Squeezing Through the Canyon

A Squeeze In the Canyon Immediately after climbing the small waterfall on trail 3, the canyon narrows. Depending upon the amount of recent rainfall, the stream could be a bit too deep to walk through (or in cold weather, even 3 inches of water is too much), so small stairs and hand-holds have been carved into the canyon walls. These "stairs" are about six inches wide and four inches deep, and barely have enough room for the tips of your shoes, but they are handy if you wish to keep your feet dry. We decided to stay on the ground and risk getting our feet wet because the recent snowfall made the canyon walls and "stairs" a bit too slippery. When the park is crowded this is usually a bottle neck as people wait their turn to navigate the small carved stairs. A Walk Through the Canyon Soon after these two tight areas of the canyon, you reach the turn toward the Punch Bowl, a small waterfall with some very interesting canyon features. Heading forward, the canyon begins to open up, and with the person walking along the trail, you get the idea of just how large this part of the canyon is.

The Last Light of the Day

Last Light of the Day With the short days of Fall and Winter, we found ourselves in the canyons of Turkey Run State Park late in the day, and after sunset. The park was open until 11 PM, but signs warned visitors to return to the suspension bridge before dark. I imagine it can be quite difficult to find your way around the canyons in the dark. Our pace increased a bit as we noticed the last of the sunlight hitting the treetops. Trail 3 brings visitors through deep canyons, narrows, and up on the surface through dense woods, so it has a bit of everything - even ladders to climb. The First Freeze The recent snowfall added a pretty contrast to the dark sandstone canyon and the tall trees. The low temperatures froze the ground water seeping through the walls of the canyons, turning it to decorative icicles all along the trail. This part of the trail takes you up a small waterfall into a narrow canyon. You need to walk through the shallow, flowing stream, and on this cold day, the edges of the stream were icy, making the trek up the waterfall a bit difficult. I found it best to walk through the water rather than try to keep out of it, at least the stream bed wasn't icy and dangerous.

Wedge Rock in Winter

Wedge Rock in Winter The first prominent feature along Turkey Run's trail 3 is the famous Wedge Rock, a large chunk of rock that fell away from the canyon wall long ago. This rock is much larger than it looks, allowing hikers to walk beneath, and until recently, they were "able" to climb up to the top to take in the view of the entire canyon. On this visit to the park, we noticed a few new fences keeping people away from the back of Wedge Rock. In summer, this trail is lush with ferns, moss, and the trees above, and it stays well below the outside temperature, making the hike through this area very comfortable, and almost otherworldly. On this day in December, the temperatures were above normal, so it was difficult to determine if the opposite happens, if the temperature is warmer than the rest of the park. Heading Toward Wedge Rock From this angle, Wedge Rock appears so small in contrast to the canyon walls, and the towering tulip poplar trees on top of the canyon. Usually there are plenty of visitors on this trail, helping to give the formations scale, but on this day, we encountered only three other people on our three hour hike. This is another great benefit of visiting this park in winter, it's not crowded, and the snow and ice bring a whole new look to the landscape. When visiting in winter - even if the snow melts, wear ice cleats. The sun doesn't make it down to the canyon floor, so the packed snow and ice remain in place for quite a while, and some areas of the icy trail could lead to dangerous falls.

Frozen Narrows

Frozen Narrows The Narrows Covered Bridge spans the frozen Sugar Creek which runs through Indiana's Turkey Run State Park. It spans a narrow spot in the creek, and seems to collect quite a bit of ice in the early winter. I estimate 5 to 6 inches of snow fell on the park last week, and on our visit, the snow was still looking fresh. I think the cold weather keeps most visitors away from parks. It was easy to see where the visitors roamed by their footprints. In high traffic areas, the snow had already turned to hard, slippery ice, so it might have been best for us to bring our ice cleats, but we managed fine without them. I wouldn't go without them on any future visits this winter - it's only going to get worse. narrowsbridgesm Built in 1883 by J. Britton, a popular bridge builder in this part of the country, the bridge has stood the test of time. Located in Parke County, Indiana, this is one of 31 covered bridges in the county - far more than the famous Madison County of movie fame (which has only 6). This is certainly the place to visit if you wish to see beautiful covered bridges - they even have an annual covered bridge festival in October. Narrows in Winter The park has so much to see in addition to the covered bridges. Canyons, waterfalls, woods, hiking, and even a beautiful inn for dining and lodging.

The Chellberg Farm

A Horse in the Pasture While hiking the colorful trails of the Chellberg Farm, I headed toward the old farmhouse and barn. These building are open from time to time, to demonstrate farm life of the 1800's. In the past two years, the barn and fields have been the home to a few farm animals including two horses. As I approached the barn, the horses immediately came outside to greet me. I stood only a foot or two away from the fence, and they walked up to me. I tried to put a few feet between us so I could capture some photos, but they kept following me, staying right with me. I spent a little time with them, then continued on my way to the other side of the pasture. From there, I was able to capture some photos of the horses from a distance. Of course, this horse noticed me right away, then began heading toward me again. Farmhouse The old farm house wasn't open on this day, but I was still able to wander the grounds. In March, the Maple Sugar Days will be held here, and the kitchen will be filled with the scent of fresh cookies baked on the antique wood stove. For now, I can only imagine how many children played on that porch and in the field in front of the house. Autumn Path Behind the farm house and barn, lies the colorful sugarbush, the maple tree - filled woods bursting in color at this time of year.

Nestled in the Woods

Nestled Away

A hike through the woods of the Bailey Homestead on a cloudy, Fall morning brought us to a few small log cabins. Similar cabins were used in this area for trappers, and even homesteads. Set against the colorful Fall colors, the cabins stand out quite well.

Cabin in the Woods

At certain times of the year, these cabins are open to the public for historical demonstrations of the homestead. This particular cabin was used to demonstrate traditional music and dance, while the cabin below is a trapper's cabin complete with tools of the trade and furs.

Trapper's Cabin
This area is only about a half mile down the trail from the golden leaves of the Chellberg Farm's sugar bush, making this area very easy to visit while at the farm.

The Sugar Shack in Autumn

The Sugar Shack

One of the staple features of the Chellberg Farm in Spring, the sugar shack rests atop a hill surrounded by Fall color. The maple trees which provide sap for the maple sugar process turn a vivid gold at this time of year, and create one of the most impressive displays of autumn color at the Indiana Dunes National Park.

There are many other areas within the park with beautiful Fall color, but this area is in my opinion the most spectacular. Hiking the trails through the sugar bush, one is surrounded by the golden leaves not only on the trees, but on the forest floor.

Hidden Shack

An Autumn Expanse


The Chellberg Farm sugar bush is an expanse of Fall color at this time of year. There are a few trails meandering through the woods, and each offers great views of the rolling landscape. Unlike the natural oak savanna in this area, these woods are more dense, cutting off distant views, but concentrating the color. 

This particular trail winds through the lower portion of the sugar bush, where a few small creeks flow.  Foot bridges cross the creeks and ravines, and some staircases assist with the steeper climbs, but the rest of the trail is the natural soil.


The bridges seem to divide the area into zones, and crossing them leads you into another micro environment within the park. The trails in this area are not strenuous, but more or less leisurely walks through a beautiful part of northern Indiana.

Descent Into Autumn

Descent Into Autumn

One of the most striking autumn hikes in the Indiana Dunes National Park is the Chellberg Farm trail through the sugar bush.  Planted decades ago by the land owners, these woods are primarily maple, and were used for their sap to make maple sugar. In autumn, these trees glow bright yellow-green, turning the woods into a magical place.

The trail winds through the rolling landscape, crossing several small creeks which tend to flow only after some rainfall.  The rain on this day darkened the sky and the forest floor, giving a nice contrast to the glowing leaves.

The Forest Floor

Because of the rainfall, I encountered only two other visitors walking the trails. Sometimes poor weather makes for great hikes.

Autumn Creek

I find it a bit unfortunate that visitors must keep to the trails and not wander off into the woods, but I completely understand why this is. Views such as this make me wish I could follow the valley between the hills, just to see what is beyond my view.

Overcast Over The Lake

Overcast Over The Lake

It's amazing how a bit of overcast weather will keep visitors away from Lake Michigan. Cloudy days make for empty parking lots, empty beaches, and even lighting for photographs. It seems that if the sun isn't shining brightly, people don't even think about heading to the beach, but they're missing out.

Soon, the cold winds will blow across the lake and discourage even more people from visiting. It may get very uncomfortable to walk along the shore, but winter can be one of the best times to explore and experience the beach.

Rocks and Reflection

The shore changes constantly with the wind and waves.  From a sandy beach to a rocky beach, to no beach when the waves are too high, it's never the same twice. The small streams that empty into the lake also change their path because of the waves -they can change 180 degrees in a day. These streams become obstacles when the weather turns cold, one can no longer simply walk across because the water is too cold, a narrow portion needs to be found in order to continue walking down the beach.  Many winter hikes have been cut short due to these streams.

Dune Valley

Dune Valley Our hike inland through the grassy and wooded dunes began at the beach, where we found a trail through the valley between two dunes. The size of the dunes don't show so well on the photos - they are much larger than they appear - especially when you hike up and down. We decided to head between the dunes for just a bit, then take the trail up the dune on the right side to hike the ridge all the way around the series of dunes near what is called the blowout. This time of year is perfect for hiking in the tall Marram grass. The temperature is a bit cooler for the climbing portions, and there are no ticks to worry about. Along with the ever-changing plants of the dunes, we always encounter some sort of animal or insect. We were once startled by a very loud turkey we surprised as we came over this ridge. He all of a sudden flapped his wings and screamed as he flew away, waking up every creature within a mile on a very quiet early morning. View From the Dune After taking the trail up the dune, we were able to view the valley floor, and the spot where the top photo was taken. Lake Michigan doesn't always appear this deep blue, most of the time it's a bit lighter in color. This is probably due to the time of year, time of day, and the overall weather conditions. It does, however, provide a great contrast to the sky and sand near it.

Beached on Beverly Shores

Beached on Beverly Shores Just a few steps away from the famous Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore's Century of Progress Homes, and across the street from the lakefront homes of Beverly Shores, these boats add some color to the landscape of green Marram Grass and tans sands. It's surprising to me that these boats are left untied so close to the unpredictable waters of Lake Michigan. While it's doubtful the waves ever reach this far up, anything is possible when the north winds kick up the lake. Ten foot waves are not unusual here, and these boats have been in this spot through so many heavy storms. Every so often, after a very windy storm, tons of wood, debris, and boats of all sorts, wash up on the beaches here, proving just how items along the shore can be washed away in a moment. The photo below shows the aftermath of one of those storms about five years ago. All Washed Up

Eroding Dunes

Disappearing Dunes Contrary to what many people believe, the dunes along the southern shore of Lake Michigan are ever-changing - have been, and will continue to be. The forces of nature such as rain, wind, and the waves erode parts of the beach and dune, and build another.

Rising water levels this year, along with some "starving" of the beach are contributing to the collapse of portions of the windward sides of the dunes in the Indiana Dunes National Park. A starving beach is one where the natural replenishment of sand is slower than the loss of the sand due to wind and wave action, so the beach and associated dunes lose sand.

These dunes are crumbling at a relatively fast rate.  The paths and trails that once meandered along the ridge are long gone - washed into Lake Michigan - not because of people walking on them, as many will attempt to mislead the visitor. Walking on some sand dunes and plants will certainly disrupt the natural state of the dunes, and often kill the plants that hold the dunes in place. But this is a case of the lake taking over, not human activity. The Michigan City pier a mile or so away has been blamed for some beach starvation, and while this may be true to some extent, it seems unlikely that the single pier could affect the beaches miles away to such a great extent.

The trees seen in this photograph were growing on the top of the dune just a few weeks ago.  The waves undermined the foot of the dunes, and slowly collapsed the side.  Some trees fell sideways and were washed away by the waves, but these just slid down in an upright position, and the waves buried them in sand. They appear to have been there for years, but in fact, they have only been there a few short weeks.

Weathered Dune
Wind, rain, and gravity have all combined to create some interesting formations as the dunes erode.  These formations look a lot like the mountains and stone formations of Bryce Canyon National Park. They change right before your eyes, small amounts of sand slide slowly down the dune, others crumble and chunks roll down.  Some of this movement resembles waterfalls, but of sand. Beautiful fans of sand form at the foot of the dunes, but are quickly washed away by the waves as soon as the winds pick up on Lake Michigan.

Sand Details
While it's sad to see some of these majestic dunes crumble - especially the ones I used to frequent, it's all just a natural part of the dune's life cycle.

First Quarter Moon

First Quarter Moon

A perfectly clear evening gave us a great view of the first quarter moon in rural LaPorte County, Indiana.

Just a few days before the Perseid meteor shower the skies were fairly dark. The peak of the meteor shower will take place just a few days prior to the full moon, so the meteors will be just a bit difficult to see due to the bright sky. I'll certainly brave the mosquitoes and attempt to photograph some meteors this weekend.

Wall Cloud

Wall Cloud

The storms were supposed to stay a few miles northwest of us, but they managed to reach us anyway. Out of the blue, this ominous wall cloud headed toward us. Rather than run inside like most people, we stayed outside to watch. There was no sign of lightning, so some of us headed out in kayaks, and others kept swimming.

Passing Storm Clouds

Not a drop of rain fell as the clouds passed overhead. The 90 plus degree temperatures dropped suddenly, and the winds picked up a bit, but the change was only temporary, giving us relief for just a few minutes.

Ignoring the Storm

Miller Woods Trail

The Trail at the Foot of the Dune

Continuing our hike through Miller Woods, we reached the Grand Calumet River. At this point the river appears to be a lake, or group of lakes.  It's this demarcation where the landscape changes dramatically.  The first mile or two of the trail winds through Black Oak Savanna, a relatively rare landscape, while on the other side of the river, the landscape turns into sand dunes.

The trail follows the foot of these dunes along the river for quite some distance before turning toward Lake Michigan.

Changing Trail

The trail allows views of hundreds of plant species, a good representation of the 1,100 found in the park, reinforcing the fact that the Indiana Dunes National Park is ranked 7th in plant diversity of all the US National Parks.


Approaching Storm

For over an hour, we watched the distant storm on the horizon. It never seemed to come closer from sunset until almost 10 PM, when the winds kicked up and the lightning intensified. We then decided to put all the yard furniture and boats away just in case the storm was severe. As we packed everything away, the storm got closer and the winds picked up dramatically.

Distant Lightning

I enjoy watching storms approach, but usually they arrive rapidly, and there isn't much time to watch and enjoy the lightning.  This time, the storm seemed to sit in place and move left to right, giving us plenty of time to view the storm.

Miller Woods Ponds

Interdunal Pond

Our hike through Miller Woods continued, as we encountered dozens of ponds and interdunal ponds. The ponds dotted the landscape, in the oak savanna, the woods, as well as the grassy fields. Many varieties of spring flowers were in bloom, adding plenty of color to the mostly green fields.

The trail to the beach was a bit over two miles long, and there was something new to be seen at every turn, and over every hill. I suspect this trail would be perfect for bird watching, judging by the variety of ecosystems and the birds we saw on this day.

Colorful Field

Along the trail we noticed quite a few areas where there were dead standing trees.  Most were not near any standing water, so I could only guess at the cause. One possibility was that these trees were killed by insects or disease. Perhaps they were ash trees damaged by the emerald ash borer, or oak trees damaged by oak wilt.  Another possibility is intentional removal of damaged trees or non-native species - some of these trees had ribbons tied around them, suggesting a mark for removal, treatment, or study.

Larger lakes were encountered during the hike as well, not to mention Lake Michigan, which was our destination on this hike.

Oak Savanna Hike

Rolling Oak Savanna

A late spring hike through Miller Woods offered a wide range of landscapes to explore. Located within the Indiana Dunes National Park, Miller Woods includes trails ranging from a quarter mile to over two miles one-way from the trail head to the beach. Hundreds of plant species can be viewed in this area of the park, lots of wildlife, and quite a few ponds and lakes.

Shadowed Savanna

The first half mile or so of the beach trail includes some peaceful ponds and lakes, some of which are rather large, and surrounded by oak savanna. Unlike most wooded areas in the Midwestern United States, these woods are as they naturally were before invasive plants were introduced to the area. Commonly, the invasive plants litter the floor of the forests, and create an impenetrable mass of vegetation; often, one can't even see through it.

In a natural state, the oak savanna has large spaces between oak trees with only short plants covering the ground. These areas have the best preserved oak savanna in northern Indiana. I imagine the rolling dunes dotted with small ponds discouraged farming and industry in this area, so the landscape never really changed much.

Long Pond

Recent rainy weather for the past two months has filled up many of the small lakes and ponds in the Miller Woods. However, only a few small areas of the trail were slightly flooded. These ponds pepper the landscape, we encountered one after another as we hiked the rolling land.

Located right next to the Lake Michigan shore, and at the boundary of the city of Gary, Indiana, this portion of the park is a huge surprise to anyone driving through the area.

Disappearing Beach

Exposed Clay Layer

Water levels on Lake Michigan have risen over the past few years, causing some erosion along the Indiana shoreline. Central Beach has been disappearing for some time, due in part to rising waters, but also because of the piers marking Michigan City's Trail Creek. These piers prevent the waves from carrying sand to the beaches down shore, and instead, deposit it on the windward side of the pier.

I remember reports of the dunes of Michigan and Indiana crumbling into Lake Michigan back in the 1980's, but have witnessed an accelerated erosion over the past five years or so.  The park service prevents people from walking along the dunes, saying they are contributing to the demise of the dunes. Anyone can easily see, the lake is the culprit- in fact, the paths that were once on top of the dunes are somewhere in Lake Michigan now. Many meters of the dunes are gone, including the trees which were completely uprooted and eventually washed away by waves. This wasn't caused by people walking on the dunes, but it is a convenient excuse for the Park Service to keep people off of the dunes. --See, we're doing something to save the dunes. I suppose someone will buy it - I don't.

Disappearing Beach

Not long ago, Central Beach was a great destination for those looking to spend a day on the sand.  Now, even when the water is flat calm, there is barely any sand to walk on. Perhaps now that the Indiana Dunes has National Park status, something can be done about the disappearing beaches of Indiana. But that something needs to be the right thing, not just the appearance of conservation, or simply doing something to say something is being done.