More Fall Color

The Autumn CabinThe day started out sunny, perfect for enjoying the rich colors of autumn. As the morning progressed, clouds blocked the sun, making the fall colors a bit muted and muddy, but the extra vivid colors still came through. A small log cabin on the edge of the woods is a welcome site after a long hike. Lighting a fire in the fire pit in front of the cabin, or in a fireplace inside would make this the perfect retreat for a cool autumn day. Little Calumet RiverJust a few yards away from the cabin is the Little Calumet River. This lazy river cuts through the old, wooded dunes of the area, and is a great place to watch for waterbirds and aquatic life. For years the kids have enjoyed walking out over the water on the downed trees fishing or just enjoying their surroundings. I'm sure by now the leaves are gone, and the area has been dusted by more than a couple of snowfalls. In another couple of weeks, the river itself will begin to freeze, creating an entirely new look to this area.

The Beginning of the Ice Season

The Ice Begins A short side trip to the St. Joseph, Michigan lighthouse on a cold, windy morning revealed a tiny bit of ice beginning to form on the lighthouse and the catwalk. Not dramatic yet, if this weather continues for a few days, the entire lighthouse could be covered in ice. Generally the ice begins to form in mid to late December, right before Christmas, but this year it's starting early. The weather probably won't be cold or windy enough yet to produce anything nearly as dramatic as past winters, but one never knows- two years ago, the ice formed a week before Thanksgiving. Breaking Waves Along with the cold and wind came the gloomy overcast sky, making the images rather blue and cold. As we headed over the dunes toward the lake, we encountered two men in a makeshift shelter. Probably birdwatchers or photographers, the shelter blocked much of the wind keeping them a bit warmer than us. In addition, the shelter could have acted as a blind, making them invisible to the migrating birds. Each year I've visited this lighthouse a week before Christmas to gauge the ice forming, and every year without fail, I've run into Tim, a birdwatcher set up on the pier. He keeps track of the species of birds migrating through the area, and we talk a bit about the lake, lighthouse, and natural parks in the area. I'm sure in a few weeks when I head back, I'll run into Tim once again, making this the 7th or 8th year in a row we've run into each other on the lighthouse pier on a brisk, winter morning.

Autumn in the Golden Woods of Indiana

Beneath the Golden Maples Hiking through the woods during peak fall color is something one can only experience once a year. High winds or rain often strip the trees of their leaves before anyone can enjoy them. The winds and rain came the very next day, but even during our hike, clouds blocked the sun, eliminating many of the colors that pop when the sun is shining. This particular section of woods is filled with maple trees, once used by the Chellberg Farm as a source of sweet maple sugar. Each March, the National Lakeshore opens the area for tours and demonstrations of the process of making maple sugar. Seeing these woods in spring, summer, winter, and fall completes the tours and demonstrations for me; things change so much from month to month. Autumn Landscape The land here is mostly flat, until we reach the area known as the sugarbush - the woods with the trees used for maple sugar. As we enter these woods, the land turns hilly, with a few creeks running through. It's difficult to determine if the land is hilly due to the glaciers or sand dunes, or if the creek cut the gullies over time; it's probably a combination of the two. Either way, the rolling landscape makes for an interesting hike especially in the autumn during peak color.

HIke Through the Golden Sugarbush

Fall in the Sugarbush We generally visit the sugarbush during Maple Sugar times in March, when sap is collected to produce maple sugar. At that time in the spring, the trees don't yet have leaves. Autumn is a great time to visit the woods of the Chellberg Farm, where the maple sugarbush is located. The leaves of the maple trees are a bright yellow color, turning the woods gold in the morning sunlight. Golden Woods In addition to the color in the trees, the leaves littering the ground turn the forest floor into a colorful carpet. While sometimes a bit slippery, the carpet of leaves blurs the line between the ground and the trees. This year's fall color seems to be a bit later than usual, but in places such as the Indiana Dunes National Park, the show was well worth the wait.

Windy Morning

Windy Morning A sure sign of Fall, high winds on Lake Michigan. While not unusual on the Great Lakes - I've seen days with MUCH more wind than this - the more unique thing about this day was the approaching cold front seen on the horizon. It moved in very slowly even though the winds at this time were around 30 miles per hour. What was supposed to be a wash-out turned out to be okay for the first few hours of the day. Curling As we arrived at the beach, the winds were coming in right off the water, and the waves followed that pattern of wind. After a while, we noticed the wind changed direction almost 90 degrees, and was moving from the left to right relative to the shore. If you look closely at the photo above, you'll noticed a rippled texture in the water from the wind moving across the waves instead of pushing them. The waves even crashed differently, and almost seemed to die out right after breaking because the wind pushed them so powerfully from left to right. With November approaching, so are the gale force winds common to the Great Lakes in the Fall. Waves topping 10 feet are not uncommon along the Indiana Dunes, and I hope to experience them again soon.

Sun and Shadows

Sun and Shadow My visits to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore usually begin in the mornings, but generally mid mornings. On occasion, I venture out before sunrise and begin hiking to catch the highlights and shadows the rising sun makes on the contours of the dunes. These high contrast shadows are fleeting, so I enjoy running up and down the rolling dunes to capture them before they change or disappear. They not only change by the minute, they also change by the week. The position of the sun changes through the seasons, changing the shadows as every day passes - making every visit unique. Morning Dune Around every turn of the trail, new vistas open up, and at different times of the day, they appear so distinct. I've encountered this small dune countless times, but on this day, at this time, it was totally new to me.

Wide Open Dunescape

Rolling Hills

Continuing an early morning hike, we came upon an opening in the woods leading to a vast open area of rolling, grassy dune. These openings are common in this area, and illustrate the progression of the dunes, or the stages in which they are formed. The dunes range from beach, to grass, to savanna, conifer forest, then oak savanna. These stages are all found at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and in some places, all within a mile hike.

Opening Up

Not our first time here, we encountered some familiar features such as particular trees we used to climb and rest upon. These trees were at one time destinations for our hikes, as we noticed them from far away and set out to find a way to reach them.  The children grew up exploring these areas on weekends, so these special places bring back memories, and also allow us to see how they've changed over time.

Wide Open

These hikes take quite a while, and not only include trekking through loose sand trails up and down the rolling hills, they also include a relatively long, easy hike on the shore of Lake Michigan.

Morning Dunes

Morning Panorama

Following our hike to view the sunrise, we headed down the shore of Lake Michigan about two miles, searching for fossils on the beach, until we arrived at a large blowout in the dunes. This was the perfect location to begin our hike into the rolling dunes.

The sounds of crashing waves faded into the distance as we headed inland along the trail through the wooded dunes. After a bit of winding trails, we arrived at the first large expanse of open dunes, illuminated by the rising sun. Lake Michigan was still in view from this vantage point, as the trail stayed relatively close to the shore.

Trail Beginning

At times, when hiking the valleys between dunes, nothing beyond the grassy dunes is in view, making you feel as if you are hundreds of miles away from civilization, when in fact, you're only about two miles from the parking area, and 5 miles from Michigan City, Indiana, a relatively large city.

The trails here wind around for miles and miles, but this is our favorite trail, almost every type of dune landscape can be experienced here in just a few miles.

First Light

Moments Before Sunrise
Leaving home well before sunrise, we were able to drive to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and get in some hiking before the sun came up.  Hiking about a mile from our car, the sun finally began to illuminate the tops of the clouds, then a few moments later, the sky became a bit brighter until our surroundings were visible.

First Light

The first part of our hike was through the wooded trails up and around a rather large dune. The sky was bright enough to differentiate from the trees, but the trails were still quite dark - especially in the dense woods. My hopes were to capture the sun as it broke the horizon, but the view from the top of the dune was blocked by a number of trees, so we hiked the half mile to the beach.

Once again, we had the entire beach to ourselves for the first hour or two. After the sunrise, we continued and explored the wooded dunes and grassy dunes on a particular trail we've come to enjoy.

Fall Creek Gorge Waterfall

The Waterfall of Fall Creek Gorge Visiting the potholes of Fall Creek Gorge, we explored a bit more of the preserve, following a narrow trail upstream until we heard the sound of falling water. We came upon a waterfall that seemed to be carved into a perfect stone wall - almost as if it was man-made. The rock here, changes level abruptly, and evenly, giving this natural waterfall the look of a stone dam. Looking Downstream Stopping on the "dam" of rock following a bit of exploration, gave us the perfect view downstream toward the popular potholes of the gorge, and a bit of time to take in our surroundings. This very small preserve isn't too well known, so running into other visitors is unlikely - we had the place to ourselves, and enjoyed hearing only the sounds of nature. Exploring Fall Creek Gorge The potholes were only about 100 meters downstream, but with our camera gear, it's all but impossible to walk back through them, plus, it's not allowed. But we did explore a bit more of the creek.

The Potholes of Fall Creek Gorge

Potholes When one thinks of potholes, damaged city streets come to mind, but the potholes of Fall Creek Gorge are far from any urban area, and actually a welcome sight. Found along the narrow canyon formed by Fall Creek, these round holes in the creek bed were formed long ago as water pushed rocks around small depressions in the rock. Over time, the eroding action of the water and stones created these potholes. Each pothole is around 4 feet in diameter, and around 3 feet deep, making a series of small pools perfect for relaxing in - just like a personal spa. And on previous visits, I've encountered people lounging in them. The Potholes Beneath Fall Creek The most interesting potholes are along the narrow gorge, where the elevation changes, creating a series of interesting waterfalls. But the formations are more easily seen along the level stretch of creek just downstream of the falls. It's a good thing the water is clear, walking through this area could result in stepping into one of the potholes, a change in water depth from 3 inches to 3 feet or more. Cascades The small waterfalls provide seemingly endless photographic opportunities, but I found myself, as usual, stepping back to take in the surroundings for a while. There aren't too many environments like this in the Midwest, or anywhere for that matter. Exploring Fall Creek Gorge Fall Creek Gorge is a bit out of the way, and certainly off the grid. There are no signs guiding you to this preserve, and the only access is a small parking area, suitable for three or four cars. Once the parking area is full, visitors are asked to come again some other time, as too many people can damage the area. Volunteers keep the gorge clean, and also make sure visitors are obeying the rules outlined on a small sign at the trail head.

Green Canyon

Green Canyon A seemingly less traveled trail at Turkey Run State Park is trail 6, a rather short hike through a deep canyon. Most visitors wish to see the popular trails and waterfalls found on the other side of Sugar Creek, but after hiking those trails, we decided to explore this short trail. This canyon is a bit wider and deeper than those of trail 3, and even more wooded overhead, giving it the feel of a rain forest. Walking down this quick trail gives visitors the an idea of this part of the country before the last ice age. The sandstone here was deposited about 600 million years ago, then worn away by the rushing waters of the creeks and streams of the area. Deep Canyon

Exploring Wedge Rock

Passing Wedge Rock Just two and a half hours south of Chicago, Turkey Run State Park is a short trip to the ancient geologic world. Featuring rock dating back up to 600 million years, the natural features of the park entice visitors year round. Many of the trails in the park follow creeks and canyon floors, taking hikers through natural wonders not seen elsewhere in the region. Wedge Rock One of the most recognized features in the park is Wedge Rock, a wedge-shaped rock that broke away from the canyon wall a long time ago. At an estimated 30 feet tall, and six feet thick, this must have made quite a sound when it fell to the canyon floor. Because the rock landed on an angle, hikers are able to walk under it as well as climb on top of it. Posing on top is a popular take-away photo of many visitors. The Backside of Wedge Rock Most of the canyon walls of Trail 3 are composed of Mansfield Sandstone, but some other rocks and minerals can be found in the area, including glacial erratics and veins of coal. The trail follows the winding creek and even requires hikers to walk up a waterfall or two. It's refreshing in this day and age to visit a park where you're not discouraged from walking on the actual ground! Certainly worth the trip down to Parke County.

Williamsport Falls

Williamsport Falls

Said to be the tallest free-falling waterfall in Indiana, Williamsport Falls is located in the middle of the town of Williamsport, steps away from the old train station. It's a surprise to see such a canyon hidden right in the downtown area of a town. It's a short hike along what appears to be a steep old road through the woods, and down to the creek where you can hike a little way along the creek to the foot of the waterfall.

Williamsport Waterfall

The sandstone cliffs are quite impressive, especially considering their proximity to the railroad an roads above. This area was quarried many years ago for stone blocks for the local buildings. This quarrying may have made the waterfall a bit deeper, but the creek appears to be at a natural level, so perhaps the cliff was simply cut back and not cut deeper.The waterfall is said to have a height of 90 feet, but it looked to me more like 60 feet or so, but of course, I didn't measure.

Sunlit Falls The depth of the canyon keep a bit of the direct sunlight off of the rocks and falls, but depending upon the time of day, the sun highlights the falling water against the thick woods beyond. Williamsport Falls is an easy to access waterfall that is certainly worth the detour from the more traveled parts of western Indiana.

First Quarter Moon

First Quarter Moon

As the moon "grows" larger in the sky, it reflects more light into the atmosphere, blocking out the distant and dimmer stars. Photographing the Milky Way, stars, or planets becomes more difficult, so I simply captured the cause of the problem - the moon.

This image was captured hand-held (no tripod) with a 600mm lens, with a 2x tele-converter attached. The tele-converter doubles the aperture, so this was capture at the lowest possible for this set up, F13. It's a good thing the moon is actually very bright, with an aperture that low, it's often necessary to bump up the ISO or drastically lower the shutter speed, which can introduce noise or camera shake.

In addition to the set up above, the camera was put into DX mode. This crops the image area when using DX lenses on a full frame camera. This "trick" increases the magnification of a lens by 1.5 times. So, the equivalent magnification here is 1800mm.

I prefer to capture images of the moon when it's less than full. The craters cast long shadows making them easier to see in the photograph.

Interdunal Pond

Interdunal Pond

Nothing beats a walk through nature on a summer morning. This view, while very close to industry and other activity, conveys serenity, and was the perfect side trip on our way to the trails along the dunes.

This area of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore was restored after industry left. Toxic remnants were removed during the restoration, including acid ponds very close to this spot. The dunes create valleys and in places, rainwater has no way of absorbing through the ground. The small bodies of water formed in these valleys are called interdunal ponds, and are often a haven for small animals.

This pond shows signs of animal activity - a few trails meander through the wetland in and around the pond. Other interdunal ponds in the national lakeshore are home to many more animals. They are generally larger ponds, out of view of a lot of activity. West Beach has one such pond that is just off the trail, but shielded from view; the wildlife can enjoy a bit of privacy there. The photo below was taken quite a few years back.

Interdunal Pond

Meteor Crossing the Milky Way

Meteor Crossing the Milky Way

The Perseid Meteor Shower of 2018 happened on a calm, clear night, allowing us to view the show - and comfortably I might add. While we only spent about an hour looking at the sky, we saw seven or eight meteors, but I was only able to capture three or four. Of course, where I pointed the camera was the wrong spot most of the time! 

I'm not a night sky photographer, but I do find it challenging to capture the Milky Way and meteors, and in the summer, I don't mind spending a long time trying to capture an image. The main problem is light pollution, and there's plenty of it around Chicago.  Even in rural LaPorte County, Indiana, Chicago casts a yellow light on the western horizon, and bluish tones to the rest of the sky when long exposures are attempted.

I have to settle for this image of the meteor, not the two long, bright meteors that passed just under my camera's view. There's always next year!

Sunset Rays

Sunset Rays

Following a rainy morning and early afternoon, the weather turned partly sunny for the rest of the day. Toward sunset, more clouds rolled in, and at different levels, creating the perfect pallet for the sun to create beautiful rays stretching high into the evening sky.

As usual, the rays only lasted a few minutes - changing every few seconds along with the colors in the clouds.

The location can be the same everyday, but the view is always different, and constantly changing.

Exploring Nachusa Grasslands

Outcropping on the Prairie

Just outside of Franklin Grove, Illinois, and a few miles from Dixon, lies 3600 acres of Illinois prairie. Much of it is in the process of restoration, but there are many rare remnants of natural prairie, savanna, and wetlands withing the boundaries.

Volunteers work to remove non-native species of plants from the grassland, and also plant native prairie plants and flowers. Visiting Nachusa gives visitors a glimpse back into Illinois natural history, before agriculture and the introduction of European and other non-native plants. This is what the real prairie was, and IS.

View From the Top

I have to admit, at first I was a bit lukewarm to the thought of exploring a prairie. I can think of flowers, bugs, and birds as subjects for photography, but not much else. After reading a bit about the prairie restoration, and realizing this wasn't like any "prairie" I've seen before, I was intrigued. Many of the plants I've come to think were prairie plants were actually invasive, and absent from Nachusa. I began to appreciate the prairie a lot more without these tall, spiny weeds I see everywhere else.

Another strong motivating factor was the fact that Nachusa allows - actually encourages- visitors to explore on the trails AND OFF. You can go where you want. If you wish to walk through the 4 foot tall plants to see the rocky hill, go ahead. They even encourage you to wade or swim in the creeks along some of the trails. Where else can you do that?!

Most state parks discourage and fine visitors for wandering off the trail - this is so refreshing. My son had the right response to allowing people to walk anywhere in the prairie: "Two feet walking through the prairie will do a lot less damage than the bison that roam here."  And there are bison here, around 100.  The bison areas and the crumbling rocks are the only places off limits to visitors - that makes sense, it's for their own safety.

The Only Shade on the Prairie

I never really thought of prairie as having rolling hills or rocky hills sprinkled around every so often, but this is real Illinois. I'll bet these rocky areas prevented people from farming them - and in doing so, kept them intact for the Friends of Nachusa to preserve, restore, and share with everyone.

French Canyon

Blind Canyon

One of the closest canyons to visit in Starved Rock State Park is French Canyon.  Just a few hundred meters from the parking area, it's a popular destination for visitors.  However, the narrow canyon makes it just a bit tricky to walk up a short portion of the stream. The canyon narrows to about 4 feet, and the running stream to about 18 inches, so one must walk in the water to access the end of the blind canyon and see the dramatic waterfall.

While only your shoes will get wet, you can climb up without getting any water on you what so ever.  Pressing a foot against the right side of the canyon wall, then quickly pressing the other against the left wall, then repeating.  This way, you never set foot in a drop of water.  Winter... that's a different story.

Narrow Canyon

The waterfall is known for the multi-level cascade where the water never leaves the rock face. This creates a spectacular frozen sculpture in winter, and a soothing fall all year round.