evanston, Illinois.

Grosse Point Keeper's House

Built to aid ships travelling on Lake Michigan, the citizens of Evanston petitioned Congress for a lighthouse on Grosse Point following several shipwrecks off the shore. The collision of the Lady Elgin and a lumber schooner in 1860, (300-400 people lost) was a catalyst in the decision to petition for a lighthouse.  The process was delayed by the Civil War, but construction eventually began in 1872, and the lantern, with it's second order Fresnel lens, was first lit in March of 1874.

The grounds are open year-round, free of charge. Tours of the tower are offered May - September on weekends, and currently cost $6.

Looking Up

Looking Up

A warm, 70 degree Fall day concluded with clear skies and no moon.  Without the moon, the stars were clearly visible, even with the light pollution from nearby urban areas.  I remember nights like these when I would head out onto the lake in a rowboat or canoe, and just lay back and look at the stars. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I was able to see what appeared to be clouds - gas and dust? Or just clusters of stars?  I'm not sure, but in this photo, you can see a bit of the cloud-like band I viewed on dark summer nights.

Growing up in Chicago, I rarely saw more than 10 or 20 stars in the night sky.  Looking up while walking rural LaPorte County, Indiana on a dark night, is certainly a treat.

Evening at Cloud Gate

Evening at Cloud Gate

On an unusual evening visit to Chicago's Art Institute - voted the World's best museum by TripAdvisor users, we walked around Millenium Park and took in the sights of the city.

Chicago's famous sculpture Cloud Gate by British artist Anish Kapoor is often called "the Bean" by locals. The Bean offers visitors and locals alike a unique view of Chicago reflected by the highly polished, stainless steel sculpture, resting in the heart of Millenium Park. The sculpture begs visitors to touch their reflections and photograph their distorted likeness, while walking beneath the sculpture provides a twisted view of those gathered below.

Even though I grew up in Chicago and remain a suburban resident, I'm more inclined to explore and visit natural sites rather than urban ones. Chicago's architecture is outstanding, the sites interesting, and the museums world-class. However, the  parking fees, and infinite web of cash-making traffic cameras will keep me in my comfort zone - the Southeastern Lake Michigan sand dunes.

Michigan City Waves

Michigan City Waves

Winds were at the correct angle to drive the waves of Lake Michigan into the Michigan City East Pierhead lighthouse. This lighthouse tends not to get as drenched as it's cousin in St. Joseph, Michigan, yet during certain storms, the waves batter the pier and lighthouse.  During these conditions, it's easy to see why there are catwalks to many of the lighthouses on the Great Lakes. Even on the catwalk, the lighthouse keeper would get drenched with water as the waves broke against the pier.

With temperatures in the low 40s, one generally would not want to wander anywhere near the water. However, there are a few who brave the elements for a bit of adventure - kite surfers.  There were two kite surfers on this morning, skimming across the waves at high speed, propelled by the winds over Lake Michigan.

Kite Surfing

At times, the surfers would use the waves as ramps and jump many feet into the air, pulled and guided by their parachute-like kites fastened to them. Looks like a lot of fun to me, but I'd be a bit concerned with the proximity of the pier and lighthouse.


I'll see many kite surfers through the winter - as long as the lake is still liquid and not frozen over, they'll brave the elements for a one of a kind thrill ride.

Gulls and Waves

Gulls and Waves
The fall around the Great Lakes brings high winds and cold temperatures. This week was no exception, as the winds and waves battered the southeastern shore of Lake Michigan.

Waves exceeding 8 feet crashed into the St. Joseph, Michigan pier and lighthouses. The wind combined with the geometry of the pier, seem to enhance the size, frequency, and height of the waves, as the water is pushed into the corner of the pier and beach, then sent backward into the lake again only to crash into more waves.  When this combination occurs, the waves build to great heights, as seen on the video in my previous post

These conditions are extremely hazardous for boaters and swimmers. I don't think a person would have much of a chance in the rough, cold waters north of the pier.  South of the pier is a different story - kite surfers and kayaks often brave the wind and waves for a challenging surf or paddle.

For me, every visit to Lake Michigan is an experience, and unique.  The wave action is never the same twice, the splashes on the lighthouses are never the same, and in winter, the ice formations are spectacular.  This is something one needs to experience first-hand.

Waves at St. Joseph

Waves at St. Joseph

A windy day with lake-effect rain prevented us from hiking too far, yet I didn't mind standing in the wind and rain to capture a few hundred photos of the waves crashing into the lighthouse in St. Joseph, Michigan. Waves appeared to reach 10 feet (perhaps more) as they pounded the pier and lighthouse. This particular area catches waves and pushes the water back out to the lake, creating much higher waves at times as they crash into each other next to the lighthouse.

I shot a bit of quick video to show how the waves on Lake Michigan are treacherous.  The rather compact size of the lake (22,000 square miles) keeps the waves churning back and forth.  The frequency of the waves seems much greater than that of the ocean. The waves seen here reach a height of around 12 feet.

In colder weather, this is what creates the unusual and beautiful ice formations on the lighthouses.  The spray freezes each time a wave hits the pier, and many hours later, the lighthouse is covered in a thick layer of ice.
Ice Drapery

Color Around the Bend

Color Around the Bend
A gloomy Fall morning on the Hennepin Canal near Geneseo, Illinois; Very near peak color for this area. This particular area just west of Lock 24 is much wider than most of the canal - perhaps this was a turning basin or an area where canal boats gathered before going through the locks. The much reduced flow of the canal has allowed sediment to collect, and lotus plants have taken over some of this area. The familiar beehive-looking seed pods rise above the fading plants. The seed pods are often seen in potpouri and crafts.  the seeds themselves are used for medicine and foods in Eastern cultures. I'm not certain if these are the same variety, so I refrained from tasting them!

One can only imagine the view the operators of the canal boats had in Autumn back in the early 1900s, with the colorful leaves reflecting in the canal.

WaterFall Color

WaterFall Color

Exploring a new area (for me), Geneseo, Illinois, on a dim, Fall morning. Plenty of color, but not much sun to make it really stand out. This is Lock 24 of the Hennepin Canal, an historic canal cut between the Illinois River and the Mississippi River - making it possible to move freight from the Mississippi to Chicago, prior to major roads and rail.  The first concrete canal project in America, the Hennepin Canal was first conceived in 1834, but wasn't started until 1892. Once completed in 1904, the canal was effectively obsolete when it opened.

The 75 mile long main canal and 29 mile long feeder canal are used today for recreation. A bike/walking path run alongside the canal, providing interesting views of the remaining locks.

No longer in operation, some locks still have wooden gates (cut to allow water to flow through), and the gears that once opened the locks, providing a glimpse into Illinois' transportation past.

Autumn Road

Autumn Road

An Autumn drive through rural Indiana yields some beautiful colors along the road less traveled. Actually, I parked and walked about 4 miles round trip, because it was not possible to park anywhere along the road.

This road runs between the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the Indiana Dunes State Park, and is relatively quiet this time of year. The intensity of Fall color varies annually, but with the bright sunshine, the trees didn't disappoint this year - although I've seen better on this stretch of road. Perhaps the colors will intensify soon, before the leaves disappear for the long winter.


Orthogonals Technically, orthogonals involve right angles, however, in perspective drawing, orthogonals refer to the lines going back from an object to the vanishing point. These lines represent sides that are at right angles to the front of the object, but are drawn as diagonals to create the illusion of perspective.

When I was introduced to perspective drawing in high school, I was determined to master the technique.  In college, I learned involved methods of measurement within perspective to achieve perfect results. I'm still amazed with perspective drawing, and see the world (and approach my photogaphy) a bit differently because of it.

 Here, it seemed almost everything pointed toward a single vanishing point - the clouds, stream, horizon, beach, dunes - creating a lot of interest in the scene as I walked past Kintzele Ditch.

 Following several days of waves and high winds, the sand on the inland side of the stream was piled up about five feet. Looking closely, strata are clearly evident as the sand was deposited layer after layer. This area changes significanly every time I visit, and at times, I've witnessed changes by the minute, as the waves push the sand up against the running stream, and the stream is forced to change direction to empty into the lake. Never a dull moment on the shore of Lake Michigan.

Fall at the Door Prairie Barn

Fall at the Door Prairie BarnWelcoming those traveling north on U.S. 35 in northern Indiana, the Door Prairie barn is the unofficial boundary marker and greeter of the City of LaPorte. Built in 1882 to house horses and cattle, this unique nine-sided barn is perhaps the most unusual in the State of Indiana. Round barns are relatively common across the United States; Indiana has around 100, Fulton County, has seven surviving round barns - and an annual festival to celebrate them. "Round barns" are not all round, some are hexoganal, octagonal, or dodecagons. What makes the Door Prairie barn unusal is the odd number of sides. Why nine? We can't ask the builder John Jeffrey, he's no longer with us. But if we look to the original owner of the barn, Marion Ridgeway, we can draw a possible connection between the barn and his religious beliefs - he was a Quaker. The number nine in Christian belief, often represents perfection, and divine completion, and Christ often represents the number. Nine also represents the fruits of the Holy Spirit, which are Faithfulness, Gentleness, Goodness, Joy, Kindness, Long suffering, Love, Peace and Self-control (Galatians 5:22 - 23) --( Or, it may have less symbolic significance and purely structual importance. Perhaps aesthetics? Whatever the case may be, this landmark of LaPorte County welcomes me, and makes me feel at home every time I pass by.

Blood Moon

Blood Moon
This morning's lunar eclipse was also considered a "blood moon." The term blood moon seems to date back to biblical times when it was described the moon will turn blood red before the end of time. The term was then used to describe a series of four, total lunar eclipses, with no partial eclipse in between, each separated by six full moons.

in addition, Blood Moon today is used to describe a red colored moon - all total lunar eclipses turn the moon red due to the dispersion of light during the eclipse.

This morning's blood moon was also considered the Hunter's Moon - interesting.

From a Dune Perch

From a Dune Perch

It's great to know that at least a few of the dunes on the Indiana shore of Lake Michigan are open to climb.  Most are off limits, no foot traffic allowed, in an attempt to keep the dunes from eroding. Understandable in some cases- especially where the Marram Grass is not taking hold. However, in my experience, when an existing path (official or otherwise) is closed to foot traffic, ignorant people disregard the signs, and walk around them, eroding a far larger area than if the original path was kept open.

But the jury is still out on that matter; Lake Michigan itself seems to cause more damage to the dunes than human feet - just look at the aftermath of the last two storms that hit the area. Waves crashed into the foot of the dunes, causing massive erosion of the foredunes. A natural occurrence, and one not caused by feet. In fact, any damage or changes to the dunes done by human feet in the past century were washed away into the lake. Blame the Michigan City breakwater for starving these beaches of sand, not the wide-eyed child climbing a dune for the first time.

Closing most of the dunes from foot traffic seems excessive.  Mt. Baldy was regulated a couple of years back, to keep people away from the areas of the dunes that were replanted with Marram Grass. Yet, intentional paths remained so visitors could experience the view from the top. Reasonably so, the remains completely closed after the near tragic cave-in back in July 2013, but there are few if any foredunes one can climb today without man-made stairs.  Of course, indefinitely closing all of Mt. Baldy keeps people off of the Marram Grass - coincidence?

Hundreds of Feet of Ice

Fall is here, and soon many of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore beaches will close for winter. In past years, Mt. Baldy was open year-round, providing access to the frozen lakefront, and Central Beach allowed parking for two or three cars in front of the locked parking lot gate. These beaches in winter are amazing - words can't describe them. The shelf ice piles to heights of 15 feet or more, and stretch out hundreds, sometimes thousands of feet into the Lake. Yet, these two beaches are off limits in winter - what a blow to the visiting public. Anyone familiar with the area knows the ice is much different here than the few open park areas to the west.

A Walk Along Lake Michigan

Because Mt. Baldy remains closed, I suggest the National Lakeshore consider allowing full or limited parking at Central Beach all winter, allowing visitors to access this winter treasure. Why not? Central Avenue is plowed to the parking lot anyway. Cost can't be much of an issue, especially if one takes into account Mt. Baldy in past years was open year-round, and is now closed. Why not allocate those resources for snowplowing, and washroom maintenance at Central Beach?  If cost is a hindrance, then close the washrooms, but allow parking.  At the very least, give the public the opportunity to view this area in winter.

A February Stoll on the Beach

In this Internet era, I suppose one can visit the park virtually, Children can use their smartphones to view old photos taken by their grandparents who were lucky enough to walk on the dunes in winter. Is the goal to impede the dunes, or to protect the dunes?  Closing these areas seems to point to the former.

Saturday Activity

Saturday Activity An unseasonably cold morning for October - 38 degrees, with winds, rain, and yes, even snow flurries - made for a chilly walk on the beach. Not one to shy away from inclement weather, I find these days among the best for visiting the shore; I'm usually alone. This morning was a bit different. Not counting the five or six people I saw braving the weather, there was plenty of activity along the shore of Lake Michigan. Beyond the gulls, a small stream made it's way to the lake, relentlessly cutting through the sand piled up by the surf; it's path changing with every wave. Riding the high waves in the distance is a container ship leaving the Port of Indiana, heading to a port unknown to those watching from the shore. On much of the horizon, the industry of the south side of Chicago can be seen through the light fog and drizzle. Even the wood fence seems to head toward the lake.

The Gourd Hoard

The Gourd Hoard
It seems the stranger the shape, the more popular they are. Gourds are a sure sign that Fall is here, as much as I hate to admit it. Every farmer's market, pumpkin patch, and store with Fall decorations has a variety of ornamental gourds, and most people purchase them stricktly for decoration. As it turns out, most of the ornamental gourds are edible - not that I'm particularly interested in trying them. Properly ripened, and washed gourds can be cooked and eaten - who knew?!

Most gourds are purchased in the Fall, then set out for display until they either rot, or are taken down for Christmas decorations.  If you find particular ones you'd love to keep, you can dry them and keep them for years to come.

Wash the gourds with soap and water, and rinse them with some liquid disinfectant.  Carefully towel dry them. Place them in a warm, dry location, on an absorbant surface such as paper for about a week to dry.

Wipe the gourds once more with some disinfectant, and spread them on fresh paper in a warm, dry, dark location for about four weeks.  After this drying period, they're ready to keep for years.  You can leave them as they are, cover them in clear shellac, or paint designs on them.