Snow Squalls

Winter Dunes

The beginning of our hike through the wooded dunes of the Indiana Dunes State Park on a cold, January morning.  We arrived before sunrise, around 6:45 am, and found ourselves on one of the longest trails of the park.

Snow showers moved in and out all morning, never amounting to much more than a dusting on top of the 1/2 inch of snow on the ground. As we hiked we decided to take additional trails up through the dunes, and realized we were on the "Three Dune Challenge," a hike up and down the three tallest dunes in the park. We found it funny because hiking over only three dunes isn't really a challenge for us, as we probably hike over 5 or 6 during our 12 mile hikes on a regular basis.

Running Through the Treetops

This park had quite a few joggers running the long, flat trails, and a few running up the steep dunes. I often thought these trails would be the greatest for cross country training, and I suspect the group of young men running yesterday thought the same.

Drifting Beach

Drifting Beach

Snow squalls periodically appeared during our early morning hike along the Lake Michigan dunes of Indiana. While only a small amount of snow fell, the high winds off of the lake drove the snow into drifts, mixing with the golden sand of the beach.

Temperatures were in the mid twenties, but winds made the walk on the beach very uncomfortable, especially when walking into the wind. The previous three hours were rather warm, as we hiked in the protected trails of the wooded dunes. Not unusual for this time of year, we encountered only a few other people, mostly joggers running on the winding, rolling trails of the Indiana Dunes State Park.

Crumbling Canyon

Buffalo Rock Face

Our first visits to Buffalo Rock State Park were rather uneventful -not much worth photographing really. This time, we focused on an area where the rock cliffs were exposed, and found things much more interesting.

The sandstone of the area was once quarried for the silica, and this particular area was created after the quarrying stopped.  The cliff walls were created by the quarrying process, yet they appear quite natural given the many canyons of the area.  Certainly, the rock is natural, but it's my guess the canyon itself was made much larger by the quarrying process.

Taking in the View

The area is relatively hidden from the main trail, but a few smaller trails lead to the edge.  Care must be taken not to slip into the canyon, the loose sandstone crumbles at times. Keeping a safe distance from the edge was key, especially with the icy conditions created by the recent freezing rain storms.

Looking up from the bottom of the canyon, rock climbing would certainly be something enjoyable here, but again, the crumbling stone prevents anyone with good sense from even trying.

In the Canyon

While much smaller than any of the canyons of nearby Starved Rock, this Buffalo Rock canyon is a bit more interesting than most of those. The colors of the canyon remind us of something in a western desert, and some areas of eroded stone look like the white sand beaches of Florida.

Crumbling Canyon

We also kept our distance from the rock walls most of the time.  Numerous boulders were laying on the canyon floor, and they appeared relatively fresh. This area had quite an avalanche in resent years, leaving a pile of boulders to explore.

Winter View From the Dune

From the Dune

10 degree weather and high winds are not necessarily ideal conditions from a walk on the beach, but it was certainly worth the mile hike to view the frozen lake. With the recent cold spell, Lake Michigan has begun to freeze.  Shelf ice extends about 100 feet from the shore, where it meets up with pancake and drift ice as far as the eye can see.

Walking on the beach, you can't really see the ice on the lake, you need to get above the mounds of shelf ice, and the perfect place for a great view is atop one of the dunes.  Most dunes in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore are off limits to visitors, leaving only a few open to foot traffic.  In fact, many dunes that were closed to foot traffic because of fear of human erosion, are now collapsed and in the lake due to the lake itself, not foot traffic.

Patches of Bright Sun

We walked about a mile down the frozen beach until we exited the National Lakeshore, where we climbed a wooded dune near the residential area. This area offers a great view of the lake, beach, surrounding dunes, and, in winter, the ice along the shore

While the ice is always interesting from this vantage point, to me, it's most interesting when the sun is shining.  The flat light of a cloudy day does not bring out the details and dimension of the ice, but the sun and shadow does.  This afternoon, the sky was partly cloudy, with lake-effect show showers just to the east, and the shadows from the clouds can be seen on the drift ice.  The shadows of the dunes of nearby Central Beach can also be seen on the ice.

Frozen Lake Michigan

A few more weeks of cold weather, and the ice will continue to grow as the wind and waves pile up the drift ice along the shore of Lake Michigan.

El Dorado

El Dorado

On the winter horizon at sunset, the city of Chicago shines like the golden city of El Dorado. The setting sun is reflected in the glass of the buildings approximately 40 miles across frozen Lake Michigan, giving the horizon a magical glow.

Following a day of walking on the frozen shores of Lake Michigan, we decided to capture the sunset and the golden light on the drift ice of the lake.  Upon arrival, we noticed the ice was in shadow, and not illuminated at all.  One glance up to the distant horizon and the glowing, golden city caught our attention.

The angle of the sun in relation to the city and us was in perfect alignment to create this golden glow.  I suppose just a mile down the shore, and the glow would not exist at that point.

As I've seen so many times before, plans often don't work out, but if you keep your eyes open, something always take the place of the original plan.

Tonti Canyon Freeze

Tonti Canyon in Winter
Starved Rock's Tonti Canyon has two waterfalls, and both usually freeze into dramatic ice formations. This season's first freeze began the icing, but the relatively warm weather of this day took a toll on the ice. The large hanging ice already fell from the canyon walls, leaving only piles of ice on the canyon floor, and the frozen mounds formed like stalagmites.

Fallen Ice in Tonti Canyon

The large chunks of ice weigh hundreds of pounds, so when they fall, they can do plenty of damage to anything underneath.  When visiting the frozen waterfalls, never walk under them - ever.

Tonti Canyon Freeze

The melting ice freezes once it lands on the ground, and in some cases, the canyon floor is glazed with shiny, slippery ice.

Tonti Canyon is a blind canyon, meaning it's a dead end, and only open on one end. Walking to the end of the canyon, one can climb onto the debris pile for a bird's eye view of the entire canyon.

End of the Canyon

First Freeze at Starved Rock State Park

Visiting the Frozen Falls
The days before Christmas were quite cold in Northern Illinois, cold enough to freeze the waterfalls of Starved Rock State Park.  Each year, the waterfalls in most of the canyons of the park freeze when the air temperature drops low enough.  A deep freeze right after a warm period, or after a rainfall, creates the largest frozen falls because of the amount of water falling into the canyons.

Falls of LaSalle Canyon

The frozen falls are approximately 20 feet tall, and presents itself to visitors after a long hike into the canyon.

First Freeze, LaSalle Canyon

LaSalle Canyon offers visitors the possibility of walking behind the waterfall, in a sort of ice cave. The rock of the canyon wall is undercut, creating an overhand of rock. When the waterfall cascades over this overhang, it creates an ice wall.  Walking behind the falls is breathtaking - the ice is illuminated by the sunlight, and it also takes on the colors of the rock, sky, and anything else in proximity.

Behind the Frozen Falls

Ice at South Haven

South Haven Iced

Part of my annual "First day of Christmas Vacation" trip to Lake Michigan includes a stop at South Haven, Michigan.  Generally with hopes of seeing ice on the vivid red lighthouse, but also to visit the small downtown shops for last minute Christmas gifts.

Winter Walk on the Pier

No matter the weather, the pier at South Haven always attracts visitors, and this day was no exception.  When I arrived, there were several people wandering around the nearest parking lot and the beach. They jumped out of their cars to snap a picture, then hopped back in and drove away.  I decided to wander out to the lighthouse (wearing ice cleats) to view the windward side where most of the ice builds up.  The deep red lighthouse was covered in white ice, making the lighthouse look like the outer light at St. Joseph instead of South Haven.

White Ice

The shelf ice was beginning to build along the beach, and in spots, there were some rather large chunks of ice that took on the look of icebergs. The shore took on the look of the arctic as the sun began to get lower in the sky.


The Ice at St. Joseph, Michigan Begins

Surrounded by Ice

A December cold snap has produced this season's first substantial icing of the St. Joseph, Michigan lighthouses. While not as dramatic as some other years, the icing is always interesting and different.

Iced Outer Lighthouse

The outer lighthouse generally gets the most ice, as it's located on the end of the breakwater, and receives waves and splashes from three sides depending upon how the wind blows. There is also less chance for the waves to break and reduce size before hitting the breakwater. Splashes from the waves reach a height of 70 feet at times, and this spray is what creates the ice on the lighthouses and other surfaces.

Iced Pier and Catwalk

At the point where the breakwater increases in size toward the shore, ice builds up as well.  The crashing waves splash up on the catwalk, freezing into giant icicles.

Beginning of Ice Season

The windward beach hasn't yet received as much shelf ice as the other side of the pier.  It can be seen in the foreground just beginning. A contributing factor is the drift ice, and this area hasn't caught any yet.

St.Joseph, Michigan Lights in Winter

Uprooted Perch

Uprooted Perch

Following a long hike down a forgotten road covered in a foot of fallen leaves, we reached the overlook. At one time, this road lead to an area where visitors could park and take in the view of Lake Michigan from high above the 80 foot tall dune.  Sunsets were amazing from this spot, with the city of Chicago's skyline on the horizon over Lake Michigan.

Now, much of this area is off limits to hiking - at least from the beach, where foot traffic is said to cause erosion of the dunes. The waves of Lake Michigan have completely proven that to be false, as all of the paths that were once on this dune have washed away - and not because of foot traffic.

We followed the old road quite a distance to see this overlook for the first time in many years. Walking on broken asphalt, we certainly did not contribute to any "foot traffic erosion." The boys immediately climbed up onto the fallen trees, uprooted by the Lake Michigan waves stealing sand from the bottom of the dunes. The dunes have been collapsing over the years, and will continue to do so until they reach an equilibrium with the lake. This has taken place for thousands of years, and banning foot traffic will do nothing to stop it.

The Path to the Bluff

The road was barely visible, covered in a thick layer of leaves, branches, and plants that are beginning to take hold. We could see evidence of old homes - some bricks, driveways, and garden plants that were not native to the area placed in clusters by homeowners decades ago.

We crossed this road dozens of times in the past, as we followed the paths on the dune ridge that ran parallel to the beach, but never ventured onto it. With the paths long gone, and the no foot traffic warnings on the dunes, we avoided the area for years. It was great to get to this spot again to see the changes, and to take in the view of Lake Michigan once again.

View From the Perch

Changing Elevation

The Ladders

Hiking the trails and canyons of Turkey Run State Park, one finds so many ways to climb or descend to the next level. Trail 3 in particular, offers so many methods of climbing - boulders, slopes, foot-holds, and even ladders.

Following the canyon floor on this rugged trail means traversing waterfalls, and at one point, the waterfalls are just a bit too steep to handle without assistance. Ladders were installed to help hikers, and to save the environment from trampling.

From the Top of the Ladders<

Not all visitors are adept at climbing ladders, so on busy days, bottlenecks often occur at the ladders. Making it even more difficult are the visitors with dogs, small children, and the fact that some people want to climb up, and others down.

The wait gives hikers a chance to look around at the small things that might have been missed if they just kept on walking at the same pace.  Interesting rock formations, moss, ferns, insects, and other wildlife are everywhere if you take the opportunity to look closely.

Root Ladder

In some places, nature provides natural steps in the form of tree roots.  Climbing into or out of the Ice Box requires the use of this natural staircase formed by the trees growing in between the rocks. It's steeper than it looks, but in no way does one feel in danger amid the tangle of roots.

Plan to bring waterproof hiking boots on your trip to Turkey Run State Park, they'll provide ankle support, traction on the mossy rocks, and allow you to walk through the shallow steams on the canyon floor.

Narrow Pass

Narrow Pass

Continuing our hike along trail 3 of Turkey Run State Park in west central Indiana, we encountered a narrowing of the canyon. Following the climb up the waterfall from the wider canyon near Wedge Rock, the canyon narrows, giving hikers two options.  Option one is to continue walking on the canyon floor, which is now almost completely covered by the creek.  Option two is to use the small steps and hand holds cut into the rock wall, and bypass the creek all together.  Add wet leaves to the wet, mossy  rock, and this can be a challenge. Then consider a large backpack, and the climb becomes a bit more cumbersome. This is one of the areas of trail 3 that bottlenecks with hikers either waiting to climb up, or deciding to turn around.

Keeping Dry

An accidental fall could be dangerous, even though the height is only about 10 feet, but the small hand holds carved into the rock are very helpful. Climbing up this small amount gives you a surprisingly nice view of the narrow canyon - if you're brave enough to turn around on these tiny steps.

Hiking the Canyon

In my visits to Turkey Run State Park, I've seen quite a few people do some interesting and dangerous things.  Kids climbing up the canyon walls as parents watch, sometimes up 30 or 40 feet; a teenager attempting to get down from the rock wall he climbed, only to slide uncontrollably and hit the canyon floor with his back side at a high rate of speed. Even people standing under the waterfalls in 50 degree weather.

Hanging Around

This group of visitors was one of the most interesting.  They suspended two hammocks across the canyon near the Punch Bowl. I'm not sure why, perhaps a photo opportunity, or just plain fun, but it was interesting to watch them, and the reactions of the hikers walking below.

Fall in the Canyons

Fall in the Canyons

Fall (autumn) in the canyons of Turkey Run State Park is a fantastic time to visit.  The warm, sunlit leaves stand out against the brown canyon walls, and the canyon floors are covered with colorful leaves from the forest above. Many leaves are off of the trees, allowing you to see through the forest and view otherwise hidden objects around the park.

Be prepared for some rugged hiking, the one mile long trail 2 is relatively mild for most of it's length to the narrows covered bridge, but through Gypsy Gulch one must walk over and boulders, a far cry from most state parks where boardwalks take away the challenge.

Through the Boulders

From the boulders of Gypsy Gulch, one is dwarfed by the canyon walls, and even more so by the towering tulip poplar trees towering above. On this visit, the waterfalls that often run in these canyons were only drips, but in wet seasons when they flow, hikers must walk near or even through them.

Rugged Hike

Certainly more than just a casual walk through the forest, trail 2 offers some rugged hiking, but not to an extreme extent. It's manageable by most adventurous people who have good footing and balance.

Hiking in the Canyon

The beginning of trail 3 (or the end depending upon the route you choose) offers a totally different environment than most of this area of the country. Just steps into this canyon, visitors are transported into a landscape usually found much further north. The air temperature drops significantly, and the plants are totally different than any other areas of the park. It's as if you walked back in time thousands of years in only a few steps.

Climbing the Waterfall

Trail 3 is much more rugged, taking visitors through a few canyons where at one point, hikers must walk through the water as it flows down the canyon. Even more challenging features lie ahead on trail 3......

Wishing Instead of Fishing

Wishing He Was Fishing

Our morning began with a three hour drive to Parke County, Indiana's Turkey Run State Park. We decided to hike trail 2 along the ridge to the Narrows covered bridge, then along the creek to the rugged trail 3 with plenty of canyons.

Along the way, we stopped to view Sugar Creek whenever we had the chance. The waters we still, and the sun illuminated the creek bed through as much as five feet of water. We could see the sandy, rocky bottom, and every fish within 100 feet from us.

Always the fisherman, Dan wished he could have brought his fishing pole to try out his latest top water lures.  It would be interesting to watch the fish follow and attack the lures in the clear water.

Our visit was focused on Fall color, interesting canyons, and a rugged hike.  Maybe on our next visit we could spend time fishing along the bank of the creek.

Wooded Trail

Through the Woods

There's nothing like a hike through the colorful, autumn woods on a bright morning.  The colorful leaves left on the trees, and those on the ground simply glow in the sunlight. This is especially true when hiking the wooded dunes of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and State Park. The variety of environments encountered on a single trail certainly breaks up any monotony usually experienced while hiking in a forest.

The Woods Open Up

From colorful leaves to grassland and sand in just a few moments, the trails here wind and climb the rolling dunes, following ridges and valleys until meeting the beach and Lake Michigan. The trails dramatically open up to the Lake, offering spectacular views no matter the elevation.

End of the Trail

So many different environments in just a single trail.  Woods, savanna, beach, conifer forest, all just steps apart, and all interesting in any season.

Colorful Dunes

Color Below the Dune

An unusual block of warm temperatures at the start of November gave us very comfortable hiking weather. Our hike began on the Lake Michigan shore, where we hunted for a tail through the wooded dunes. We finally found the trail that eluded us last time, and followed it through the colorful woods.

The sunlight filtered through the colorful leaves, creating a beautiful landscape all around us.

Hiking the Wooded Dunes

There are so many varieties of tree here, that there is no single dominant color on the landscape. The trees are also intermingled with conifer trees and shrubs, which provide a dark green contrast to the yellows, reds, and oranges of the deciduous trees.

Expanse of Color

Our hike included a steep climb up very loose sand to the top of a grassy dune, at the back of a large blowout which faced Lake Michigan.  From the top we could see for miles in all directions - the great lake to our north, and the rolling landscape everywhere else. The morning sun illuminated the autumn leaves perfectly, making the colors pop against the grassy dunes.